"As They Made Us" Shows The Painful and Often Complex Flip Side of A Dad's Influence
by Scott Beller
Daddying blog Editor
There's a line near the end of the film As They Made Us that struck me in a way I did not expect. Dustin Hoffman's character, Eugene, on his death bed, says to his adult son Nathan, whom he kicked out of the house 20 years earlier but had gone on to academic and professional success, "You got to live the life I never could.” And in that moment, I recognized a truth I eventually discovered about my own father. Something that fueled his thinly-veiled resentment towards my sister and I, and something he never could quite admit to us before he died. As They Made Us debuted in theaters last April around the same time we were reaching the height of preparations for the June launch of the inaugural Daddying Film Festival. Now that it's available to stream (I don't do in-theater since COVID and may never go back) and as we continue our efforts to promote the 2023 Daddying Film Festival & Forum's (D3F) call for entries, I felt it was finally time to push the film to the top of my mile-deep queue this past weekend.
While I'm a bit late to the game, as usual, I'm here to recommend new Jeopardy host Mayim Bialik's (Big Bang Theory, Blossom) directorial debut as essential viewing for anyone who has ever had a strained relationship with a parent or sibling, or cared for an elderly parent, or wished they had the chance to tell someone how they felt before it was too late.
To put it simply, As They Made Us lays bare the devastating fallout that ensues when both parents are present but daddying is not.
The film is a thought-provoking take on how parental dysfunction and abuse can erode the relationship dynamics throughout a family and reverberate through generations. It also shows the range of competing emotions a family struggles with when an abusive parent requires palliative, end-of-life care. How difficult it is for family members to reconcile with or to forgive their parents, their siblings, even themselves. Some are never able to come to terms with long-term emotional, physical, and psychological abuse.
I've often written on the blog about similar mixed feelings about my father and how I strive to be a better dad for my kids. The deathbed scene with Eugene and Nathan in As They Made Us felt almost like a replay of the day I visited my father in hospice care in 2017 assuming he wouldn't be leaving and it would be the last time I saw him. The difference being that my father was still 100 percent lucid and I was able to tell him exactly what I’d wanted to say for so many years. I forgave him even as the effects of his insidious abuse of his kids and family still lingered.
Had my father been able to genuinely apologize and express his own pain that day by saying the words “you got to live the life I never could,” I might have been able to respond as Nathan did to Eugene by saying, in effect, “Despite everything, you gave me the best of you and that helped me.”
While D3F certainly aims to highlight the many joys of positive father-child involvement, it also acknowledges the reality that these relationships are not always positive. Submissions to the D3F may also express the sorrow – or “daddy yearning” – they may feel when a positive father figure either has been absent from their lives or may not be present in the way he or she wants/needs them to be. By the same token, films submitted by dads or dad figures may express remorse for not being the kind of father or mentor they wish they had been or could still be for their child(ren).
As They Made Us is a prime example of this painful daddying dichotomy. Come to think of it, we'd be proud to have the film atop this year's D3F marquee. In the meantime, you can find it streaming on Showtime and Amazon Prime.
Send Us Your Daddying Stories!
The early-bird deadline for 1st-grade through undergraduate students, dads/dad figures, and other indie filmmakers to submit films and videos to the D3F is next week! We want to see and hear your dad-related stories, however you feel like telling them, so we've tried to place as few limits as possible on your creativity. The only major requirements are that your visual creations be somewhere between 1 and 7 minutes long and relate in some way to one of D3F's daddying themes, which have expanded in scope and also to include dad filmmakers for 2023:
A letter to my father/A letter to my daughter/son
The most joyful/fun thing I ever did or wish I could do with my father and/or daughter/son
If I could make one wish come true for my dad and/or son/daughter it would be...
Once your daddying video/film is just how you want it, head to our D3F homepage, FilmFreeway page, or click the button below to submit by APRIL 1 (reduced-fee, early bird deadline is next Wednesday, MARCH 1):
Scott Beller is the proud, imperfect dad of two mighty girls, Morgan and Lauren, imperfect husband of rock-star mom, Elisabeth, slow-poke film enthusiast, Editor of the Daddying blog, and Director of Communications for DCG and D3F. He's a seasoned writer and PR agency veteran with more than 30 years of experience helping organizations of all sizes reach audiences and tell their stories. Prior to launching his own creative communications consultancy in 2003, he led PR teams with some of the world’s most respected agencies, including Fleishman-Hillard and The Weber Group. As a consultant, he’s helped launch two other parenting advocacy nonprofits with DCG founder Allan Shedlin. His first book, Beggars or Angels, was a ghostwritten memoir for the nonprofit Devotion to Children's founder Rosemary Tran Lauer. He was formerly known as "Imperfect Dad" and Head Writer for the Raising Nerd blog, which supported parents in inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, and creative problem solvers. He earned his BA in Communications from VA Tech.