A World Without Mothers - Fathers Teaching Fathers
The three films, which all depict societies curiously devoid of mothers, also suggest that parenting skills are something fathers can only learn from other fathers, not from wives, mothers or other maternal figures. What all the fathers need to learn is to listen to their sons, respect them, and believe in the boys’ innate abilities. In Nemo, it is the sea turtle Crush who teaches Marlin to trust his son to cope on his own, to let the child make mistakes and learn from them. Having watched Crush interact with his own son,10 squirt, Marlin asks Crush how it is possible to know when a child is ready to cope on its own. Crush replies that one never really knows, ‘but when they know, you’ll know you know’. In short, the boy will know himself when he is ready, and the father must trust the boy. This allows Marlin to support Nemo later on, when he claims to be able to save Dory from a trawling net: ‘You’re right. I know you can’. This is a direct contrast to the beginning of the film, when he tells Nemo that he cannot manage on his own. Having learnt from another father what it means to be a parent and to trust his child, he can now let go.
A similar exchange takes place in Chicken. Although Buck has learnt on his own to trust and support his son, the lesson is reinforced by Melvin the alien. Having attacked the town with a fleet of spaceships to save his son, he apologizes for the ‘full scale invasion thing. But hey, I’m a dad. And you know how it is with your kids when they need you.
You do whatever it takes’. The message of the film is reinforced: sons need their fathers to believe in them, support them, and rescue them when necessary.
The same message is repeated in Cloudy, although it is not delivered to Tim, but to Flint and to the audience. Police officer Earl Devereaux gives a running commentary throughout the film of what it means to be a father. When he organizes a special birthday treat for his young son, he tells Flint: ‘You know how fathers always try to express their love and appreciation for their sons’. He later turns to his son and tells him that he loves him. The boy replies: ‘I know dad. You tell me every day’. In this way, Flint and the audience, and Tim, at the end, are taught what it means to be a father, that a father must show his love for his son. Wooden and Gillan have noted that animated films give parents ‘tacit instructions on how to ... behave as supportive adults’ (123-124). In Nemo, Chicken and Cloudy, the instructions are not tacit; they are spelled out in no uncertain terms, referring to a supposedly shared knowledge: ‘you know how... ’ All three films repeat the message that fathers must be present, take an interest in their sons’ lives, and show them unconditional love and affection. And this can only be done if the mother stays in the background, like Regina Devereaux, Earl’s wife, or better yet, is dead, like Fran, Coral and Chloe.