Has TV Finally Gotten Over Its Daddy Issues?
When did dads get so good?
Not to sound like a 29-year-old pensioner, but back in my day, dads were a laughing stock. Cartoonish, buffoonish, selfish layabouts, who contributed nothing to their children’s development, yet expected unconditional love and affection in return. Now, before my dad kicks off, I’m not talking about true fact IRL dads. I’m talking about my generation’s real paternal figures - the on-screen dads.
Homer Simpson throttling Bart for hours on end then wondering why he wasn’t a well adjusted young man. Macaulay Culkin’s dad in Home Alone, drinking himself into a Parisian eggnog-induced stupor, while his wife runs around, putting herself in danger of nervous breakdown, getting arrested by a pissed off airport agent, and finally kidnapping (hi, I’m the polka king, wanna ride in my sweaty man van?) just to protect her son (AKA the bare minimum). Heck, even Hal from Malcolm in the Middle routinely endangered his entire family (bats in the wardrobe, anyone?).
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Against this rich and varied background of fatherly f**k-ups, it’s easy to see how the men of yesteryear had the audacity of thinking that their Worlds Best Dad™ coffee cups were genuine ringing endorsements come Father’s Day, but now, as I rapidly approach my prime child-spawning years, I feel nothing but existential and moral panic, constantly questioning my potential paternal prowess and meditating on my various, unignorable inadequacies.
How the hell is this man so chill?
Recently, I binge watched season one of NBC’s incredible This Is Us. Telling the story of two generations of men and women who share the same birthday, the patriarch Jack is more than a little intimidating. Constantly learning how to be a better father, putting the needs of his family before his own (well, most of the time), hell he even built the house his kids live in. Apart from the whole construction-side thing, Jack sounds a lot like my own dad, so why do I find it so weird to see it on a small screen? To find out, I caught up with a few dads on Twitter dot com to ask if they’d noticed a change in media dads.
“I think more modern shows that actually take place in the Now do show dads as being a little more like equal counterparts to their spouses,” said Philip, one of the dads I chatted to.
“Take Rick from The Walking Dead. I can't think of anyone like him growing up that cared so much and had that passion.”
Sure, Rick might be facing a zombie apocalypse and unimaginably traumatic events, but he still takes the time to nurture his boy and play some catch (admittedly with a corpse's severed head, but still you get the idea). But seriously, what makes Rick such a great dad?
“I see more of my own real struggles in life represented more these days. People’s real complexities lie outside of their being parents or not, so it’s great to see more of an acknowledgment of struggling with personal issues, money, jobs, etc. Whereas Andy Griffith had what, a flat tire sometimes?”
Homer Simpson: the pinnacle of paternity personified.
Luke, a father who runs his own movie blog, also noticed a change.
“I think TV / film has got really savvy at showing men/women more equally.”
“You don't really get the ‘dur-dur’ Homer-esque dad anymore. You used to get it in adverts a lot - mum was smart but a housewife who wore the trousers, dad was a dipshit. But now it seems like the personalities have become a little homogenised, I think - mum and dad blend into one.”
The classic media parental dynamic goes a little something like this. Mum stays at home making the house all clean and tidy and makes dinner and breakfast and packed lunches and provides all emotional and psychological support. Dad is a distant money tree, constantly working or drinking beer to escape the stress of work, only momentarily leaving the sofa to either go to the pub, a ball game, or occasionally playing a half-arsed game of catch with his son (the only words he’ll ever say to his daughter are “you’re really going out in that?”
This might be because the writers of such shows genuinely had dads like that, or maybe they wanted to make their kids feel better about them not being there the whole time due to their busy show writing schedule, or whatever. Maybe they just wanted to play off absent fathers as a poorly thought through punchline, the mother’s disapproving face and grumble forming the catchphrase that would define the entire show for years to come. Whatever the reason, it’s great to see these stereotypes in the past, and fully formed dads like Jack, John Krasinski in A Quiet Place, who manages to provide, support, and protect his family against the most horrific environmental and traumatic backdrop, and even Kratos, former God Of War with no regard for human life, now the focal point of a single shot fishing trip with father-son demon-murdering excursions thrown in for good measure.
But not every show is on the same page.
“You still get a few throwbacks though. In Motherland, the kids’ dad was only ever seen calling in from stag dos or at football matches, hanging up at inconvenient moments to go have fun. A running joke but rankled me a lot.”
“I guess some relationships are like that - where you only see the mum because of when/how you socialise (it was called Motherland after all) and never the dad, but it was totally unrealistic - she was never angry with him, and there was no redemption or sympathy for the poor guy.”
From chatting to Luke and Philip, it seems like crap dads in modern media are more the exception that proves the rule - Good Dads are here to stay! Though, not everyone I talked to thought things had changed for the better, if at all.
"In Peppa Pig, Daddy Pig is seen as a buffoon, regularly insulted and belted by his kids, his wife, his friends," said Robin, a comedian, and LOL daddy. "It wouldn’t surprise me if the next series he’d joined Father’s For Justice."
"Adverts for cleaning and household tasks still target, for the most part, women. A woman is mopping the floor and looking delighted that it’s clean as shiiiiiiiit. The dad comes in from work and YES MATE HE’S LOOKING HORNY BECAUSE THAT FLOOR IS CLEAN AS."
"Viral videos of ‘Dad Hacks’ show the father’s doing COOL THINGS with their kids like letting them go on a swing with a rope attached to their hand and they swing their kid every time they take a sip! Oh! Haha! Haaaahahahah! Their Dad is a functioning alcoholic! Ho ho!"
"Basically - it has changed. Dads are portrayed as being more hands-on, but still not on equal footing as the Mum. Which is fair enough. Dad’s are still the lesser of the two parents in the media. And that’s probably fine? Because we don’t (speaking for myself now) push the kid out of our vaginas."
Kitt also didn't really buy into the new breed either. “I wouldn't say I've noticed any difference. Dad's are typically shown as inept, like tall children. I think it's a relatable thing. Kids see their dads either as these fun-loving clowns, always with a dad-joke or a shitty magic trick, or as totally absent and closed off. So there's really only two routes. Comical or cold.”
“A lot of guys aspire to be the funniest guy in the room, so that trope sticks about as something to 'grow into'. And the typical view of ladies, rightly or wrongly, is that they do all the work and the dads just goof off. So it plays into their own preconceived ideas there too.”
“I would love to see a more nurturing father. Less of the shotgun-wielding "keep your hands off my daughter. Like, the wholesome, trusting, bonding of the recent Queer Eye. a portrayal of a TV dad who was as understanding, patient and knowledgeable as the Fab 5 would be an amazing thing to see.”
Whether modern dads have changed or not, I think we can all agree that the world would be a lot better if more people were like the Fab Five.
What do you think? Have you noticed a change in TV / Movie dads recently? Are they becoming more believable, or are they still the loltastic layabouts they always were? Let us know on Twitter.