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A dad’s eye view

January 6, 2010

Ageing is a surreptitious bastard. I’m 28 now – manifestly so, with a tired face and two children – but a blink ago I was 7. I don’t really think very differently on many levels to how I did when I was 7, and at no point have I ever stopped myself short and said, ‘Now I am older, and different’. So it was odd and unexpected when cinema did it for me.

I, like most boys, grew up watching films and engaging with the younger characters. Heroes too, of course, but naturally and unselfconsciously with children, whenever they appeared onscreen. Kevin in Home Alone was a big one. Mikey in Goonies another. I had my own children relatively young – my first when I was finishing my second year at university, at 20 years old – which I think helped obscure a natural shift in this perspective.

I remember clearly the moment I realised how deeply I had come to identify with father characters – the first time I saw Finding Nemo with my son, Jay, when he was three years old. I well up like a big sad bear thinking about it even now – it’s the moment when Geoffrey Rush’s pelican convinces a dubious and downcast Nemo trapped in the dentist’s tank that his dad has battled sharks, braved jellyfish and crossed an ocean to find and rescue him. A spark of belief and euphoria crosses Nemo’s face, and he splutters “That’s my dad, that’s my dad!”

It’s not just any kind of dad moment that gets me emotionally. It’s particularly moments in which fathers make their children proud. Having my own so young I’ve always been very conscious of not wanting to suck at being at dad – nervous that I’m not up to it/together as a person/experienced enough. I can’t put up shelves or do tax returns or other dad stuff. So more than anything, approval is apparently what I’m after, as I realised in floods of surprised tears in front of Pixar’s film.

Since then, other dad stuff has come to my attention. I love more than ever the relationship between Max and his father in Rushmore. When I first saw the film Max himself was the coolest thing (I still live by the advice he hands to Bill Murray’s battered Mr Blume: “What’s the secret, Max? You seem to have it pretty figured out” “You’ve got to find something you love to do, and then do it for the rest of your life”). But now I love the subtle treatment of Max’s initial embarrassment and later acceptance over his father’s profession (Murray’s reaction to being let in on the secret is subtle and wonderful), and I hope one day I’ll be a cool enough dad to deal with my kid’s embarrassment with the same warmth as Seymour Cassel (“I understand you’re a neurosurgeon?” “No, I’m a barber, but a lot of people make that mistake”).

Songs do the same. Glasvegas’ Daddy’s Gone tore me up in the first two lines, and I got the idea for this post walking home in the ice tonight listening to Simon Mayo’s best-of podcast, featuring an interview with Billy Bragg and a song about the death of his father, Tank Park Salute. I’ll probably post more stuff as it occurs to me. I might even do a list. A big, soppy dad list.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 7, 2010 12:36 am

    I cried when the mum got eaten in Nemo. I was mostly thinking about how sad it would be if I got eaten.

  2. January 7, 2010 1:13 pm

    I did not cry at that moment.

  3. January 23, 2010 1:21 am

    After protracted thought about film I remembered the last time I cried at a film. Enemy Mine, I was about 10-12 at the time. Blubbed loads.

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