Monthly Archives: August 2017

There’s No Place Like Home

Almost every movie lover will recognize the title of this post comes from the classic movie, The Wizard of Oz.[i] I have thought a lot about home the last few weeks as my wife and I moved out of our dream home into a one-bedroom apartment. We went from this:

Carlisle 2

And this:

Carlisle 1

To this:


I don’t own any ruby slippers, but I have wished several times since the move I could click my heels three times and return to that dream home. But upon further reflection, I realize, even though our little apartment has less than 800 square feet, it has everything I need: food, shelter, clothing, air conditioning(!), and more importantly, a spouse who loves me unconditionally and other family members and friends close by.

So why did we leave our beautiful home for a small one bedroom apartment? Someone once quipped, “Home is where the mortgage is.” But we didn’t move because we couldn’t make the mortgage payments. As far as I know, my job is secure – at least for another year. My company recently announced it was moving its offices from Fort Worth to Houston next summer. That is another good reason for me to retire when that move occurs. Instead of moving to Houston, we hope to build a new, but smaller, dream home closer to most of our adult children and grandchildren. So there is some method in our madness.

My decision to move was entirely my own choice. Most of my fellow employees, however, are not so lucky. The company announcement has caused a lot of angst around the office, as my fellow employees must decide if they want to leave their current homes to keep their current jobs and create a new home in Houston. Notice I didn’t say “find” a new home, as I believe homes are more than just brick and mortar. A home, where we feel love and acceptance and hopefully safety, is created by the people living in it. Kendal Rob said it this way: “Home is where you go to find solace from the ever changing chaos, to find love within the confines of a heartless world, and to be reminded that no matter how far you wander, there will always be something [or someone] waiting when you return.” That is pretty much how Dorothy felt in The Wizard of Oz,[ii] when she makes it back to Kansas:

Movies often center around the home, and some of the best ones, like The Wizard of Oz, focus on finding a way to get back home, or, if we can’t get there immediately, at least making some kind of contact with those at home. Who doesn’t remember this scene from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial:[iii]

George A. Moore said, “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” I enjoy traveling to fun places, but I must admit that usually the best part of any trip for me is returning home. There is no better way to appreciate our homes than to be away from them for a while. But it’s not the house that I miss as much as the home. When I drive by houses I used to live in, I am often reminded of some great memories and experiences I had there, but the feelings of love, comfort and safety I experienced while living there have moved along with me, turning that prior home into just a house again – at least to me. Anyone can build a house, but love is the most important ingredient in building a home.

Many people have left home because they felt no love there. And without that feeling of love, all other pleasures of a house are largely meaningless. I recently saw the movie, The Glass Castle,[iv] based on the memoirs of Jeannette Walls, growing up in a dysfunctional family. I was interested in seeing it particularly because I had read the book upon which it is based. Here is a scene from the movie where the family moves into a “new” house, which is a lot nicer (believe it or not) than many of the other houses they had previously lived in:

The movie does not do justice to the abuse the parents put their children through, forcing them to live in places that had no running water or indoor plumbing. But even in such squalor, there were times when love among the family was felt, especially among the four children who had to band together just to survive.

Even sadder are those who have been forced to leave a loving home and functional family, but circumstances will not let them return. One of my favorite movies from last year is Lion,[v] based on the true story of a five-year-old Indian boy name Saroo who is separated from his family, and adopted by a loving Australian couple. Despite the love he feels from his adoptive family, Saroo sets out to find his lost family, 25 years after his separation from them. The problem is, he doesn’t know where to find them. Through Google Earth and tracing possible train routes within a giant circle he has drawn on map, he searches for the village of his childhood. After many failed searches, one day he starts looking outside the circle, and discovers a hillside that causes a flashback of memories. This is followed by finding a river that he remembers he used to swim in. This leads him to a train station with a water tower behind it he remembers, and ultimately to the village he grew up in. He has found his first home. Here is the emotional scene where he returns to that home and is reunited with his birth family:

Gratefully, few of us have to live in abject poverty like Jeannette Walls did in The Glass Castle or spend years from our home and family like Saroo did in Lion. But what kind of home are we making for ourselves and our family? Is it that place of love, respect and trust? Is it that place where all family members can rest from the scars of the outside world? Where everyone’s opinions are respected, even if they differ from our own? Let us remember that the richest, most priceless possessions we have on this earth is the great love we have (or at least should have) for a family member.

