Matt Sweetwood suddenly found himself watching a movie that was strangely close to depicting his real life. Instead of applauding, however, he loathed the portrayal of a dad bumbling thorough a life he knew so well.
This past weekend, I was asked to accompany a woman friend to see the movie, Ricki and the Flash. It was a last minute decision and all I knew about the movie was that it starred Meryl Streep as a musician. I am not a big Meryl Streep fan and it seemed like a chick-flick, but I am a friend, so I went. Maybe the music would be good?
Streep’s character, Ricki Randazzo, is a late-middle-aged, eccentric guitar playing rocker, who left her husband and 3 children, when they were young, to pursue her dreams of being a musician. She has had little contact with her children, now all adults, since she walked away decades earlier. My Saturday night movie escape had just turned into a replay of my life.
I have been a single dad of my 5 children since 1996, when their mom, my wife, left us all for good. She hasn’t seen or spoken to our 3 youngest children in 12 years and our 2 oldest children in 14 years. She also plays the guitar, so maybe she’s off, far away, rocking it too? The movie now had my full attention as it’s not often you go to a movie that is a remake of your life.
I was hoping the movie would portray a single-dad positively and break the stereotype that men are unemotional, materialistic and unable to parent effectively by themselves. Unfortunately, the dad, Pete, played by Kevin Klein, was portrayed as a man who is clueless about parenting, has amassed a fortune, and was so level-headed he seemed to be devoid of all emotion – until he was high on pot, of course. Meanwhile, his ex-wife Ricki, lived a life as an impoverished musician, playing at a has-been bar venue. Her boyfriend, Greg, played by musician Rick Springfield, also has left his kids. Furthering the stereotype, there are several scenes where Pete’s new wife (and stepmom) Maureen, vividly points out how she has done the entire child raising since the children were little. The movie actually begins when Maureen goes away for a business trip and Pete’s youngest daughter has an emotional breakdown. Pete unable to figure out how to deal with his daughter, has to call Ricki to come back home to help.
The children in this movie are wounded. The youngest daughter just tried to commit suicide after her husband walked out on her. The oldest son is gay and is struggling with that in large part to the way his mother and father have treated him. The middle son, is getting married to a women that has the audience grimacing at (no one is taking bets on that marriage lasting). The movie effectively demonstrates that if the mother leaves, the father will get rich, be unable to parent effectively and the children are doomed to unhappiness, maladjustment and dysfunction. Would they ever make a movie where these roles are reversed?
After paying support to my ex-wife for almost 20 years now and supporting 5 children to adulthood, I can assure you I am not rich. My kids today are all in their 20’s. Four have attended top colleges, one is just married, one helps run my business, and all five are successful, happy and kind human beings. And we all love each other and stay close to each other.
Today, one in four households are headed up by single dads. It’s time Hollywood stopped trashing men with their stereotyping of fathers. Films need to acknowledge that we can be loving and effective parents, capable of raising successful kids too. Dare I say, in most cases, just as well as a woman can?