Little did I know that I could have been reading Tolstoy for that decade. All I really needed was David Gilmour's The Film Club. It is a memoir of the three years that David Gilmour spent watching movies with his son. And I have to tell you that it is one of the more remarkable books on parenting I've ever read. Don't look for it in the mothering/parenting/child-rearing section of the bookstore. It won't be there.
David Gilmour is a writer, broadcaster and film critic in real life. He is also a father. And when his 15-year old son, Jesse, was failing every single class in high school, he knew he had to do something to help his son. Gilmour says this about Jesse and school: "To my nightly question "Is that all your homework?" my son, Jesse, responded with a cheerful "Absolutely!" When he went to stay with his mother for a week that summer, I found a hundred different homework assignments shoved into every conceivable hiding place in his bedroom. School, in a word, was making him a liar and a slippery customer."
Gilmour tells Jesse that he can drop out of school with two conditions. The first condition is that Jesse can not take drugs. The second condition is that Jesse has to watch three movies a week of David's choosing and discuss them with him. That's it. No other academic work has to be completed, David will financially support him, he can have free reign of the house with no conditions on behavior other than no drugs. And three movies a week. Note that none of the 1,763 (not really) parenting books that line my shelves have a chapter titled "Let Your Teenager Drop out of High School and Watch Movies With Him for Three Years".
Gilmour doesn't describe much of a grappling with such an unconventional solution. What the reader does experience is the intense, internal wrestling with how to parent a troubled teen. Gilmour does this remarkably well. Some of you won't agree with Gilmour's family values, if you will. Some of you won't have a problem with them. If you read this book, I'd encourage you to try to take your focus off what Gilmour does or doesn't allow in terms of boundaries for his child. The impressive thing is that he knows what he believes those boundaries are and he has to decide how to enforce consequences or, in some cases, give mercy. He does an amazing job of deciding when to give advice and when to abstain. As a reader we get to know what he, the parent, is thinking and then what he decides to say. As a parent, I could certainly relate to that little dilemma. Here is an example:
"I asked him about his evening; yes, all fine, nothing special, though. Dropped over to see a friend. Uh-huh. which friend?
I don't know Dean, do I?"
"Just a fellow."
Fellow? (You hear language that out of character, you want to call the police.) He could tell I was looking at him."
Films? Oh, yes, they did watch some films. Gilmour chronicles what they watched. Often he explains the reasons for his choices and sometimes he doesn't. The films he chose are absolutely fascinating, as are the highlights of the discussions that Gilmour chooses to include in the book. The films he chose over the three year period are very much in line with the values with which he wants to instill. Should you choose to allow your child to drop out of school and only watch movies, you'd likely choose different films. The bottom line is this: David Gilmour wanted to help him and found a way to spend time with him that would allow for dialogue, learning, and love between father and son. It was profoundly inspiring.
A little Tolstoy aside before I close... Gilmour finds himself in the precarious position of having to give his son advice about girls on a regular basis. At one point, Jesse was hurt by a girl. He asks his father what will happen if the girl hurts him again. This occurs toward the end of the film viewing experiment and Gilmour responds with this:
"You know what Tolstoy says?" I said.
"He says that a woman can never wound you the same way twice."
A few days later Jesse sees the girl and reports to his father that after only speaking for a few moments, she whispers to him, "If you keep looking at me like that, I'm going to have to kiss you." And this brilliant little line is what Gilmour thinks after listening to his son's recounting: "(My God, where do they learn this stuff? Are they all at home reading Tolstoy before these parties?)"
Perhaps the greatest sentence in the book is the one Gilmour chooses to include just before the title page. The quote from Michel de Montaingne reads: "I know nothing about education except this: that the greatest and most important difficulty known to human beings seems to lie in that area which deals with how to bring up children and how to educate them."
And then, there is this from Gilmour that captures the beauty with which he describes the love of a parent for a child: "Still, and I don't want to get maudlin here, some nights I walk by his bedroom on the way to my study and I take a peek inside. The moonlight falls over his bed, the room is very still, and I can't quite believe he's gone. There were other things we were going to do to that room, other prints, another clothes peg for the wall. But time ran out."