17 November 2010

Fatherhood, Starring Robert Downey, Jr.

No, the purpose of this post is not to plug the movie Due Date. Though, if you're reading, you should go see it, because 1) it's really funny and 2) it was co-written by a dear friend of mine. And it's really funny.

Actually, this post is about how fatherhood is one massive learning experience (probably the biggest of your life). At least, that's what it's been like for me so far, with the Doozer. Imagine that you got a new job and every few days you found yourself with a new boss and a new job description, plus requirements well beyond the scope of the original job definition, as well as far outside your training and experience.

Further, there is no real manual for this position, nor a complete set of instructions. Sure, there is a lot of literature on this subject and there is an element of universality to child-rearing, but individual experiences are utterly unique and no single book or blog or magazine column can cover the entire breadth of your life with your kid. It's impossible.

But that doesn't mean that common ground doesn't exist. And for me, I've found a lot of it in fictional (often humorous) representations of fatherhood. There's also that complete lack of age-appropriate dad friends in my real life that I previously alluded to, so without real-world examples or reference points, I must turn to popular culture for my parenting touchstones.

Such as Phil Dunphy (as played by Ty Burrell) on Modern Family. I find him incredibly relatable (though I don't want to spend too much time on what this says about me). Something about this portrayal just makes absolute sense to me. And feels, weirdly, like a glimpse into my own future as a dad.

The same thing goes for Louie, on FX, featuring the comedian Louis C.K. His observations on parenting are absolutely hilarious (if often uncomfortably honest) and I just admire the hell out of him.

I think what I find most relatable is the acknowledgement of being out of one's depth. (It's why another touchstone of mine is Neal Pollack's Alternadad.) About being immersed in this role and yet having no true compass for how to navigate the whole thing. Louie is upfront about his shortcomings and frustrations, while Phil masks his with absurd bravado (though I don't think that this necessarily makes him any less self-aware).

But it extends beyond fictional creations to people in reality, people that I admire for a variety of reasons. Authors, musicians, movie stars. Like Johnny Depp. He's got two kids. What is he like as a father? Is he still extremely cool when changing diapers? Is that even possible? Is anybody cool when changing diapers?

Which brings us to Robert Downey, Jr., father of a now teenaged son. What is his parenting style? Is he more or less confident than the rest of us? If I were to meet him, would he have good dad tips for me?

What was it like for Bob Dylan in the '70s? There was a domestic period there for a while, right? (The lyrics to "Wedding Song" would seem to indicate as such.) How do you be "Bob Dylan" and "Dad" at the same time? How does that work exactly?

I look at the Doozer and I realize each day I'm shaping his definition of "dad." What kind of father will he be (if he becomes a father someday)? What is my influence on that? I know on one level that my own dad gave me a pretty strong definition of what it means to be a father. And I can only hope I'm doing as good a job as he did.

And if they ever make a movie about the Doozer and me, maybe Depp or Downey will play my part.

Guy can dream, right?

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