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Fatherhood is a 'heroic role' for men, says filmmaker and defender of dads John Papola

John Papola, founder of Emergent Order studios and host of "Dad Saves America," says, "Dad is the heroic role we play as men" as families are under assault in modern society.

Creative dynamo dad John Papola stands atop the parapet in the fight to defend fatherhood.

The attack comes from a society that some feel is at war with foundational institutions, including families and fathers

"The role of dad is the heroic role we play as men," Papola, founder of Emergent Order Foundation in Austin, Texas, and host of "Dad Saves America," told Fox News Digital this week during an interview in New York City. 


"I think it’s something we need to celebrate. I think it’s something our culture hasn’t celebrated. We’re the Al Bundy generation. And I’m trying to offer a healthy, positive perspective on what it means to be a man and a dad."

He’s enlisted an inspirational new ally in defense of dads in actor Troy Kotsur, who earned an Oscar for his role as deaf New England fisherman and father Frank Rossi in the 2021 movie "CODA."

Papola’s latest project, the short documentary "To My Father," chronicles the powerful personal story between Kotsur and his policeman dad during the celebrated actor’s childhood in Mesa, Arizona.

"To My Father" premiered during the Tribeca Festival in New York City on June 8.

Kotsur, who was born deaf, was able to succeed in a hearing world thanks to the outstanding example provided by his dauntless, devoted and faithful policeman father, Leonard. 

"My dad didn’t see me as deaf," Kotsur signs in the documentary, sitting alone in front of the camera between short vignettes of his life. 

"He saw me as capable. And that was what was so beautiful about my dad."

The documentary preaches the power of papas at a shocking period in American culture when "masculinity as a concept has been minimized and relegated to the realm of toxicity," Papola said.

Dads have been downsized during the assault in recent decades — with tragic results for families, children and society at large. 


About 1 in 4 American children — nearly 20 million — are raised in a home without a father or father figure, according to the U.S. Census Bureau

In 1960, that figure was just 1 in 10. 

Children without fathers, the same data shows, are more likely than children who have a father figure at home to suffer substance abuse, commit gun and other crimes and be abused or neglected at home. 

Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school or die in infancy — and four times more likely to suffer poverty. Girls without fathers are seven times more likely to become pregnant as teenagers.

"Why am I deaf?" a pre-adolescent Kotsur asked his dad in the documentary’s dramatized account of the actor’s life.

"Hey, no one knows," his dad signs back. "But God always has a reason. And he has a plan. But what his plan is, what is reason is, we don’t know. Throughout life, we try to figure out what the reason is." 

Papola, 45, was a creative executive star in New York City in his 20s and 30s for such major outlets as Spike, Nickelodeon and MTV.

But he said he found his purpose with the birth of his son, Matteo, who is now 18. 

Children are often portrayed in society today as a burden or an obstacle to self-fulfillment. 

Papola's experience defied that portrayal. 

He said he was "liberated" when he became a father, and that rather than stifle his creativity, fatherhood increased his willingness to take risks.

"Being a dad gave me the ability to walk away from the table," said Papola. "My identity was no longer wrapped up in doing my work. A dad is what I am and nobody can take that away from me."

He added, "It was like I now had psychic ‘f--- you’ money. I don’t need this deal. I got this curly-haired little boy at home and he loves me no matter what." 

Kotsur enjoyed the same devoted love from his cop-hero father. 

Leonard Kotsur rose to become chief of police in Mesa. 

But he was deeply involved in Troy's life at a time when society did little to aid people and families with developmental disabilities. 

His dad learned sign language, coached his son's baseball team, helped other kids learn the basics of signing and created a regional soccer team around Phoenix for Troy and other deaf kids. 


Among other unintended benefits, the soccer team gave the parents of deaf children a support network of other adults facing the same challenges.

Chief Kotsur was tragically paralyzed in an auto accident. He was rendered unable to move his arms — and therefore no longer able to communicate with his deaf son. 

Yet he still found ways to show his devotion to his family — to "man up," as Papola put it — remaining an inspirational figure to his deaf son Troy despite sudden limitations.

"My dad — he was the best signer in our family, but he was in a car accident, and he became paralyzed from the neck down, and he was no longer was able to sign," Kotsur said at the podium last year in his Oscar acceptance speech, at once triumphant and tearful.

"Dad, I learned so much from you," Kotsur signed. "I’ll always love you. You are my hero."

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