Being a dad is not easy. For many of us, there's a lot of whining and crying and fit-throwing to deal with. And once we're done with our tantrum, we've got to hunker down and take care of our kids.
The job description can be so daunting, in fact, that some fathers never become real dads at all. They split before the baby's even born. Too many headaches. Too much responsibility. For more than a few, fatherhood begins and ends with a simple donation of sperm.
Let's just say this bluntly, since there's really no other way to go about it: David Wozniak was one of the most prolific sperm donors ever. For four years, David regularly tromped down to a New York clinic and made manual deposits under the pseudonym "Starbuck." At the time, it was a win-win transaction: David needed money, and he was paid for every deposit. The clinic needed sperm, and David's was of very high quality. Each time he went in, he signed a confidentiality agreement. And each time he left, he figured his business was done. He did not know, or care, where his seed might be planted.
Until a lawyer stops by his house and informs him that he has, through a mishmash of clerical errors, curiously high demand and just plain bad luck, sired 533 children. And 142 of them have filed a lawsuit to find out who their father is.
Talk about the daddy of all problems.
Of course this is a fictional fable, but ABC News estimates that about 2 million children have already been born in the U.S. by way of sperm donations. So the possibilities the story suggests are real. And while the setup is inherently tawdry (there's no getting around that), its crazy beginning allows for a strangely sweet examination of fatherhood and what it means—to father and child.
David's offspring, all around the ages of 18 to 22, have longed for a father—even forming their own special interest group to find him. These kids needed a dad. They all feel as though they were handicapped by not having one. In court, they talk about the vacuum that not having a father present in their lives left in them, and that getting to know their father is still central to their lives. And we hear about the "negative psychological damage" they suffered—all messages rarely heard in this age of single parenthood and deadbeat dads. Through their search, they all come to see themselves as brothers and sisters—a huge extended family.
For David, the concept of fathering 533 children begins as a shocking, maybe a little horrifying abstraction. But they are numbers, nothing more. Then he's given an envelope full of one-page dossiers of the 142 kids searching for him. And he begins to look at them, one by one.
Driven by curiosity, he seeks them out—meeting them not as a father at first, but as a curiously nosy stranger. He orders an espresso from one of his sons and winds up taking over the coffee shop while his boy auditions for an acting gig. (The kid loses his job because of David's incompetence, but gets the part.) He delivers pizza to one of his daughters who, in his presence, overdoses. (He rushes her to the hospital and finds himself forced to make difficult decisions about her future.) The more of his children he meets, the more he realizes how much they could use a "guardian angel," which is how he begins to think of himself. And he can't bring himself to stop seeing them—even though his "meddling" could mean losing his own lawsuit against the clinic and, indirectly, ruin more lives than just his.
A funny thing happens as David "fathers" these young adults in his own, distant way: He grows up himself. "For the first time in my life, I think I'm doing the right thing," he says. This notoriously bad decision maker, on the cusp of starting his own "real" family, discovers the willingness and desire to be a "real" dad—present, sacrificial and loving.
Throughout the movie, we see other examples of a father's love, too. David's own dad shows it regularly for his often-irresponsible kid. David's lawyer and friend Brett complains incessantly about being a single father of four little ones, but it's clear that (as odd as his family is) he loves those tykes, and they love him.
And one more take-away: Variety maintains, "It would be no stretch at all to interpret Delivery Man as a pro-life movie, illustrating as it does the miraculous range of individual personalities that can result from the same set of paternal genes, each one special in its own way."
When David brings his girlfriend, Emma, home to meet his father and brothers, David's dad bows his head and says, "Let us pray." David waves him off and says, "C'mon, Dad. Let us drink." And so they laugh and raise a toast. We see a picture of Jesus hanging on a wall.
Obviously, David did not father 533 children without some sort of sexual action being taken, albeit a solitary one. And the movie serves up a variety of jokes and crude remarks regarding erections and his penchant for manual stimulation. We should also note that David and his pregnant squeeze Emma are not married. (He does eventually propose.) Brett indicates that his ex-wife is sleeping around a lot.
David learns that one of his sons is gay and (it's suggested) promiscuous. We see the guy kiss and hug three other men in the course of a day. David's lawyer, Brett, covers up a televised faux pas by saying he's David's lover. Brett's mother later tells him that she always suspected he was gay, and his children think it's "cool."
When guys leer at or cat-call one of David's daughters, he admonishes them. And he urges the girl to lengthen her skirts to about knee-length. We see women in bikinis.
David owes some very bad men a lot of money, and we see them repeatedly dunking him in his own bathtub as a way to "encourage" payment. (We're told they pay David's father a visit too.) David careens off a diving board, necessitating one of his sons to pull him out of the pool and give him CPR.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word, two s-words and a light dusting of other profanities, including "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "h‑‑‑" and "p‑‑‑." God's name is misused three or four times, paired once with "d‑‑n."
Drug and Alcohol Content
David admits to making some very poor decisions in his life, and he's in the midst of one when the movie opens: growing marijuana to make some extra cash. (We don't see him smoke the stuff.) He does throw it out eventually … which prompts the garbage men to "rescue" the crop and put it in the truck's cab with them. David and others drink alcohol. David sees one of his sons completely drunk and guides him safely to a cab.
We see the OD'd daughter unconscious with drug paraphernalia nearby. And when she recovers enough to start resisting the idea of going to rehab, David signs a release so she won't have to.
Other Negative Elements
Frustrated with his own kids at the time, Brett talks about how Emma should get an abortion. Then he jokes about how his own kids are safe because they "know they're too old to be aborted."
David obfuscates his identity as Starbuck—even to his fiancée.
Delivery Man is a big kid of a movie, and as such foists a whole host of unasked-for problems upon viewers of all ages. It's populated with sex talk and crude humor. Its characters, even in their better moments, do things that parents (and, in some cases, human beings) should never really do. The movie's message cannot expunge all that.
But man, what a message.
When David discovers he's a father, he becomes, in a way, every father. Some of his kids are doing pretty well. Some are really messed up. But all, in their own ways, need David. "I fathered them, and they're my responsibility," he says. And he goes through the whole roller-coaster of fatherhood in just a few months—experiencing mountains of emotions that every dad (and mom) can relate to.
The first kid he meets turns out to be a professional basketball player, and he gets to see his son make the winning shot. He had nothing to do with raising him, of course … and yet he feels that part of him is out there on the court with him. And he feels the pride that any father would.
Later, David discovers that another child of his is severely disabled—confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak. So he goes to the facility where the boy lives, thinking he'll just see him and leave. He ends up spending the entire day with him, and walks away at nighttime feeling like a failure. He never said a word to the boy, he admits to the home's supervisor. He had no idea what to say.
"You were there," the nurse says. "You did really good."
Some of us have a disabled son or daughter and know, far more than David, the challenges that come with such a child—the worry, the frustration, the heartache, the joy. Some have children who come home drunk or are addicted to drugs. Some have kids who choose to live a life of promiscuity or homosexuality. Every mother and father reading this has a child they know and love, a child who frustrates them and frightens them. And sometimes we—all of us parents—feel at a loss. Sometimes we don't know what to do. We're like David, filled with self-doubt and guilt and shame.
And yet we are there. We're there to talk to. To play with. To brush away tears, to bandage knees, to teach a hard lesson or to share a laugh. It's a cliché to say that 90% of a job is just showing up, but I don't know any job where that's more true than being a father. There's more to it, of course—a lot more. But to be there … that's Step One. And it's that step that some fathers never take at all.
For 18 or 20 or 22 years, David wasn't there. But now he is. And through his eyes, we see how important it is to be a father, and how difficult.