This article contains mild spoilers for The Bob’s Burgers Movie, Stranger Things Season 4, and Ms. Marvel Season 1.
While writing my The Bob’s Burgers Movie article, I noticed a father-daughter dynamic: young Louise had a misconception that her dad corrected by telling her the truth of the situation. I started noticing the theme of a daughter’s rehabilitation through the words of her father (figure) in many shows and movies released over the last year—in everything from The Afterparty to Turning Red to Ted Lasso to She-Hulk: Attorney at Law—but my favorites were The Bob’s Burgers Movie, Stranger Things Season 4, and Ms. Marvel Season 1.
Louise from The Bob’s Burgers Movie: Belcher Bravery
The Belcher family includes namesake Bob, wife Linda, two older kids (Tina and Gene), and youngest daughter Louise. At nine, Louise’s position in the family dynamic is to lead her older siblings. But the movie explores something the show never hinted at: Louise doubts her bravery and maturity. Early in the film, Louise tells her collectable figures (the irony of talking with her toys about growing up is not lost on her) how she was cowardly when starting preschool.
As she verbally describes the events, the audience sees her memory play out: fearful, Louise needs her famous hat as a type of security blanket (a substitute for courage) in order to enter the school. Because we’ve heard and seen this side of the story for the majority of the film, the audience believes this narrative is the truth. It’s not until the end, when Louise admits that the family’s life-and-death predicament is due to her cowardice, that the truth unfolds.
When Louise tells her version of the hat’s origin, both parents immediately rebuke Louise, then explain the true account. Bob’s mom made herself a beanie which she wore every day (just like Louise) when Bob was a kid. As a celebration for how brave Louise was on her first day of preschool, her parents decided to use Grandma’s leftover material to sew a hat for Louise.
Bob makes sure to ask, “Do you not remember it that way?” When Louise says she doesn’t, Bob replies, “You remind me of my mom, Louise. And with the hat, it’s kinda like you two have met. I keep forgetting that you never did.” Louise processes the contrary news, then thanks her dad for the realignment.
It’s worth noting the parents took the time, even in a dire circumstance, to explain and correct Louise. We may not be in many dangerous situations where we have the prospect of correcting our child’s misconception of their character, but then (maybe even more so), we should be vigilant in the mundane times of life for opportunities to focus and reorient our kids to reality.
It’s no secret Hollywood has spent the last half-century mocking monogamous masculinity (Oh, the horror of being faithful to your spouse and being involved in your kids’ lives!). Bob isn’t perfect, but he’s a good dad. And it’s not just because he tries: sometimes making an effort isn’t enough. Those who have seen Hook understand that working eighty hours a week under the guise of supporting our family doesn’t give our dependents the quality time they crave. Add to that the litany of failures such as abuse, pride, lust, and hypocrisy that we fathers are capable of while “trying our best.” Good intentions, guilt, and promises can’t compensate for failure.
That’s where Jesus comes in: He provides the power and the direction. We can’t do it on our own, and our navigation must come from His ethics. In this case, a father who recognizes he knows more and better than his child will not provoke her (Colossians 3:21, Ephesians 6:4), but instead empower her. Bob doesn’t confuse unconditional love with undisciplined love, and he doesn’t attempt to be a best friend at the expense of boundaries.
Bob empowers Louise by explaining that the stress of starting preschool didn’t require a substitute for bravery, but rather earned a reward for courage already exhibited. Bob also points toward his mom as matriarch: not only does he think Louise is like her and she should be proud of her heritage, but Bob takes the time to explain that he respected his mom. Bob doing this in front of the whole family sent a message that good men respect women and can learn a lot from them.
Eleven from Stranger Things, Season 4: Therapist Off
Seemingly an odd comparison, The Bob’s Burgers Movie and Stranger Things share more than the same release date (May 27, 2022). Both shows feature complex relationships between children and their legal guardians. From the beginning of Stranger Things, twelve-year-old Eleven (El) has wanted a family. Dr. Brenner (whom El calls “Papa”) acted as a father figure to El, but their relationship was based on his testing of her preternatural powers in the lab where she was held captive.
When she escaped the lab (a story untold until here in Season 4) she met four friends and was eventually adopted by local sheriff Jim Hopper. Although far from perfect, Hopper was a great dad. But as Season 4 opens, Hopper is presumed dead and El, having lost her powers, has an identity crisis. Episodes 5-8 provide El’s father-daughter story arc when a freshly un-dead Papa arrives to help jump-start her abilities.
Papa designs a way for El to revisit her memories as she relives some horrific events from her past, believing she is the cause of those events. And Papa lets her believe it (did I mention he’s evil?). Best case, El needed to learn for herself the truth about the event. Worst case, Papa could have just told El and spared her a lot of pain (although perhaps not bringing her power back). But one thing is sure: Papa believed El needed to experience and work through the trauma in order to gain back her powers and… he probably wanted her to heal.
If you think my advice is for you to be like Papa, then you need some Papa-esque therapy (i.e. time in a sensory deprivation chamber instilling truth by watching grainy VHS tapes). No. Manipulation and shock collars on children isn’t an acceptable way to parent. But holding to our convictions on helping our kids through trauma is part of the job description. Thankfully, there’s a good chance your progeny or the kids you interact with have probably not witnessed a mass murder, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been traumatized.
