Today I was feeling sick this morning after an Ethiopian food incident, so I skipped church and stayed home and watched a movie called "Imagine That". It was a very cute movie, and I did enjoy it, but it reflects a sentiment with which I disagree - the idea that playing with children should ALWAYS come before work.
"Imagine That" is the story of a father who realizes that his daughter has the magical ability to predict stock market trends, which he uses to his advantage. It's heartwarming, and nice, but the overarching theme is that because Eddie Murphy works, this makes him an inattentive asshole father. EVERY time he does anything related to his career, we are treated to sad, puppy dog eyes from his adorable daughter, in an attempt to manipulate the audience into agreeing that yes, Eddie Murphy is an asshole who neglects his daughter. Here are some examples of what I'm talking about:
Eddie Murphy is in an important meeting that could very well impact the entire future of his career. He gets a call stating that there is an emergency with his daughter at school, and he leaves immediately. Right here we see that he's not a total asshole workaholic (he just can't get enough workahol!) A true work addict would not have left, he would have been like "deal with it bitch". But when he shows up, there is no emergency! The teacher was complaining about the girl's blanket. Yes. That was the "emergency". And when Eddie Murphy acts annoyed, the teacher reacts as if he threatened to drown the girl for insubordination. He handles the situation in what I consider to be a sensitive and reasonable manner, only to be rewarded by his daughter screaming hysterically.
AND THEN! Any normal father would have been like "Shut up kid. Suck it up and get back to school. You're too old for this shit", Eddie Murphy TAKES HIS DAUGHTER TO WORK WITH HIM. That right there earns him some kind of father of the year award. While he is in a meeting, the child interrupts him through the window with wild hand gestures and shouting. When he gently chastises her "You can't interrupt daddy during meetings flailing your hands all about" or something equally mild, we are treated to more sad eyes from the poor abused little girl. How dare he? Bastard. And then he has the audacity to get angry because she painted and drew all over his presentation/information. ANYONE would be irritated by that.
And then, later in the movie, little girl is supposed to be in bed, while Eddie Murphy is making some late night, business related phone calls. Little girl comes down from her room and wants to play. Eddie Murphy, being a responsible grown male, continues to work, and tells little girl to get back to bed. She refuses. Eddie Murphy tells her she can stay, but she has to be quiet and go to sleep; it's bedtime. She won't be quiet and go to sleep. So Eddie Murphy yells at her to go to bed. Unfeeling douche bag! Little girl gives hime a look that should only be reserved for children who are being tied up in cages, causing Eddie Murphy to feel so guilty, he goes up and apologizes to her. Yes. He apologizes to his daughter for sending her to bed. The overall moral seems to be that Eddie Murphy should have quit working and played with his daughter when she requested it. But why? She was supposed to be in bed. It was late. He had work to do. I honestly don't see the problem.
But it's not just "Imagine That". Remember "Liar Liar"? Jim Carrey forgets to take his kid to some kind of event, and misses his birthday party or something like that, and the mom goes crazy and is like "I'm moving and taking Max with me because you're a shitty father". Like a total overreaction. I don't think my dad even knows when my birthday IS, but I never acted like some abused martyr about it. Because I was not raised to believe that I am the center of my dad's, or anyone else's, universe. It's not all about me, and it's not all about Max. Grownups have grown up things to do. Deal with it.
And remember Hook?! Great movie, but Robin Williams was so villainized! He was terrified of flying and he had the gall to snap at his son for making annoying ball bounces and plane crashing sounds. We get more tragic neglected child eyes from Jack, the son. Robin Williams is on his cell phone a lot, but he's a LAWYER. He has to keep in touch with clients. It's an important job. At the end of the movie Robin Williams, so changed by his trip to Neverland, throws his cell phone out the window into the snow, symbolizing what? Is he quitting his job? Is he going to be some kind of lawyer who works short hours, i.e. a shitty lawyer who loses all his cases? Either way, there will be damn few trips to England for the Pan family from now on, as they will have to subsist entirely on "bangorang" and imagination meals.
And Mary Poppins! Mr. Banks is a great dad! But the kids and everyone else act like he's a total crap father because he wants his children to be well trained, and for his house to be well ordered. That's not such a crime! He obviously cares about his family. He took the time to hire a nanny for them, didn't he? He worked hard to provide for them didn't he? It was England back in the day (1920s, I think?). I think parents usually just shipped their kids to sweatshop factories or boarding schools back then, didn't they? When the spoiled brats get him fired rather than open a bank account (I'm still not sure what they had against bank accounts. I mean the boss had a really awesome, convincing song and everything. Hell, that method would work on me now, as an adult.)he is somehow changed from an upstanding British citizen who works hard and takes care of his family to a devil-may-care bum who takes his family to the park to fly a kite. And this is, somehow, a happy ending. Well it's not a happy ending. They better get used to that park, because they're gonna be hanging out there with Bill the Chimney-Sweep dancing for nickels (pence?) and fashioning that kite into a sharp defensive tool for fighting off street urchins. But at least they'll get lots of quality time with their dad.
I'm not saying a job should always come first. Obviously, a parent, male or female, has to make time for their kids. I only object to the idea that the kids should ALWAYS come first. They shouldn't. Because the fact of the matter is, survival is not possible if no one works. To condemn a father because he doesn't drop everything anytime his kid wants the slightest bit of attention is silly and based on unrealistic expectations. Someone has to pay the bills. Most kids would rather have a moderately comfortable lifestyle and spend a little less time with their parents than have parents around who dote on them all day, but no food or shoes. It's about balance. I think the fathers portrayed in these movies WERE balanced. They had jobs, their children were reasonably well behaved and not at all neglected.
Plus, the concept that a parent's first priority should ALWAYS be the child is damaging to the children who absorb it. It fosters a sense of entitlement in them. "How could you go to work on the day of my Christmas sing-a-long at school? You're a horrible father and I hate you!". It's not all about you, kid. Sorry, but it's true. And if a parent does devote their every waking moment to their child's happiness it creates unrealistic expectations in the child. That child will grow up and expect all her relationships to be "me centered", wondering why their friends and boyfriends don't drop what they're doing anytime she wants some attention. In addition, a parent who puts all her time and effort into her child has a big shock coming. Because guess what? That kid's gonna move out. And then what? He or she will become one of those crazy cat ladies or one of those creepy people on "Hoarders" saying "Well after my kids moved out, I got so lonely. So I just started collecting stuff and it got out of hand..." You have to have balance.