With the snow and cold weather out, my boys and I have been taking advantage of Netflix and our local library to watch some movies. I’ve noticed a couple that showed some good examples of fatherhood. Just a warning: Spoilers Be Ahead. If you haven’t seen Despicable me or Shrek Forever After yet, you might want to bookmark this article and come back later. Otherwise, dive on in.
The main character, Gru, is a villain. He’s first introduced noticing a little boy crying over a dropped ice cream cone. He cheers up the boy by crafting a balloon animal… and then shows his true colors as he pops it making the boy sadder than he was to begin with. Not quite your ideal father figure, right? Especially when his motive for adopting three girls is to gain access to another villains lair so he can steal a shrink ray that he plans on using to steal the Moon.
In flashbacks, we are shown Gru constantly trying to please his mother to no avail. He says he’d like to go to the Moon. She responds by telling him they stopped sending up monkeys. He shows a spaceship design, she dismisses it. Even a working model fails to impress her. He hasn’t exactly grown up learning how to be a loving parent.
As his plans for stealing the Moon progress, the girls pry open Gru’s cold heart. He supports them against a carnival worker who tries to cheat them out of a prize. (In typical villain fashion, he trades the baseball to be thrown with a giant plasma cannon.) He finds the girls becoming less of a chore and annoyance that get in the way of what he really wants (stealing the Moon) and more of an experience that he looks forward to. The movie leaves open the question as to whether he has turned completely from his villainous ways and become a hero. In any event, he is definitely a good father in the end, gladly giving up his stolen prize to save his girls and then risking his life to save them.
This movie shows how parents often find themselves at conflict between what they wanted to do before having children and what they want to do after having kids. Your priorities shift and things that previously seemed like the most important things in the world fall to the wayside. Other activities that would previously make you want to run away screaming turn out to be the happiest times of your life.
Shrek Forever After
Shrek has definitely undergone a lot of changes in the four movies he has appeared in. In the first movie, he fell in love. In the second, he learns to love himself. In the third, he comes to grips with his impending fatherhood. In the fourth film, Shrek is shown to be living the hectic life of a parent. And a famous one no less. Every day is the same routine over and over and over again. Every quiet moment he gets to himself is interrupted by someone or something. He can’t even go to the bathroom in peace without a local tour group pointing out his potty activities.
By the time the triplet’s’ first birthday party rolls around, he is a raw bundle of nerves. (Not so good for any parent, even worse for an ogre parent.) He blows up at the party and storms away. At this moment, Rumpelstiltskin steps in. He offers Shrek one day of freedom. Just one day where he doesn’t need to worry about being a husband and father. He can go back to his old life for 24 hours. The offer sounds glorious but, even in his at-wit’s-end state, Shrek senses a catch. The catch is that Rumpelstiltskin will take one day from Shrek’s past. A day from his childhood that he wouldn’t even remember. Shrek signs the contract.
Suddenly, his world is turned upside down. Shrek finds himself a feared, single ogre again. He’s able to terrify villagers and do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. But his happy romp takes a terrifying turn when he sees his home deserted (in fact, it looks like it was never occupied at all) and he is captured. Donkey doesn’t remember him at all. It turns out that Rumpelstiltskin’s taken day was the day Shrek was born. This means he never existed, never rescued Fiona and never became a father. Once his 24 hours of freedom are up, Shrek will fade away and this topsy-turvy world (where Rumpelstiltskin rules instead of being a vagabond) will be cemented in place. This only chance to get out of the contract is to find Fiona and share True Love’s Kiss before his time runs out.
What follows is a series of desperate attempts by Shrek to find Fiona and get her to fall in love with him. At one point, she even kisses Shrek but it has no effect. Shrek realizes that, in this reality, she never fell in love with him. Simply being there isn’t enough. He needs to take an interest in her and support her to get her to love him once more.
The lesson here is twofold. First off, being a parent can be stressful. Any parent who tells you that they never feel any stress at all as they raise their kids is lying. There will be times when you wish that you could just run off for a day and forget about being married with children. But even in these darkest times, a parent will still love their kids. They might want some time for themselves, but they would never truly wish for their kids to vanish completely.
The key is small doses of “kid freedom.” Go on a date night with your spouse while the kids are with a trusted friend/relative/babysitter. Have your spouse watch the kids while you run some errands alone. Or have your spouse run the errands while you stay home alone and enjoy some solitude. These little breaks will help keep you from an ogre-sized blow up.
The second lesson here doesn’t involve the kids as much as it involves the parents. You can’t simply just “show up” and expect that your spouse will stay in love with you because you are you. You need to constantly work on making your spouse fall in love with you all over again. This can be with a previously mentioned date night or kid-break-period. It could also be simply listening to your spouse when they are talking about something that interests them even if your couldn’t care less. The little things can build up and help to strengthen a marriage. And a healthy, happy marriage can lead to healthy, happy parenting.