Faith and Film (prt. 3): Rocky

Image result for rocky

By Joe LaGuardia

Watching Rocky was a family affair growing up in the LaGuardia household. Not only did we watch every Rocky movie as a family, we literally saw our family in the series reflected back to us.

There was Rocky, a metaphoric character for my father. He, like Rocky, lacked certain social graces and came from a middle class neighborhood not too different from Philadelphia (he was from Brooklyn).

He came from a family of boxers, and he managed to woo my mother with the gift of gab: Legend has it that he walked up to my mother in a club and said, “See this place? I own this place! Wanna’ dance?”

Adrian is very much like my mother. Shy and mild-mannered, my mother worked hard to get beyond my father’s big personality and shadow.

Micky is my grandfather. I don’t say, “Like my grandfather,” because he practically is my grandfather. Micky (Burgess Meredith) and my grandfather talk the same, sound the same, have the same mannerisms, share the same punch-drunk broken-flat nose, and echo similar “boxer” colloquials: Grandpa’s favorite line of advice was (in Burgess Meredith brough), “Hit ’em low! Sweet and low!”

My grandfather taught self-defense and boxing in the Navy in World War 2, and he went on to train boxers in the Brooklyn neighborhood he lived all his life. He was a part of the Police Athletic League (PAL) and helped keep kids off the streets by focusing on family and fitness (sound familiar?).

I would say that Paulie resembles one of my sisters (Gina), but that wouldn’t be fair. Or nice, although she and Paulie do share a certain restless energy. (And I think both my sisters would make intimidating and frightening loan sharks, or assassins like Alicia Keys and Tereji Hensen in Smokin’ Aces.)

Where am I in all this? I’m Butkiss the dog, merely observing all the action swirling around me…

I write all of this for the fact that I am not quite sure how the Rocky franchise has shaped my faith. It’s like trying to ask whether my faith is a product of nature or nurture–it just is so intertwined in my life as a cult film that I have no doubt it contributed to my upbringing in a major, albeit subtle way.

Perhaps the greatest contribution comes from the first Rocky installment. There, Rocky has a coming of age journey in which he meets Adrian, realizes he is not cut out for life in the mob, and gains prestige not by winning the “big fight”, but by staying on his feet.

That is a mirror of my life in so many ways! I’ve never been a winner in big things: I never held a job that made lots of money, and I was never the popular kid in school. I’ve never gone against big shots, but I like to think that I have been able to stay on my feet to the fifteenth round. I believe that dedication, determination, and faithfulness—not some flashy pitch or manipulative marketing–is what gets you through the next round.

I have come of age facing a fork in the road: One road, the wide road was that of living into an Italian stereotype of being a tough guy, muscling my way to destruction. The second road was the narrow way of giving up my familial identity and surrendering everything to the non-violent Christ, including the tough guy vibe.

I must admit that my wife was a little upset when I turned in the sleeveless shirt and Camaro for Oxford shirts and a Honda, something she reminds me of every wedding anniversary (“You remember, when I met you, you were…”).

Thanks to Netflix streaming service, my son and I began to watch the Rocky series–his first time through it. I wondered what things he might pick up from the series. My father passed away when my son was young, but my son wears my father’s boxing trousers and glittering boxing shirt around the house sometimes in his honor.

My son never knew his great-grandfather, so Micky doesn’t hold the same hypnotic sway over him, and he wasn’t raised to be a tough guy, so that is not one of the “coming of age” conflicts that confronts him.

He left me half-way through the first film because he was bored.

Tonight we started watching Rocky II, and my son is giving another go at it. As we sat together, however, I felt myself falling into some of the attitudes I haven’t faced in a long time, including that dastardly fork.

I am finding it hard to stop the film and move into the real world of my life now. Nostalgia works that way sometimes, threatening to hold us down to the point of drowning us in the past.

That is the difficulty of the thing. Dad and Grandpa are gone. Mom has found her voice in a second marriage upon living independently (and doing an amazing job of it) in the last six years. I can’t afford a Camaro because I have big-boy bills to pay. And my wife complains more of my eating habits than the shirts I wear (or don’t wear, rather). The last time I went to Brooklyn was for my grandpa’s funeral over a decade ago. When I preach, I keep the tough-guy, New York lingo to a minimum–only when I’m cracking a joke (a “wise crack!”) now and then.

