In my Father’s house is a documentary about Che « Rhymefest » Smith and his father. Che comes from a single parent home, he was raised by his mother and his grandparents, and has only seen his father a few times in his life, when he was a kid. Che decides to buy the house in Chicago that his father used to live in the few times he saw him. Evidently, he starts wondering about his father, where is he now ? What is he upto ? This movie is about their relationship, it is about growing up with an absent parent, reconnecting, rehabilitation but it is also and foremost a message of hope.
Che « Rhymfest » Smith grew up in Chicago, with a teenager mother, and help from his grandparents. His father was never really in his life. In 2006, he encountered great success, co-writing an Emmy winning song with Kanye West. He talks about his hit, the impression that you won it all, but also when it doesn’t work as planned (his album did not do too well), and how he encountered more and more financial difficulties whilst still trying to maintain an image of success. Che has children on his own and starts wondering about fatherhood after buying his father’s house. He decides to try and find his absent father.
His father is homeless and alcoholic and is still in Chicago. They meet and gradually, very genuinely, a relationship blossoms between the two of them.
Naturally, Che decides to help his father and gets him into rehabilitation programs, recovery programs, to the point that his father, that has been homeless for 20 years, gets his own apartment.
The documentary treats so many different subjects that it’s hard to summarize. It deals mainly with parenthood; Che explains that 75% of African American children grow up in single parent households. He has been through this and explains why growing up without models, some of these children end up being in gangs, to feel like being part of a family. Che is coming to term with his own fatherhood too, he admits he has not always been the greatest father, and he tries to help the kids in his community. One scene is very poignant of a young kid rapping about death, Che tells him « Your father was killed right? Your brother was killed, why are you talking about killing people? This is your material right there ». He later goes to the same kid and asks him « Who do you have that you can talk to? « The kid is crying. Truth is, he has no one so Che gives him his number, now he has someone. There is something so real and heartbreaking about that scene. Those kids have to learn to behave like adults, they want to be the “heroes”, they want to make it but also they have to be tough, to be strong. This scene shows how deep inside, they are still kids, lost, without anyone to talk to, just pretending to be grown ups, to be unaffected when they are holding up their tears.
Che helps his father, Bryan, in every way he can, but his father has been living in the street for the past 20 years, he has been drinking for atleast that much time too. This documentary also deals really well with rehabilitation, how much work and efforts it takes. Bryan tries so hard to do better, to go to the classes, to find a job, to live on his own but we feel how lonely he is because he is between two very different standards of living, opposite realities. On one side, he has his son, Che that has now taken the role of a father, checking in on him, encouraging him but also reprimanding him, asking him to do more, do better. On the other side, he has his « old life », what has been his life for the past 20 years. His homeless friends that he does not connect with much anymore, most of them being high but also, that don’t want him around, telling him he has become arrogant. He is so lonely, seeing both sides of it is heartbreaking. You see this man doing his best, but that doesn’t seem to make him necessarily happier, even though he has food, and clean clothes and an apartment, because he is alone, misunderstood by all. Che is afraid that Bryan will relapse into alcohol, and constantly reminds him of it. Bryan feels like he has no control over his life, while Che worries he does not control him enough. At the end, Bryan has a relapse and Che has a very strong reaction at first, he says he is done, he cannot help anymore. However, and that is the beauty of Che, and of this movie, relationships and human beings are not simple. This is not black and white. Yes, Brian relapsed, but that is to be expected, the road to recovery is full of relapses and of forgiving, over and over. Che understands that, he understands that he has to accept his father for who he is, for his weaknesses and failures, but also his strengths and achievements, no matter if they are not the attributes we would give to an « ideal’ father. There is no ideal father, there are just human beings, doing the best they can, trying, failing and trying again.
In the end, Che has become the father, he has managed to forgive, he has opened his heart, he has become a whole and accomplished person, but most importantly he has given his father what his father did not give him when he needed it the most, unconditional support and love: a family.
All the people in this documentary are incredible, they are really what you would call « good people », no matter if they have done bad things, if they have been selfish or else, they are humans and you never judge them. Bryan has not been a father to Che, he knows it although he has troubles admitting it. But Bryan, also had an abusive father, what notion does he have of fatherhood? Of family?
Che did not have a father and he could have done, just like Bryan did, abandon his own children because he didn’t know better. But he, instead, broke the circle. He decided to build his legacy, to build his family, he becomes the one people can lean on.
This documentary is truly amazing, you understand how complex relationships are, how forgiving is necessary to love and be loved but most importantly, it is a message of hope. It shows that you can truly change your life around, that you can build things on your own and it also completely redefines the notion of parenthood. What is parenthood if not two people having a child. Are those two people suited to do so? Are they grounded? Are they good role models? Are they responsible? Well, not necessarily and comparing them to an ideal can only make them look worse. Accepting them for who they are, forgiving, learning from their mistakes, and being the bigger person is how you learn to love, and how you become a better parent and a better person yourself.