Dads don’t get enough credit.
Sure, mothers do all the hard work like carrying the kid around in her belly for 9 months. But it should go without saying that the role of fathers is just as essential. Unfortunately, most of the time it does get left unsaid. I was raised to understand that in the parental equation, the maternal side imparts softer “feminine” values like kindness, compassion and humility, while the paternal side instills harder “masculine” traits like integrity, self-reliance and confidence. Of course, there’s no hard and fast rule to this, and either parent can teach any of the stuff I just listed. But it’s just in line with the natural balance of things.
So, with these values in mind, I present you 7 fathers and father figures from the movies who best fit that bill. I am focusing on father-son relationships, because it is a wholly different dynamic from father-daughter relationships. Plus, a couple of other parameters… The father and child must spend a significant amount of onscreen time together. So, if they’re only seen at the start and end, like in “Finding Nemo”, it doesn’t qualify. Most importantly, I’m talking about good dads with a positive influence here. Sorry, Darth Vader. Asking your kid to join you on the Dark Side so he can help you strangle people and blow planets up makes for a rather poor role model. Old Skywalker Sr. should aspire to be more like these guys…
The nice thing about this film is that it’s a hybrid of several genres — sci-fi, murder mystery and family drama — yet manages to balance all the elements as one cohesive story with a strong emotional core. James Caviezel plays John Sullivan, a cop who is puzzled by a decades-old serial killer case. One day, while fooling around with his late father’s ham radio, he connects with someone on a particular frequency. As it turns out, a solar storm that’s been wreaking havoc with global telecommunications has opened up a rift in time, allowing him to speak to his dad 30 years in the past. Through these ham radio sessions, he gets to bond with the man he never knew, Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid). The plot thickens when John realises he can use this time-bending phenomenon to prevent his father’s death, as well as solve the serial killer case. But there are always consequences to changing history.
The film is wish-fulfillment fantasy at its best, where missed opportunities, lost wisdom and wasted lives are restored by a second chance. “Frequency” is poignant and heartwarming (its leading men have a lot to do with that). It’s the kind of movie you can watch as an adult man with your dad, and the both of you can genuinely get something out of it.
Some fanboys complained that the character of the Terminator was completely neutered when James Cameron made him a good guy in the sequel. They simply missed Cameron’s point: that technology in itself is neither good nor evil, it’s how you use it. The moral here is that if even a killing machine can learn the value of human life, then maybe humans can too.
The reprogrammed T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) not only ends up learning to be a humanitarian, it becomes the perfect father figure to young John Connor (Edward Furlong). His mother Sarah (Linda Hamilton) observed: “It was suddenly so clear. The Terminator would never stop. It would never leave him. It would never hurt him. It would never shout at him or get drunk and hit him. Or say it was too busy to spend time with him. It would always be there. And it would die to protect him. Of all the would-be fathers who came and went over the years, this thing, this machine, was the only one who measured up. In an insane world, it was the sanest choice.” Over the course of the film, John gets so attached to the T-800 that even at the end, when it is reduced to a mangled mess of metal and artificial flesh, John loves it like only an adoring son can. Unfortunately, the Terminator, having completed its mission, must self-terminate despite John’s tearful pleas. It’s a truly heart-wrenching scene and one of my favourite endings in science-fiction Cinema.
This little-seen film is a quiet gem. Kevin Kline plays George Monroe, a talented architectural draftsman but disinterested father. When he discovers he is slowly dying of cancer, he finally decides to turn his family around. He begins DIY construction work on a house he designed, and ropes in his estranged son Sam (Hayden Christensen, surprisingly engaging here) to help. George keeps his illness from everyone, and he wants to complete the house as a final parting gift to his son, who he had neglected all this time.
Director Irwin Winkler (Fonzie from the TV classic “Happy Days”) avoids making things too sentimental by playing up the complex relationship between two headstrong, difficult characters. He allows the reconciliation to unfold slowly throughout the story, paralleling the raising of the house. It’s a great and very fitting metaphor for the family unit. It’s no spoiler to say that George dies at the end of the movie. But not before leaving behind a lasting legacy. It’s not the house, it’s the new foundation he built with his loved ones, especially his son who in turn becomes a new, improved man.
