Column, Movie Diary

Affecting the outcome

By Dom Cioffi

Most people can review their life and easily point to two or three individuals who were major influences on the person they became. Hopefully, one of those was a parent, but other likely candidates might include a coach, teacher, or other relative.

I was one of those lucky kids who had both parents at home, with my mother and father being mutually positive influences on my life.

My father taught me what it meant to be a man and how to conduct myself in public settings. He drilled particular actions into my head that have never disappeared. For instance, he taught me that you always hold the door open for a woman and let her walk in first, whether she’s your mother or a complete stranger.

My mother, through her actions, showed me what it was to put your family first. Growing up, she made sure my brothers and I always had three well-prepared meals, a cornucopia of available healthy snacks, and a nightly dessert that never disappointed. Moreover, the bag lunch I brought to school was the envy of all my friends and something I could easily trade money for if needed.

I can’t say I had one coach who dramatically influenced my life, which is ironic given how involved I was in sports. My guess is that the overall player-coach relationship certainly affected me since I’ve spent the better part of my adult life working as a coach myself.

I did have one teacher in high school whose ideas helped shape the way I thought at a young age. His rational arguments about the value of education resonated with me and very well may have been a catalyst for me deciding to go to college.

In particular, I remember this teacher’s rebuttal to a student who argued that learning about protozoa would only be worthwhile if you wanted to be a science teacher.

He stopped the class discussion and segued into how the human brain worked and explained to us that all the subjects we take in school exercise different areas of our brain. The goal of school, he argued, was to massage all the different regions so that when we’re ready to graduate, our brains are primed to problem-solve any situation or issue that life throws at us.

I’ve never forgotten that explanation since the logic was undeniable. In fact, I’ve used the same argument many times since becoming a father.

My two brothers were also major influences on my life, but for completely different reasons.

My oldest brother was bookish, well-read, and into the arts. I marveled at his level of interest in Shakespeare and human history. Because of him, I never scoffed at literature, even if it made little sense to me. And his curiosity in all things ethereal certainly influenced my interest in the odder aspects of life.

My other brother was the polar opposite—rugged and oozing with charisma. I emulated the way he dressed and portrayed himself, and used him as my guidepost for how to act among my peers.

I’ve also had a couple of bosses that influenced my life. One of the first employers I had out of college dramatically shifted my inclinations when it came to working at my job. He was intense and hardworking and always seemed to revel in doing things well. He inspired me to try my hardest and be proud of what I produced in a work environment.

Another boss I had taught me what it was like to create a positive and fun environment for those around you. He was the kind of guy who would break out into a song in the middle of the workday, not caring if customers were present or if anyone could hear. He moved gently and was always offering humor when things got stressful, which had a profoundly soothing effect on employees.

This week’s film, “Hillbilly Elegy,” is about a young man who had no positive role models in his life other than his grandmother, who was immensely flawed herself, but found a way to redirect the directionless life of her grandson.

Starring Glenn Close and Amy Adams and directed by Ron Howard, “Hillbilly Elegy” is a gritty film adaptation of the 2016 best-selling memoir by J.D. Vance.

There’s some criticism that the film shies away from the political underpinnings that the book focused on. While that may be true, it does not detract from the overall appeal of the heartbreaking drama that unfolds.

If you’re looking for a rough yet uplifting success story of a young man who has everything working against him but still finds a way to persevere, definitely give this film a try.

A resolute “B” for “Hillbilly Elegy” (available on Netflix).

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]

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