“Dads” is an engaging recognition and celebration of modern fatherhood. Directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, celebrities including Ron Howard, Will Smith, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Kenan Thompson, Neil Patrick Harris, and Hasan Minhaj, among others reflect on the impact becoming and being fathers had on their lives. These reflections are interspersed around powerful, more in-depth stories of everyday men and how fatherhood changed their lives as well. “Dads” premieres on Apple +TV on June 19th and is a partnership between Imagine Documentaries, and Dove Men+Care. Unilever, Dove Care’s parent company is supporting fatherhood and has established the Paternity Leave Fund which offers grants to fathers who do not receive paid paternity leave. Dove Men+Care is donating a portion of the proceeds of “Dads” to this fund.
“Dads” includes the humor every new father encounters when he makes the transition from being the son of a father and mother to being the father of a son or daughter. These stories and scenes are funny and endearing, but what gives “Dads” its fullness are the powerful stories of how the lives of the men were transformed through their presence and active role in parenting their children. Another source of the film’s richness is the diversity of fathers and families. In addition to the mix of celebrities and fathers who are not famous, there is diversity in economic and marriage statuses, nationality and cultural background, sexual orientation, and the health of the children. Through this diversity the core message of the film is presented; engaged and present fathers are needed and possible in all circumstances and lifestyles. The drive behind this message is not to just to bring out the importance of being a present dad for the children, something everyone is likely aware of, but it is to present the importance and transformative opportunity fatherhood provides the men. Being an active and present Dad is an important thread that adds much to the fabric of a man’s life.
“Dads” recognizes the reality that many fathers have to work two and three jobs and have to be away from their family and children more than other fathers. This truth, however, that does not mean these dads cannot be active and present for their children even when they are away. The reality is that men can be absent fathers even when they are present and men can be present fathers even when they are absent. The connection established by being present in the life of one’s children can span the times when the father is away. Consciously or not fathers too often use the demands of work as justification for their absence from the lives of their children. In one of his reflections, Bryce’s father, Ron Howard, astutely cautioned fathers to make sure they were not using the demands of work to escape from being present in the lives of their children. Ron’s father, Rance, in a segment taped 3 years prior to the others, described how his suggestion to Andy Griffith regarding the portrayal of Opie (Ron Howard) changed the tone of the relationship between Andy and Opie Taylor and reflected a widower father ensuring his being present in the life of his son.
Some viewers may question the need for another film about fathers and fatherhood. That only nine percent of companies offer paid paternity leave and over 75% of new fathers return to work after only one week following the birth of their child indicates the need to move past the traditional understanding, image, and value of fatherhood. In our conversation, Bryce indicated the genesis of the project was her learning that a significant majority of men offered paternity leave do not take it or only take a portion of what they are offered despite wanting to take more. Many of these men expressed concern that there would be professional repercussions if they took the full amount. This statistic, more than anything indicates the prevalence of the stereotyped understanding of fatherhood, where fathers are expected to provide for their families from a distance. Such an understanding does not reflect the need nor desire of families and fathers.
In our conversation, I asked Bryce why the film was titled “Dads” rather than “Fathers.” Ms. Howard said the original title referred to fathers, but her husband suggested Dads was a term that better communicated the familiarity of men being active and present in the lives of their children. Communicating this familiar, more intimate relationship and understanding of fatherhood is evident in Christian Scripture and theology.
The Gospel of Mark, chapter 14 documents Jesus’s time of trial and prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. During this time when he was alone in the Garden, he prayed to God that the cup of the crucifixion might be removed. In referring to God, Jesus used the Aramaic term “Abba” which is a more familiar and intimate title for “father.” This reflects that the relationship between Jesus and God was close and personal rather than formal and distant.
Another example of an engaged father is offered by Jesus in His parable of a man with two sons. While most refer to this as the “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” the setting of the story indicates that it is more about the father. Jesus offers this parable after he has been asked about the nature of God. Jesus describes God by his relationship to His Children rather than by physical or other attributes. In the parable, Jesus tells of a younger son who brings shame upon his family and community by demanding he receive his inheritance immediately, whereupon he leaves the country and wastes his money living a life of debauchery. At his lowest point, starving and envying the pigs he was hired to feed, the son decides to return home with his shame and work as a servant for his father. As the father sees his son returning he runs to greet him, embrace him, and order a celebration in honor of his return. While local custom and law allowed the son to be rejected and even killed, the father restored him to the family and community.
That the father saw his son while he was still some distance away indicates the father often scanned the horizon in hopes of seeing his son return. From the father’s perspective, even though the son he had been away, he had not been absent from the father’s heart. The forgiving father was not one who stood on convention and formality but was one who was present with and for his family. This is the model of fatherhood as described by Jesus and is the model presented in “Dads.”
Discuss what does the description of God in the parable of the Forgiving Father mean to you?
Have you experienced God in this way?
Children: Call your father and father figures.
Share memories and experiences with your father.
Fathers: Share your memories of your father as well as memories of your time and experiences with your children.