“It’s only a movie, Ingrid.”
—Alfred Hitchcock to Ingrid Bergman
Recently I took a phone call from a close friend who was upset and confused about whether he should accept a new job. The new job paid substantially more and was in a substantially better area than his current position but raised a host of valid questions involving my friend’s current job, family, and friends. The conversation went on for nearly an hour and a half and proved to be ever more frustrating until I repeated a kernel of wisdom Jack Foley, my father, once shared with me when I had called him to talk about one of my own existential crises.
“As difficult and impossible as the situation may appear right now,” he had told me, “remember what Alfred Hitchcock told Ingrid Bergman: ‘It’s only a movie, Ingrid.’” When I told the story to my friend, the conversation lightened, and we shared a laugh about it. I had eased the tension, and found a way to help both my friend and me move forward.
Afterwards, I could not help but smile when I realized how frustrated my father must have been with me to remind me of Hitchcock’s famous phrase to Ms. Bergman. Perhaps this is the price of fatherhood that I will one day experience? Only time will tell.
Yet, my conversation also reminded me of my father’s tremendous wisdom and courage. While he possesses an astonishing knowledge of a wide array of fields, his wisdom manifests itself in how he looks at the world around him and chooses to react to it. As a contrarian, he challenges everything and everyone around him and freely takes intellectual or professional risks—even if they make friends, family, or others feel a little bit uncomfortable. He also constantly finds inspiration from new sources and an ever expanding set of friends in places as diverse as Syria, South Korea, Iran, Alabama, Russia, California, Washington, DC, Paris, and New York City.
One could call this approach creative or “thinking outside of the box” but neither concept really adequately describes my father. Closer to the mark is to say that he is an individual in constant intellectual motion but who retains a keen sense of self awareness and an understanding of his own contradictions and limitations. He is fond of asking if he is really a “writer” or a “wronger.”
One can see this awareness in how he approached me when I discussed an existential crisis with him. Although he patiently listened to my complaints and reassured me, he also gently prodded me to think beyond my own perspective and to see how I could look at myself and my dilemma differently. After all, it was well within my power to choose to see it as “only” a movie.