Following up on an earlier piece I wrote on Mothers in Movies, I thought a piece on fathers would be appropriate. I found it a little more challenging. Fathers are often portrayed as either extremely idealized, as buffoons, or as downright mean. Thankfully there are some beautiful exceptions.
In Friendly Persuasion, Gary Cooper portrays the head of a Quaker family facing the realities of the Civil War. His son struggles with the principles of his religion while his father strives to live those principles in the face of the temptation to set them aside. This scene portrays his confrontation not only with a Confederate sniper but with the temptation to set his beliefs aside.
In A River Runs Through It, Tom Skerrit beautifully portrays a father of principle. He is a minister — reserved, emotions under control. Occasionally his love of his sons peeks through with an affectionate gesture. Sadly, he becomes a father who must face the bad choices of one son — choices that lead to his son’s death. Yet even in that tragedy, he tries to find meaning, as seen in this scene where he draws upon his grief to offer some profound thoughts.
Personally I like the Dad in A Christmas Story. He is real. He cusses (“In the heat of battle my father wore a tapestry of obscenity that as far as we know is still hanging over Lake Michigan”). He works to take care of his family. He is seen as a disciplinarian (“Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie!”) But he also brings the gift of enthusiasm to his family as reflected in the Major Award of a leg lamp but even moreso in the surprise he provides for his son Ralphie.
Finally there is the father who provided me with a role model when I became a young father at age 24. Atticus Finch may be a little idealized but for me he provided the possibility that a father could be a disciplinarian but could also be patient and loving. This scene with Scout reflects that delicate balance.
In my own journey, I related most to the film I Never Sang for My Father which portrays an imperfect relationship between an emotionally wounded father and a son who vacillates between wanting his father’s love and approval and being very angry at him. It is from this play and movie that I first heard the line “Death ends a life. But it does not end a relationship.” And I relate to the closing line: “But when I hear the word ‘father’ somehow it matters.”
Reflection: Are there any works of art, movie or otherwise, that you relate to regarding fathers?
My parents really responded to “My Three Sons” on TV. We watched it every week. They seemed to appreciate the relationships of the brothers to their father, Uncle Charlie as a substitute mother–but not really–and Dad, played by Fred MacMurray with such elan. When I saw him in “Double Indemnity” years later, I was stunned. My Mom was a huge, huge fan of the family on “Bonanza” to the point I don’t know how my dad put up with it. She wanted the log house, in the mountains, with the trees and the Chinese cook. She wanted it all. With two sons herself, she saw my brother Bob in Hoss and little Stan as Little Joe. I’m not sure where her daughter, me, fit into it.
So I see those two dads as special. Of course, “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” both the film and the TV series, are special. See? There are good examples of good and real fathers out there in Fantasyland!