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The Worst Fathers in Film

Happy Father’s Day!  Welcome to another visit to the land of movie Dads.  Unlike my earlier article about good fathers which can be found here, this story is all about Dads that fail to live up to their parenting duty.   All parents have flaws; some don’t spend enough time with their kids while others pass on bad habits or character traits.  Then there are those who are just abusive.  In this piece, we are going to focus on the Dads who just don’t seem to get the major aspects of what being a Dad means.  The fathers, in many ways, come up short when it comes to reaching the goal of being a good Dad.

Peter McCallister (John Heard)

Home Alone/Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Funnily enough, we never lose our luggage.
“Funnily enough, we never lose our luggage.”

Holiday travel can be tough and it is easy to sympathize with a parent who might forget a passport or a piece of luggage.  The line has to be drawn when that parent forgets one of their children.  In the first film, the McCallisters travel from Chicago to Paris for Christmas and realize on the plane that their 8-year old son, Kevin, has been left at the house after being forced to sleep in the attic.  They realize their mistake halfway over the Atlantic; which is really, really bad.

After a major ordeal like that, most parents would take a head count even if they were just going to the corner market. Many fathers learn from mistakes and it makes them better people. Peter McCallister is not one of these fathers.  Two years later, they plan to spend Christmas in Florida. In this ordeal, everyone checks in at the shuttle and is accounted for at the airport.  In the rush Kevin, now 10-years old, gets left behind again.  They barely make their flight, but Kevin, who had followed someone who looks like his Dad, ends up on a flight to New York.

Not changing your habits after a major event like leaving your child in America when you are going to France equates to being a poor parent.  On top of that, once they realize that they had left him, Peter did not get right back on a plane headed to Chicago. Instead, he checked into a motel and waited for an update.  It’s this type of nonsense parenting that lands Peter McCallister on the list of worst fathers.

Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis)

There Will be Blood

You're an orphan from a basket in the middle of the desert, and I took you for no other reason than I needed a sweet face to buy land. D'you get that? So now you know.
“You’re an orphan from a basket in the middle of the desert, and I took you for no other reason than I needed a sweet face to buy land. D’you get that? So now you know.”

In what might be one of the worst movies ever, Daniel Day Lewis delivers what might be the best performances of all time.  He plays Daniel Plainview as head of a small oil company in California.  After one of the workers in his factory dies, Daniel adopts the factory worker’s son, H.W., not out of charity, but to use him to promote his company as a “family business.”   A selfish, grizzled, and mean-spirited man, Daniel takes H.W. with him as he travels around and attempts to acquire land where oil is likely to be discovered.  In a nutshell, he has taken a young boy who has lost his real father and adopts him into a world where he is a tool for illegal practices.

After a rig explosion leaves H.W. deaf, Daniel leaves him on a train that is headed off to boarding school. “Father'”and “Son” do not see each other for years, and when they finally reunite, Daniel disowns him as his son.  Daniel Plainview’s relationship to his son is summed up in this quintessential quote: “Son, work the oil well for me. Hold this hammer. Also, don’t tell anyone I’m a shifty, evil, land-grabbing magnate. And I’m not sorry for your deafness.”  If you’ve seen the film, you’ll understand the vile hatred that Daniel attracts. Unfortunately, his son has a real piece of work to call “Dad.”

Cody Nunamaker (Fred Ward)

Joe Dirt

All right! We didn't lose him; we just left him. So what? The dude's doing fine! Look at him!
“All right! We didn’t lose him; we just left him. So what? The dude’s doing fine! Look at him!”

A good father would not sew a permanent mullet on his child’s head, abandon him at the grand canyon, and use him to pedal cheap carnival art.  Joe Dirt’s father, Cody Nunamaker, has done all of those things.  He is such a bad Dad that he tells his son he is so disappointed with him that he isn’t going to allow him to keep the family name: Joe Nunamaker becomes Joe Dirt.

This style of quality parenting continues when he takes Joe to see the grand canyon, leaves him in a trash can and drives away in the family car.  Because Joe believes his parents would never do that, he makes it his lifelong mission to find his parents, who he is sure are looking for him as well.  At one point he even believes they must be dead.  More than 20 years later, with the help of an LA radio host, his parents are able to contact him and announce that they want to meet him. Following his radio appearance, the media flocks to the Nunamaker house for this emotional reunion. It turns out to be a publicity stunt for his parents to peddle their ceramic clowns, and Joe’s worst assumptions are confirmed. The legacy of Cody Nunamaker as a lousy Dad is set in stone.

Honorable Mention:

Many other fathers can be called out for their selfishness like Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels) in The Squid and the Whale or John Herod (Gene Hackman) in The Quick and the Dead.

Some Dads were just plain mean and ugly including Harry Wormwood (Danny Devito) in Matilda and Colonel Fitts (Chris Cooper) in American Beauty.

Often, fathers have no sense of what it means to give good advice or be a good example for their children as is the case for Jim Levenstein (Eugene Levy) in the American Pie films and also Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) in Fatal Attraction.

Other men in film have become monsters, raping, killing and physically abusing children, which disqualifies them as “fathers.” Therefore they did not appear on this list.  But the men that do appear can make even the most mediocre father look good.


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Ryan Aday
Ryan Aday

Mr. Aday is kind to animals. @misteraday

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