|KNOX STEWARD, 45, was eight when his father left for the Viet Nam war and never returned. The anger, guilt, and confusion associated with that event long ago have created a passionless, almost heartless man of the boy. The people who suffer now, however, are his students, his wife, his mother, his son, and, of course, Knox himself.
Knox is in counseling with his wife SHANNON; his high school students think he's a boring teacher; and his teen-aged son TODD, wanting to get away from his father, has applied to an out-of-state high school for his senior year. Knox's life is coming apart.
Knox's mother, MARIAN, 70s, has lived alone since her husband Henry shipped out to Viet Nam thirty-eight years ago and never came home. She urges Knox to learn all he can about his MIA father, but Knox refuses, not wishing to dredge up painful memories. When Marian dies and Shannon seeks a divorce and Todd is accepted to the out-of-state high school, Knox suddenly realizes he's about to be alone in the world, and he's running scared. He pushes his wife for reconciliation, but she pulls away from him. He tries to connect with his son, but they fight and deepen their estrangement. Recognizing that Todd is becoming a carbon copy of himself, Knox takes him on an Alaskan backpack trip where Todd meets and befriends JENNIFER EDDY, 16. On the trail, Todd and Jennifer befriend one another, and Knox never really gets the chance to talk intimately to his son as he had hoped. However, Todd does ask Knox about his own father, a topic Knox desperately avoids.
Back home, Shannon informs Knox that she plans to remarry, devastating Knox's hope to reunite. Todd visits his dad in an attempt to cheer him up. He even shows Knox an old chest in Marian's attic where she has kept letters, uniforms, and photos of Knox's father, Henry. Marian had shared this secret trunk with Todd, but not with Knox. Todd urges Knox to find out about his father. Knox resists, but Todd states that he wishes he knew more about his own grandfather. This thought touches Knox.
While Todd flies to New York to spend time with Jennifer and her family at their invitation, Knox goes on a journey to learn about his father. He meets the colorful JOSEPH JAZSEMSKI, a private who served with Henry. He finds the mysterious FATHER DECKER who was a radioman during the war. Decker holds the awful secret of what happened to Henry. When Decker finally reveals the truth, it's an emotional landmine for Knox.
Meanwhile, in New York, Todd learns that Jennifer's old boyfriend has just asked her to get back together and she has agreed. Todd returns home heartbroken. In front of his father, Todd breaks down, and Knox is there to comfort him. This rare show of emotional support breaks the wall of resentment, and father and son at last make a meaningful connection.
Knox returns to school the fall semester where his students discover he has found a passion for teaching. Todd decides not to go away to school but to spend his senior year living with his father. The two enemies have become father and son.
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