(To read Part I of this post, visit Adoptees Ask at The Door Opener Magazine Online)
So we have an adoptee who has been found, versus an adoptee who is searching. This is a nod to the increase in openness in adoption and the reduction in shaming of birth/biological parents who historically were advised to “move on/forget about” their children.
The story shows the villagers (who watch a suspenseful interaction between Po and Li before they recognize each other) being supportive and happy for them. Again, we have a positive new narrative in place of society’s prior fear and condemnation. The community is implicitly and explicitly recognizing the importance of the relationship between the two.
The one person who is not supportive, however, is Po’s adoptive father Mr. Ping. Mr. Ping is a goose by the way, not a panda, intentionally underscoring the biological difference/”misfit” between the adoptee and the adoptive parent. Overall this puts the lie to the old myth (and practice) of trying to physically “match” adoptees with their adoptive families so they could be passed off as biological offspring. The whole village can see that Po is adopted. (More next week on how Mr. Ping kept this fact from Po for many years.)
This begins what I think is one of the most powerful and positives aspect of the story, which is the evolution of the relationships between and among Po and his two fathers. The best thing about it is that it shows all three characters having real, raw and unpolished feelings. Mr. Ping is immediately both suspicious and jealous of Li. He says, “I thought Po was the only panda left?” (It turns out all Pandas were wiped out by the evil forces except those remaining in a secret, hidden Panda village.) When Po excitedly wants to show Li his Dragon Warrior weapons, he rushes off with Li exclaiming how proud Li will be of him. Mr. Ping is left alone at his noodle shop saying forlornly, “I’m already proud…” Later on in a moment of anger and jealousy, Mr. Ping grabs Po and exclaims to Li, “Stay away from my son!”
Po ultimately decides that he must return to the secret panda village with Li to learn how to master the energy of chi and become powerful enough to defeat the dark forces. “I can only master chi by finding out who I really am,” says Po. Surrendering to Po’s great need to find out more about his origins (and thus himself), Mr. Ping offers to help him (and to literally nourish him) on his journey, saying “I’ll pack your lunch for the road.”
I love that Mr. Ping’s imperfect, selfish feelings are so “out there”. I think it gives implicit permission for adoptive parents to acknowledge these kind of feelings may dwell in their own hearts, while at the same time acknowledging the adoptee’s need to continue on their journey of self-knowledge in spite of them. Po does go to the secret village with his father Li.
Mr. Ping’s self-sacrifice and love as an adoptive parent is what most adoptees crave as they explore their own identity. Yet at this point in the movie, we are still seeing what appears to be a struggle of “either/or” between Po’s adoptive and birth fathers. This is the old cultural narrative. It said that there is only room for one father (or mother) in an adoptee’s life and thus conflict between the two parents is inevitable. Furthermore, the adoptee must choose which parent is their “real” (read: more important, more valuable, etc.) parent, thereby diminishing the part of themselves that comes from the less real/valuable parent.
Po himself, by the way, appears blissfully ignorant of this struggle in his innocent excitement about the journey to the secret village. This is one of the areas where I felt the movie dropped the ball. Most adoptees feel very torn by loyalty binds between their adoptive and birth families. In Kung Fu Panda 3, Mr. Ping struggles alone with his feelings of jealousy and fear. Neither Po nor Li seem aware of Mr. Ping’s pain and are consumed solely by their own experiences. I would have liked to see Po facing some of the loyalty issues so common in adoptees.
Next week: Is there a place for both Mr. Ping and Li in Po’s life? What about the lies both Mr. Ping and Li have told Po? And where is Po’s birth/first mother?
(Are you an adoptee with a question? You can submit your confidential, anonymous questions by emailing them to me at: Karen@karencaffrey.com. I’ll answer in a future column.)
Photo credit: Brett Jordan via Flckr