Once Netflix’s To All the Boys I Loved Before became a bona fide hit, the Internet had a field day meme-ifying it. There’s the one that poked fun at Lara Jean’s not-so-stealth attempt to hide from the guys who received her love letters, the shot of fans googling Noah Centineo’s age (guilty as charged), and the hundreds of tweets gushing about that hot tub scene. However, the meme that intrigued me the most had nothing to do with Peter Kavinsky: It was a mashup comparing Lara Jean’s dad, Dr. Covey, to Dr. Stratford, the father in 10 Things I Hate About You.
Specifically, the meme compares how Dr. Covey (John Corbett) and Dr. Stratford (Larry Miller), both widowed gynecologists, stumble through “the talk” with their teen daughters. On the surface, it’s an apt comparison; but if you look deeper, the juxtaposition exposes the divide between contemporary on-screen fathers with movie dads of yesteryear. Or put more bluntly, they’re getting woke. (And hotter. Looking at you, Josh Duhamel.)
In 10 Things, for example, Dr. Stratford puts his daughter in a fat suit and warns her, “Every time you even think about kissing a boy I want you to picture wearing [a fake pregnant belly] under your halter top.” But Dr. Covey tries to have a thoughtful conversation with Lara Jean about her reproductive choices, telling her, “Did you know most unwanted teenage pregnancies are the result of expecting abstinence?”
Dr. Covey isn’t the only movie dad leaning into a more nuanced, emotionally available relationship with his teen this year. In the Oscar-nominated Call Me By Your Name, Elio’s father, Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg), comforts his newly heartbroken son by delivering an epic monologue. “You had a beautiful friendship, maybe more than a friendship,” he says of Elio’s relationship with an older man. “I envy you. In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, to pray that their sons land on their feet. But I am not such a parent. In your place, if there is pain, nurse it.” Not only is Elio’s father understanding of his emotions, he tells him to revel in their messiness, to take in the pain.
In Love, Simon, the first major Hollywood studio film to focus on a gay teen romance, Simon also finds solace in his family. While his father—former leading man turned on-screen zaddy Josh Duhamel as Jack—isn’t quite as hip to his son’s sexual orientation as Stuhlbarg’s character, once Simon does come out to him, he’s distraught that he didn’t realize on his own. “[My character] is upset with himself for not paying closer attention,” Duhamel tells Glamour. “I can understand why he would feel guilty about that. That [Simon] felt that he had to hide from [his dad] for so long. That [Jack] wasn’t available to him to make him feel comfortable.” In the past, we might have applauded Duhamel’s character for so readily accepting his son’s sexuality; in 2018, though, he’s forced to grapple with why he was so blind to his son in the first place.
This trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, either. In The Hate U Give, out this October, protagonist Starr’s father, Maverick (Russell Hornsby), empowers her to become a champion for Black Lives Matter after witnessing a shooting at the hands of the police. “When you’re ready to talk, don’t ever let nobody make you be quiet,” he says at one point in the film.
Bo Burnham wrote and directed this summer’s Eighth Grade, which also features a dorky-cute single dad, Mark (Josh Hamilton), of a young teenage girl. Burnham is quick to acknowledge the uptick in good-guy fathers. “Good parents [were] kind of underrepresented in film [until now],” he says. “They don’t naturally lend themselves to drama as easily.”
But for Burnham, creating a well-intentioned father better reflected the parents he’s encountered in his life, including his own, than the distant fathers of the John Hughes era. “There’s probably slightly more of my mother in [Mark] than my father,” he says. “My mom would tell me I’m supercool all the time, but my dad was always in his boxers, shirtless, in my doorway, so that image [in the film] was certainly my father.”
Like Dr. Covey, Mark is constantly trying to get his daughter to let him in emotionally. This tension mirrors Burnham’s real-life experience. “My memories of fights with my parents were them trying to connect with me and me pushing them away,” he says, “rather than them not letting me listen to rock and roll music and me storming off into a quarry or whatever usually happens [in teen films].”
Similarly, Jenny Han, who wrote the novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is based on, thinks Dr. Covey is much more representative of today’s dads—and modern, evolved men as a whole. “People are [talking] not just about Dr. Covey, but about Peter too,” she explains. “People appreciate [them] in a way where they’re noticing how thoughtful they are. There’s a general appreciation for these men who are kind and just a bit more sensitive than we’ve seen.” In other words, it’s their awareness and empathy that makes them both heartthrobs.
Han’s inspiration for the white-wine-drinking, cupcake-making Dr. Covey actually came from a family she worked for during graduate school. “I was a nanny to a young teen who was an only child,” she says. “Her mom traveled a lot for work, so her dad did a lot of the day-to-day stuff. I was thinking about how caring he was and really attuned, just like Dr. Covey, [who is] the dad of three girls who lost their mom. He has his limitations, but we see him trying. You see him again and again try his best—not being perfect, but trying.”
That’s the other thing that unites these fathers. They might not always get it right—in Eighth Grade, Mark makes the misstep of following his daughter to the mall—but they never stop fighting to do better, to be closer to their kids. Whether it’s through having frank conversations about sexuality, or knowing when to take your daughter to her favorite diner (hat tip to Dr. Covey), these dads represent a whole new generation of fathers. They’re dads who aren’t afraid afraid to lean into the supportive space once reserved only for moms.
Maybe it’s my own daddy issues, or that the news cycle is a never-ending parade of garbage men making garbage choices, but these good male role models have become my escape. On the days when there aren’t any new photos of Barack Obama on vacation or Justin Trudeau doing anything, it’s a comfort to know I can turn on Netflix and bask in the nerdy fatherly wisdom of Dr. Covey. And for a moment, all will feel right in the world.
Samantha Leach is an assistant editor at Glamour.
Photos courtesy of Netflix, A24, Twentieth Century Fox, and Sony Pictures Classics.