This weekend, I watched the 2009 Disney movie Old Dogs with my family. Clearly, working at NFI has gotten to me, because about 15 minutes into the film I got a notepad to jot down the great fatherhood moments in the film.
Old Dogs is a family comedy that tells the adventures of Dan (played by Robin Williams) and Charlie (played by John Travolta), friends and business partners who are suddenly thrust into the roles of “dad” and “uncle” when Vicki, the woman Dan married for less than 24 hours during a drunken beach vacation, reappears and Dan learns that he is the father of 7-year-old twins.
While I can’t unequivocally recommend this film due to some suggestive innuendos, Dan’s transition from a 50-something-year-old man who has no clue what to do with children to a father who makes some significant sacrifices to be involved in his kids’ lives is heart-warming and hilarious. And it offers some insights into what kids really need in a dad.
Both of the twins, Zach and Emily, deal with their father’s absence in ways that reflect the different needs that boys and girls have that a father is uniquely positioned to meet. Zach has created a “Dad List” of things he wants to do with his dad that includes camping, learning to ride a bike, and going to his first baseball game. Emily decided that her unknown father was a superhero because, Vicki said, it was her way of explaining who he was. When Dan struggles with pretending to be a superhero or king when Emily asks him to play with her, Charlie tells Dan that Emily just wants someone to protect her.
As NFI’s president Roland C. Warren says, kids have a hole in their soul in the shape of their dad. Zach and Emily show us that the hole looks different for boys and girls. Zach needed a man to walk him through the “rites of passage” in boyhood, and Emily needed a man to help her feel secure and safe. While moms certainly play an important role in both those areas, fathers bring a special and unique presence in their children’s lives that can’t be replaced.
Vicki knows this is true - she wants Zach and Emily to meet Dan because she recognizes that there are things she can’t do for her kids that a dad can (even if it’s as basic as taking Zach to the men’s room when he needs to use the bathroom).
Dan ends up making his own “Kid List” of goals, which includes doing something special for his twins’ birthday. Setting goals like that is a good idea for any dad, but the last item on Dan’s “Kid List” is the most important one, and is the message that Old Dogs communicates in between the comic moments - “Be there.”