An Ironic Father-Son Story #IRL

Category: Weekly Columns


I’ve often dissed Hollywood and Madison Avenue for their depictions of dads, and men in general, for that matter. It is still not optimal, but it is changing for the better. How surprising to me that the best current portrayal of a father-son relationship came in a documentary about chimpanzees!

Yes, the DisneyNature movie, “Chimpanzee,” does their usual Disney formula of killing off a parent. But, this time it’s mom and this time dad steps up. Not reluctantly, but with pride and purpose. And, this time it was real and not a writer’s choice.

I loved the movie. I loved how they captured the family structure, world, and highs and lows of life in the rain forest. And, no they did not choose the story – the story chose them. It was indeed #IRL – In Real Life to use a common acronym that is bandied about.

Dad bloggers and other cultural pundits have correctly observed that Hollywood tends to portray dads in a doltish fashion. Somewhere along the way, maybe with the evolution of the PC Police, dads became the butt of jokes. If you touch a woman or a mom, the army of mom bloggers and mainstream media will hammer you. But, dads were okay to ridicule.

Thankfully, we’re not just getting Al Bundy, Homer Simpson, and the like anymore. There have been recent GREAT ads by Volkswagen and Clorox in which dads were cool, competent, and smart. More will be coming. Hollywood will follow because Hollywood really has no moral compass other than profits. For that matter, neither does Madison Avenue. This is not meant to disparage these fine commercial institutions, but just to recognize that most of corporate America is morally neutral. You can argue otherwise, but I’ll leave that to the comments section below.

I also love the ironic choice of names for the stars of “Chimpanzee.” The baby boy chimp was named, Oscar. The adult male that adopts Oscar is Freddie and the evil rival chimp leader is Scar. I thought choosing Scar was a weak name choice, given that name was so effectively used in “The Lion King.”

Why is Oscar an ironic choice? Well, Oscar was one of the two lead character names in Neil Simon’s great play/movie/TV series, “The Odd Couple.” I loved Oscar in every incarnation of that great play and I love that the adorable and somewhat rascally baby chimp in “Chimpanzee” shares that name. I wonder if the filmmakers saw the parallel?

What was so encouraging about the portrayal of Freddie and Oscar’s burgeoning relationship was that it avoided the usual pitfalls of the dumb dad. Yes, they could only manipulate the story so much, but given the narration they had many opportunities to have made fun of Freddie and his parental choices, especially since he was an adoptive father.

The word, “Irony,” keeps coming to mind when I think about this loving portrayal of father and adopted son. How ironic that this big studio movie may be the first recent one that does this portrayal with such respect for the father’s role. In fact, the genders could have easily been reversed as there was little-to-no sexism portrayed in the movie. I love and so respect that.

It opens on April 20

Maybe we are finally moving to the right place in media’s discussion and depictions of parenting. It isn’t what’s between your legs that determine a good parent; it’s what’s between your ears and in your heart. I still assert that men and women inherently will approach parenting and, most things for that matter, in different ways. But, instead of making one right and the other wrong, let’s look for the good in both.

And, when we’re having fun at a parent’s expense – and there’s plenty of opportunity for humor – let’s choose the humor rather than the gender in how we portray dads and moms. I didn’t love the movie “Bridesmaids” because I don’t care for crude humor, but I did love that for once, it seemed, women were the butt of the jokes and portrayed as goofballs, too. The box office success of that movie only reinforces that that choice reached out to everyone without the need to focus negatively on one gender.

“Chimpanzee” is simply a remarkable movie. At the end of it, there are some short clips with the filmmakers, in which you get a taste of the hardships they endured over several years to capture the 120 minutes of this spectacular film. In ironic ways, they lived some of the hardships of being a parent. They endured the highs and lows parents experience, and watched and filmed an unfolding story in which they did not know the outcome. I can’t imagine enduring their journey but I am so grateful that they took it.

Me? I didn't do it!