You may remember me from the popular Disney show “Wizards of Waverly Place.” (If not check with your kids or grandkids — they’ll know it.) I’ve been blessed with a great career working with some of most talented actors in Hollywood and learned a lot growing up in the business. From the time I was little, I always had a nagging dream to tell powerful stories that would leave an indelible mark on the audience. I remember as a young boy being enamored by powerful heroes in films and leaving the theater inspired to make a difference in the world. The films that always hit home for me, emotionally, were father-son stories, like the ending of “Field of Dreams,” a moment I will never forget.
As an actor, I was always watching and learning, soaking up as much knowledge as I could, waiting for my chance to be involved in stories that really move people. In 2015 I finally got my chance to be involved in two big stories: a major feature film called “Little Boy,” in which I play one of the leading roles and a short film I directed called “Catch.”
I didn’t realize it at the time I worked on these projects, but as I look back now, I see how much they have in common, both focusing on the importance not just of a family, but also of the central role that is played by our fathers.
I have the honor of starring in the film “Little Boy,” playing the role of the older brother of a little boy with a lot of heart and faith. My friend Alejandro Monteverde wrote and directed this incredible film about the power and special bond between a father and son. It is set in World War II and revolves around a little boy who adores his father and is heartbroken to see him taken away to fight the Japanese. Will he ever see his dad again? I can’t wait to share the rest of the story with you next year.
I cowrote and directed “Catch,” which is a father-son tale about an 8-year-old boy who will stop at nothing to get what his heart desires. The theme of “Catch” is what I call “the good-dad problem.” We all know what this is: It’s the father who wants to provide for his family and give them a comfortable life, but the question is: at what cost? Most parents want to be responsible people in life, but with every virtue, there comes two vices: excess or defect. If the focus is about providing for the family, and the ‘providing’ element takes priority, then what good comes of that?
In a way, both of these films grew out of my own experiences. When my dad grew up, he was the kid whose parents struggled financially; the “poor kid” who went to school with the “rich kids” and did chores for the wealthy dads to earn a buck or two and who worked jobs all through high school pumping gas and bagging groceries. He and my mom met, married young and had me in their early 20s. The pressure to be as successful as possible in order to provide for the family escalated. There was no such thing as failure to him; he had to make it for his family and that meant a lot of time at work away from home. He achieved his business and financial goals and reaped much of the material things success can avail you. But, if you ask my father today if there were anything he would have changed from the past, I guarantee you he would say, “I wish I could have spent less time at work and more quality time with my wife and children.”
That seems to be the universal theme that both films wrestle with that we all hear far too often, and it deals with something priceless: time. How do you spend your time? Younger kids have no real emotional attachment to money, but they do feel attached to time. Both of these films address this. I want to bring awareness and healing to families all over that might be dealing with these types of issues before they create any wounds.
I’m so thankful for my father. As an adult, my dad and I are making up for lost time, working together on many different fronts. I love my dad and am thankful for having an amazing relationship with him today. But, unfortunately for many kids with similar upbringings this might not be the case. It is estimated that working fathers spend less than an hour a day with their children, while some studies show as low as 10 minutes day.
Too often movies that come from Hollywood are about negativity, broken relationships and wounded hearts. My hope is that these two films will impact our world positively, reminding us how much we need each other and specifically reminding dads and kids how much we need each other to grow into healthy adults. Whether you’re a father or a child, I hope these movies will inspire you to appreciate your relationship and not take your time with each other for granted.