While writing Dad Bod (my book of essays about what dads from pop culture reveal about contemporary fatherhood) I was often surprised by the deep, totally legit parenting tips that were hidden beneath the shimmering Hollywood mirage of each father figure.
Rambo: Don’t come at a toddler head on, use subterfuge
In the first Rambo movie, First Blood, the entire kerfuffle (Vietnam vet wrongfully incarcerated, breaks free, cross-country manhunt ensues) was based on the inability of either party to back down.
That’s exactly the same problem parents have with a truculent toddler. Like Rambo, toddlers will. not. back. down. They dig in their heels and scream a red fury, because, in that moment, nothing else matters to them.
The trick to solving this intractable-seeming standoff comes from Rambo’s army boss, Col. Trautman, “Defuse the situation.”
You need to bend without breaking, provide an opening for them to slip through and feel as though they’ve won. Then, once you’ve reconnected and everybody’s calmed down, that’s when you redirect that toddler-Rambo-energy towards a peaceful solution.
Johnny Rose: It’s okay to fail, as long as you try again
All throughout Schitt’s Creek, the Rose family is reeling from the loss of their incredible fortune. Their core identities imploded when they were ripped from New York and dumped into the titular small town to eke out a less-than-cosmopolitan existence.
Johnny provides a supportive emotional core for the family, never wavering in his belief that each of them can not only pick up their life and carry on, but also discover their true selves and move towards self-actualization.
All that plus some of the wittiest, best-written characters in recent sitcom history? Sold.
Gandalf: Sometimes it’s your job to lay back in the cut
Gandalf is, to put it mildly, a wizard. The dude battles shadow-spawn in the heart of a mountain and is reborn in shimmering samite. He commands giant eagles. He warps the fabric of reality to his will.
In short, he’s too powerful. If Gandalf really went full bore in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo, Aragorn, Legolas, and the rest would have nothing to do. Just sit back and let the wizard do it.
But then we wouldn’t have a story. So Gandalf chills.
In real life, as hard as it might sound, parents need a similar approach. Kids need to go on their own adventures. If you help too much, hinting at which puzzle piece is the right one, or doing things for them when they get frustrated — then they won’t learn how to do it on their own. They won’t learn to manage frustration. They’ll only learn dependency to a greater being.
The urge to step in is SO POWERFUL — heck, Gandalf waged two proxy wars to spend all his pent-up energy while waiting for Frodo to tie his shoes — but it’s in everyone’s best interests to let your little ring bearer wade through that swamp on their own.
In the end, that’s the only way. You can’t be there for them forever.
Cian Cruise has a degree in film studies and philosophy and works as a freelance writer, strategist, and consultant. His cultural criticism has appeared in Hazlitt, Maisonneuve, Playboy, Vulture, and Little Brother Magazine. Cian lives in Almonte, Ontario. Learn more here.