How do you make an 81-minute film that encapsulates the head-spinning enormity of the modern fatherhood experience? Dads, the new documentary on Apple TV, boldly fronts up to the challenge.
The directorial debut of Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of Ron) is a celebration of the joys and struggles of modern fatherhood presented through a mash-up of elements. Hollywood big guns from Jimmy Fallon to Will Smith offer honest insights into everything from projectile vomit to parenting teens. More serious issues are explored through a series of intimate case studies from around the world, while viral videos amp up the energy while adding a dash of slapstick humour.
Dads isn’t perfect. The scope is so wide-ranging that at times it feels like there’s a fair bit of tokenistic box-ticking going on as the narrative scrambles to include the single dad, stay-at-home dad, absent dad, gay adoptive dad et al. Some of the observations (“there’s no manual for being a dad”) will feel a bit hackneyed, while other plot-lines verge on the schmaltzy.
Yet Dads is also a moving and uplifting watch. It’s impossible to step away from the film and not feel a little more motivated and optimistic about the opportunities of family life (and, let’s face it, we could all use a bit of that). The tone is ultimately reassuring. As the tagline says: “You got this. Even when you don’t.”
Consequently, there are a bunch of memorable quotes. Here are some of our favourites and, yes, Ron Howard does turn out to be a bit of a Dad Whisperer.
“You just begin to learn that part of being a dad is handling shit and coping with it. Even if it’s not pretty, even if you’re not that good at it. Lean into the job of helping to raise these kids. Because everything helps.”
“I was a terrible stay-at-home dad at first. But I got good at it.”
“‘I’ll tell you why: because I said so! And because it’s my house!’ I remember hearing that and thinking: ‘What a dick move, dad.’ And now I’m saying it to my son.
Neil Patrick Harris
“Very early on I read a Deepak Chopra book that said, you should look at the relationship with your kids like they are a soul and you’re a soul. For a little while you guide them a little bit and then they move on. Your child is not a thing you possess. It’s someone that you assist.”
“All of us dads think about that [the amount of time we’re spending with our kids]. I think: ‘Am I there enough?’ Sometime I think: ‘Am I there too much compared with my dad? Do I also want to give them space? Let them grow?’ So it’s complicated.”
“One of the things that, Jada and I stumbled onto is that we agreed really early in our parenting that we don’t know [everything]. And if you could just start [a discussion] with the fact that you don’t know it’s so much easier to develop a relationship with your kids. Cause they know you don’t know. We got into a really comfortable place of saying to the kids, ‘This is a tough one. Help me out here. What do you think you need to evolve and become the greatest version of yourself? Help me out.”
“When Cheryl became pregnant with twins, I really had to step up. And I honestly remember doing more cooking, more caretaking – really looking after Cheryl. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow, I’ve really been a kid up until now. For the first time I really feel like a man. I really feel like I’m doing a man’s work for my family.”
“Can I tell you the question that I struggle with the most? Do I get to determine if I’m a good dad or is that ultimately my daughter’s decision? And that’s terrifying for me, that idea of not knowing. Is that weird? It’s like the biggest struggle for me is what is my ‘Dad Rotten Tomatoes score’. What am I? Am I ‘certified fresh’ or am I not?”
“Very early on when our daughter was just a baby I told my wife, ‘Keep in mind, no matter what we do, she’s going to go to therapy one day and she’s going to complain about us’.”
“You get the tiniest window and then gone. It’s just gone. So just revel in it. And revel hard.”
“I think children flourish when they know they’re loved. I think children flourish when they’re as safe as they can be. I think children flourish when good examples are set for them. To the extent you can create that environment for kids, I think you’re doing about all you can do.”
“Don’t try to make your family perfect. Just make it wonderful. That I learned from my dad.”
“A gardener understands how to nurture the seeds through good weather, through bad weather. A gardener doesn’t want that seed to become anything other than what it’s designed to become. A gardener doesn’t want the rose to turn into an oak tree. A good gardener helps the seed become what it wants to become, not what the gardener wants it to become. A father is a master gardener.”
“Having a kid is the meaning of life. It gives you a job. It gives you a purpose. This is my purpose. As soon as Winnie was born, I lost my name. I’m not Jimmy Fallon any more. I’m Winnie’s dad.”
Jimmy Fallon Winnie’s dad
“What ultimately adds up is what your children see, what they witness. The way you as a father live your life. What kind of an example do you set. Not everybody can make it to every game or any game. Not everybody can sit there and do homework with their kid because they might be carrying three jobs. This is something that as a society, we have to acknowledge – the importance of what a father means. And then we have to also think about trying to create a society that facilitates them to do their best. Because at his best, a father provides a kind of consistent sense of safety and therefore possibility.”
All photographs: Apple TV+