There have been fathers as long as there have been people, but I get the sense that in some ways the last few generations have re-invented what it means to be a father, with more day-to-day involvement in child care, especially for babies and young children.
That’s certainly the impression that I got from the gentlemen who I interviewed. What it seems like is that there was a transformation in expectations of fathers, and a transformation in how fathers perceived their role, within the home, within the family dynamic. But in terms of caring fathers, loving fathers, present fathers, there were exceptions of course, but many of the dads I interviewed themselves had remarkable dads, even though it might have seemed to be a more traditional family dynamic. They were great dads, involved dads, present dads, and ultimately they raised sons who themselves went on to be very involved and evolved dads. So, it was great to see that, because it’s not like the old way was wrong and the new way is right; it’s just a beautiful transformation that’s occurred over generations that’s really evolution. We’re witnessing evolution. It just gets better and better. For society to embrace men as caregivers, and to support them, that’s only going to be a good thing.
What are some of your favorite fathers in movies?
Personally I love, of course, Steve Martin in all of the father movies that he does, which is so ironic because he didn’t become a father until much later in life. I’ve heard over and over again that he’s a wonderful father and so happy, because he played one many, many times in “Parenthood” and “Father of the Bride” and many more.
“Parenthood” was such a huge influence for me as a kid because I was seven when the movie was made, and I saw my childhood experiences—childhood being seven years up to that point—I saw it acted out, dramatized. It was so thrilling and empowering, and like living in another dimension that I’ve since learned other people don’t necessarily inhabit. Certainly, it was about the conversation about what does it take to be a parent, to be a father, to be a mother. What happens when that occurs, what’s lost, what’s gained, et cetera. That’s been something that’s been thematically embedded into the Howard family dinner conversations since that point. I think that’s kind of carried on now, in a way, with “Dads,” because my kids were in the editing room and they were giving me critiques. My husband was involved.
An aspect of this was really inspired by my son, because we lived across the street from a family where the mother worked and the father was a stay-at-home father, and the kids were a boy and a girl who were the same age as our kids. And my kids loved going over there and hanging out with them, and playing and all that kind of stuff. Jay, the father, homeschooled the kids. It was just awesome. They got to kind of piggyback on his homeschooling education and curriculum. They were so lucky for it, and when my son was about seven years old, he said, “I know what I want to be when I grow up.” And I said, “What?” And he said, “A stay at home Dad.” And I realized that if he hadn’t seen Jay, he never would have been able to put words to what he felt, what he desired, what he wanted. To be honest, he’s now 13 and I can really see that happening for him. He is a caring, nurturing, sweet kid. If there are kids or animals in the room, that is where he is. And so it’s either that for him or a really great coach. A soccer coach or something, because he has a calling to care for children, absolutely, that I see in him. A generation ago, would that have been a possibility? It would have been rare. It’s still quite rare, but it would have been far, far rarer.