The earliest memories of my own father are the few times he came to visit for Christmas.
Once a year, he drove up from Austin to Little Rock to stay with us for the weekend. My brother and I stayed with him at the Motel 6. Back then, Motel 6 had the big mechanical beds that for only a quarter, would hum and shake, like a giant submarine. When the weekend was over, I secretly hoped he could stay. If we were good enough, he might stay home, where he belonged. I continued my little fantasy until his inevitable departure. I remember once, when I was about five - hanging on his ankles for dear life - as he walked out the front door, dragging me as I begged him to stay. I was fighting for his affection. But it didn't work - it never worked. Every time he left, my heart would break and I would die again.*
When dad leaves, something dies.
His departure leaves us confused, angry and hurt. His flight shows us the clawed hand of fear, long before we are old and sturdy enough to face it. His leaving steals the bright things of childhood and often replaces them with shame. He becomes the Dark Father. Our great temptation is to cut him down with hate or to curse his memory. Not only do we curse him, but we curse all other authorities, striking them down and leaving them to rot in the haunted tree. Our hatred may cause us to live in reaction against the Dark Father. Our distrust of authority may doom our careers. Our coldness may lock our hearts to everyone, spouses, children and friends.
In Star Wars - episodes four, five and six, Luke confronts his own Dark Father.
At the end of Star Wars: A New Hope, a young Luke Skywalker faces Darth Vader, indirectly, just before he blows up the first Death Star. At the end of Empire, Luke rushes to confront him and save his friends. But he did not complete his training and fails, losing his hand in the process. Once again, Luke faces Vader and the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi. All three movies climax in this final conflict.
This storyline - Luke becoming a Jedi and then facing his dark father - is the pinnacle of the Star Wars universe. This is the central confrontation between the dark side and the light. If Luke wins, he will stop evil from ruling the universe. If Luke does not confront his father or he loses, he will not fulfill his destiny - and evil will win. Confronting Vader is the final act to complete Luke's training and make him a Jedi. Yoda confirms this:
One thing remains. Vader. You must confront Vader. Then, only then, a Jedi will you be.
Luke's three-movie confrontation shows us his full emotions. Confusion when he finds out Vader destroyed his father. Anger when Ben is struck down. Joy when Han Solo deflects Vader and he destroys the Death Star. Fear when he faces the vision of Vader in the haunted tree and when Yoda tells him to be afraid. Panic when he leaves Dagobah. Pain when he loses his hand. Devastation when he learns the truth.
But Luke's greatest challenge is at the end of Return of the Jedi.
The Emperor is provoking him into a fight. He wants Luke to give into his anger and hate, to embrace the dark side and join his father. Luke tries to strike the Emperor down but is blocked by Vader. This leads to a reluctant fight where Luke backs away and avoids his father. I will not fight you, he says. Vader reads Luke's mind and discerns Leia as his sister, threatening to turn her to the dark side. This sends Luke into a rage and he swarms Vader, knocking him down and cutting off his hand. The Emperor laughs and hisses:
Good. Your hate has made you powerful. Now fulfill your destiny and join your father's place at my side.
The Emperor has a different vision for Luke - a dark destiny. Luke is becoming a Jedi, the Emperor wants him to fail. What Luke does next will define him forever and the universe hangs on his decision. If Luke gives into hate and kills his father, he will join the dark side, becoming a slave to evil. But if Luke stays his hand - he will stay in the light and become a Jedi.
(SPOILERS AHEAD - Read at your own PERIL!)
We see this same father confrontation at the end of Star Wars : The Force Awakens.
The conflicted Kylo Ren - aka Ben Solo - faces his father, Han Solo. Ren is torn and asks his grandfather, Darth Vader for help. Ren sees Vader's repentance at the end of Return of the Jedi as a small failure - in an otherwise brilliant career as a Sith Lord. (Sidenote: interesting how both dark and light believe themselves to be right.)
Again, at the end of The Force Awakens, another young force-user faces his father - Ren faces Han Solo on the bridge. While Han Solo is different than Darth Vader, we do know he disappointed his son. Han ran away from everyone, including Leia, when Ben rebelled. Han was not a great father. This may be true - or it may only be true in Ren's twisted mind. We cannot be certain.
Now Ben Solo, like Luke - also has a choice. How will he confront his father? Will he forgive and embrace him? Or will he give into his anger and hate - and turn to the dark side? Luke and Ben Solo make opposite choices that cement their destiny and change the universe. Hate and Love. The Dark Side and The Light. This is our choice today. Do we curse our father and strike him down? Or do we forgive him and stay in the light?
Today, many of us must face our Dark Father. Even if he is long gone. Even if all we know is his ghost. If we never forgive him or his memory, we let bitterness take root, and we are slowly twisted and changed by it. To cross the threshold from death to life, we must move, like Luke, from darkness and hate into light and love. We must believe for his best - no matter how twisted he has become. Lest one day, we may find ourselves standing over his fallen corpse.
The man who curses his father curses his own destiny.
Even if we do not curse him, we still must face him. Avoidance keeps us hiding in fear. Our confrontation with him is not about winning a lightsaber duel - but about looking down at our own prosthetic hand, seeing ourselves and realizing, "I am becoming just like him." This is our awakening. This is our moment to embrace darkness or light as our destiny.
After Luke refuses to kill his father and tosses his lightsaber down, even the Emperor is forced to admit his power. He watches Luke cross over the threshold and sees his destiny fulfilled. The Emperor speaks the words Yoda foretold, and becomes the first one to name him:
So be it - Jedi.
(*Excerpt taken from Fatherless Generation : Redeeming the Story, by John Sowers)