Rocky presents for me a conundrum whereby I am introducing my son to a life he’ll never know and saying goodbye once and for all to a life that has slipped out of my fingers and no longer exists. Perhaps the movie moves me to grief more than anything else. It is a letting go…and a letting God.

28 Thoughts at 28 Years of Age

By Emily Holladay

Each year, I become more and more sentimental about birthdays. At first, birthdays were just days to celebrate a new milestone – one year closer to driving, adulthood, college, being “legal,” graduating, etc., etc., etc. Now (and with the dawn of Facebook), birthdays are days to reflect on all the memories, relationships, and experiences that have shaped me into the person I am today – a full blown adult in the prime of her life, really and truly living her dream.

The past few life-years have come and gone with a great deal of transition, 26 beginning with my graduation from McAfee and ending in heartbreak. 27 picked me up and led me back home again. Last night, as I walked into 28 surrounded by new friends (who are family), I couldn’t help but think what a gift this year has been, and to look forward to many more years with these people, in this place.

Over the years, I have grown more comfortable with who I am and how I am called to live my life. I’ve found community in three different cities that I proudly call home, and I am continually allowing these people and places to shape me into the person I am becoming. Through it all, it has also been fun to see my own thumb print leaving its mark in their lives as well.

So, while I’m feeling sentimental and ripe with age and wisdom, I decided to share a few of the things I’ve learned over the years. 28 thoughts at 28! Enjoy!

28. Every day is a good day for ice cream.

Sookie says you are welcome to pet her any time.

27. Petting a dog lowers your heart rate. I have factual, FitBit proof to back this one up.

26. There is a difference between spending time alone and spending time with yourself. You should spend more time doing the latter, because that person is really cool.

25. Nothing can replace the excitement of a new pair of shoes or the smell of a new book.

24. Buying a house is not for the faint of heart, but I recommend doing it.

23. There is nothing wrong with going to bed at 8 p.m. on occasion. (Here’s looking at you, Meredith.)

22. Movie theater popcorn and macaroni are still my favorite comfort foods.

21. Buying local never hurt anyone, and in fact, helps a lot of people. Think about skipping Amazon once a month to support a local business.

I miss smiling with these ladies. See what I did there?

20. “Smiling’s my favorite.” – Buddy the Elf

19. There will always be people who inexplicably drop out of your life. When it happens, try to remember what they taught you, rather than the sorrow of being “left behind.”

18. Sometimes, the best words you can hear from a person are, “I miss you.”

17. Some people are just not capable of waking up early every day. These people (me) should not get a job at Starbucks or work in a public school.

15. Doing what you love doesn’t necessarily mean you will feel fulfilled every minute of every day. In fact, you will probably spend most minutes not feeling fulfilled. And sometimes, you will have to remind yourself that this is what you love. Do it anyway.16. New friends are golden too.

14. Try to find a way to encourage someone everyday. You never know how much they need it, and it’s not bad to be known as the person who encourages everyone.

13. Superstition is for sports. Smack talking before the game is like asking for Karma to come and bite you. Plus, it’s so much more rewarding if you wait until afterward.

11. Everyone deserves to be heard. Not everyone is willing to listen. Maybe we should start passing out QTips.
12. Louisville first. Cards forever.

10. High School was a long time ago. No one remembers it like you do. And most people are more gracious in their memories towards you than you are. So, whatever you’re still holding onto, “Let it go! Let it go!”

9. There’s a whole generation growing up with “Let it go” as their theme song for life. Embrace it.

8. Try to have a conversation with an old person and a child every month. You’ll learn a lot from both.

Plus, when you run in the rain, you look like a beast.

7. Take a walk on a sunny day. Go for a run on a rainy day. Either way, spend as much time as you can outside.

6. You are who you believe you are. No one else can shape your identity. Don’t give them the power to.

5. 20% of the people you meet will not like you. You can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t spend so much time trying. Because, you know what? 80% of the people you meet think you’re awesome.

4. Most of the people you meet, know, work with, etc., are on your team. Treat them like it.

3. “A person’s a person no matter how small.” – Dr. Seuss.

2. Struggles are real. It’s ok to look at the situation you’re in and say, “This sucks.” Just don’t linger there too long. (BTW – good things do not erase pain. Your pain is real and you are allowed to feel it.) Find someone who will scream with you.

1.  There really is no place like home.