Dads often take it on the chin in popular culture.
Sitcoms depict us as forgetful, undependable, disheveled doofuses who mysteriously manage to snare pretty ‘n’ petite, omnicompetent wives. On TV and in movies, dads are often overweight, dim-witted, slow-moving targets of clichéd jokes, never mind that science has affirmed over and over again the critical and unique roles that fathers play in helping their children grow into healthy adults.
Every now and then, though, we get pictures of fatherhood in pop culture that not only challenge the entertainment world’s prevailing negative stereotypes of it, but actually elevate our perspective on what it looks like to be a great dad.
I caught a glimpse of one of those dads in action this week in the video for OneRepublic’s new single “I Lived.” (You can check out my review of the track here.) The song’s lyrics encourage us to make the very most of every moment, every breath. The band’s famous frontman Ryan Tedder says he wrote the song for his 4-year-old son, Copeland. “The whole idea, to quote the late great Robin Williams from Dead Poets Society, is very much ‘carpe diem.’ That’s the song—that’s what it’s about.”
The video illustrates that theme by telling the story of 15-year-old Bryan Warnecke, a young man who’s battled the ravages of cystic fibrosis for his entire life. Here it is:
Bryan’s courage here is so inspiring. But there’s something else quietly going on in the video that’s perhaps even more encouraging to me as a father of three: Bryan’s dad. We never hear from him directly in the video. But he’s in many of the home videos we see of Bryan, from his babyhood through his adolescence. We see Bryan’s dad at the gym with him, driving a tractor with him, bodyboarding with him, jet skiing with him. We watch as a patient dad teaches his son to rollerblade and ski. As Bryan gets older, we see him skateboarding in what looks like a basement, then in a street in a residential neighborhood, rolling off ramps that I’d bet a lot of money his dad helped build.
As the video concludes, father and son attend a OneRepublic concert, where they sing their lungs out together the song’s powerful ode to giving your best, living your best, and being the best person you can be: “I, I did it all.” I’ve yet to make it through the video without tearing up.
The normal challenges of parenthood are hard enough. I can’t imagine what raising a child with a debilitating illness like cystic fibrosis must be like for Bryan’s parents. (I should note that there are some images of his mom here, too, so she deserves a shout-out as well.)
But everything I see in these home videos shows me a father (and a mother, too) who was up to that challenge. Bryan doesn’t wallow in self-pity, but is determined to make the most of his life, even if it’s hard at times and even if it might be a life cut short by a tragic illness. I imagine his brave stance was one that was modeled by his dad, a man we see in these images as present, smiling, engaged and encouraging. He seems determined to help his son take appropriate risks and to live life to the full. That’s the kind of dad I hope to be.
I don’t always get it right, of course. Sometimes I get discouraged and worn down juggling all the responsibilities involved. But affirming messages like this one from OneRepublic (a band that majors in upbeat themes more often than not) rekindle my desire to be the best dad possible … not just the absentminded buffoon that pop culture all-to-often insists that I am. So kudos to OneRepublic and the Warnecke family for giving us such a beautiful picture of courage and commitment as a family.