In this edition of Dad Grades, we take a long, hard look at one of cinema’s worst dads: Peter McCallister from the 1991 holiday classic Home Alone, portrayed by the late, great John Herd.
Home Alone is a harrowing tale about the far-reaching consequences of unauthoritative parenting, paint can physics, and pre-TSA- checkpoint air travel. In the movie, 8-year- old Kevin McCallister must thwart two bumbling thieves after he is mistakenly left behind in the suburbs of Chicago while his family vacations in Paris.
Any dad seeking to empathize with the patriarch of the McCallister family must do so with a necessary suspension of disbelief.
“Well, there’s no way I’d accidentally leave my child home alone.”
Look, I think we can all agree the whole foolishly abandoning your kid in one of America’s most intrinsically violent major cities thing is, by every conceivable metric, a lasting blemish on your parenting record. But no. I’m not talking about that.
If you’re looking to explore Peter’s inadequacies as a father, look no further than the first act.
First, a burglar enters the McCallister domicile, unnoticed, disguised quite skillfully as a police officer. The McCallister kids ignore the cop lingering in their foyer in lieu of more important matters at hand, like misplaced sunblock, displaying a complete and utter lack of respect for authority.
He gets nothing. Not a “hello.” Not a “may I help you?” Not even a “the 4th amendment clearly states you cannot legally enter this house without a signed search warrant.” Peter McCallister has what seems to be a bafflingly lenient open-door policy. Strike one for Peter.
Eventually, the pizza guy shows up. Now Peter has two strange men idling in his foyer while his children run about unsupervised.
At last, Peter comes downstairs. Ignoring the pizza delivery guy, he chats briefly with the cop, assuring him their automatic light timers will deter any foreseeable holiday burglaries. Spoiler alert: they don’t.
Buzz, Peter’s oldest son, enters. “C’mon dad,” he says. “Let’s eat.”
And just like that, he leaves. There is an officer of the law in his foyer. There is a delivery gu who has yet to receive payment of $122.50 in his foyer. But pizza, I guess. Strike two.
Next, Kevin finds out his family has already eaten all the plain cheese pizza. Instead of simply picking olives off of a less than ideal slice, he viciously attacks his brother Buzz, tackling him into a bunch of red Solo cups filled with… milk.
That’s right. Milk. I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a drink less complementary to pizza than milk. Seriously? Milk? One possibility is that the film’s screenwriter, the legendary John Hughes, has never in his life actually eaten pizza. As a notoriously proud Chicagoan, this is highly improbable.
It’s far more likely that this bewildering drink preference among the McCallisters is somehow Peter’s fault. “Hop in the van, kids,” I imagine him saying. “We’re all going downtown for some Chicago deep dish and a nice, savory round of milk.” Absolutely revolting. Strike three, Pete.
The Good: Peter and his children share very little screentime together. But even though he does unforgivable things, like serving milk with pizza, he does show genuine concern once it becomes clear that Kevin has been left behind. For that, I applaud him.
The Bad: No, seriously. Milk? That’s a slippery slope, pal. First your kids are drinking milk with pizza and then, before you know it, they’re ordering coffee with a cheeseburger. Wasn’t Fuller, the bedwetter, drinking Pepsi? Just give everyone Pepsi, dude. Milk. Jesus Christ. You’ve got to be kidding me. Milk.
The Verdict: Peter McCallister is a textbook example of bad parenting. Need more proof? Revisit the final scene where the whole family comes home to Kevin. Peter asks Kevin what he did while they were gone. Kevin responds, “Just hung around.” The family shares a hearty chuckle and then everybody just… leaves. Peter just walks away from his almost definitely traumatized 8-year- old. Just ends the conversation and walks away like he’s a cop or something.
Peter McCallister’s Final Dad Grade: D-