As the proud father of a 5-week-old baby boy, I can confirm: Parenthood is terrifying! When navigating the pre and postnatal life of my first born, I find myself looking anywhere and everywhere for advice. How do I hold him? What do I do when he is crying? Dear god, what do I tell him when he starts asking me about life? There are so many questions, but there is one that looms large above them all: What kind of father will I be?
Nothing could have prepared me for the total uncertainty of being a first-time dad. The question of how to raise my son, with the least possible amount of emotional scarring, is a daunting one. As a man with an affinity for movies, it is no surprise that cinema is one of the many places from which I draw inspiration. These three films contain profound wisdom for anyone who, like me, is looking for fatherly advice.
3. Mary Poppins
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more beloved Disney classic than Mary Poppins, outside of the over-saturated princess genre that is. This supercalifragilistic film follows the exploits of a supernatural nanny, Mary Poppins, who is called upon to help a frustrated young family find their way in London, England, circa 1910. This particular nanny’s mission is to bring this fractured family back together through the power of song, dance, and some LSD-level hallucinations.
The lessons one could glean from this film abound. It shows you what can happen when you lose sight of what matters. It illustrates how important it is to relax and enjoy your time with your family. Best of all, it contains so many fantastic (and god awful) dad jokes.
The most important lesson, however, transcends the day-to-day operations of child rearing. The true lesson of the film Mary Poppins is imagination. Imagination is a powerful force that can shape someone’s future in dramatic ways. Nurturing a child’s imagination opens up a vast world of possibilities for them. After all, those who diligently carry out the routines of their day-to-day lives keep the wheels turning and the lights on, but those with the imagination to dream of a world beyond what we see today can bend and shape the fabric of what we know of as reality.
It is equally important to retain that childlike wonder as a parent. Join your children in dreams of dancing penguins, afternoon tea on the ceiling, and a choreographed team of chimney sweeps with enough pyrotechnics to bring down a small air force. Doing so can create a bond that will last far beyond their childhood years.
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2. Little Miss Sunshine
Little Miss Sunshine is a delightfully dark comedy about a remarkably dysfunctional family. The unlikely band of fractured misfits includes a motivational speaker who has lost his motivation, a foul-mouthed veteran with a heroin problem, and the (former) world’s greatest expert on 19th-century French novelist Marcel Proust (don’t google him, it’s not worth it). At the center of it all is an uncoordinated little girl with an improbable dream: to be a beauty pageant champion. This zany cast of broken souls all pack into an even more broken Volkswagen bus and embark upon a family road trip to self-discovery, and to the Little Miss Sunshine children’s beauty pageant.
At first glance, Little Miss Sunshine grabs you with some surprisingly well-known actors. This little independent film boasts semi-household names such as Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, and Alan Arkin. The story backs up all that star power, taking you down some unexpected roads and making you think about this little thing we call life.
The real lesson to take away from this charming tale is about family. Little Miss Sunshine asks the question, over and over again: What should you be willing to do for your family? The answer to which you are inevitably brought to is this: you should be willing to do anything. Whether it’s that big book deal that doesn’t quite work out, a lifelong dream dashed by an unexpected handicap, or the loss of a job as an expert on an author that no one cares about, life can get pretty rough. In those times of emotional turmoil, it is important to know your family is there for you should you,
say, need to kidnap a corpse from a morgue for sentimental reasons.
This is an important value to instill in our children, but it is even more important to remember for ourselves. As parents, it is our responsibility to show our children how to treat others. If we want to raise our sons and daughters to have true empathy and compassion, we need to start with those closest to us.
1. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Hmm, this is odd. What is one of the greatest action epics to emerge from the cinematic haze that was the ’90s doing in an article about good parenting? It is difficult to imagine what Terminator 2: Judgement Day has to do with family. The film chronicles a time-traveling murder machine sent from the future to protect a floppy-haired little punk from another, even cooler, time-traveling murder machine. Aided by a hyper-militaristic mom, a computer science nerd, and some seriously awesome firepower, they fight the future and strive to make the world a less apocalyptic place.
So what is the ultimate lesson of this explosion-filled family movie? The lesson is to fight like hell. Fight for your family like there’s no tomorrow. No matter what the odds, no matter how daunting the opponent, do not rest until your child is safe, happy, and achieves everything you know they can.
Sarah Connor, while far from the perfect mother, exemplifies this better than any parent in film history. She is willing to fight against, literally, the end of the world for her son. Granted, she drives herself completely insane in doing so, but she fights for her child to the bitter end and devotes her entire being to that cause. We should all strive to show that kind of devotion to our children, but we should probably skip the paranoid homicidal rampage bit.
Each of these three films contain valuable lessons for any and all parents. They are proof that inspiration can come from some strange places, and that the term “Family film” can often mean something deeper than simply a film made for families. So whether you are a veteran parent, a frightened newbie, or are just beginning to think about your potential progeny, I ask you this: What inspires you to be the best dad, or mom, or gender neutral parental officer that you can be?
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