We Are All Mr. Gru

We are all Mr. Gru in that we are all human. We are all fathers. We are all human fathers. Part of the human experience for us is to raise a child from birth until they are adults. Even then, it never really stops. It’s just all part of the experience. And what a great one it is.

I’m not afraid to admit that I love “Despicable Me“. Typically, Little Girl and myself watch it once a day when I am home during the week. Every morning she asks to watch “Mr Gru”, so I pop it in, let her push play at her demand, then we cruise over to the couch and just veg out. It’s wonderful. Words cannot describe this joy of having such a quality time with my girl.

Most of the time, I get very bored of watching the same thing over and over. Of course, this is a double edged sword of sorts in that I have two toddlers, both wielding a strong desire for some of the worst television programming either. In fact, I won’t  even list them out of my extreme dislike for those said shows. But “Despicable Me” is one flick that I never get tired of.

Each time I watch it I feel like I get a new laugh, a new sigh, or even an epiphany. I find little things that I haven’t noticed the first thousand times I watched it. Have you ever tried to pay attention to each minion in a wide shot? They are doing some pretty hilarious things in the background. I started thinking more and more about the aspects of fatherhood portrayed in the movie and how Gru adapts to and learns to accept these new feelings of love for the little girls.

I looked at his attitude in the beginning, the point in which he starts to change, and of course the ending where he has been transformed. It is very interesting to sit there and pick it apart. I try each time to find something in any stage of the character’s development that I can identify with. Of course, there is a part of each element of Mr. Gru that I relate to, and it is sometimes a scary relation at that. I can see my anger in him. I can see my fears in him, and I can see my joys in him.

But then again, I think we all can. All of us have been scared of that love at one point. We have all felt anger at one point. And we have all been overcome with the joy that our children bring us. So, I guess in a way, we are all Mr. Gru. We are all little sinister evil villains that try to steal the moon with a shrink ray. No wait, that’s just the movie character. What I meant to say was this: We are all Mr. Gru in that we are all human. We are all fathers. We are all human fathers. Part of the human experience for us is to raise a child from birth until they are adults. Even then, it never really stops. It’s just all part of the experience. And what a great one it is.

Finding Nemo is Finding Inspiration

As time goes by, maybe taking a step back will become an easier step to take. I kind of doubt it, but you never know. What I do know is that it is a step that I will have to make time and time again. It may not be easy, and it may not be fun. But it will be the right step at the right moment. And it will be the step my children need me to make.

Ah yes, Finding Nemo. A great animated film from Pixar animations that once again puts a dad in the main character spot. In this tale of the seas, Nemo gets scooped up by a crazy Aussie dentist and his dad, Marlin, sets off on an epic adventure to find his son. Facing sharks, jellyfish, and a whole slew of awesome characters, Marlin sets off to do what most dads would do in that situation: risking their life for their children.

The adventure to find his son is not what gets this movie into this post today though. The inspiration came from the very beginning of the movie. As Nemo is getting ready for his first day of school, we find Marlin is a lot more scared than his son. This fear drives a major over-protective mode that eventually is what ends up driving the bigger story of this animated film.

As a parent, I have many fears when it comes to my children. What parent doesn’t? There are the fears of injury, fears of illness, and fears of the unknown. The inspiration found in Finding Nemo comes to me like this: Pushing your fears off on your children can have negative, and potentially serious consequences. If we push our fears too hard on our children, we either raise them to always be afraid, or we raise them to be defiant. Both are not healthy options at all.

After these thoughts hit me I spent a little time thinking about how I push my own fears on the kiddos. Even things as simple as “don’t jump off of that” and “I don’t think you should go play with them outside of our yard”. I think about fears that will come to me as my children grow older. Some things are inevitable. They will get hurt, they will get picked on, and they will probably be in trouble in school at some point. My job is not to force those fears upon them and make them hermits. My job is to prepare them for what to do when those times come.

Wanting what’s best is not always doing our best to prevent life from happening. This pushing of fear can have serious repercussions in the future. They may become defiant of other rules we lay out that need to be laid out. They may become defiant to a point that bad decisions become a way of life, just for spite. I know that may seem like a stretch, but really think about it. Marlin pushed too hard based on his own fears, and there you had the whole mission for the story line.

What did I take from all of this? One of the hardest things about being a parent is not being an over parent. As children, we can live with our fears because someone is always there to ease them for us. But as dads, we cannot do the same. We are the relievers of fear, not the creators. Stepping back when it is needed is not always easy to do. It is hard to just let our children explore their world sometimes, especially at the hint of even the slightest danger. Skinned knees and the request to kiss it better still melt me. We have to let it happen though. We have to let our children have a little slack in the line, or they will never learn to go through life without a life line.

As time goes by, maybe taking a step back will become an easier step to take. I kind of doubt it, but you never know. What I do know is that it is a step that I will have to make time and time again. It may not be easy, and it may not be fun. But it will be the right step at the right moment. And it will be the step my children need me to make.

