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'Honey Boy' shows how bad dads hurt everyone

Actor Shia LaBeouf attends a hearing at the Manhattan Criminal Court in New York July 24, 2014.
Actor Shia LaBeouf attends a hearing at the Manhattan Criminal Court in New York July 24, 2014. | REUTERS/Jefferson Siegel/Pool

It takes a good man to make a good man. Boys who grow up with no father in the home or with just plain lousy dads emerge into adulthood with the same expectations placed on them as those who have healthy father figures. We don't expect a student to become a teacher before completing school or a child to master multiplication without first learning the times tables, so why do we presume boys raised by bad examples of manhood will grow up and understand what it means to be a good man?

In the new Amazon Original film, 'Honey Boy,' we see the real-life example of this tragic dynamic. It’s based on the true anecdotal story of one individual’s journey from childhood to manhood and resulting consequences of acting out what was done to him.

Written by and based on the life of Hollywood child star Shia LaBeouf, 'Honey Boy' depicts the realities of Shia's upbringing with an abusive dad. The audience sees it all. From the inappropriate pressure placed on young Shia to his father's substance abuse issues, the foundation for the boy’s checkered journey is firmly laid, making it easier to understand the chain of events that would lead him to write the movie. Shia wrote 'Honey Boy' a few years ago during his time in rehab, which was court-appointed after he was arrested for terrorizing a cop and diagnosed with PTSD. Rehab brought healing to far more than just his career.

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'Honey Boy' forces us to ask ourselves just how much a boy is responsible when he acts out of the example he’s had from bad parenting. As apparent in his most recent interviews, he seems to have reached a point of self-awareness, giving way to maturation, but what about young and teenaged Shia? How much responsibility does he deserve for exhibiting violence and substance abuse, which were modeled for him by his dad from an early age?

Shia's erratic and destructive behavior is hardly an isolated case. Our culture is plagued by an epidemic of young men marred by absent, negligent or abusive dads. And while a troubled child star might receive the option of court-ordered rehab to wrestle with his demons, many other adolescent boys are never given that chance. Instead, society writes them off as “toxic”. All too often they end up in prison, homeless or worse.

As a society, we have become increasingly cognizant of the importance of good dads. Studies have shown myriad benefits for kids with healthy father relationships, including being less likely to experience depression, low self-esteem and behavioral problems and more likely to finish school and have better mental health and empathy.

What do we do about the Shia LaBeoufs of the world? The solution is the same as the problem: men. Healthy men who recognize their responsibility and seize the opportunity to befriend and mentor damaged men.

These broken men exist everywhere – in workplaces, gyms and even churches. Men simply need to take initiative and help disadvantaged men to unlearn the only definition of manhood they've ever known. Someone has to break the cycle of bad or absent dads who make damaged men — who become the next generation of bad or absent dads.

While no one has a choice of the cards they are dealt in life, we are all responsible for what we do with the hand we have been given. It’s like the old story of the twin sons of the town drunk. One grew up to become the next generation town drunk, and when asked why he had not done anything with his life, he replied, “With a dad like mine, what do you expect?”

However, his twin brother, raised in the same environment, excelled in school, worked hard, and years later was elected mayor of the town. When asked what drove him to excel in life, he responded, “With a father like mine, what do you expect?”

The good news is that having a bad dad doesn't have to be detrimental. The better news is that having a bad dad doesn't have to make you a bad dad. The best news is that each man can take a step towards improving this generation of men and the next either by seeking out a good man for help or being the good man who extends care and wisdom to those who never received either as boys.

Ken Harrison is the CEO and Chairman of Promise Keepers, which will hold its first multi-generational event for men in more than 20 years at AT&T Stadium July 30-August 1, 2020.

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