I’ve never understood boys.
An only child, I immersed myself in dollhouses and Disney stories. Even when I climbed trees it was with my best girlfriend, who cared more about bikes than Barbies. When I became a mom, my firstborn was a girl. Surrounded by flying ponies and Elsa gowns, I was on steady ground, ready to guide my daughter on a familiar journey to adulthood.
So when we were blessed with a son, I was thrown for a loop. I worried about the big picture. I was having enough trouble adjusting to Thomas and Friends. How could I prepare him for love, relationships, making his way in the world as a man?
Fortunately, there’s the cinema. Recently, I devised a list of movies to share with my daughter before she starts dating. And so, in the name of equality, I’ve put together a list of flicks to prepare my son for the eventual trials and tribulations of life.
1. Dead Poets Society. We all know the stereotype. Men are supposed to be strong, driven, ready to discuss football at a moment’s notice. But in this relentlessly inspiring movie, they’re also encouraged to be dreamers and romantics. They seduce women with Byron, rebel over Whitman. Because, as Robin Williams’ character so lyrically explains, “poetry, beauty, romance, love — these are what we stay alive for.” Plus, chicks dig Shakespeare.
2. The Karate Kid. I can’t wait for my son to see this one — and not just so I can convince him to wax the car. My son can learn many valuable lessons from Mr. Miyagi: How to fight with honor. How to stand up for himself. How to care for a Bonsai plant. All important life skills for any young man.
3. Say Anything. Lloyd Dobler may be the perfect man. He protects his friends, convinces the most untouchable girl in school to date him, and, most importantly, immortalizes both Peter Gabriel and the boom box. As his best friend, Lili Taylor, advises him: “The world is full of guys. Be a man.” Following this wisdom, Lloyd steps up — and proves once and for all that men in trench coats aren’t all spies and perverts.
4. How to Train Your Dragon. Forget everything you know about the Vikings (which, if you’re like most people, probably stops at the pointy helmets). Apparently, they were also expert dragon slayers. We’re always encouraging our kids not to fight, to find a better way. Not only does reluctant slayer Hiccup save the day by befriending his “enemy,” but he also proves that he can be a hero on his own terms — with or without a funny-looking helmet.
5. Stand by Me. This movie is filled with practical life lessons — not the least of which is, when traveling to see a dead body, bypass the leech-infested swamp. But most importantly, it reminds us that the road from childhood innocence to adulthood is a complicated one. Those who journey with us become part of us, even if our paths eventually drift apart.
6. Star Wars. Leia is the type of woman I’d like to see my son strive for: intelligent, loyal, brave, modestly attired (excluding, of course, that getup she wore while chained to Jabba the Hutt, which launched an entire generation of boys into puberty). With a woman like Leia by my son’s side, he’ll be ready for all of life’s challenges — whether that includes battling Storm Troopers or filing his first income-tax return.
7. Lord of the Rings. This trilogy proves that even the least likely person can make a difference. Plus, watching these movies with my son guarantees me at least nine hours of bonding over orcs, hobbits, and fighting uruk-hai. What could be better that that?
8. Boyz n the Hood. Long before Cuba Gooding Jr. demanded Tom Cruise show him the money, he starred in this John Singleton classic about life in South Central LA. While I’m not too worried about my son getting drawn into a Bloods-vs.-Crips showdown, this flick does share important insights on when to stand by your friends, and when to do what’s right for you. Your real friends will understand — no matter what gang they’re in.
9. School of Rock. Love, honor, responsibility. Yes, these life lessons are important. But I will also consider myself a failure if my son never learns to appreciate Led Zeppelin or AC/DC. Or if he grows up thinking Maroon 5 is rock music. To those about to rock… it’s a good thing you have Jack Black — and his band of miniature misfits.
10. Good Will Hunting. Love. Graph theory. Hollywood bromances. This movie offers more than just unused World Series tickets and men with great hair. It’s about reaching your full potential — in love, in work, in whatever fulfills your soul. “I have to go see about a girl” — it might not be a life plan, but it’s a pretty good start.
I may never fully understand boys, but at least I have the experts to help me out. Because at the end of the day, there are few problems in life that can’t be solved by a tub of popcorn, a pack of Whoppers, and the immortal words of Robin Williams: “Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
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