One of a child’s first challenges is to understand his or her own world. For gay dads, this presents its own set of issues since much of the material we use with our kids basically ignores our very existence. Kids’ programming, books and toy sets all reflect the Mommy/Daddy paradigm. That is not likely to change, that standard representing the majority, and LGBT families must find ways to cope.
I was constantly editing as I read my boys “good night” stories, changing the word “Mommy” to “Papa” so they heard a story about a world they found instantly recognizable.
Gay dads don’t get many advantages in the parenting landscape these days, what with cantankerous celebrities and bogus “studies” bashing us at every turn. The one area that CAN be our friend is the local DVD outlet, however. For whatever reason, due to a patriarchal Hollywood complex or just mere coincidence, there is a full treasure trove of great gay father-lead family material available.
I truly wish that I could be writing this article and calling out all the great LGBT family material available, but sadly that is simply not the case. The horrifying fact is, it SUCKS to be a mom in most animated movies. Being a birth mother is tantamount to being victim of some horrible misogynistic plague. If you are one, the likelihood is that in these movies, you are either dead (Snow White, Cinderella, Beauty in the Beast, Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hoodwinked and more), or absent/abandoning (Sleeping Beauty, Shrek, Tangled). If you are a second mom, it is worse. You are just plain evil (Snow White, Cinderella, Tangled). Even in the latest offering, Brave, the mother/daughter dynamic was less than ideal .
So, lesbian moms, I offer up this list with a little bit of guilt. I wish there were similar offerings for YOUR families. There should be. Whenever you are ready to go picket Disney, DreamWorks, Pixar and others … I will march with you.
In the meantime, here is my list, from the good to the best. I hope you agree:
10. Despicable Me (2010) Gru is despicable and inept at his profession of being a villain. In the end, he demonstrates what it takes to be a good father, putting his kids first.
9. Cars (2006) Lightening McQueen has all the testosterone of a teen-aged kid. He is finally tamed by the sage gnarly tough love of a surrogate dad, Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), and due to that influence, grows up.
8. Lion King (1994) I am sure the question is not why this is on the list, since it has the theme of fatherhood all over it, but why it is not ranked higher. Simba’s guilt over his father’s death, the sainthood ideal of his father, and the cavalier silliness of his two surrogate dads may be a bit much for kids in gay dad households to handle. It’s still good, though, but requires some dad hugs and statements like “Don’t worry … I am not going ANYWHERE.”
7. Pinocchio (1940) This movie is filled with gay dad heart, even if it is a little dated. A man denied fatherhood creates a son in the only way he can at his disposal, and through the help of another surrogate dad (who happens to be a cricket), and various rites of passage… the created son becomes a real one.
6. Toy Story I (1995) A bit of a flip flop in terms of the dad and child dynamic on this one since the two “dads” are owned by the child. Well, maybe that is not so much a flip flop as it is a deeply accurate perspective. Not only do Woody and Buzz strive to hold the child Andy as the core of their lives, they also father the band of various toys in the nursery. One of the great themes for gay dads: can I be as good as my hype? What happens when my kid finds out that I can’t really fly? The answer? He or she won’t care. In their eyes, you can.
5. Ice Age I (2002) A family is formed when two surrogate dad-types, a Mammoth named Manny and a Saber tooth Tiger named Diego, come together with a goofy uncle type Sloth named Sid. The bond is sealed when they put all their priorities around the love and welfare of a human child, much to the disapproval of their outside kin.
4. Monsters Inc. (2001) Unlike the guys in Ice Age, the surrogate dad-types in Monsters Inc, Sully and Mike, already have kind of a bromance going, sans child. When the human child enters their life, there is a sense of taboo, and an element of “us against the outside world” that they experience. Ultimately, they show that they are willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of and love for the child in their lives.
3. The Incredibles (2004) This movie does not have the male parental dominance as the other movies on the list, but the pair of opposite gender parents are fully actualized, empowered (literally) people who can save the day on their own. The elements that appeal for a gay dad household is the sense that “our family is special, but not all outsiders will understand,” and “normal family squabbles do not supersede the fact that we are there for each other at the end of the day.” The movie also features the androgynous-ish “E” Mode, superhero costume designer, and Helen Parr is the best kids movie mom ever. If, per my earlier point, great kid movie moms were not an endangered species, I would move to make her an honorary gay dad.
2. Over the Hedge (2006) Two surrogate fathers vie for the heart and leadership of a family of woodland creatures displaced by a housing development. One, RJ, has some self-serving motives, but the other, Verne, is for pure fatherly love. In the process, and with some great music by Ben Folds, RJ sees his error and steps up to a real Dad role. Plus, this movie has a hilariously skunky Wanda Sykes, who does an inter-species romance thing with a cat.
My nomination for the BEST Gay Dad-Friendly movie of all time, however, is …
1. Finding Nemo (2003) (Minus the scene before the main title) I am cheating a little. My “best” pick is based on my own edited version of this film. For the past 9 years, my sons have never seen the part of the movie before the titles. I always started the movie, picked “scene selection” and went to the second panel and started it where the title “Finding Nemo” comes up. I would recommend the same to you unless you think your children watching a mother fish and the majority of her offspring being eaten is desirable. I didn’t.
So for me, it is about the rest of the movie. In my opinion, this is probably the best dad and kid movie ever made. Single dad Marlin has trouble not being over-protective. His world revolves around his son, Nemo. Nemo embarks on an adventure where he inadvertently falls from beneath dad’s protection, but is then guided by a surrogate father, Gil. Nemo learns to become self-actualized, and Marlin learns to let him. The movie is weaved with parental axioms of life, like “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming …” to the crux moment of when “He says it’s time to let go.” “Let go? How do you know something terrible isn’t going to happen?” “I … don’t!” And then, letting go to find an instant latter that you are exactly where you needed to be.
The father/child bond in the movie is complex and perfect. My sons watched this movie literally thousands of times, and I still never tire of it. In the end, Marlin does learn to let go, enough, and to respect his son … and he has Ellen Degeneres as a best friend. I mean, come on, how gay dad is that?
So there is my “best” list. What is yours? And lesbian moms … what would you like to see in a kid’s movie?
ROB WATSON is Director of Partners and Alliances Communication for Hitachi Data Systems, and blogs at evoL= . He has served as the president of the board of directors for Santa Cruz AIDS project, is a dedicated activist for the LGBT community, and a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post. He is the proud father of two sons he first fostered then adopted. They reside in Northern California.