Normally, a person with years of experience in a field would be considered an expert. A guy who’s been a car mechanic for 30 years? An expert. A civil engineer who has been involved with building a number of bridges over a 35-year career? Another expert.
Now, I have six daughters, ranging in age from 34 to 20 years old. And yet, most times I feel as if I am completely clueless about the job of being their father.
Let’s face it: daughters are more complicated than sons. And this isn’t just me blathering.
A 2013 study by scientists at Newcastle University found that girls’ brains develop faster than boys’ brains. And not by a little. Girls brains begin to organize complex data beginning at about the age of 10 years old. Boys, on the other hand, don’t start to make similar developments until between the ages of 15 and 20 years old.
All of which makes raising daughters more complicated. They ask more questions, for one. Many of which are impossible to answer. I remember once when my second daughter was nine years old I came into the kitchen and she was sitting at the table reading the Los Angeles Times. She looked up and asked, “What’s inflation?” Well, uh, I said, it’s when prices go up. “Why does that happen?” I looked at her, then answered, “Don’t you have any questions about baseball?”
I don’t recall having a discussion about macroeconomics with my sons until, well, ever.
Eventually boys catch up. In theory, at least.
It’s this more complex and nuanced psychological and emotional world that daughters move into at an earlier age that makes raising them—and the ensuing adult relationships you have with them—so much more interesting. And it makes for some great story-telling.
Here are five of my favorite movies about father-daughter relationships.
Everyone has probably seen the charming 1991 remake of this movie (and its sequel) that starred Steve Martin and Diane Keaton. But if you’ve never seen the original, you are missing a real treat. Directed by the fabulous Vincente Minnelli (Liza’s father), the original stars Spencer Tracy as a successful suburban lawyer who suddenly finds himself uneasily overwhelmed by wedding preparations for his daughter. This is Tracy at his most delightful. And the daughter? Elizabeth Taylor, who was only 18 when the film was made and is incandescently appealing.
They sure do not make movies like this very often. At its heart, this story about a murder
trial and civil rights, is really about a daughter, Scout, watching her widowed father navigate the complex and racially-charged trial of a black man accused of the rape of a white girl in 1930’s Alabama. Based on Harper Lee’s much-loved novel, the brilliant screenplay is by Horton Foote. At the center of this film are two unforgettable performances: Gregory Peck as the father, Atticus Finch, and Mary Badham as his young daughter, Scout. Given the fraught times we live in, now might be a good time to rent this movie again.
This may be one of my favorite movies ever. Director Peter Bogdanovich cast Ryan O’Neal and his 10 year-old daughter, Tatum. Ryan is a scurrilous grifter roaming rural mid-America selling commemorative Bibles during the Great Depression, while reluctantly bringing his smart-mouth and street-wise daughter Tatum along. Ryan is about as indifferent and callous a father as one could imagine, and Tatum is about as devoted a daughter as he couldn’t possibly deserve. Tatum won an Academy Award for her unforgettable performance. It’s funny and sad and in the end surprisingly heart-warming.
This marvelous comedy-drama came and went too quickly from theaters, but it definitely is worth a rental. Nick Offerman is a widowed father, musician, and record store owner in Brooklyn, conniving to forestall the reality of his daughter (Kiersey Clemons) going off to college on the West Coast. This really is one of those movies where you’ll laugh and you’ll cry.
A post-apocalyptic horror film that is really a family drama? John Krasinski and his real-life wife Emily Blunt play a couple trying to survive in a world in which violent extraterrestrial creatures kill every living thing. Their daughter, Regan, is deaf and the family communicates using sign language, which comes in handy when you’re trying to avoid creatures who hunt using sound. Normally, you wouldn’t expect a really scary monster movie to have such a strong emotional spine, but this one sure does. Especially in the relationship between Krasinski and his daughter, played here by Millicent Simmonds.
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.