Finding Nemo, Part 2

Editor’s Note: Last week, Dad Matter’s writers Sam Hoover and Paul Asay started a conversation on the most memorable Dad’s in movies – why they are so memorable and what we can learn from their mistakes today. They began their discussion on Disney and Pixar’s Finding Nemo. Their discussion spilled over into their email over the next several days. Here’s Part 2 of what happened (Part 1):

Hoover: Nemo learned that despite his limitations, he’s still free to live a normal life (at sea). He also learned that his limitation can also be advantageous in some circumstances. He also got a good lesson in physics thrown in for good measure that ended up saving Dory’s life at the end.

Nemo’s innocence, though, protected him from learning the worst lesson: that his dad is a scaredy catfish. You see his pessimism in believing the story that his dad was bouncing on jellies to get to him until Nigel the Pelican identifies dad by name. I wonder if an older Nemo wouldn’t have needed a bit more faith to believe that the story was true.

My kids aren’t quite to the stage of disbelief in their old man. I know it’s coming and in knowing that, it makes me want to take changes for the sake of my kids: move to a new city, run a challenging race, learn a new skill, start a new business. We don’t have to do these things for the direct benefit of our children but they need to see a pattern of risk-taking on our part so that we don’t continue to raise a nation of wimps.

Asay: Yeah, I love that. It’s really good, I think, to shake things up sometimes and encourage your kids to be, in some ways, “fearless.” Alas, it’s too late for me: I’ve already completely spoiled all their 4-year-old illusions of me of me being a fearless daredevil (likely by the time they were 5). They know, for instance that I (somewhat ironically) have a strange phobia of largish fish. My kids know more about my weaknesses than I’d like to admit: My struggles operating the universal remote or cooking fried rice or my sometime failure to check my blindspot when shifting lanes.

But you know, I take comfort from Finding Nemo even in the midst of my occasional ineptitude. After all Marlin is a better dad at the end of the movie­—but he’s not perfect. He still has a predilection to be too cautious. Sure, he gives a little more. He clings a little less. But we can see it’s still there—and yet Nemo loves him, caution and all. Why? Because he knows, without a doubt, that his pops loves him. See, Nemo knows how cautious Marlin is. And for Marlin to overcome his natural fears to find his son, that says more about Marlin’s love than anything else.

Finding Nemo offers us dads loads of lessons about dealing with fear. It implores us to let our kids take chances. It encourages us to take chances, too. And maybe, one of the secret lessons it teaches us is to not be afraid of being a real person to your kids: After all, they see your strengths and weaknesses eventually. Maybe when the inevitable day comes when they don’t see us as the strongest, smartest, bravest men ever, we’ll be comfortable admitting when we’re weak. Marlin does just that when he and Nemo are caught in the tuna net at the end of the movie. “I can do this!” Nemo tells his pop. And Marlin—scared and uncertain—lets him try. It took courage to let go of the reins right then—courage to admit that Nemo might know something that his father did not.

When Colin was about seven years old and zipping around on rollerblades, I bought myself a pair, too. It’s good exercise, I thought to myself. It’d be fun to skate with Colin. Alas, I really do have the dexterity of a turnip, and when I strapped the rollerblades on as my son looked expectantly at me, his safety helmet strapped to his head, I looked and felt about as clumsy as Dory out of water. And as I balanced precariously on my skates, Colin skated up to me.

“You can hold my hand if you want,” he said.

I didn’t feel much like a hero right then. And yet, I felt very much like a dad—a foolish dad, perhaps, but a dad just the same.

Hey, we should teach our kids how to be strong and brave. We should encourage them and set the right example. And when they’re young, we should be their heroes. But just as Jesus set a great example for us in his own mortal weakness, we can teach our kids in the midst of our own weakness, too: Sometimes fathers can be uncomfortable, even afraid­ (so it’s OK for our kids to be scared too, sometimes). We’re not perfect (which shows our kids that they can’t expect to be perfect, either). But we’ve got each other’s hands and we’re in this thing together. And sometimes, even the strongest and smartest daddy in the world can use a little help.