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ALL IN THE FAMILY

Face your fears

(Last of three parts)

When I learn of family businesses unraveling due to unsavory practices “just to beat the competition,” I wish that those in charge watch the episode “Mel versus the Mel-o-dramatic Robot.”

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When Mel’s robot goes out of control over a rival beating her in the science fair, she has to learn that competition, while all too real, need not be toxic.

Mel does not win the contest, but in the end, she discovers that it is okay. This episode may comfort anxiety-ridden children, perfectionist parents, even family business owners, who are driven to beat others out of fear, however harmful the cost.

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Mel is one of two close friends of 14-year-old Gortimer Gibbon, the protagonist of Amazon Prime’s heartwarming and thought-provoking coming-of-age series “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street.” The other is Ranger, and together the trio navigates a neighborhood that Time Magazine describes as “totally boring and unpredictably enchanted” with whimsy and magic.

Ateneo de Manila’s Humanities dean Jonathan Chua and I discussed the show’s merits in the past two weeks: the accuracy of classroom lessons, the clever use of the English language, the refreshing take on values such as decency, respect, honesty, humility and accountability.

Characters do not escape real life through social media, gaming, drugs, but instead face difficult issues head-on. Instead of trigger warnings or political correctness, show creator David Anaxagoras says, “I taught preschool for 23 years and what I learned is you have to be authentic and real.”

Instead of shielding children from difficulties, Anaxagoras knows that life is difficult, and young people need to face life with courage and hope, with adult guidance, support and love.

“Gortimer has no special powers, he is not a rock star,” says Anaxagoras, “but what is special about him is his empathy, his friendship and his loyalty to his friends.”

When the parent of a character is killed in a car accident, desperation, guilt, sorrow combine to create almost unbearable grief. The character becomes obsessed with going back in time to save the parent. The episode is painful to watch (my mother died prematurely, with no chance for goodbye), but the fraught topic of grief is handled with tact and care, and will be of comfort to many people, young and old, who lost loved ones in this pandemic.

I have not hugged my son for more than a year, as he hones skills in a foreign land to help our country when he returns, thus, an episode tackling separation is especially poignant.

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Gortimer’s doctor father helps people in poor places, making him absent from the family much of the time. Gortimer asks, “Do you ever think about quitting?” His father answers, “Listen, son, guys like you and me, we help people who need help. That’s who we are.”

Several episodes bring a lump to the throat. How can we blame Gortimer for wanting to erase memories when they become too painful? Mel for attempting to thwart fate when stakes are high? Ranger for wishing that time would stand still and preserve a perfect moment, with no responsibilities?

And in the first season’s finale, which brought tears to my eyes, Gortimer for desperately fixing things so that his dad, in town for a brief visit, would stay with them forever?

We all wish for magic, to erase all pain.

But ultimately, fears are faced. At the start of one episode, Gortimer says, “People always poke fun at kids for being afraid of the dark. No one is afraid of the dark—they’re afraid of what the dark hides. When you can’t see what’s out there, your mind fills in the blanks and there’s no place scarier than your own imagination.”

And at the end, he reflects, “The dark is full of mysteries, but as long as you have friends by your side, you shouldn’t be afraid of what you’ll find … There’s always an explanation and … you may even find a chance to set things right.” inqWatch “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street” on Amazon Prime.

Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” via Lazada and the ebook on Amazon, Google Books and Apple Books. Contact the author at [email protected]

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