Fathers and sons play catch in the backyard, tinker with the family car and make Fido fetch over and over.
And they watch movies. Lots and lots of movies.
Children have leisure time to spare, and fathers need a break from the work grind. Plus it’s a great way to spend time together. It’s a natural combination.
There are hardly enough teachable moments, however, in films today. We have heroes blasting aliens or swashbucklers smiting pirates. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But some movies offer both grand entertainment and lessons that fathers should share with their sons. These movies explore real issues, so while you enjoy a good film together, you’ll be left with some things to talk about, too.
Toward that end, consider these five movies. But be careful: You might tear up watching them with your boy.
Why Should You Watch It: It’s more than one of Hollywood’s best westerns. The tale of a retired gunslinger forced back into his old profession teems with tension, humor, and the kind of grim realities we cannot avoid.
Teachable Moments: Where to start? Watching Shane (Alan Ladd) and Joe (Van Heflin) dislodge a stubborn tree stump is a lesson in brotherhood and determination. Shane doesn’t want to fire another bullet in anger, but when he realizes what Joe’s family is up against, he reluctantly fights for their safety. Or watch Shane teaching young Joey (Brandon De Wilde) how to use a gun while showing him to respect it at the same time.
What to Discuss Afterward: Shane doesn’t return Marian’s sly advances because he respects her marriage and beautiful family. The gunslinger gives up the chance at a normal life because he knows he’s needed to fight the rancher who is trying to run good people off their land. Shane is flawed, but in trying to become a better man he must relinquish relationships that matter dearly to him.
“Finding Nemo” (2003)
Why Should You Watch It: This entertaining Pixar story shows what a father will do to save his son.
Teachable Moments: Never give up. The chance that young Nemo is still alive and safe is remote, but after father Marlin (Albert Brooks) loses most of his babies in the film’s stark opening, he’ll risk anything to save him. That often means looking past stereotypes to assess individuals as they really are, even if they have as many teeth as his shark pals have.
What to Discuss Afterward: Why would Marlin risk his life over and again, even though his son might already be gone? And what about Dory, the forgetful fish who proves such a resourceful ally? The characters make sacrifices to save a young life, and they don’t regret their decisions when the circumstances are severe.
“Back to the Future” (1985)
Why Should You Watch It: One of the 1980s’ best popcorn movies doubles as a way to bring generations together.
Teachable Moments: No matter how awkward your son may feel about asking a girl out or confronting the school bully, chances are his father already met those challenges. Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly gets to observe his parents at his age, a precious way for a son to appreciate how much they truly have in common.
What to Discuss Afterward: How are the challenges kids face today different from in the 1950s? How are they more or less the same? What would you do if you were Marty’s father?
“Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979)
Why Should You Watch It: It’s one of the most heartbreaking movies about divorce and its ramifications. It’s also a beautiful portrait of a father changing his life entirely to ensure his son has a bright future.
Teachable Moments: What parent can forget the scene where Dustin Hoffman’s son falls off the playground equipment and is rushed to the hospital? It’s a perfect way to discuss risks with your own son, and why Daddy looks so nervous when his little guy tries new things.
What to Discuss Afterward: The Kramers’ divorce had nothing to do with their son. Meryl Streep’s character left for her own reasons. Divorce is a knotty subject in the best scenarios, but watching this classic shows that a child will be taken care of no matter what happens to the marriage.
Why Should You Watch It: This PG-13 sleeper didn’t get enough love during its theatrical release. The story follows Duncan, a shy teen who blossoms over one eventful summer. The teen sheds his insecurities and learns to embrace the world with more confidence and curiosity. It also shows how fatherly wisdom can come from unexpected places.
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Teachable Moments: Young Duncan’s connection to Owen (Sam Rockwell), an employee at the local water park, is an essential element of the lad’s maturity. When Owen confesses he had a distant dad, too, the bond between them solidifies. Once more, we see how the child isn’t to blame for wayward parenting.
What to Discuss Afterward: Not all father figures are created equal. Becoming a man is about protecting one’s family while opening up to the possibilities that strangers can become friends, even mentors critical to our lives.