Posted by: James Atticus Bowden | September 18, 2011

Movie “The Fighter”, the Fight and Family Within

Gritty but great movie about people as they are

I connected to this movie.   But, I don’t know why.  I’d like to figure it out.  Are my thoughts about the connection serious or just silly?

First, the connection.  I lived in the Boston area when I went to grad school #1, my sister and two nephews and their family live there.  Also, I served with and know lots of folks from BAH-stin.  The accents are very familiar.

The humble origins of Lowell aren’t home to me.  The Irish Catholic roots aren’t mine.  But, humble origins and Irish roots of a different sort are mine.  I wonder if the connections are connected?

One aspect of the movie was about family.   Family above all.  Family ties binding up the dysfunctional and faulty people – and never letting go.  Even when all is wrong.  They’re family.  Blood.  Family pride in victory.  Family toughness in defeat.  Shared family Christian faith even if individuals are all over the map in their personal walk with the Lord.  Family first.

Another aspect was about coming up in the world by hard work.  Boxing is hard work indeed.  My father was born in a farmhouse with a dirt floor.   Yet, because an aunt and uncle – who worked on the railroad- raised him after his mother died, he had a car when he was in High School.  In the middle of the Depression.  He worked hard all his life.  He worked himself into a heart attack in the Pentagon during the early Vietnam War years.  He never collected a penny of Social Security, working until he died before he could retire.

I started working for wages when I was 15.  I was the son of an Army Officer, so we weren’t poor.  And, I’ve worked all my life.  Working without whining, cheating or slacking is expected.  Everyone in my clan has made their own way in the world.  Nothing was given to the family.  Nothing was gained by ill-gotten gains.

And, there is the aspect about fighting.   My blood still gets up for a good fight.  Metaphorically and literally – even as old as I am.   I like a good fight, outside of family, when it’s for a good reason.  I am ready for a worthy fight or two, right now.

So, here’s a question:  How closely are the ideas about family from the humble origins of a Southern Scot-Irish Protestant aligned – and from the same origin – as those from the humble origins of a Boston Irish Catholic?  What is the same and what is different?  What is Celtic – shared by Scots and Irish?  What is Irish?  What is in common after more than 250 years in America?

What about our ideas on family and fighting are the same?   I wonder.

I sure felt the connections.  Was it just emotion?

I know we – the characters in Mark Wahlberg’s masterpiece and my People – don’t own the franchise on the sense of family and fighting within.   Yet, let’s name them and just ponder.

Fierce pride in ‘who we are’.  Beyond stubborn.  Super intense love of family.  Service to country and God.  Love life, laughter and song.  Loyalty beyond a fault.  Independent, willing to be a minority of one.  Willing and ready to fight.  Subservient to no ‘betters.’   Fear no man.   Humbled and broken, beholden, and prayerful before Lord Jesus Christ.

Maybe my kin can explain some of this at the Bowden-Maley Clan gathering the first weekend in October in West Tennessee.



  1. Jim –
    Thanks for the blog – thoughtful and challenging at the same time.

    So, here’s a question: How closely are the ideas about family from the humble origins of a Southern Scot-Irish Protestant aligned – and from the same origin – as those from the humble origins of a Boston Irish Catholic? What is the same and what is different?

    — Not at all different – the dreams are clearly AMERICAN – our forefathers saw the concept of America from a very similar perspective – they saw 1) Opportunity based on factors other than inheritance or royal decree; 2) Community of Peers with standing based on contribution – on the frontier, what you did was far greater than “who” you were 3) Openness to Challenge the “established”; and 4) Family as an anchor and launching point to move into a larger world with the expectation that you would not dishonor the family name.

    As much as the Boston Irish Catholic had a religious and political hierarchy to battle, the reverence for the “royalty” was always tinged with great sarcasm. The church (and government) had limited effect on the daily commerce of ideas and goods and labor. The underground “market” was every bit the equal of the “official” and it remains to this day.

    — In many ways, the Boston Irish experience is a frontier experience. They were met with strong resistance by the community in place. The difference is that they struggled to establish themselves against a hostile environment in an economic and material sense. They won their “land” by the sweat of their brow in a way similar to the Southern pioneer.

    — I’ve seen that Scot-Irish heritage is one of accommodation when required, yet a fierce independence lies deep within the belly. We’ve not had particular reverence for those who proclaimed themselves to be the purveyors of “right,” whether it be religious or political. When the man recognizes his worth and that his ideas are worth fighting for – there is little that will hold them back in the long run. Certainly, the rebel in jail will be celebrated and welcome back to the fold to fight another day. The personal value and worth that comes from doing things that matter percolates to the forefront and all take pride in this.

