A Letter to My Daughter

Dearest Emily,

Right now, your primary activities are eating, reaching, sleeping, pooping, laughing, peeing, bouncing, crying, sitting up, and spitting up, but before I know it you’ll be running around and saying all the nasty words you’ve learned from your parents.

drive-in.jpgAnd before we get too wrapped up in soccer practice and homework, I want to ask a favor: Each year on my birthday, I want my present from you to be sitting with me and your mother and watching a movie, and talking about it afterward.

I’ve chosen a movie for each year through 2029 — when you’ll be 21 and I’ll be 58. I plan to be around, but if I’m not, please watch these with your mother on April 29. She’ll be able explain a lot.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive cinematic education. It’s merely a start, and a way for you to get to know me better than through our day-to-day lives. I hope these also give you a sense of the alternatives available beyond what’s being marketed to your age group. You’ve got more than a century of filmed entertainment at your fingertips — much of it awful, much of it fantastic, most somewhere in between — and it would be a shame if your world view is limited to whatever the equivalent of Hannah Montana is when you’re eight years old.

I apologize if, as each birthday gets closer, some things need to be shuffled around because of your maturity and sensitivity. Being new at fatherhood, I’m not sure what will be appropriate for you. These are best guesses, so please don’t call the Parenting Police — for this, at any rate.



P.S. I hope we’ll watch lots of movies together — not just on my birthday — and maybe some nice people will leave some other suggestions (with age recommendations) in the comments.

emily.jpg2009 (1 year old). Toy Story. It won’t mean much to you, but you’ll probably like the bright colors. And me and your mother will have a good time.

2010 (2 years old). Finding Nemo. If you’re going to demand to watch something daily, we could do worse than this.

2011 (3 years old). Babe (1995). Pigs can talk and be sheepdogs and learn the secret code words (with help from their friends), and even old people should follow their dreams and sing and dance.

2012 (4 years old). Beauty and the Beast (1989). When I was a kid, Disney gave me Robin Hood and The Rescuers. You deserve better.

2013 (5 years old). The Iron Giant. There are catchphrases far worse than “I am not a gun.” The power to do harm is not a license to do harm.

2014 (6 years old). Star Wars. Because you should have the same experience I did at the same age. Well, as close to the same experience as possible, considering all of George’s fiddling. If the VCR still exists, maybe we can watch Momma’s VHS tapes.

2015 (7 years old). A Little Princess (1995). Sometimes you need to make your own magic.

2016 (8 years old). Holes. Stanley Yelnats, Mr. Sir, a young Shia LaBeouf, Sigourney Weaver, and Jon Voight. It’s even better than the book, which you might have already read.

2017 (9 years old). The Empire Strikes Back. (See the note on Star Wars.) And here, dear Emily, ends the saga of young Luke Skywalker. Yes, it’s a bit of a downer, but it lets you imagine the rest of the story!

2018 (10 years old). The Incredibles. Because your middle-aged parents, while not exactly superheroes, can sometimes be pretty cool.

2019 (11 years old). Searching for Bobby Fischer. Be as good as you can be at everything you try, but don’t let anything (and don’t let us let anything) steal your childhood.

2020 (12 years old). Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Unfortunately, we’d have to see the first two, also. Maybe the books will suffice?

2021 (13 years old). Jaws. To give you a sense that less is often more when it comes to supsense. We won’t plan a beach vacation that summer.

2022 (14 years old). Defending Your Life. It’s never too late to grow some balls. Not literally, of course.

2023 (15 years old). Citizen Kane. So that you’ve seen it, and understand some of what the fuss is about.

2024 (16 years old). This Is Spinal Tap. So that you can understand references to “I envy us” and “11” and “none more black,” and because last year I made you watch Citizen Kane.

2025 (17 years old). Donnie Darko. You’re a misunderstood teenager. I think you’ll like it.

2026 (18 years old). Casablanca. So that you know that black-and-white movies can be as brisk and smart as color ones.

2027 (19 years old). Antonia’s Line. So that you know that subtitles aren’t scary, and that people can be decent and loving and strong and giving and righteous and — more often than not — happy.

2028 (20 years old). Fearless (1993). We’ll talk about your father’s father.

2029 (21 years old). Magnolia. Please live a kinder life than these people, and take to heart the lessons from Jim Kurring and Stanley Spector.

(My day-three contribution to the Self-Involvement Blog-a-thon.)

This was really nice! I recall having a letter written to me from my uncle at the time I was born. I have it somewhere.

Beautiful post!

Incidentally, a day after I published this, Salon offered the Ultimate Family DVD List. It followed with a sequel.

These have lots of good suggestions, and reminded me of a glaring omission: The Muppet Movie! Goodbye, Finding Nemo?

I want to do this with my kids.I do have to tell you though you forgot a very important movie. The Goonies. Every kid has got to see that. Anyhoo, Great post.

Thank You!

A wonderful list! And it feels all the more awesome because I can confidently say I’ve watched the first 8 movies with my daughter (barring one - Babe). I would also like to add to this list - The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Shrek and of course the many-times over How to Train Your Dragon (parts 1 and 2). Minions is next on the list. I admit I haven’t made a long-term list for every year yet, but reading your post makes me want to make one of my own too. Thank you!

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