Life’s Most Awkward Father-Son Moments (and their Movie Counterparts)
By Ariel Nishli
A boy’s transition into manhood, replete with hair sprouting in all the wrong places and an uncanny new appreciation for women’s fitness commercials, is arguably the most critical time period in his life. It lays the molding for the type of person he will become: good or crooked, courageous or timid, a lover or a fighter.
In this formative stage of life, there’s nothing like the boy’s #1 Dad to answer all the really tough questions and prepare him for the trials and tribulations to come. Though they’re ultimately for the best, father-son chats aren’t always the most graceful conversations. We’d like to think of ourselves as morally impenetrable super-dads bestowing great wisdom onto our eager little mini-me’s, but alas, as we see all too clearly in KoldCast TV’s hysterical new comedy Dad Drives, these moments are more than a little, well, awkward.
You are watching Episode 1 of Dad Drives, “Better Late Than Never”
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Written and performed by Dan Beirne and Mark Little, two guys sporting a strange sense of humor sick with wit, the sketch-inspired Dad Drives explores a brief period in college grad Malcolm’s life when he’s living at home. For the time being, Malcolm is driven everywhere he needs to go by his Dad, who’s taking every advantage of his newfound captive audience to shirk some unappealing husband duties and bond with his son.
Malcolm resists every step of the way, but perhaps he just needs a reminder of a time when his well-being was more dependent on solid fatherly advice. These moments, which usually start with “have a seat, son” are dread-inducing for both father and son, but unarguably a rite of passage all men-to-be must go through.
The Birds and the Bees
It could be the chair propped up against Mommy and Daddy’s bedroom door, or a vexing wonder at what high tide ushered in that annoying new baby brother. Perhaps it’s a glimpse of a scandalous billboard for American Apparel that lasted a moment too long. Whatever the trigger, a curious young lad is bound to get that tingly feeling and ask his pops about the big one: S E X.
The good news is if your kid does come to you asking what lives between a woman’s thighs and what to do with it, more than likely he hasn’t yet been corrupted by the orgy invitation out there that comprises contemporary media. The other possibility is a freckled-faced classmate imparting his own disturbing adolescent wisdom, which in many cases remains the guidepost until your kid is getting ready for college. Or a sex-education class may take over for you, but that’s just so impersonal. I hear they’re using fruit now?
If junior is around eight or nine, the usual age they get curious, the best thing to do is man up and walk him through the whole thing, sperm to cigarette. Don’t forget to mention love, monogamy, protection, and all that jazz. He’ll thank you for it later.
Movie Moment: When it comes to uncomfortable moments in copulation consultation, Eugene Levy playing Jim’s Dad in 1999’s American Pie takes the cake, or, pie. After walking in on Jim going missionary on the poor pastry in an iconic scene that inspired the title of the seven-movie franchise (originally titled East Great Falls High), Jim’s dad decides it’s high time to have a heart to heart with his son about women and the female form – with the aid of dirty, dirty magazines. One nugget of wisdom is that breasts, although primarily meant for “feeding young infants,” are also used in foreplay. Yikes.
Right around the age we learn Santa, the Easter Bunny, and Michael Jackson weren’t exactly “real,” our primitive philosophical gears start a churnin’ and we ask dad why they’ve been lying to us all these years. Then we begin to understand that lying is actually ok! Wait, it’s not? I’m confused.
This is an awkward topic akin to a moral game of Sudoku. Dad wants his son to learn what’s what, while avoiding having to clean all that shattered innocence off the carpet. Son desperately wants to be good in dad’s eyes, yet master the art of telling innocent lies that make people feel good. “Of course you don’t look fat,” “Yes, it’s delicious,” and “I know where I’m going” all fall under this category. Hmm, maybe this section should be titled “Dealing with Women.”
Movie Moment: In 2003’s Bad Santa, Billy Bob Thornton plays a mall Santa and reluctant father figure to a weird, pudgy little boy who desperately needs to believe in Santa Claus in order to solve his bullying problems. The boy’s first visit to his idol proves disheartening as he learns that not only is Santa fake, but he’s an alcoholic womanizer!
The Chickens and the Choking
As sex remains the most uncomfortable topic to discuss well into our golden years, next on the list is masturbation! Dads are the ones to usually initiate this conversation, as any red-blooded 13-year-old boy figures out how to work his natural plumbing without parental guidance. A good signpost on the right time to bring it up is when daily showers transform from necessary evils to hour-long spa substitutes.
These days, even though our tykes’ thorough Google searches do most of our parenting for us, it helps to have a mentor explain that after baseball, mass-murdering sperm is the nation’s pastime. Humor and complete transparence is probably a good way to go, as the inevitable mental image spawned by the conversation is bound to induce years of cringing. Might as well soften the blow.
Movie Moment: Although American Pie could easily win this category with its three separate scenes in which Jim’s parents catch him taking the dog for a walk, 1997’s The Ice Storm features a heart-to-heart between Kevin Kline and Toby Maguire in a car ride that we like to think inspired Dad Drives. The awkward tension is so thick you’d need a predator to cut through it. At the end of it all, Kline mercifully asks a pre-Spidey Maguire, “Could you do me a favor and pretend I never said any of that?”
Earning a Living
We live in an America on the heels of the Great Recession, when a twenty-something dude moving back home elicits more of a sympathetic eye roll than a call to the military school recruiter. Nevertheless, it remains a universal fact that a father will sit his son down at some point after college graduation (sometimes even at 18!), ask him to loosen his grip on that beautifully framed communications or philosophy bachelor’s degree, just for the moment, and impart some hard truths about making one’s way in the world.
The Route 66 of road from boy to man is arguably the understanding that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Given the chance, many guys would stretch out in their parents’ living room or basement, experiment with facial stubble, and bask in the glow of the complimentary cable TV subscription. Slackerdom has been around at least as long as Kevin Smith started making movies, and we suspect even longer.
This conversation is made awkward by having to watch the fear surface in your son’s eyes and admit that even for father the hero, life is a struggle. It gets more complicated when you have to sell the idea that the struggle is sort of the whole point.
Movie Moment: There are a plethora of movies out there whose raison d’être is portraying guys who can’t seem to crawl out of their parents’ nest. However, The most masterful movie moment has to go to Terrence Malick for his 2011 film Tree of Life, wherein a hard-jawed Brad Pitt tells his son a man makes his way in the world through fierce will. It’s poignant, chilling, and yet invigorating because it’s true.
There’s no definitive rulebook on fatherhood, but there are nuggets of truth we gain from listening to the wisdom of others who’ve gone through it.
“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.” Mark Twain
In other words, whether we want the old man’s advice or not, we need to remember that he’s been there before, and only wants to make it a little easier on us.
Ariel Nishli is the Editor-in-Chief of The Sixth Wall. He’s got a big apple in his heart but moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. After graduating from Vanderbilt University in 2007, he worked in the motion picture literary department at ICM, then moved on to feature film development at Parkes MacDonald Productions. Ariel’s wardrobe has steadily devolved from designer suits to worn out slippers, as he now focuses on screenwriting and journalism when he’s not obsessing over this blog.
Daniel Ferszt contributed to this story.