While I’m no expert, here are a few suggestions on how to help make your house a home:

  • Create family rituals and traditions, from game nights and (of course) movie nights, to special ways to celebrate birthdays and holidays.
  • Eat at least one meal a day as a family, and turn off social media and just talk to each other (as painful as that can be sometimes!). If you don’t know what to talk about, try having each family member tell three good things that happened to them that day. It will help your family develop an attitude of gratitude, and grateful people are generally happier than those who are not.
  • Do chores and other projects together, which helps our children become self-sufficient. Your kids will complain about doing their own laundry and cleaning their bathrooms, but one day they will thank you for teaching them those skills – at least ours did.
  • Provide a place (bedroom or otherwise) where a family member can just go and be alone for a while, and respect that space by asking permission to enter it.
  • Collect or create family collections and heirlooms, whether it be “art” on the refrigerator door or souvenirs from family vacations.
  • Share your home with extended family and friends.
  • Enforce family rules that make sense for safety and respect of others’ property and rights, but at the same time allow each family member as much freedom as practicable to express their own individuality.
  • Find something each day to laugh about. Nothing is better for the soul than a good belly laugh. But be careful you are laughing with someone, not about someone.

By making a comment to this post, I would love others to share things their families did (or are doing) to help make their house a home.

Be it ever so humble, there truly is no place like home, and a happy home is but an early heaven.

[i] The phrase, “There’s no place like home,” first appeared in the John Howard Paine song, “Home, Sweet Home,” written in 1822. The first two lines of the song read: “Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”

[ii] The Wizard of Oz

  • Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
  • Director: Victor Fleming
  • Screenwriter: Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson
  • Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger
  • Release date: August 25, 1939

[iii] E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

  • Production Company: Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment
  • Director: Stephen Spielberg
  • Screenwriter: Melissa Mathison
  • Starring: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote
  • Release date: June 11, 1982

[iv]The Glass Castle

  • Production Companies: Lionsgate, Netter Productions
  • Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
  • Screenwriter: Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham, based on the book by Jeannette Walls
  • Starring: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts
  • Release date: August 11, 2017

[v] Lion

  • Production Companies: The Weinstein Company, Screen Australia and See-Saw Films
  • Director: Garth Davis
  • Screenwriter: Luke Davies, adapted from the book by Saroo Brierley
  • Starring: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara
  • Release date: January 6, 2017


Am I Strong Enough to be Your Man?

When I was in ninth grade, I had the (mis)fortune to be a participant in an arm wrestling contest. I am small boned, and have never been recognized for my strength, so I anticipated from the outset that I would lose. The only problem was my opponent was a girl. This girl was no shot-putter-type female (I know, a bad stereotype). She was a normal-sized, attractive young woman – and one of my best friends at the time. I found out a couple of years later that she was also an excellent kisser! But I’m digressing.

I gave it my best effort, and put off the inevitable for a while, but ultimately my (girl)friend was able to slam the back of my hand against the table. My close (boy)friends assumed I had let her win (but they were wrong). My not-so-close friends ribbed me for days about how I was weaker than a girl. Where is the rule book that says all successful men must be handsome, well-built, show little emotion or vulnerability, work outside the home and be naturally strong and heroic? Where is it written that women must be beautiful, well-built (but in a decidedly different way than men), emotional, work only as housewives and mothers, and be weak and helpless (i.e. they need a prince to save them)? Why must little boys play with trucks and little girls play with dolls? Those were the gender stereotypes of my growing-up years. Fortunately, for both men and women, we have come a long way since then. But we still have a long way to go.

The movie industry prides itself in being a champion of equality, but it is far from it. In 2014, the Geena Davis Institute conducted a study on gender in media.[i] Here are just some of the facts this study revealed about films released in 2014:

  • There are 2.24 male characters for every 1 female.
  • Only 23.3 percent of films had a female lead or co-lead
  • Females made up only 7 percent of directors, 19.7 percent of writers, and 22.7 percent of producers
  • Female characters are more than twice as likely than male characters to be shown as skinny, wearing sexy clothing, and either partially or fully naked
  • Comments made by characters that refer to appearance are directed at women five times more than men
  • Men are more likely to be seen as attorneys, judges, academics or doctors at a rate of 13 to 1; females made up only 13 percent of characters who were business executives.

