How Summer Action Movies Made Me a Better Dad

"It's OK. You can tell me. There's nothing wrong with being scared. Even Daddy gets scared sometimes. Are you scared?"
06/10/2014 06:35pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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With Father's Day coming up, I wanted to share this story from Manhood, my new memoir about being a man, and a dad. It just might make you -- or the man in your life -- a better one!


It was a blazing hot summer day in Southern California, the perfect moment to sit in an air-conditioned movie theater and relax with a wonderful, special effects-driven Hollywood extravaganza, expensive candy, crunchy popcorn and an ice-cold drink. I had promised my 7-year-old son, Isaiah, that we'd do what we call "Man Time" -- something very rare in our household, which is mainly comprised of the female energy of six women: my wife, four daughters, one granddaughter and our 12-year-old female house dog, Coffee.

Isaiah and I both agreed a movie would be the perfect respite from the heat. Being men, we decided our movie would be Iron Man 3. He was at the impressionable age where, if he didn't see Iron Man 3, he wasn't cool.

We found the perfect seats, sat down with our snacks and endured what seemed like an hour of previews. Isaiah was noticeably wincing through most of them, but I attributed this to the fact that the movie theater had a really loud sound system. Then, finally, the movie started. Robert Downey Jr. was as compelling as ever, the effects were amazing and the action was ramped up to eclipse the first two movies. I was enjoying myself.

Then I noticed something.

Isaiah's face was caught in a twisted frown, one hand in his popcorn, the other covering his eyes as he peered through his small fingers.

"Isaiah, you OK?" I asked, thinking maybe he had to go to the bathroom but didn't want to miss anything.

"Yeah..." he said, his hand still stuck to his face.

I shrugged and turned back to the movie. A bomb exploded and one of the bad guys looked like he was dying. I heard a whimper next to me. My son was gritting his teeth, holding a bunch of popcorn in a clenched, sweaty fist, paralyzed with his hand in the bag of popcorn. He was shaking.

I knew I had to do something.

"Isaiah, let's go to the lobby for a sec."

He nodded, and we headed out into the lobby. Our eyes squinted as we adjusted to the sunlight and found a spot against a wall. I took a knee so I could examine his face as I talked to him.

"Isaiah, are you scared?" I asked, as gently as I could, so it wouldn't sound like a taunt. "It's OK. You can tell me. There's nothing wrong with being scared. Even Daddy gets scared sometimes. Are you scared?"

"Yes," he said with a nod, appearing defeated.

"Isaiah, you wanna go home? We can get in the pool. Would you like that?"

His face relaxed and brightened, and I knew I had found the answer.

"Yeah! But the movie--"

"Don't worry about the movie, man. The most important thing is that we have Man Time." I smiled, and he cheered up immediately.

"Isaiah, always tell me if you don't like something, or if you're scared of something. I'm not disappointed in you if you are, but I would be disappointed if you didn't tell me how you really feel. I love you, man."

"I love you, too, Dad. Let's go swimming!"

With that, we threw all of our concessions in the trash and headed out into the hot sun.

I'd love to be able to tell you that I've always been like this: patient, caring, thoughtful and a good listener. But the truth is, for most of my life, I was just the opposite. I was impatient, uncaring, hard-headed and ignorant. I was selfish in every way possible, a brute to my wife and a tyrant to my kids. No pain, no gain. My way or the highway. Right? Well, that's what I thought back then. I was the classic type A, alpha male to the core. A strong, athletic competitor who used all of the charm and wit at my disposal to manipulate family, friends, coworkers and everyone around me into giving me exactly what I wanted... and if they didn't, I was going to get them back one way or another.

I am a man. That's what men do. Kick a**. Take names. Do the job you've been paid to do. Accomplish your dream, no matter what it costs you or who gets hurt. He with the gold makes the rules. You crying? I'll give you something to cry about. That's life. That's the way it is.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

We absorb the world's lessons young: Be brave. Be tough. Show no weakness. Have no pity. Male pride is like walking a ledge on the side of a building, and any taunt or challenge will keep a man out there -- until he falls to his death. I talked Isaiah down off that fictional ledge, at a movie theater. At 7 years old. But now he's free. Until the next challenge.


Terry Crews is the star of the Golden Globe award-winning series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Expendables 3, Blended and is the new host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The above was excerpted from his new memoir MANHOOD, available now for Father's Day.

Copyright © 2014 Terry Crews. Excerpted by permission of Zinc Ink, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.