Five Lessons on Fatherhood…from Despicable Me

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A couple of weeks ago, I finally saw the 2010 animated film Despicable Me.  I am not, as you might guess from reading this, three years behind the times when it comes to movies.  I am actually more like 8 years behind.  However, I am relatively current on kids’ movies (I took the kids to see Despicable Me 2 the next day, during opening weekend).  So take what I am about to say with a grain of salt, since I don’t see many movies and I have forgotten what I have seen.

Anyway, I think Despicable Me is one of the best movies about fatherhood ever made.  The premise is that a super-villian, in the course of one of his villainous plots, winds up adopting three cute little girls who turn his life upside down.  Here’s the trailer:

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Here are five lessons on fatherhood I took from the movie:

5. Don’t tell the kids not to do something, because they’ll straightaway do it.  (Notice in the trailer when Gru says no noises, and Agnes makes a funny noise.)  If you mess this one up, the best response is to have a sense of humor about it.

4.  It’ll go harder for you if you don’t read to them at night.  (See the “Three Little Kittens” scene.)  Or do whatever else they want at night.  They’re tired, and their brains don’t function the same way as they do during the daytime.  You’ll want them to change or brush their teeth or get into bed, and they will dawdle and do anything but what you want them to do.  I don’t really know what the answer is, but it’s much better to be patient than to get mad.  If you get mad at them (or get sarcastic or try to set a timer or something), they’ll just break down, and then everything will take even more time.  I screw this one up EVERY SINGLE NIGHT.  (Maybe because I’m tired too?  And because I usually have some work deadline to meet once they get to bed.)

3. If you are going to count to three to get them to do something, make the consequences proportional and realistic.  In the movie (at 42:00), Gru tells the kids to pile into the car for the “cookie” delivery errand, and when they decide they are going to walk to dance class instead, Gru tells them to come back before he counts to three or “face the wrath of Gru.”  Wrath?  What?  I don’t think most of us really have the heart to use a freeze ray on the kids or put them in a super-villain shark tank.  Maybe you can threaten to take away videos or play dates.  Maybe, though, one way to handle it is not to threaten at all.  What’s wrong with putting off the “cookie” delivery errand until after dance class?  Life is long, and maybe your super-villain capers (or your legal briefs) should take second place to your relationship with your children.  If you manage your time well, there’s always plenty of time to write the brief.  And when you look back on your life, will your greater regret be not taking on additional work or putting your family in the back seat every time?  Gru goes to the dance class.  His relationship with his children blossoms and he still gets in his villainous caper.

2. When you are commanding them, try to sound like Steve Carell feigning Gru’s funny accent.  They always pay attention, and you may be a little more lighthearted.

And the number one lesson on fatherhood from Despicable Me:

1. Don’t ever try to fit in a conference call when the kids are home (and definitely not a videoconference if your house looks anything like mine when the kids are around).  Nothing good ever happens.  In the movie (at about 53:30), notice that that the kids have made a little change in Gru’s presentation to the bank: they insert a drawing of him on the toilet.

I got to watch the movie a couple more times while writing this post, and it has definitely held up on repeated viewings.  I hope you enjoy it!

A friend recently circulated this parenting article.  I loved the following, which is why I wanted to write an article on parenting.  I think it fits perfectly with the them of my blog!

5. Pushing your buttons is a spiritual practice, and children are our spiritual teachers.

You don’t need an expensive spiritual retreat to become enlightened. Your little sage-teacher is right in front of you, offering you true wisdom free of charge!

Children watch our every move when they’re little, studying our inconsistencies as they try to figure out this crazy world. And they will call you on it. When a child pushes your buttons, remember: they are your buttons, not hers. Take the time to listen to what your child is trying to teach you. One of the secrets of parenthood is our willingness to transform ourselves out of love for our child. When you’re willing to look at your buttons, you open up a deeper self-awareness that is transformative for both you and your child.

Gru is transformed by the end of the movie (and even more drastically in Despicable Me 2), and I feel the same happening to me.  Though I have to say that it was more fun being a super villain sometimes!

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