On Psychology

Jewish World Review Jan. 5, 1999 /16 Teves, 5759

Dr. Wade Horn

Top Ten 'Dad' Movies

By Dr. Wade F. Horn

NOTHING MATTERS MORE to personal happiness than family relationships, and there is no better time to bolster those relationships during this time of year. As Barbara Bush once pointed out, few on their death bed will regret having spent too little time at the office; too many will regret having spent too little time with their family.

Unfortunately, a bedrock of the American family -- the father -- hasn't been too sturdy of late. In far too many families today, the father is missing in action. Overall, nearly four out of every ten children in America -- 24 million in all -- reside in a fatherless household.

There are many reasons for the growing absence of fathers, but among the most important is our cultural reluctance to portray fatherhood as heroic and fathers as persons of character. Nowhere is the absence of positive images of fathers more striking than in the movies and on television.

Today, movie and television portrayals of fathers typically come in three varieties: the absent, the befuddled, and the violent. Yet if we want to inspire men to be involved, committed and responsible fathers, we must give them images of positive fatherhood to which they can aspire.

Providing inspiring messages about fatherhood is important not just for adults, but also for children growing up without a father in their lives. For when fathers are absent, it is up to the rest of the culture to give fatherless boys something to emulate and fatherless girls a way to understand what they should expect and demand from future boyfriends and husbands.

Unfortunately, our culture has been falling down on the job. That's why the National Fatherhood Initiative has put together the following list of the top ten movie portrayals of positive fatherhood. So when the kids inevitably begin to proclaim their boredom during this Christmas vacation, here are some good family and father-friendly movies you might want to consider checking out at your local videostore.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird . A wonderful movie about a southern country lawyer, played by Gregory Peck, who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman. But the real story here is not the trial, but the discovery by the lawyer's daughter of his extraordinary strength of character. This movie is a wonderful example of how fathers ought to be portrayed -- as competent, caring, and knowledgeable -- without being preachy. This is the image largely missing from movie and television portrayals of fatherhood today.

2. The Little Princess . One of the most powerful contributions a father makes to his children is his affirmation of their preciousness. That's what this movie is about. After a widowed army captain is presumed to have died during World War I, his daughter is pressed into servanthood by an ogerish boarding school headmistress. The daughter suffers gallantly through all manner of indignations because, as she proclaims to the wicked headmistress, "It doesn't matter what you say, I know I'm a little princess because my daddy told me so." If you've seen the remake, check out the original starring Shirley Temple.

3. Far From Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog. At first glance, this appears to be just another boy and his dog adventure story with beautiful scenery. But it's really much more than that. Throughout the movie, not only the love between the father and son, but the love between the father and the mother, is central. A reminder that one of the most important things a father can do for his children is to love and support their mother.

4.It's a Wonderful Life. OK, so you've seen this movie a gazillion times. See it once more. If there's a better film example of a father sacrificing for the needs of his family, we haven't seen it.

5. Father of the Bride. If you're old enough to remember Spencer Tracy, pick up the original, if not, pick up the re-make with Steve Martin. Either one provides a wonderfully humorous look at one of the most significant tasks of fatherhood: helping his children transition into adulthood.

6. The Lion King. The only animated film on the list, this movie depicts the struggle of an orphaned lion king to assume his rightful throne. The big obstacle in his way is the nefarious temptations of his conniving uncle. The young lion king overcomes these temptations only after remembering his dead father's counsel and example. A reminder that a good father's influence survives even death.

7. Field of Dreams . Despite a happy family life, an Iowa farmer, played by Kevin Costner, is haunted by a squanderedrelationship with his now deceased father. Only after he succumbs to an inner voice urging him to build a baseball field, does he become reconciled with his dad. A beautiful movie bound to make even the hardest-hearted man shed a few tears.

8. Bye Bye Love . The story of three divorced dads and their struggles to stay connected to their kids. Although somewhat uneven, this film makes the list because its portrayal of divorced dads as flawed yet caring is a nice counterweight to today's deadbeat dad hysteria. Warning for parents: some scenes are a bit too racy for younger children.

9. Mrs. Doubtfire Another "divorced dad tries to stay connected to this kids" movie. Robin Williams is terrificly funny as the divorced dad. . Just ignore Williams' sappy and politically correct monologue at the end of the film in which he proclaims "it really doesn't matter if your parents are divorced." This ending was undoubtably thrown in by adults who still don't want to face just how painful divorce is for kids.

10. Three Men and a Baby. One of the most important, and often overlooked, functions of fatherhood is that it socializes men. This movie illustrates nicely how the introduction of a baby transforms three self-absorbed men into caring adults. Tom Selleck is terrific, as is Ted Danson. You'll just have to endure Steve Guttenberg.

Well, there you have it. Ten great dad movies. Rent a couple of these movies this holiday season and, between watching college football and time spent playing video games, you and your children just might find that watching TV can be both inspirational and informative -- and a relaxing, stress-free way to bolster your family relationships.

JWR contributor Dr. Wade F. Horn is President of the National Fatherhood Initiative and co-author of The Better Homes and Gardens New Father Book. Send your question about dads, children or fatherhood to him C/O JWR


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© 1998, Dr. Wade F. Horn