Posted on February 14, 2012 by

I took in the movie “Courageous” the other night at a church-sponsored showing. A film about fatherhood, it follows five men, four of whom are police officers in a small Georgia town, the fifth a presumed immigrant (due to his heavy Spanish-accented English). The film tracks the men and their families as they deal with the loss of a daughter to a drunk driver, struggles to make ends meet, protecting a child from making dating mistakes, reconciling with the estranged mother of an illegitimate child, and from threats to their integrity, to include falsifying reports and stealing drug evidence. In addition, the movie is cut from the same cloth as the much-maligned “Fireproof”, and as such it was a Christian morality tale, heavy on the exhortation for men to become better fathers, spiritual leaders and providers, even (dare I say it) patriarchs of their families.

Also, just like “Fireproof”, the movie doles out a healthy dose of shame upon men. In exhorting men to be better fathers, the film cites the litany of sad outcomes that befall children raised in fatherless homes…poor school performance, poor relationship performance, and increased crime and delinquency. All these things are true, and the evidence is strong. The film also, unfortunately, implies that the bulk of fatherless children face these sorts of risks because their father selfishly abandoned them and their long-suffering mother. I say unfortunately because we know better…we know that only a small fraction of children in single-mom situations are there because a married father chose to abandon his children. Just as we know that the bulk of children raised in single-mom households are that way because of a divorce and/or because mother and father did not marry in the first place. This persistent fiction, unfortunately (there’s that word again), serve to keep blinders on the Body as to the true scope of the problem of fatherless children, and where corrective action need be applied. I submit that it is not just abandoning dads, although it is true that shirking fathers are responsible for a portion of the ills that blight our society’s family structure. Mothers need to do a fair piece of introspection too, and I eagerly await the day when the Body recognizes the not insubtantial role, maybe even the dominant one, that women and mothers play in the formation, the lack of formation, or in the dissolution of families, and begins to craft companion movies to this one that address the feminine part of the familial breakup equation.

However, while it is true that this movie heaps unbalanced, un-nuanced, and frankly undeserved opprobrium upon Christian men, while leaving women’s responsibility for this present sorry state of affairs untouched, this fact should not and is not the end of the story. For when one puts aside the one-sided nature of the movie, and open up one’s heart to the fair critiques of modern fatherhood that the movie offers, I found quite a few positive takeaways from this movie.

First, I was mildly surprised about the movie’s unwavering promotion of patriarchal male headship of the home. The man, the father, is called out as the person responsible for teaching his children, for loving his wife (sacrificially of course), for helping his son(s) develop into men, for guarding the sexuality of his daughter(s), and for modelling the behaviors he wishes to see in his children and in his community. And if this unabashed promotion of patriarchy weren’t enough to make modern secularist-humanist heads explode, get a load of this: each wife was submissive and supportive to her husband. Horror of horrors, one wife homeschooled the children and the other three demonstratively encouraged and supported their husbands (the fifth man was unmarried, but had previously had a child out of wedlock with a cheerleader in his school). None of the married wives had jobs or supra-domestic duties that impinged upon their stewardship of the home. Nope, the counter-cultural message was clear: dad is the father, husband, provider, and leader of the home. He is held accountable for discharging his God-given duties of husbandship and fatherhood. Implied in this message is a wife following his lead, and bolstering him when he flags or falters. Quite a different paradigm in a modern egalitarian/equalitarian world, for certain.

The second takeaway is one that sounds obvious in print, but in application can be difficult. We all have many things vying for our attention. Jobs, hobbies, other things that have no eternal value should not (but do sometimes) take priority over savoring the time that a parent has with their spouse or with their children. Particularly the latter, since the window of time to make a difference in their lives is so narrow. Message: take advantage of the time when you have it, and be grateful for it when you no longer do.

The third takeaway involved a scene in which one of the fathers, seeing that his 15-yo daughter is starting to attract the attention of the saggy-pants thug crowd in the neighborhood, enters into a pact with her to guard her dating life and to screen potential suitors. She agrees to wear a ring her father bought for her, symbolizing his custody of her sexuality, until such time as she has a wedding band to replace it. What I found noteworthy about this scene is how potentially revolutionary this message is. I suspect it is quite unusual for modern-day fathers (or mothers for that matter) to take this sort of extensive interest in the dating/love lives of their children. The movie may be on to something here: We can see the inadequacy of the modern Western method of seeking husbands and wives all around us…”eros” marriages result in embarrassingly high divorce rates. Perhaps committed Christians’ already low divorce rate can be lowered further were parents to take a much more active role in mate selection for their children. Now, I don’t think arranged marriages are the answer, nor am I promoting such a model, but I do think that young people lack the experience and objectivity to make good mate selection choices on their own. Furthermore, I am convinced that turning the corner on family dissolution is the key issue for the Christian community and for society as a whole…which is why this message is so revolutionary. Imagine the huge second- and third-order effects on society at large were two-parent marriage to make a comeback, economically, legally, socially, morally. A monstrous impact, I think.

In short, this movie offers much of the same as Fireproof, only with a slightly different twist. It was steeply exhortative of men, while speaking little to women’s needs for behavioral reform. Moreover, the movie’s stance on paternal abandonment is simply not consistent with the facts, and unfortunately repeats some of the same incorrect pap we’ve had to endure for two generations now. However, once one gets past the wrong-headed conventional wisdom about fatherlessness, and opens up one’s heart to the other worthwhile messages the movie has, it was enjoyable and even had a few quite funny scenes.