Tag Archives: father

What Conan the Barbarian Teaches Us About Fatherhood

23 Jul

When did saying “I Love You, Son” stop being taboo? As guys, I get it, we don’t talk about our feelings that much – makes us seem “unmanly,” but there was a change in my generation in which it started to be okay to tell our sons that we love them. What was the disconnect? Was the taboo always there or did it evolve with our concept of manliness? Of course, we turn to cheesy action movies for our answer.

How did this thought come about? Well, I was watching Conan the Barbarian, the 2011 version with Jason Momoa, and in that version, Conan is raised by a single dad until he’s 12. His mom dies in childbirth in the middle of a battlefield. Badass. Of course, when your dad is played by Ron Perlman, you’re guaranteed to become a badass. But Conan’s dad was a very harsh father, and it’s only later when he inevitably is about to die, it’s only then that he says, “I love you, son.” Then pours a giant ingot of boiling metal on himself.

A very powerful scene and one I really enjoyed, but why did Conan’s dad have to be a dick to him his whole childhood? He was trying to toughen him up? Okay, you’re a barbarian, it’s a harsh world, I get it. But it’s not going to cost you anything to hug your boy every once in a while.

Compare this to the 1982 version with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Conan’s dad is still tough, badass, and still has a heart-to-heart with his young son. This speech is one of my favorites in all of movie history…

Fire and wind come from the sky, from the gods of the sky, but Crom is your god. Crom, and he lives in the Earth. Once giants lived in the Earth, Conan, and in the darkness of chaos they fooled Crom, and they took from him the enigma of steel. Crom was angered, and the Earth shook, and fire and wind struck down these giants, and threw their bodies into the waters. But in their rage, the gods forgot the secret of steel, and left it on the battlefield.

We, who found it, are just men: not gods, not giants, just men. And the secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan, you must learn its discipline. For no one, no one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts… This you can trust.

The way William Smith plays him is great. Now this actor is a Korean war vet, gave up finishing his doctorate, and became a B-movie villain. (Funny how life takes you strange places.) Notice that second paragraph, though, as he talks to the eight or nine year old Conan with compassion, but seriousness. He’s also holding five pounds of broadsword as he talks. He obviously cares at the same time he’s telling his son, “You gotta be tough.”

Interesting enough, the tone of the movie also continues into the main plot. The difference between the main villain, Thulsa Doom (played by James Earl Jones) and Khalar Zym (played by Stephen Lang) are also obvious. Both have that sad look towards their work. Doom has been personally learning the mystery of power. Zym’s a single dad who is trying to bring his evil wizard wife back from the dead. When facing Conan father’s killer, Doom is blase: “Really?” Zym takes a moment, but remembers Conan.

In the Schwarzenegger version, it’s the love of his family that was lost is reflected in the blandness of the evil that took it away. In the Momoa version, it’s the toughness he learned as a kid that is reflected in the passion of the evil. Maybe that’s the key – my father certainly wasn’t an affectionate man, my stepfather was more affectionate, but we weren’t a family of huggers. When I went to college and I met my first Italian friend, suddenly embracing someone you love was wonderful! I love hugging people! That contact is essential for feeling good and giving you strength later on.

Naturally, when I raise my own son, I don’t hold back my love and affection for him… at the same time, I try to prepare him for the world he’s going to live in. Compassion should be balanced with toughness, a man can be manly and still not an impassive dick to those he loves. You can cry at movies and be stoic in the face of pain or weakness. There is a balance that one needs to live… and that’s the lesson we need to pass on to our sons.

If you have kids, how do you balance toughness with kindness? Allowing independance versus keeping them safe? Put your hints in the comments below. In the words of Red Green, “Hang in there, we’re all in this together.”

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