A slideshow tribute to our favorites

True confession: the last two men I used the “L word” with were single fathers. No big surprise there, because as a single mother I tended to meet other parents in that situation. It’s not an exaggeration to say I actually sought single dads when I was dating and my daughter was still at home. I knew they’d understand what I was up against, and be understanding when homework assistance trumped cocktails. Sure, their lives were more complicated than those of carefree bachelors, but seeing them in parenting mode was enormously appealing, and spoke to what kind of person they were.

Thanks to the divorce rate, single fathers are everywhere. Except, perhaps, in the movies. Being a movie buff, I could immediately list a dozen films that featured single mothers as leading characters, including Erin Brockovitch, E.T., Jerry Maguire, Chocolat, Mermaids, Mask, As Good as it Gets, Look Who’s Talking and many more. Single fathers? Not so much. That is, until recently.

I was surprised and pleased a couple years ago to see that three of my favorite films of the year–The Descendants, Moneyball and We Bought a Zoo–were all anchored by single father characters. It was disarming to see three of our hunkiest actors–George Clooney and Brad Pitt (both Oscar-nominated) and Matt Damon, who in real life are good friends– throw themselves into the murky waters of single parenting with such gusto. Like watching single mother characters, these fathers made mistakes, but the struggle is eminently watchable.

Clooney’s character in The Descendants is such a workaholic that he barely knows his daughters–a fact that comes into sharp relief when their mother becomes incapacitated. Damon’s character in We Bought a Zoo is floundering badly after the death of his wife, and, like Clooney’s character, is unsure how to break through the angry shell of his teenager. Pitt’s character, while not a full-time father for his daughter, learns about career sacrifice in order to maintain his relationship with her.

I thought it was interesting that two of the three single dads were thrust reluctantly into that role because of death or incapacitation. When you look at the list of female-driven movies above, every single one is parenting alone because of a loutish ex–none of them is a widow. Perhaps Hollywood needs that kind of excuse to make fathers full-time parents? It’s food for thought. But it’s better to have single dads in movies as widowers than not at all. Think of the inspiration they provide for other fathers also trying to balance career and parenting requirements!

So here’s to more single dads in movies and TV. In the meantime, a list of our favorites:


Jane Ganahl is an award-winning journalist, the author of the memoir Naked on the Page: the Misadventures of My Unmarried Midlife, and editor of the anthology Single Woman of a Certain Age. She is grateful that her daughter is grown so she can stop sneaking around while dating.

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