Fathers in Film


In honor of Father’s Day, I’ll continue my efforts at highlighting fabulous, funny, and timeless movies which portray father figures we can learn from or, in many cases, not learn from. This list is in no particular order except I’ve saved the best for last.

Jack Byrnes: Meet the Parents

Robert DeNiro’s character embodies the desires of all fathers of daughters—complete with a lie detector machine and the ever-intimidating DeNiro stare. Jack Byrnes reminds the world that fathers love their daughters, and prospective sons-in-law should beware! (Also, lessons for prospective sons-in-law: do NOT mess with your in-laws pets or sneak around in their houses at night. Oh, and learn how to easily pass lie detector tests in your spare time.)

Jake Houseman: Dirty Dancing

Baby’s dad sure gets more than he bargains for when he takes his family on summer vacation. Fathers can learn from him that it is not a good idea to make your daughter hang out with a resort owner’s goofy nephew. Dr. Houseman also has to learn to accept that his kids, even when they are well-meaning, aren’t perfect and that his wife is a better dancer than he is. Fathers should also beware of dance instructors in the Catskills (especially if they look anything like Patrick Swayze). It’s better to take the family to Europe! That’s what the kids want! That’s where they’ll have the time of their life! (Sorry, couldn’t help it.)

Darth Vader: Star Wars

I include this film father in my list as a shout-out to my hubby. Yes, yes, Darth Vader (which literally means “Father” in Dutch, Beca) has anger issues he needs to deal with, and he eventually sacrifices himself for his son and returns to the light side. But according to my son (who is qualified to comment here because he has seen many Lego Star Wars scenes) Darth Vader is a “bad father because he was trying to kill his own son. And that wasn’t very nice.” Well said, Padawan.

Coach Herman Boone: Remember the Titans

Denzel Washington’s character in this movie loves football and his family, even though his sweet daughters care so very little about the sport. While Coach Boone isn’t touchy feely, he does his job with integrity and excellence, despite opposition and lack of community support. As he simply does the job he was hired to do, he allows his girls to learn that injustice and racism exist in our world and that it must be faced with courage, not avoided in fear. A message that is much too relevant to our world today…

Sam Baldwin: Sleepless in Seattle

For all you single dads out there, you might listen when your kids tell you it’s time to start dating again—before they call a radio show (or, these days, post something about you on the Internet). Sam takes the job of fathering seriously but with a big dash of humor and a lot of heart, even if he isn’t the best at picking out babysitters. When Sam meets Annie, everyone forgives little Jonah for his literal flight across the country because sometimes kids have a pretty good idea of just what their parents need before their parents do. And they are also less fearful about these things because they have NOT seen Fatal Attraction.

And now I must address some of the counterparts to my Movie Mothers list from a month or so ago.

Clark Griswold: National Lampoon Movies

This father will stop at nothing, literally nothing—not death, not “closed” signs, not SWAT teams—to insure that his family has amazing vacations and holidays. He will risk imprisonment, sanity, and bankruptcy to bring about a full-family Christmas or an unforgettable day of rides at Wally World. And while we are all glad we are NOT part of his family, we love him for it.

Gus Portokalos: My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Gus just wants his daughter to marry a nice, Greek boy. Not I-an Miller. But he eventually relents. What a good daddy to let his little girl live her dreams. But what fathers can really learn from him is that if you simply don’t want to let your kids to leave you when they grow up, all you have to do is buy them a house of their own. Next door to yours.

George Banks: Father of the Bride

Steve Martin plays this character to perfection—the loving, doting, slightly neurotic daddy trying to adjust to the huge life change of watching his eldest marry. Lessons from George’s playbook include not creeping into the office of your child’s future in-laws to see how much money they make, not taking pills (or any medical advice) from Frank, and not freaking out at the cost of a wedding where your daughter can see you. BUT do make the most of every moment, hire a valet for a home wedding reception, and buy the extra hot dog buns.

Mr. Bennett: Pride and Prejudice (BBC version)

I will forever and always love Mr. Bennett for not making Lizzy marry Mr. Collins. Mr. Bennett teaches fathers that it is okay to retire to your library, that reigning in a wild child can be nearly impossible, and that it is okay to recognize that you perhaps have the “silliest” children in all the land.

And last but certainly not least…

Atticus Finch: To Kill a Mockingbird

Atticus is one of the all-time greatest fathers in film (even if he is too old to play football for the Methodist) because of the content of his character. His integrity and moral conscience seeps out of him into the thoughts and actions of his children. They can’t help but see the beloved humanity in Calpurnia and Helen and Tom Robinson and Mrs. Dubose and Mr. Cunningham and Boo simply because their father does. While defending an innocent man in a racially-charged small town, Atticus must also keep his children from prejudice. He does this by his love. Along the way, he teaches his children that guests can pour as much syrup on their dinner as they want, that sometimes we have to step into someone else’s shoes for a little while and walk around in them, and that it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, especially to my own fathers and father-in-law and to my own movie-loving husband who makes being a daddy look so easy. It’s a hard job, I know, but your love and your care and your faith and your sacrifices don’t go unnoticed. I’m so very thankful for you.