    — In both cases, the Irish-Scot has reverence for the Creator God and believe in His eternal goodness. The Southern and Northern religious experience are indeed similar – the structure of the religion is different in method, yet not in outcome.

    What is Celtic – shared by Scots and Irish? What is Irish? What is in common after more than 250 years in America?

    – Remember, the Boston Irish experience is a brief one – 125 years or less – the Southern legacy is over 250 years and continuing. The Boston legacy is being rapidly being displaced by a Hispanic challenge. The core of the founders and their immediate heirs continue to move to the suburbs and the inland parts of the country. Soon, it will be a historical fact as they turn over their communities – where people of common beliefs live – to yet other groups making their way into America’s heart. Those who continue in community – particularly those of the south will assure that the common values endure – even if they are not popular among those who have no heritage, or have forgotten their families.

    What about our ideas on family and fighting are the same? I wonder.\
    I sure felt the connections. Was it just emotion?

    — Fighting and Irish are indeed two sides of the same coin. The pride of name and heritage is almost as genetic as our red noses. (I can’t count many Irish named folks that I’ve known that have not said “I’d love to go back and see the place”) We are drawn mystically to the homelands of the highlands and hills of the “old country” – and as well to a good fight when what is right is defamed. The Scot-Irish are the “true believers” in what is good, what is right, and what is pure and will go to the ends of the earth keep it thus. May we as Americans continue in that blood legacy!

    — Have a great American Day!

  2. Gunn Clansman,

    It’s in the blood. The Mann’s are Celtic. I also have relatives in Boston. The Rolfe, Pomeroy, and Randal part of my descendents all landed in Massachusetts Bay Colony between 1630 and 1650. All of the lines are saturated in Scottish and Irish and Norman Bloodlines. We are tough people!

    I boxed at West Point too. It is a tough sport and you learn how to tak a punch and keep on fighting and win even when your wits are clouded.We have a sense of right and wrong. We never look for a fight, but fight we will if pressed. We don’t like bullies. We always try to do the right thing, even if the first try was the wrong thing. We fight ferociously when someone takes a cheap shot, be it verbal or physical. We pull for the underdogs because we are sons of the underdogs. We have a faith in God because we grew up in humble, unspoiled surroundings and we had a work ethic. We love our family even though we might not particularly like someone on any given day. We love Jesus and we say our prayers. We believe we are the salt of the Earth even when the World doesn’t know or care what that means!

    Good article.


  3. Ken and Bill, Thanks for two great responses. You tell me that I am not so far off on why I felt so connected to that movie. Thanks again.

  4. First, I shared every bit of your feelings through this movie as regards to “fighting” one’s way through life, ties that bind, etc. Blood — no matter how dysfunctional it is — is still thicker than water. Also being an oldest brother of a clan, I readily identified with the concept of knowing your brothers better than anything else, and watching your little brother’s star rise after yours has burned out. It’ll happen one day…

    Second, and to answer your question, I believe the struggle identified is common to just about every family, every tribe, every culture. The intensity of an Irish Catholic background has the added flavor (apart from Scots-Irish) of being the perpetual underdog — no respect, always beat down, never getting a fair chance, knowing the deck is intentionally *and* unintentionally stacked against you, and then choosing to go out and get what’s you and your family deserve anyway. I can say that, for my part, the whole idea of someone in the Kenney family “breaking out” whether it’s an Air Force general in the Second World War or a Canadian MP is a big deal.

    The Fighter captured all of that with the added portion of Lowell, MA — a beat up, downtrodden, has-been town of its own right. The scene where all the girls pile into a car to fight? According to my wife and her sister, this is the reputation of Lowell. Yes, there are “rednecks” in New England…

    I guess that right there is the nexus between the Scots-Irish, the Irish-Catholic, and the American. Redneck is who we are… somewhere deep down, our cultures and shared experience vs. the English (and with one another), roughing it out on what the Anglicans didn’t want of America in the Appalachians, the major cities of industrial America, scrapping for jobs at the bottom of the pecking order… and the belief that God is not silent, is watching, and does care.

    Between “The Fighter” and “Cinderella Man” — those are two great movies. The latter might be a better exemplification of the Irish Catholic spirit.

    Thanks for sharing, as I will share with others!

  5. Thank you, Shaun. I thought Cinderella Man was great too, except Rene Zellwigger’s New Jersey accent was TERRIBLE.

    Cinderella Man, Sea Biscuit, Rudy and Hoosiers are all the same movie – may be missing one. True sports stories = underdog wins.

    Don’t the lace Irish Catholics in the Northeast and MidWest have a different view than the shanty Irish?

  6. […] as I wrote – – I was amazed at how I connected to the movie “The Fighter” about a Boston […]

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