Bryce Dallas Howard’s Dads is a likeable, albeit inessential, compendium of stories of fatherhood that led to me reminisce about my own son.
When I turned on Dads, I had not intended to write about it. Director Bryce Dallas Howard (The Mandalorian) structures her paternal documentary around a half dozen vignettes focused on dads in different situations around the world. Each little story broadly deals with one aspect of fatherhood. She intersperses these core narratives with footage of famous comedians and celebrities sharing little anecdotes about their own time as fathers. In her likable documentary, Howard taps into a simple truth with the utmost effectiveness: once you become a father, you have a topic of conversation with every other dad on earth. Howard so effectively captured the feel of a few dads sitting around sharing parenting stories that I could not help but feel inspired to share a few of my own. So forgive me the indulgence, and I promise they mostly all relate to the movie.
The reason Dads works so well is that each story you hear sends you down your own memory hole. When Jimmy Fallon describes his daughter vomiting in his own mouth, I recalled the time my son, Logan, did that to me. I had just returned from court and was still in a suit. As I lifted him – then about four months – high over my head my wife warned “he just ate…” Sure enough, just a few moments later, he vomited right in my mouth. I had to fight every instinct in my body that told me to drop the thing that had just attempted to murder me.
Howard’s first vignette deals, in part, with finding out that you will become a father. She buttresses her segments with little montages of YouTube videos – this time, of men finding out they will soon be fathers. I could not help but remember the August morning when my wife tossed something to me while I was sitting on the couch. I had, like the nerd I am, woken up early to watch Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 before work on its digital release date. When I realized what she had tossed me, a positive pregnancy test, it was a scene of Drax and Mantis sitting together looking over an alien landscape. We, of course, celebrated the joyous news and “Draxmantis” fast became our son’s in utero name.
When Howard spends a significant chunk of time interviewing her little brother about the birth of his child in the movie’s second segment, a whole mess of vivid memories came back to me. While my home is in New York City, I was in Washington DC with a friend when my wife’s water broke. Logan decided he was coming a month early. I was playing in a charity poker game when I got the call that it was the time. My buddy – knowing my wife had some odd labor-esque feelings the previous night – had heroically already figured out the nearest rental car spot in case we needed to make a dash back. He made the drive back to New York at a pace that would fit nicely in Fury Road. I made it just in time… to sit through fourteen more hours of labor.
Wisely, Howard focuses time on babies that were born with health difficulties in the third vignette. It is perhaps the film’s most harrowing and upsetting segment, because every father’s greatest fear is that there is a problem at the delivery. Now, my son was born a month early – I’ll never forget when the nurse came into our room his first night, took his blood sugar reading, flashed a horrified look on her face and immediately raced out of the room. Logan spent the first week of his life in the NICU attached to a variety of machines. My wife and I basically lived at his bedside – I spent the week reading him The Hobbit. Late one night when he was awake and laying upon my chest. I could not help myself but to show him a few minutes of his first movie: the opening sequence of the film Logan.
The fourth vignette moves outside the United States and focuses on a family in Brazil. Howard interviews a dad who comes back into touch with his own father after the birth of his child. It made me think about how amazing it has been to see my own mother’s role in my son’s life. I got my love of movies from her, and so she was excited to travel to New York City to take Logan to one of his first movies in a theater. It was, of course, far too early for him to comprehend a movie in a theater, but we waited for our target film’s eighth or ninth weekend in release so as to annoy as few other patrons as possible. While I may have spent the bulk of The Incredibles 2 standing in the theater hallway with a crabby infant fussing in my arms, it was amazing to see my mother beaming over her grandchild. One of the cool things about fatherhood is how it recontextualizes your own understanding of your parents; Howard perfectly touches upon this sentiment.
The film’s penultimate vignette follows a Japanese man who has become a stay-at-home father. And while I cannot quite empathize with the experience of a full time stay-at-home dad, over three months of Covid quarantine has given me new perspective on what a challenge it must be to spend every single day with a child. I found myself reminiscing about the “hegemony of Frozen” from early quarantine. For most of the first two months of quarantine, my son would refuse to eat food unless Frozen, Frozen II, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, or Frozen Fever was on the TV. Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel became the aurally embodiment of the unpleasantness of Covid. While quarantine has been stressful – two parents with full time jobs in a small Manhattan apartment with a two year old is not ideal – it has been amazing to have the chance to see Logan grow up in real time. His vocabulary has exploded over the last few months and I have done my best to expand his taste in films.
The last story focuses on two dads who have adopted four children from difficult situations together. What most resonates about the scene is the dads’ commitment to figuring out how to steer their children towards the best life possible as adults. One child was largely non-verbal having been born with fetal alcohol system, so the dads chose to move to a farm after research showed the routine of such a lifestyle can help a child become more verbal. It made me think about the responsibility I feel to raise my son to be a good man – I want him to be the sort of person who stands up against injustice and unfairness even at personal risk.
Certainly I have some quibbles with the film as a documentary: it is light and devoid of skepticism; it is impossible – especially considering Ron Howard’s prominent role in the doc – to entirely forget that an aspiring documentarian with a different last name would not have Will Smith, Judd Apatow, and Neil Patrick Harris on call to share cute parenting stories; and the structure ends up feeling jumbled. All that said, Dads remains an extremely pleasant and amiable way to spend 82 minutes.
Happy Father’s Day, everyone!
Dads is now available to watch on AppleTV+.