This Sunday is Father’s Day, a time to recognize the important role that dads play in their children’s lives and in society as a whole.
For me, Father’s Day is particularly special this year, as my wife and I recently welcomed our first child into the world. Needless to say, waking up at 3:00AM to change the diaper of my 8-day-old daughter has given me a new perspective on this special holiday and all of the things it takes to be a good dad.
Often, popular media portrays fathers as oafish clowns, interested only in their own needs rather than in taking care of their children or being good partners to their spouses. While this is true for a small percentage of men, I don’t think it’s a fair characterization. If men modeled themselves after what they saw on TV and in the movies, divorce rates would surely skyrocket to 100%.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to be learned from popular media. If you look carefully, there are plenty of valuable fatherhood lessons in some of our favorite movies.
In this article, we’re sharing five fatherhood lessons from some famous movie dads.
Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
Lesson: Be there for your kids, no matter what.
On its surface, Mrs. Doubtfire doesn’t seem like the best movie on which to model one’s fathering style. As Daniel Hillard, Robin Williams plays a man that eschews responsibility, maturity, and discipline in favor of being a friend to his kids. When the judge in his divorce case grants custody to Sally Field, you can’t help but agree with the decision, even though Daniel clearly loves his children.
That’s when the real lesson of Mrs. Doubtfire comes in to play. Rather than resign himself to the fate of seeing his kids one day a week, Daniel concocts a scheme to be in their lives everyday as the genial Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire. Admittedly, his deception is criminally irresponsible, but the underlying message is important. Daniel loves his kids and wants to be there for them no matter what.
If you’re a father, it’s imperative that you be there for your kids through thick and thin. Dads play an enormously important role in the emotional development of their children, and being an absentee father is no way to get them started on the right foot. I wouldn’t recommend posing as a septuagenarian housekeeper to spend time with your family, but the point still stands. Be there for your kids and they’ll return the favor when you really are in your 70s.
Marlin in Finding Nemo (2003)
Lesson: Be prepared to do anything for your child, but know when you’re holding them back.
In my eyes, Finding Nemo is one of Pixar’s very best films. It’s funny, action-packed, and genuinely touching. Although I’ve seen the movie perhaps a dozen times, I never get tired of watching Marlin and Dory search the oceans for little Nemo. From a parenting perspective, Finding Nemo offers plenty of valuable lessons for fathers. For me though, it all boils down to one basic precept: be ready to do anything for your child, but don’t hold them back from living their own life.
In Finding Nemo, Marlin (voiced wonderfully by Albert Brooks) is rightfully worried about his son. Having lost his wife and other kids to the dangers of the ocean, Marlin embraces his role as protector. However, like many parents, he takes things too far. His overprotective nature is what leads Nemo to rebel and swim off to the fishing boat where he is captured.
That’s where part one of the lesson comes into play. Marlin faces countless obstacles in his efforts to retrieve his son, from blood-crazed sharks to a maze of jellyfish. He’s like a sweeter version of Liam Neeson in Taken. There is literally nothing that will stop Marlin from getting to Nemo. As a father, you have to be ready to do anything for your child, even if it means traveling halfway across the world.
Once Marlin finds Nemo, part two of the lesson comes into play. In order to save all of their lives, Marlin has to learn to let go of his son and give him the chance to save the day. It can’t be easy for a father to watch his son or daughter grow up, but you can’t help them if you get in the way.
Mac MacGuff from Juno (2007)
Lesson: Be as supportive and understanding as you can be no matter how drastic the situation.
Let’s paint the scene. A 16-year-old girl sits her parents down for an important conversation. After a minute or two of hemming and hawing, she comes out with the shocking news: she’s pregnant. If you were watching a traditional sitcom, what would the father do? My guesses: A) pass out in an over-the-top pratfall, B) Go on some kind of comical rant about how “This can’t be!,” or C) Sit in shocked silence as everyone else around him reacts to the news (bonus points if we see the dad sitting in the same exact position hours later).
Obviously, hearing that your teenage daughter is pregnant is something that most dads wouldn’t wish upon their worst enemies, but it happens. And when it does happen, I hope that dads don’t react like a stereotype, but rather like Mac MacGuff, the wonderfully supportive and sarcastic father in the indie comedy Juno.
As played by J.K. Simmons, Mac is a plainspoken but intelligent man who fully understands his daughter’s plight. In the scene where Juno shares her news, Simmons delivers a flawless and nuanced performance. He’s upset, disappointed, and confused, but he’s also understanding. It’s a wonderful scene to watch, particularly if you’re a dad.
Things will happen in your son or daughter’s life that you simply can’t anticipate. Flipping out about them won’t help the situation, and will likely only cause long-lasting resentment. You can be disappointed in your children for the poor decisions they make, but if you want to help them, you have to put your own feelings aside and be as supportive as possible.
Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Lesson: Stand up for what’s right, even if you’re the only one.
Never has a man shown such honor, compassion, and morality than Atticus Finch in his doomed defense of Tom Robinson in Harper Lee’s famous novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. In the 1962 film version of the story, Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus is pitch perfect, capturing the character’s inherent nobility and wonderful earnestness. As a male role model, few fictional characters rank as highly as Atticus Finch, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
From a father’s perspective, Atticus teaches dads a very valuable lesson. By defending Tom Robinson, Atticus puts himself at the center of a considerable controversy – and subsequently puts his family in danger. But in doing so, he also shows his children that it’s important to do the right thing, no matter what.
As kids grow up, they will be exposed to a wide variety of negative influences. As a father, it’s important to be there as a role model for your children – to keep them on the right path. As the old cliche goes, actions speak louder than words. When you stand up for what is right, you’re setting your children up to do the same thing in their lives.
Not to sound too much like Batman, but the next time you see injustice, you should stand up against it. Bearing silent witness to a crime can be as bad as participating in it. Be like Atticus and set a good example for your kids.
Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker – Return of the Jedi (1983)
Lesson: It’s never too late to change your ways.
For our final fatherhood lesson, we turn to the most famous dad in movie history: Darth Vader. As a Sith Lord, Darth Vader is all about the dark side of the force. After all, when a dude orders the destruction of an entire peaceful planet, you know he has to be pretty bad. However, evil though he may be, Darth Vader does offer dads a valuable lesson about fatherhood. Although it takes him three movies to get there, Darth Vader finally shows one of a father’s greatest assets: the ability to change.
Whether it’s a disagreement about a child’s choices, or resentment over an old argument, too many dads ruin relationships with their children because of stubbornness. Children can be frustrating, but they can also be wonderful, if you’re prepared to work for it. A bitter, angry, or apathetic father is as bad as no father at all.
If there’s something inside of you keeping you from connecting with your child, you should take a page out of Darth Vader’s book and change your ways. Hopefully, you won’t have to wait until you’ve been electrocuted to change your ways, but sometimes that’s what it takes.
An added benefit to the Darth Vader lesson is the impact that it has on your children. We all have prejudices and biases that impact our lives in various ways, sometimes trivial and sometimes serious. Showing your children that you’re the type of man that can learn from his mistakes is important and will help them in their emotional maturation. Who knew Star Wars could be so therapeutic?
If there’s a special dad in your life, please pass this article on to them. Being a dad is tough, and sometimes it takes a little help. If you’re a dad, or just love movies, please feel free to add your own thoughts on fatherhood in the comments. From our Screen Rant family to yours, we hope that all of the dads out there enjoy Father’s Day.