Always Looking Up – Chris Gardner (The Pursuit of Happyness)

Swapna Narayanan

Mothers are often heralded for their determination, will power and the ability to go to any lengths for her children. I know of a woman who was accidentally locked into the bathroom by her one-year-old infant. There was no one at home and she tried guiding the child to slowly unlatch. Just a year old, the child was unable to do that, but sensed something was wrong and started crying. The woman eventually broke open the door and came out. When asked, she just said, ‘I don’t know how I got the strength to break open a wooden door but my child’s crying was the only thing I was hearing and I had only one goal – to carry my child and pacify him.’

At my work place, I often see young mothers, who are very determined to do well at work and get home to their baby. They will think and come up with time saving methods to be more productive, they will take very short breaks just enough to grab a bite or a cup of coffee and will always be driven by this desire to achieve more in the limited time they have at work. All because they are mothers now and need to be back home for their children.

I saw the same trait in a reel father, for a change, in the Hollywood movie – The Pursuit of Happyness. The movie is iconic and is often used as an inspiration for professionals specifically in Sales. Released in 2006, this movie is a book adaption of a memoir by the well-known businessman Chris Gardner.

But, along with being an inspiration for all sales folks (struggling and successful), this movie appealed to me as a father’s determined effort to survive for his son.

Set in the 1980s, Chris Gardner, played by Will Smith, is a salesman selling bone density scanners to medical practitioners. A gifted man, Chris struggles to make ends meet and his wife Linda, played by Thandie Newton, holds two jobs to pay the bills, yet the financial pressure is evident. They have a 5-year-old son, Christopher, played by Jaden Smith, who goes to a day care centre when the parents are at work.

Disappointed at Chris’s inability to bring in the money, Linda leaves him. Devastated, he pleads that Christopher lives with him, which she eventually agrees to.

With Linda gone, situation turns from bad to worse and Chris is unable to sell the scanners, struggles to pay rent, and even spends a night in jail for missing to pay the parking tickets.

Yet Chris never gives up and never lets his son know about their troubles.

He eventually signs up for an internship program at a stock brokerage company but it comes with a caveat. It is a six month non paid internship at the end of which only one person would be selected out of the 20 interns for the job. Initially, he contemplates not taking it, but seeing no other option available for him, he does take it.

So now he had to do three things – bring up Christopher alone, work and prove himself in this unpaid internship for that one coveted position, and sell the remaining six scanners with him – to sail through the six months.

He gets down to work with an unparalleled commitment to make it. While his colleagues get a full 9-hour day to complete their tasks, he gets a shorter day as he has a child to take care of back home. He takes no breaks and works relentlessly, does not drink water at all to completely avoid the bathroom breaks, and sits and studies the products of the company after putting Christopher to bed.

Something you can often see young mothers doing, even today.

By now Chris has been thrown out of his apartment, and has moved into a motel. Yet nothing stops his focus towards success and parenting. As a single father he ensures that Christopher is well fed, his clothes are washed and dried, he is taken to the park to play etc. Nothing is missed, slipped or forgotten.

The challenges do not cease though.

Due to a pending tax issue, he loses all his savings and is evicted from the motel too.

With nowhere to go and a child with him, he is forced to stay in shelters, churches and even a rest room of a railway station. One scene that defined him as the most loving and courageous father in my eyes was when they had to stay in a rest room in the train station. Knowing fully well that the night had to be spent in the rest room, he plays with Christopher and builds a powerful imagery of dinosaurs attacking and takes him into the rest room showcasing it as a cave and a safe place to stay! With his deep love and a deeper intent to shield his son from problems, he transforms this probable harrowing experience into a gaming experience. You can watch the scene here.

But never does Chris show to his colleagues or his own son his innermost fears and thoughts and puts up a strong brave face. And not only that, he does it with élan. His tenderness and deep love for his son, coupled with his self-confidence, in spite of some demanding circumstances show the committed father who wants only the best for his son.

His faith and his son’s trust on him makes him sail through.

Eventually tides turn, as they often do, as life is but a cycle of troughs and peaks. One doesn’t stay in the trenches for too long.

*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*

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