El’s recollection of one event (in a catalog of painful occurrences) made her doubt herself, and, more importantly, made her believe she was a bad person not worth saving. The kids we impact may experience anxiety (multiple kids I know have this going into school), bullying, worry, or high degrees of empathy and sensitivity. They may have witnessed horrors or been abused. As parents we should seek ways to support our children through these difficulties (keeping in mind we may be unaware of what they’ve experienced).
So maybe Papa was right, maybe the best path in some situations is an indirect approach. If there is a possibility our kids internalized a core memory incorrectly or need help processing, they’re probably very guarded. We might consider finding a counselor or mental health expert or therapist (someone more like Dr. Sam Owens and less like Papa). In fact, it’s best to find someone now to counsel our kids because, 1) there may be trauma we don’t know about, 2) there may be trauma we are aware of and yet incorrectly think the kids are fine, and 3) having the name of a recommended therapist (from a friend, pastor, church, etc.) just in case our children go through a traumatic event is proactive parenting.
But kids with actual trauma aren’t the only ones needing consolation. Growing up, especially the teenage years, can be overwhelming.
Kamala from Ms. Marvel, Season 1: Girl (Super)Power
Ms. Marvel was released a week and a half after Bob’s and Stranger Things (in the U.S.). As important as representation is, Ms. Marvel is more than the MCU’s first South Asian, Muslim superhero. Like many Muslims growing up in the U.S., sixteen-year-old Kamala Khan is an outsider. Additionally, she lives in New Jersey, and it’s commonly assumed that New Jersey is like the dirty New York (which is saying something). But it’s an interesting setting to cast a geeky Pakistani-American—being a stranger because of religion and clothing, while simultaneously being an outsider looking in at New York where, like, 98% of the MCU events take place.
And while Kamala recognizes she’s an outsider and wrestles with her identity, she also has a confidence (sometimes unfounded) and cheerfulness that is contagious. But when Kamala finds a powerful family heirloom (Aisha’s Bangle), she is thrust into uncharted territory. As if high school wasn’t hard enough.
Much like God’s radically counter-cultural command that inheritance could pass to female descendants (Joshua 17:3-6), Kamala’s powers are inherited from her mother’s side. Although Kamala’s relationship with her mom is strained, she also has tension with her dad. But it is her dad, Yusuf, who is intentional at a pivotal point near the end of Season 1.
In a memorable scene from the finale, Kamala goes out her window to sit on the roof, and her dad joins her. He asks what her superhero name will be, and Kamala thoughtfully responds that she’s still figuring it out. This sparks Yusuf to reflect on their decision to name her Kamala, saying,
Beta, you were just so perfect. That’s what kamal means in Arabic. “Perfect.” But in Urdu, it’s more like… what’s the word? “Wonder. Marvel.” [Inspirational music builds] Kamal means “marvel.”
Gripping his arm in excitement, Kamala exclaims, “I share the same name as Carol fricking Danvers?”
If Carol Danvers doesn’t ring a bell, you’re fortunate that Yusuf pulled a very dad move, chuckling, “I don’t know who that is. But you are, and always have been, our own Little Miss Marvel,” and then hands Kamala her mask. Carol Danvers is the true identity of superhero Captain Marvel (whom Kamala idolizes), but more importantly, Kamala had discovered her kamal superhero name!
When we found out my wife was pregnant with our daughter, the ultrasound tech told us our baby was the size of a jellybean. We immediately started calling her “Bean” and still do to this day. Once, when my daughter was two, we went out for pizza and my father-in-law asked her her first name and she answered, “Lilah.” But when he asked her her last name she said, “Bean.” I almost didn’t have the heart to tell her she was wrong, but I also figured if she ever got lost I didn’t want people looking for Mr. Bean. So I gently informed her that “Bean” was a nickname and “Fogle” was her last name. She was surprised and didn’t want to believe me, but in time she accepted the truth.
A name is crucial to our identity. It’s what people call us and what we call ourselves; it’s how we differentiate ourselves from others. But we’re powerless to control our birth name. In a way, names are merely a label that don’t define our potential. And yet, if our parents put thought (and possibly prayer) into a name,it does mean something special, possibly even prophetic (I’ve always thought Lo-Ruhamah got the short end of the stick).
For Kamala, the name her parents chose was prophetic, but the moment where Yusuf casually explained the meaning was revelatory for her. In many ways she had spent sixteen years trying to find her identity, when it had been with her the whole time. But it took her dad intentionally going outside with her just to chat in order for that revelation to manifest.
Information Breeds Confidence
For Louise, the point wasn’t a question of bravery, but rather that doubts caused her to misremember a pivotal situation. The Belchers love their daughter regardless of her confidence, and although it’s their responsibility to shape her integrity to be a productive member of society, there is an equally important onus to remind, correct, and point toward truth.
Sometimes learning from an unhealthy relationship like Papa and El’s is more profitable than learning from a healthy one. I’m no therapist, but an indirect approach such as forcing El to relive her past may be a viable way to heal. A word of warning seems reasonable, however: as parents we shouldn’t allow a desire for quick healing to overpower the time that true restoration takes.
Yusuf wanted to spend time with Kamala and unintentionally gave information that bred courage. Choosing our children’s names (or nicknames) happens at the beginning of their lives, but when we’re intentional in helping them comprehend their identity, the benefits can last a lifetime.
In each of these cases, the young women beat themselves up, lost their self-assurance, and lacked a true sense of who they were. It was through fathers, whether blood or chosen, that these daughters were guided toward the truth. When we’re vulnerable and we give our children the right information at the right times, we breed confidence in them.