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Pops Who Get Props on the Silver Screen


It's Father's Day and I'm lucky enough to be spending it with my wonderful 10 year-old son. If our plans hold, we're likely getting some breakfast at Norma Rae's or already on the beach by now. Tonight, we'll curl up on the couch and watch a movie, one of our favorite pastimes. So, in honor of Father's Day, I thought I'd take a look at some of the most inspiring father characters Hollywood has given us over the years.

Gregory Peck and Mary Badham in To Kill a Mockingbird
Ricky Schroder and Jon Voight in The Champ

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) Mr. Finch would probably top the list of literary fathers as well. The idyllic attorney in Harper Lee's 1960 masterpiece was not only gentle and kind, but his wisdom-laden dialogues with Scout and Jem speak to the seminal nature of a father's instruction.

Peck not only filled the character's impossibly-big shoes, he may well have added a layer of depth in the 1960 adaptation that is widely considered one of the greatest films ever made and the gold standard in adapting a novel. The fact that Lee based the Atticus character on her own father speaks volumes to their relationship and suggests that Amasa Coleman Lee was one hell of a dad.

Jon Voight as Billy Flynn in The Champ (1979): Voight's odd and estranged relationship with daughter Angelina Jolie might make his inclusion seem a bit odd, but his reprisal of Wallace Beery's lead role in the 1931 original may well be his finest hour (as both an actor or a father).

The Champ's a deeply-flawed hero to be sure, but he's got a heart as big as his left hook and the deep love of his son T.J. – played to the nines by a very young Ricky Schroeder – can bring a tear to the most hardened heart.

I remember seeing the movie as a child and thinking, I want a little boy just like that someday. These days, I'm grateful to say that I am lucky enough to have one. Talk about dreams coming true.

Will Smith as Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness (2006): In one of Smith's best performances, based on Chris Gardner's biography, chronicling a nearly one-year struggle with homelessness, we see a Dad on the brink who never forgets what's at stake.

A salesman whose wife leaves him with a small child despite nearly no means to care for him, Gardner never gives up or shows anything resembling regret or resentment for his responsibilities and challenges as a single father.

Gardner, a Navy vet, was an ambitious entrepreneur who caught a series of bad breaks trying to support himself while apprenticing as a stock broker in hopes of climbing the career ladder. Long past the point where 99 percent of people would have packed it in, he finally caught on with Bear Stearns & Company and today owns a successful brokerage firm in an up by the bootstraps story that would make Horatio Alger proud.

Viggo Mortensen as the unnamed father in The Road (2009): Cormac McCarthey's brilliant 2006 novel led to a Nobel Prize for fiction and was an incredibly impactful book when I read it as a newly-divorced single Dad, just after it was published.

A tale of a father and son trying desperately to survive amid horrific conditions in a post-war, apocalyptic society, the story speaks to the innate nature of the bond, and a man's compulsion to not only protect his son, but endow him with the ability to survive with his humanity intact.

It struck me as a difficult text to adapt – neither the boy nor the son are named in the book and McCarthy is known for his utter disregard for the rules of literature. But Mortensen manages to live and breathe as a near perfect facsimile of the Dad who was in my mind's eye, a tall task to say the least.

Best line: "If that boy is not the word of God, then God never spoke."

Denzel Washington as John Quincy Archibald in John Q (2002): John is a father whose young son is diagnosed with an enlarged heart, but can't get a transplant because his health insurance won't cover it. So, John Q takes a hospital full of patients hostage until his son's name is put on the recipient's list.

This plays not only to our collective disdain for insurance companies and hospital chains, but the deep-seated anxiety that there are things in this world we cannot protect our children from, and problems we can be helpless to fix no matter what we are willing to endure.

John hatches a plan to take his own life and coerce his physician hostages to immediately transplant his own heart to his son, though a last-second donor prevents the need just before he empties his pistol into his own head (as I type that it sounds a little hokier than I recall).

So if you're missing Dad today, pop in a flick and remember some of the lessons he's passed along. Unlike the movies, being a father in real life is a lot more challenging, as we've got to keep on keeping on without the benefit of scripts, re-shot scenes or expert directors. Then again, while we don't get Oscars or million-dollar contracts, we do get the infinitely more rewarding benefits that a child can confer. Happy Father's Day.

Past Father's Day columns by Dennis Maley:

Father's Day and the Divorced Dad

When an Iron Horse is Put to Pasture

A Father's Day Message: Lessons From My Son

Father's Day Wisdom Courtesy of Joe Maley

Dennis Maley's column appears every Thursday and Sunday in The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at dennis.maley@thebradentontimes.com. Click here to visit his column archive. Click here to go to his bio page. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook.


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