Monday, November 14, 2011

Choosing Courage

By Roland C. Warren, President, National Fatherhood Initiative

Good films not only entertain, they speak powerfully into deeply personal issues or important social problems. Great films speak to both. On that measure, Courageous is a great film.

Courageous, the new film from the makers of Facing the Giants and Fireproof, draws you in with action and humor, but then, like Field of Dreams, causes men reflect on their relationships with their dads and their own children. It is one of the most emotionally powerful films I have seen in along time; it hits very close to home for dads like me who grew up without their fathers.

It also intelligently tackles the social crisis of our time--the widespread absence of fathers from the lives of our nation's children. Twenty-four million children--one out of every three nationally and two of three in the African American community--live in homes absent their biological fathers.

How does one film accomplish all of this? The answer is in the title. Not only does the film rest on the theme of "courage" in portraying the value and heart of fatherhood, but the film itself is also courageous in its handling of the father absence crisis we face today.

When I first heard about this movie more than a year ago, I thought that the title was strange. You don't normally hear this word used in reference to fatherhood. Frankly, you're more likely to hear it exclaimed by a sportscaster hailing a football star who plays through an injury. Or when a celebrity poker player goes "all in," despite having a poor hand.

Playing through an injury and making a well-timed bluff are noteworthy, but courageous? Hardly. Courageous the movie, on the other hand, frames the hard, self-sacrificing work of fatherhood around the idea that being a "good enough" father just isn't enough; we should strive to be great fathers, the kind children need and mothers long for.

This film has the potential to make millions of men realize just how critical they are to their children and challenges them to question themselves and their priorities. In fact, the film makes it clear that great fatherhood is really a choice between comfort and courage, which I have come to believe are opposites.

Consider this real-life example.

Some months ago, I heard a news report about a father's harrowing experience in Sierra Leone during the time when the brutal rebel leader, Charles Taylor, was terrorizing that small nation. One day, a gang of Taylor's thugs entered his community looking for men and boys that they could mutilate by cutting off their limbs. When they approached this father, they told him that they were going to cut off his arm and his son's arm. They wanted two arms and they were not going to be denied.

They weren't; the father offered both of his arms to spare his son. He chose courage over comfort.

While no one is threatened like this in Courageous, the characters face difficult challenges at home and at work. While the film grapples effectively with these deeply personal issues, it is also takes a broad view of how father absence affects entire communities, and thus the country.

Courageous asserts the uncompromising view that when dads disconnect from children, the results for the community are gangs, broken children, violence, drug dealing, lack of respect for authority, and a variety of other negative consequences.

Conversely, the film suggests that when fathers are connected to family, most of the serious problems we face can be eliminated. Few films have had the courage to place these ideas front and center in the story.

At a time when we face record levels of father absence and out-of-wedlock childbirths, cultural indifference to the idea that marriage and fatherhood should be linked, and the attitude that fathers are not important cogs in the family -- National Fatherhood Initiative's national survey of moms and dads found that 6 in 10 parents believe dads can be easily replaced -- Courageous cannot come at a better time.

For taking on this cultural indifference and not being afraid to challenge millions of men, Courageous truly is one courageous movie

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