A few years ago I attended the Broadway production of Cinderella. It was magical. But what was surprising to me was how many young girls in the audience had dressed as princesses. What kind of role model is Cinderella, or any Disney princess, for these young girls? Emulating princesses from the early Disney movies, young girls learn that physical looks are more important than intellect, all unattractive women are evil (and often overweight), women, in general, are weak and need a man to protect them, and a woman’s place is in the home. Poor Cinderella is trapped in a life of thankless cleaning and cooking until a handsome prince rescues her (whom she falls in love with at first sight). Ariel, from The Little Mermaid,[ii] is even worse. Originally, she appears to be a self-assured, strong young woman, well, mermaid. But then she falls in love with the handsome Prince Eric (at first sight again) and then gives up her home, her family and everything she is (even her voice) to be with him. How much more interesting and thought-provoking would the movie be if it was Eric who gave up everything to be with Ariel under the sea? Here is one of the climatic scenes from the movie. Note how evil is personified in an ugly, overweight woman:

But Disney has changed some through the years, like all of us. Its recent remake of Beauty and the Beast [iii] is charming, and Belle is the epitome of a modern woman. She is intelligent, strong, and a no-nonsense, successful inventor in her own right. The problem is not with Belle, but with the movie’s treatment of men. Gaston is the classic boorish male chauvinist pig, and the Beast is simply abusive, as demonstrated in this scene:

The good news is the Beast learns and changes – but including his looks from the ugly beast to the stereotypical handsome prince. How more interesting would the movie be if the Beast remained a beast, whom Belle had originally fallen in love with despite his looks? On second thought, falling in love with an actual beast might be a little too creepy!

Along with movies, I love live theater. One of the most interesting plays I have ever seen was the Dallas Theater Center’s recent adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Most of the main characters were opposite genders from the originals. In other words, Scrooge, Marley and all the spirits were women. It was still the same, beautiful story of change, but the role reversals not only caught my attention, they gave the familiar story a new look and feel.  Geena Davis would be proud. As a solution for making Hollywood less gender biased, her Institute’s study recommends, when scripts are being reviewed, change the “he” to “she.”

I close with a discussion of two of my all-time favorite movies. I love these movies for many reasons, including that both take gender stereotypes and turn them on their heads. In The King’s Speech,[iv] we see one of the most powerful men in the world (England’s Prince Albert who becomes King George VI) show his vulnerability – something no “real man” is supposed to do. Check out this scene:

Billy Elliot[v] (spoiler alert!) is a young English lad who must grow up without a mother. His father and older brother are coal miners. As all good coal miners are, Billy’s dad is a man’s man, and he expects, like his brother before him, to be the same. So Billy’s dad enrolls Billy in boxing classes. The trouble is, Billy has no boxing ability, and finds himself more interested in the ballet classes that start immediately after the boxing lessons. Soon Billy is skipping the boxing classes and attending the ballet classes – until his father finds out. No son of a man’s man would take ballet over boxing, as ballet is only for “puffs:”

But Billy not only likes dancing, he’s good at it. Here, he shows his dad a few of his moves:

Ultimately, Billy’s dad let’s Billy pursue his dream of being a dancer. He is even willing to cross the picket lines of the miners’ strike to be able to pay for the dancing lessons. With the help of his teacher, Billy tries out for the Royal Ballet School. It is not the typical tryout, and Billy is sure he won’t get in. Here is the scene where Billy gets his letter from the school:

This scene is called “Acceptance” both because Billy gets into the prestigious school, but more importantly, Billy’s dad has come to accept Billy for being Billy, not forcing him to fit a stereotype or be something he wishes Billy to be. All parents should be more like the “new” Billy’s dad. Who didn’t fell the joy and pride of Billy’s father as he hears the news about Billy’s success, even though it might not have been the kind of success he originally wanted for Billy. Perhaps Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer and a Director of Facebook, said it best: “We can each define ambition and progress for ourselves. The goal is to work toward a world where expectations are not set by the stereotypes that hold us back, but by our personal passion, talents and interests.”

If only the whole world were so.

[i] As reported in the Huffington Post on September 24, 2014, updated on November 24, 2014.

[ii] The Little Mermaid

  • Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures and Silver Screen Partners IV
  • Directors: Ron Clements and John Musker
  • Screenwriter: John Musker and Ron Clements
  • Starring: Jodi Benson, Rene Auberjonois and Christopher Daniel Barnes
  • Release date: November 17, 1989

[iii] Beauty and the Beast

  • Production Company: Mandeville Films and Walt Disney Films
  • Director: Bill Condon
  • Screenwriter: Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spillotopoulos
  • Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens and Luke Evans
  • Release date: March 17, 2017

[iv] The King’s Speech

  • Production Company: See-Saw Films, The Weinstein Company, UK Film Council
  • Director: Tom Hooper
  • Screenwriter: David Seidler
  • Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter
  • Release date: December 25, 2010

[v] Billy Elliot

  • Production Company: StudioCanal, Working Title Films, BBC Films
  • Director: Stephen Daldry
  • Screenwriter: Lee Hall
  • Starring: Jamie Bell, Julie Walters and Jean Haywood
  • Release date: November 10, 2000