Dads don’t always get a lot of good press these days.
At a time when important conversations about toxic masculinity dominate the news and absentee and abusive fathers have become common, men have become better known for their sins than their strengths. From acts of violence to abuse of their authority, the nightly news features the latest examples of how men have lost sight of what it means to be a positive influence.
Thankfully, Dads, the new documentary by Bryce Dallas Howard, wants to tell us another story.
In her directorial debut, Howard takes the opportunity to explore modern fatherhood and celebrate those men who want to leave a positive mark on the lives of their children. Beginning with personal stories about her own famous father, Howard clearly wants Dads to be a love letter to fathers who remain dedicated to their families. Juxtaposing the testimonials of such celebrity parents as Will Smith, Neil Patrick Harris, Kim Jeong, Hasan Minhaj and many others with the stories of everyday families around the world, Howard recognizes the successes, challenges and failures that dads experience as they attempt to navigate the world of contemporary parenting.
Charming and engaging, Howard’s doc balances its voice effectively by showcasing men of different races, sexualities and social status in order to offer a variety of perspectives on fatherhood and the male experience. In doing so, Howard brings to light many of the common experiences of these men who want their children to be healthy and feel loved. Though their circumstances differ, each of the men featured in Howard’s doc hold the responsibility of parenthood firmly in view as they struggle to navigate the challenges of raising children. Whether they are breaking stereotypes as stay-at-home fathers or looking to maintain a work-life balance, each testimonial speaks to the sacrifices that these men are willing to make for the sake of their child’s emotional or physical health. While none of these men suggest their own perfection, each one speaks to the depth of their commitment to their families, despite their anxieties about their role as parents.
In fact, it’s the film’s openness about paternal insecurities that gives Dads its emotional weight. While the film offers numerous success stories about what it means to be a committed parent, the openness of her subjects and interviews serves as a reminder that fatherhood is often riddled with feelings of inadequacy. Regardless of their situation, each man openly expresses the fears and frustrations of attempting to navigate the trials of raising children ‘without a manual’. Though every father featured adores their family, they all confess to feeling insufficient in their role, unsure of whether or not they actually measure up as a parent. (In fact, in one particularly honest moment, Minhaj even points out that his greatest question is whether it’s actually he or his children that are the ones that truly decide the quality of his parenting.)
By giving voice to their parental insecurities, Howard recognizes the humanity of the men that have influenced our lives. Highlighting their brokenness, the true beauty of Dads is that it paints these men with a loving brush of grace as a reminder that their role matters in the lives of their children. For Howard, the point is not to depict these men as faultless but rather serve as a reminder of the love that drives so many fathers, despite their imperfections. (After all, doesn’t love cover a multitude of sins?) In this way, Howards portrays her subjects as examples of commitment and courage, regardless of their situations or flaws.
While Dads contains very few ‘revelations’ about parenting, it’s clear from the outset that this is never the intent of the film. Instead, Howard’s debut is meant to be ‘thank you card’ to fathers of all types that reveals what goes on in their minds, whether it be their reactions when they first meet their child to dealing with feelings of failure. As a result, Dads is an emotionally powerful celebration of the imperfect men in our lives and their impact upon us all.
Dads is available to stream on Apple TV+ now.