Picture from Celebrating Fathers: Movies for Father’s Day
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Celebrating Fathers: Movies for Father’s Day

Dads are our kids’ first superheroes. And there are some great movies about heroic dads. Finding Nemo shows that even the most nervous dad will do anything to save his son. Marlin, a small and anxious clownfish, sees his family wiped out and he embarks on a hazardous, ocean-spanning quest to find and rescue his one surviving son.

Real life superheroes don’t always realize what they’ve got. In The Incredibles, Mr. Incredible is going through mid-life crisis. When saving the world nearly costs him his family, he realizes how much they mean to him. And when he spends part of The Incredibles 2 being Mr. Mom while his wife, Elastigirl, has a turn at saving the world, he learns that raising kids is the most heroic job of all.

One of a father’s greatest superpowers is teaching their kids, especially when life imposes difficult lessons. Classic movie To Kill a Mockingbird follows small town lawyer Atticus Finch who is derided for representing an African American defendant accused of raping a white woman. In the 1930s Deep South, his example teaches his children about the importance of integrity and self-respect in the face of opposition. The same lessons are taught by Maverick Carter to his children in The Hate U Give. When his daughter, Starr, witnesses a police shooting, she falls back on her father’s faith in her and pride in their African American heritage.

Even the best dads and their kids won’t always see eye to eye and negotiating those differences is the heart of many fine films. Sometimes the differences are cultural: in British production Bend it Like Beckham, Jessminder (Jess) has her heart set on playing soccer – or football as it’s known in England. Her traditional parents expect her to marry a nice Indian boy in a traditional wedding. Fiddler on the Roof also zeroes in on the issue of weddings. Set in turn of the century Russia, this musical tells the story of Tevye, a poor father of five daughters whom he loves dearly. But when they start choosing their own husbands instead of marrying the matchmaker’s choices, Tevye is torn between his love for his children and his loyalty to his faith and culture.

Conflict between fathers and their children can also arise from lack of understanding. In A River Runs Through It, well meaning but reserved father, Reverend Maclean, struggles to understand the sons he so dearly loves before tragedy strikes. Misunderstanding can result in estrangement and resentment. An Unfinished Life negotiates the complicated relationship between a rancher and the daughter-in-law he blames for his son’s untimely death. And in October Sky, a father struggles to let go of his own plans for his son’s future and to comprehend goals and interests so different from his own.

Not all fathers manage to get it right. Saving Mr. Banks is the wrenching tale of author Pamela Travers, author of the Mary Poppins books. As Walt Disney tenaciously negotiates for the film rights for her books, she struggles to overcome the long shadow her alcoholic father’s death cast over her life. Charming, whimsical, and affectionate, Travers Goff encouraged her imagination and gift for storytelling. She has to learn to accept those gifts while freeing herself from her grief, fear, and anger. And in The Greatest Showman, circus promoter P.T. Barnum becomes so consumed with his business enterprise that he almost destroys his marriage and loses the children he adores.

At their best, fathers help their children through the most difficult times in their lives. And Hollywood has come up with some wonderful films about dads rising above adversity. An Italian father goes above and beyond in a Holocaust movie, Life is Beautiful. In this story, Guido and his family are rounded up and sent to a concentration camp. But Guido convinces his five year old son that the camp is part of an elaborate game and that life is really beautiful. Less horrific, but still stressful is the experience at the heart of The Pursuit of Happyness. This movie tells the true story of Chris Gardner, who finds himself homeless along with his young son. Chris devotes himself to building a stable career while also caring for five year old Christopher.

One of the worst things that can happen to fathers and children is the loss of their wife and mother. Feeling lost and adrift after his wife’s death, Benjamin Mee quits work and decides he and his three kids need a fresh start. We Bought a Zoo relates the dramatic results of this decision. Another dad throws himself into helping his daughter in Fly Away Home. When Amy’s mother dies, the 10 year old has to move from New Zealand to Canada to live with her estranged father. She finds comfort in caring for orphaned Canada geese. But soon it’s time for their annual migration and then dad helps her come up with an audacious plan to help them. Not all dads wind up in such dramatic situations: when Stanley Phillips’ military wife dies in the line of duty, he can’t bring himself to break the news to his kids. Instead, he heads off on a cross country road trip to an amusement park, trying to figure out how to tell them that Grace is Gone.

Fortunately, dads don’t just help us through tragedy – they often make us laugh. Comedian Steve Martin plays George Banks, a father who just can’t bring himself to let go, in Father of the Bride. Dan in Real Life features another dad struggling with mixed emotions. Swamped by the challenges of raising three daughters on his own, Dan winds up inadvertently falling in love with his brother’s girlfriend and starts taking relationship advice from his daughters. Cluelessness is a comic feature in The Game Plan. An NFL quarterback is shocked when his eight year old daughter is dropped off on his doorstep for a month. Chaos and comedy ensue as he has to learn how to be a father. And in Daddy Daycare, a couple of unemployed dads learn that raising kids isn’t nearly as easy as it looks.

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