“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” - Mark Twain.
I'm still enough of a newbie to this whole "dad" thing that I remain somewhat bemused when Father's Day rolls around, and I belatedly realize that I now belong to the group being celebrated. My son, Kenji, is now a few months shy of his second birthday, and I'm slowly coming around to the fact that, yep, no doubt about it, I'm a dad.
When it comes to role models for being a good father, I don't have to look any further than real life, starting with my own wonderful dad, Bruce (see my brief tribute to him from last year here). I also have a number of friends who seem to have this dad scene down pat, though I have it on good authority (i.e., them) that it's a lot easier said than done. I've learned a lot from these guys over the years, and am trying my best to follow their lead.
But being a dyed-in-the-wool movie and TV geek, I also occasionally find myself taking comfort and inspiration from the various fathers that have graced the silver screen through the years.
Probably the fictional dads that leap to most people's minds right off the bat hail mostly from the small screen, a plethora of all types, from the iconic "best dad EVER" types like Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, Lucas McCain on The Rifleman, and Bill Bixby's Tom Corbett on The Courtship of Eddie's Father; to the loving yet sarcastic grouches who can't wait till the kids move out, like Bill Huxtable on The Cosby Show; to the lovable, well-meaning dolts (a modern TV specialty), like Ray Romano on Everybody Loves Raymond, Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) on Modern Family, or, heaven forbid, the king of all idiot dads, Homer Simpson.
Yes, television has got the dad game covered, fitting for a medium meant to be invited nightly into our homes, like an additional member of the family. But of course the movies are no slouch in the dad department, either. Movie protagonists, generally speaking, tend to be single and unencumbered by familial responsibilities - the better to make some kind of love connection through the course of the story, often with an understanding that marital bliss - and, by extension, parenthood - would be the likely outcome after the final clinch and fade-out. This all makes perfect sense, dramatically speaking, but means that fathers are more often sidelined as supporting characters, usually having to content themselves with exerting an influence over our heroes and heroines, for good or ill.
There have been all kinds of memorable movie fathers, covering the spectrum of human experience, from the noble (Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird); to the badass, take-no-prisoners type (Gene Hackman in Uncommon Valor, Liam Neeson in Taken); to the absentee, estranged father trying to reconnect with their kids (Bruce Willis in The Last Boy Scout, Die Hard, etc.); to the intimidating power brokers (Marlon Brando's Don Corleone in The Godfather); to the flat-out crazy and deranged (Donald Pleasence as nasty "white trash" Preacher Quint in Will Penny). These are just a few examples, the tip of a very large iceberg, which also includes all manner of deadbeat fathers, abusive fathers, surrogate fathers, father figures, and just plain old Fathers (like Spencer Tracy's Father Flanagan in Boy's Town).
Many of the above types loom large in the imagination. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to stick to actual fathers, doing their level best, no matter the circumstances or how brief their appearance when it comes to running time, to leave a lasting impact on their "movie" kids, and, frequently, the viewer. Here, in no particular order than off the top of my head, are a few cinematic "class act" dads:
Please note, this baker's dozen is of course far from a comprehensive list. I've no doubt overlooked a slew of great choices for cinema dads. If I left out any of your personal favorites, by all means, let me know in the comments section below.
And, if you're like me, and lucky enough to still have a dad alive, well, and active in your life - be sure to give your old man a call and wish him a Happy Father's Day!
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