Fabulous Film Fathers

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.

Despicable Me

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.

“Pop Female Empowerment?” Not My Daughter!

It’s a glossy world, filled with self discovery and female badassery where men are captive, drooling oafs pining to be entertained. Entertained by that one special woman who aspires to be great, discovers her voice and comes to have her eager audience eating from the palm of her hand all while finding the love of her life. Yeah. Right!

I’m talking about Burlesque, the new movie starring Cher and Christina Aquilera but more importantly, I’m talking about my daughter and the fact that pop culture continues to try to make her a “ho!” Having worked in entertainment all of my adult life, I’ve heard all about feminine empowerment and women coming to terms with and embracing their own sexual desires and that’s fine. I’m happily married 15 years and I’m all for my own wife owning and embracing her own sexual energy but I’m so very much over this glossy, pseudo empowerment that the media pushes down our daughters’ throats. This “pop female empowerment.”

My Princess is 14 now and pop figures have the potential to greatly influence impressionable girls who are finding themselves. Pair that with the unhealthy images they see in the media of waif thin women gracing the covers of some of their favorite magazines and seemingly every “children’s” cable TV star going from someone we comfortably allow our daughters to watch and listen to, to a sex kitten discovering and experimenting with young adulthood in the most public of ways (ahem, Mylie, Britney, Christina, Vanessa, etc). Bottom-line is that, I’m not sold on the empowerment angle! I’m a man. I know what men think when they see that and no matter how “in control” the Burlesque dancer is and how little clothing they take off, it is still in essence a strip tease and no matter how we want to push the envelope, if most of us are very honest, our greatest desire for our daughters is not to become a stripper or adult entertainer. Period. I haven’t met a dad yet who would say that, no matter how many said, “I just want her to be happy.”

Now, I know some may say, “Why are you getting your draws in a wad?” This is an adult movie.” Really? Have you watched the trailer? Admittedly, I haven’t seen the movie which is why I’m refraining from casting any premature judgement (though I’m quite sure it’s rather formula and I could tell you the plot points from scene one to the credits), but when you take a pop diva like Aguilera and put some great pop/dance music and throw in all the costuming that looks like the adult Halloween costumes that teens wear these days (not mine), hunky male co-stars and a love story… all into the trailer, which demographic do you think will be out in droves to see the flick? Young adult and teen girls, of course.

I know some of you dads out there are looking at all of this and the little girl you’ve been tasked with raising and as some comedians have joked, “your job for the next 18 years is to keep her off the stripper pole,” and you’re mortified. How do I know? Because I often find myself talking to dads about these kinds of things and the majority of us are mortified about what our “baby girls” have to deal with from this culture. Fear not, I’m going to throw in some actionable steps so that you can make your daughter Burlesque-resistant. Notice, I didn’t say “proof.” She’s still her own person and will make her own decisions one day….for better or worse.

Step 1: As she gets older, TALK TO HER IN FRANK TERMS. You know why tweens go looking to their peers for some of the worst advice on the issues troubling them? Because they feel like you and mom are going to sugar coat the answers. You’ll sanitize them. Remember when it was “awesome” that your little bundle of joy was curious about everything and wanting to explore the world around them? THEY STILL ARE. It’s just become a little more uncomfortable to discuss. Get a straw and suck it up! The more honest the conversations, the less your tween/teen will think they’re missing out on and the less they’ll probably go looking for peer advice which is generally a great case of the blind leading the bling.

Step 2: Have what I call, the “Kim Kardashian Conversation.” When you’re just a regular tween/teen, YOU DON’T BECOME POPULAR BY MAKING A SEX TAPE. You become the school floozy. I mean, you’re “popular,” but nobody wants to be you and you’re not a “sex symbol.” In real life, there’s nothing glamorous about gaining your popularity using pop culture’s methods and young ladies need to know this. They need to know that sexting, like Vanessa Hudgens and Rihanna have done and had those pics outed all over the ‘net is not cute or cool. Those two gals have PR people to spin and do damage control. Your daughter doesn’t. And she needs to know that.

Step 3: When I was a teenage boy trying to sew his oats, the thing I noticed most about “easy girls” was their lack of relationship with their fathers. Whether they had one in the home or not, the lack of a meaningful connection with him made them young ladies looking for love and approval from hormonally driven young men like me (and, maybe you) to fill the hole left by daddy. Don’t leave that hole in your daughter. I don’t care how old she is, lavish her with love, praise, appropriate affection and honesty. Complement her! Don’t tell her she’s pretty all the time, sometimes tell her she’s stunning and then watch the type of smile on her face that will light up the rest of the day for both of you. Complement her on how she puts together her outfits, picking out details like the fact that her earrings match her finger nail polish (ahem, this tip works for mom too!).

I think that’s enough to get you going for now. I’d love to hear from some of our awesome female audience and get your thoughts on this issue!