Although Sean Connery’s role as Indiana Jones’ dad is pretty much a comedic one, it hits the heart as effectively as the funny bone. According to Indy (don’t call him Junior), his father was a non-entity who was always more interested in people who’d been dead for over a thousand years in another country. According to Dr. Jones, Sr. he did a fair enough job just by being absent. As far as he’s concerned, it taught his boy the virtue of self-reliance. Which pretty much sums up Indy, the intrepid adventurer.
Director Steven Spielberg has a lot of fun playing up the rivalry between them, with the elder Jones regularly one-upping his son almost without even trying. Yet it is also kind of sweet how Indy’s resentment stems from just wanting the approval of his dad. And for dad to stop calling him Junior. “Last Crusade” humanised Indiana Jones on a much deeper level than previous films in the series. It’s not only the funniest flick, it’s also the most heartfelt. Shame that charm didn’t translate when Indy himself played a dad in “Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull”. But the less said about that dud, the better.
Not all dads have Jedi-like wisdom. Even fewer can teach you how to kick ass via household chores. Then again, there can only be one Mr. Miyagi. Played by Pat Morita with a matter-of-fact stoicism, this character is in fact better than the movie he’s in. I don’t have the affection many 80s babies have for “The Karate Kid”, simply because it’s an average film at best. It does get by on its simple charms, mostly in the scenes between Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) and his sensei.
Mr. Miyagi isn’t just about his clever “Wax on, wax off” trainings-in-disguise, he also guides the boy in the ways of the world. When Daniel first comes under Miyagi’s charge, he’s scared and clueless. He’s grown up without a father, and has been relentlessly bullied for his weakness of spirit. The old master teaches him that the most powerful weapon is belief in oneself. Yeah, it is as clichéd as it sounds. Luckily, Morita makes it all feel kinda profound. He also shares an easy chemistry with Macchio, which lends the movie a nice warmth. As stand-in paternal figures go, Mr. Miyagi’s pretty hard to beat. Literally.
I must confess that my memories of this Walt Disney animated classic are somewhat hazy. What has stuck on in my mind are the images, really. The most indelible of which is a kindly old man, hunched over his workbench, tenderly putting the finishing touches on his creation. We all know the story of the wooden puppet named Pinocchio. Personally, I always wondered about the untold story of the puppetmaker instead. Here was a man who never gave up hope on his child, no matter how errant or morally lost the child got. And when the boy finally does come back, he is accepted unconditionally, with open arms. I don’t see Pinocchio’s transformation into a real boy as a reward for him. I see it as a reward for Gepetto’s faith. It’s a beautiful, timeless tale, one that every dad should watch with his son at least once in his lifetime.
This tale of divorce and custody battles made an impact on me more for the life experience I had as a result of watching it. I was very young at the time, and I remember being very upset due to a particular scene in the film where the little boy (Justin Henry) was forcibly separated from his father (Dustin Hoffman). It was a pretty emotional moment, and I burst into tears, for some reason believing that the same thing would happen to me. I remember my father entering the living room, switching off the VCR (yeah, it was THAT long ago) then putting his arm around me. After he’d eased away the trauma, he taught me a very important lesson: life doesn’t always turn out like the movies, for better or worse. Of course, at the time he explained it in a way that even a toddler could comprehend. I think I reciprocated with a hug.
So the next time you’re wracking your brain for bonding activities with your dad, forget golf, forget fishing, forget karaoke. Try taking him to the cinema, or popping something into the DVD player at home. It doesn’t even have to be the sort of flick I discussed here. As long as it’s something he likes watching. His tastes can’t be too bad. Give him some credit, eh. Unless he likes watching “Twilight”. Then maybe you should wonder if you were adopted…
Happy Father’s Day to all dads (including mine)!