Have you seen the Lost in Space reboot on Netflix yet?
If you want an example of great father energy, check it out. Role models for good fathers are so and far between in the entertainment media — so this one really shines. Below are a few of my reflections on the value this story brings to the journey of fatherhood.
Every good father needs a positive and affirming vision of what a good father can be before he can become one himself.
The first episode of Lost in Space is tough emotionally to get through, because it sets up the primary conflict as a family fighting for their own survival and confronts the viewer with the vulnerability of our children. It's not an easy ride — it's almost traumatic. But as the series develops, a couple insights are gained for facing those difficult realities. The story explores the basic building blocks of what it means to be human, a family, a father or mother and what it takes to survive, thrive and grow up.
There was one scene in particular that gives us a peek behind the veil of what exactly a good father can pass onto his son. Before I can explain its significance, however, there's a little plot background you need to know.
Be warned, if you're avoiding spoilers watch up to episode 6 before reading any further.
Will Robinson, son of John Robinson, has a powerful new tool — an alien robot that obeys the boy's commands. But this tool wasn’t always used for good and many people were afraid of it. In fact, it was the reason they were lost in space and why 27 people tragically died. John knew Will's connection to the robot was tender and pure, but he could also see it was incomplete, naive and immature.
For me this raised a question we all are asking at some point in life: how does a father invite his son to hold the presence, significance and responsibility of his own life?
Far from perfect, John Robinson wasn't around for his son's early years and acknowledged they didn't always "get each other." Will, after all was still just a boy. And John, like many modern fathers, had competing responsibilities and worked hard to keep things together while putting out as many fires as possible (in one episode, he had to make the hard choice to leave one child in dire need to give priority to another child with a sudden, more immediate need). Despite his clumsy attempts to keep a connection alive with his son, this father continually made himself available paving the way to speak into his son's life and eventually be heard. This is what Richard Rohr calls positive "father energy," and it forges a deep connection every man longs for with his own father.
Genuine connection between father and son is the first step in bridging the vast gap between man and boy.
In this particular scene, John called Will to walk with him up a mountain for "father and son... and his robot" task. All three of these masculine creatures hiked upwards and stopped for a moment, standing still before a beautiful and expansive view of the world below.
"Wow. This is amazing, Dad!"
"It is. You're right. But we didn’t come up here to enjoy the view." Dad says, "I want you to go pick up a rock and bring it here."
The boy calls the robot to help him but his father interrupts him, "No, just you today." The boy hesitates and looks confused while Dad says in a tone that was both serious and empowering, "Just go do it."
The boy reluctantly walks downhill picks up a rock. As he lifts it, Dad says, "Not that one. Get one as big as you can carry." Clearly annoyed, the boy drops it and struggles with a much heavier one while Dad encourages him, "Come on. You can do this."
Will walks back up the hill and lays the rock down in front of his father and says, "Done."
"Not quite," says Dad. "We need to do this 26 more times."
"What?!" The boy whines, "Am I being punished?"
"No, no, no," Dad reassures him. He takes a moment and says with a softer tone, "I'm just trying to help you understand you have a responsibility now."
"Is this about him?" Will asks, pointing towards the robot.
Dad nods and Will pleads his case about how the robot listens to him and does what he says. Will says with conviction, "He's more than just a tool; he's my friend."
Dad nods again and says, "But he wasn’t always your friend... Was he?" The boy’s head hangs down. "As much as we would like to change the past, we can't fix our mistakes. We have to live with our history. And in honor of that, we are going to place 27 stones here today as a memorial to all those who lost their lives."
John picks up the rock Will laid at his feet and places it on top of another larger rock. Calling the victim by name, he says, "This one is the first."
This was the moment of invitation.
You could see in Will's eyes something inside him was starting to shift.
He was being asked to take up the gift his father had given him. He knew this wasn't about punishment, but about responsibility. Will piled up the rocks, one by one until he had 25.
For the last rock, he was tired and struggling and couldn't muster the strength to lift the final one to the top. His father reaches up to help in a touching moment. Together, they lift the last stone. Feeling satisfied, they give each other a little side hug as Dad says, "Let's hope we never have to add another one."
Intentional and symbolic rituals can help us pass on the intangible qualities of fatherhood where words can’t do it alone.
The piling of rocks on top of one another is a tradition that goes back centuries. Often called a cairn, it's an ancient memorial, altar or monument with a meaning for each stone. When others would come across these rocks, they would ask and tell each other the story passed down to them about the reason it was built. This practice helped describe and provide intangible meaning in a very tangible way. It gave the younger generation a container to carry these deeper truths from a bigger perspective and much wiser experience.
With a good container, our children know their own kindness, strength, pains both felt and caused, come face to face with their own limitations and know it all has a place here. Stories, like this one, inspire me to think more about how we could update more ancient rituals for our modern context to help us make timeless connections with our kids. Whatever sacrifice needed, it seems clearly worth it. Like John Robinson said with tears in his eyes, "Getting lost in space was the best thing to ever happen to me because it helped me reconnect with my kids."
If our children learn how to face hard things with strength, tenderness, deep affirmation and gratitude, it's because their fathers have constantly sent a message without words that says, "I delight in you and will protect you."