As the helplessly smitten father of two little girls (with a third on the way), I have a soft spot for stories about manly dads who freely confess to being wrapped around their daughter’s little finger. So I was touched when Fox News reported that tough guy action star Jeremy Renner recently gushed about his two-year-old Ava Berlin in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres that will air Wednesday.
Ava is the daughter of Renner, 44, and Canadian model Sonni Pacheco, who married in early 2014 almost a year after Ava’s birth. Renner was grateful that he married late in life, after some career success, so he could afford to concentrate on family. Fatherhood “really kind of changed my perspective on a lot of things,” he told DeGeneres. “It’s kind of screwed my career in a lot of ways, because I don’t really care about it so much because I care about her so much. She’s, like, number one in my life. And now I get to do movies on the side.”
To be clear, his career is still very active but he has a different motivation now. In an interview with Capitol File magazine, Renner said,
The only thing I think about when I’m not with my baby is, “How do I get to my baby?” I need to get to her, and I’m very miserable when I don’t see her. I really love being a father. The only thing that has changed is my perspective on things. I still work, probably even more. It used to be all for myself, so I’m not old and broke. All these things I still do, but I do it now for the future of my baby, and if it gets in the way of her well-being, then I stop.
Balancing his profession and fatherhood is challenging because of the travel demands, but Renner claims to make every effort to stay as present in Ava’s life as possible. “I do a lot of flights back,” he said to DeGeneres. “I did like forty flights back. From London to [L.A.] pretty much every other week. [I] see her sometimes for eight hours and then fly back.”
Fatherhood is “the best thing ever,” Renner said in a Today show segment last October. “Now I know what real love is, what real existence is. Best thing that I've experienced in my life.” As clichéd as that may sound to someone who doesn’t yet have children, as it did to me before I had kids, I can vouch for the truth of it. Fatherhood is a humbling gift that throws you suddenly out of the center of your universe and puts you in orbit around your child instead – as it should be. Good on Renner for recognizing this and embracing it.
Unfortunately, as Hollywood couples often do – and “ordinary” couples too – he and Sonni broke up last December after less than a year of marriage. It’s unclear what went wrong, but a source told E! News that Renner “wanted to make sure Ava had a solid family unit and tried to make it work. It’s really sad because Jeremy loves Ava so much and hates that she will live her life with her parents split up.”
Pacheco asked that the court grant her full physical custody of their daughter. The E! News source said at the time that the custody battle “is going to get ugly. His main priority is the baby and he will fight for full custody if it comes to that. All he cares about is being a dad. He is an amazing father. He is worried she is going to go back to Canada and take the baby.” Apparently he won at least a partial victory; earlier this month it was reported that Renner and Pacheco were awarded joint physical custody of the little girl, so he gets more than just visitation rights.
“Daddy’s my best role to date, I think,” the star of The Hurt Locker and Avengers told Ellen DeGeneres to big applause from her charmed studio audience. But a father actively involved in his little girl’s life isn’t just adorable and admirable – it’s also essential but increasingly rare: one out of three American children now live in homes without the biological father, as compared to 11% in 1960. That is an alarming decline, considering the devastating impact that fatherlessness has on children and ultimately on society.
As Dr. Meg Meeker puts it in Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, a father is the most important man in his daughter’s life. Girls (boys too, but let’s focus on the girls) need their fathers’ guidance, strength, wisdom, and loving presence in their lives. Children are adrift without that, and they often grow to become adults adrift as well.
When an action hero like Jeremy Renner gushes in the media about his daughter and the joys of fatherhood at every opportunity, his joy and commitment set an excellent example, especially for the young male fans who themselves will someday be fathers of little girls. Hopefully his influence will contribute in some small way to the reversal of that slide toward more fatherless kids.
(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 4/23/15)