Before you flip the page, let me explain what I mean when I say that an erection brought my son and me closer.
Toby was ten years old at the time, and we had settled in for a home screening of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. For those who have not communed with that masterwork of cinema since its release in 2004, allow me to defrost the ice floes of memory. About a third of the way into the movie comes a scene in which the cocksure newsman played by Will Ferrell is flirting with the fetching and ambitious interloper played by Christina Applegate. Even with the sound off, you’d be able to tell that Ron Burgundy has it bad for Veronica Corningstone. That’s because he has a raging hard-on. Burgundy’s tête-à-tête with her is accompanied by a prodigious pup tent that has been pitched in plain sight.
The mere image of Will Ferrell in a state of mortifying public tumescence was enough to send my son into spasms of uncontrollable laughter.
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“Does he have a pencil in his pocket?” Toby asked me when he first saw this. I don’t remember how I answered. It didn’t matter. The mere image of Will Ferrell in a state of mortifying public tumescence was enough to send my son into spasms of uncontrollable laughter. He actually fell off the couch. He rolled on the floor, laughing so hard that his face turned red.
Looking back, I see this as one of my proudest moments as a parent. I have no idea whether exposing a kid to Anchorman puts me in the doghouse with the authors of guidebooks about contemporary parenting. (I have never read any guidebooks about contemporary parenting, and it’s too late to start now.) What I do know is that nothing has done a more effective job of helping Toby and me find common ground than our delight in the collected works of Ron Burgundy, Austin Powers, and Derek Zoolander. Some fathers and sons share a love of sports. Others bond over crackling campfires on treks through the wilderness. Still others explore the cosmic enigmas of carburetors and burned-out Chevrolets—or maybe that just happens in Bruce Springsteen songs.
For Toby and me, it’s all about stupid comedies.
In this respect we are fortunate, because the last couple decades have delivered a bumper crop of them. Together Toby and I have watched Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Tommy Boy and Dodgeball, Wayne’s World and Zoolander. We have not yet ventured into Wedding Crashers, although I consider it a classic of the form. For his part, Toby has opened my eyes to the sublime idiocies of Hot Rod, a straight-to-the-backwaters-of-Fios Andy Samberg vehicle about a dude who is moronic enough to believe he is a motorcycle stuntman. The plot boils down to this: He crashes. A lot.
What I do know is that nothing has done a more effective job of helping Toby and me find common ground.
Calling these movies “stupid comedies” isn’t really fair. They are, more accurately, perceptive character studies of stupid men. Over the years, I have tried to have “Son, this is what it means to be a man” conversations with Toby. We rarely make much progress. I put on my Serious Dad face and Toby can see right through it. Being serious is boring. And yet the stooges in movies like Zoolander come in handy as providers of an alternative mother lode of teachable moments. Consider, for instance, the cheesy way that these characters approach women. It’s so egregious that I don’t have to say, “Never talk to a woman this way.” Austin Powers takes care of that for me. My son and I watch these movies all the time because they’re funny. But on a deeper level, maybe we watch them to soak up some kind of guiding principle of life: To succeed at being a man, don’t be like these guys.
It’s an unconventional course of study, I know. But I happen to believe it’s working. The other day, I received evidence that I haven’t failed as a father. I was driving Toby to his basketball game when the kid announced that as much as he loves stupid comedies, he has his standards. “I can’t stand Adam Sandler,” he said. “He’s obnoxious.”
This article originally appeared in the June/July ’17 issue.