Growing Up in America: Boy to Man and being a Father


My son bet me five bucks that Boyhood will win ‘Best Picture’ at the Oscars. I took the bet; I think the story is really more about fatherhood…have you listened to the wonderful song in the background? “Let me goI don’t want to be a Hero. I don’t want to be a Big Man. …so let me go.” Does that not resonate with fatherhood?

I must admit I was a bit taken aback by the twelve year long story. It isn’t only that the story resonated so much with HnH; it paints a gentle picture of life that is rather removed from reality. Oh, they do provide peripheral references to wrist-cutting, teenage pregnancies, and rather more visible depictions of domestic violence, alcoholism, and wanton sexual conduct, but the story is a feel-good one, whereas I struggle with fears any pragmatic father may have in a similar context. Yes, I’ve heard of wrist-cutting – from my son who spoke of a couple of his friends doing it. His friends! And yes, I’ve written about DV, betrayal by a partner, and dire consequences for a father. But ask this: is life really such a feel-good story? Is parenting discipline best depicted as abuse? Or is that what sells a movie?

But I am immensely grateful that I got to watch this movie, at home, with my son. We’d argued about allowing it – it is rated R, with explicit statements and conduct within – since he is an early teen, but he was determined to watch it. He won the argument given that a responsible adult was watching it with him. And he watched it with an intensity that led him to move closer to the I-box (you know, the idiot box) and sit on the carpet near it.

Did it affect him deeply? He did have a couple of questions for me during the movie…and did listen carefully to the almost grown boy telling his father, summarizing his custodial parent’s conduct, “…and I could’ve avoided the parade of drunken as&#@les.” He said it was the best movie he’d seen, and went to decompress with humorous YouTube videos. Uncharacteristically for him, as he left for the night, he came to me, hugged me goodnight, and messaged me later that his sister, who had not come to see me all weekend, was quite alright.

Can you guess my little secret? I’d pretended to argue about letting him watch Boyhood! How could challenges fathers face, in the conflict between freedom and restraint, and wanton behavior and disciplined conduct, be conveyed any better than through a feel-good story of the time and place? I thought Ethan Hawke played the part of an easygoing, loving dad very well.

If you haven’t seen this movie…I do recommend that you watch it. I think it is unpretentious (though some of what I call dime-wisdom is occasionally thrown in), humble, and gentle in its treatment of serious social flaws in contemporary culture.

As for my son’s bet…we’ll know by the end of February!


About Rian Nejar

Rian Nejar is an Indian-American author. He trained and worked as an engineer in India, lived briefly in the Middle East, and arrived in America in the early 90's. After a Master’s degree in electrical engineering in America, he worked as an academic instructor, engineer, entrepreneur, and technical writer over the two decades since. Humbling and Humility ( is his first mainstream nonfiction. He lives and writes in the Southwest United States.
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