How are dads portrayed in the media? Jim Higley looks at the trailer for “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and doesn’t know quite what to expect.
As a bald guy, I learned – a long time ago – the importance of being able to laugh at myself. It’s always better to beat people to the punch. So when it’s a chilly, windy Chicago day, I’m always prepared for someone volleying me a joke about how cold my dome must be. “Mr. Clean” look-a-like jokes? Sure, toss them my way. Smooth-as-a-baby’s butt? Got it. Folks, I’ll not only smile at your “you-think-you’re-funny-jokes”, I’ll outdo you with mine.
I may be bald. But I still have a slick sense of humor.
Which leads me to pause at the recent rise of a lot of dad voices over how their parenting role has been portrayed in the media. I was one of the first to toss out one of the challenging cries to Huggies over their recent “Dad Test” campaign where they portrayed fathers – at least in one of their commercials – as stereotypical doofuses. You know, Homer Simpson clueless morons whose fathering skills are about as developed as those of cavemen. (And a side note: I don’t consider my initial comments about the Huggies ad as the voice of a whiney dad who couldn’t take a joke. I just felt they missed the mark in their attempt to feature dads. And guess what? Huggies did a lot of listening and responding to plenty of dads who had thoughts on the matter. As far as I’m concerned, the Huggies dirty diaper debacle is now in the proverbial diaper genie.)
There’s something different to talk about, however.
During the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed a huge range of comments on the subject of how dads are portrayed in media. I’ve heard plenty of guys speak up about their frustration and concern. And they don’t seem like cry-babies to me. They’re not organizing sit-ins or burning jock straps. They’re saying, “Please, just show us for who we are!”
That seems reasonable to me.
On the other hand, I’ve heard plenty of guys (and women) speak up and say, “Quit being a baby! It’s a joke! Grow up!” And to some extent (probably thanks to my follicly challenged head experiences), I understand that, too. Laughing’s great.
So what’s going on?
Why has this touched off such a storm of emotions?
Is part of it that there are few examples of positive fathering in media? Is that the problem?
If there were more positive “dad” images out there – would we be more able to either laugh (or just ignore) what many feel is stupid stereotypes?
I’m not seeing the conversation stopping anytime in the near future. Last night at the movies, I saw a trailer for a soon-to-be released movie, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” It’s certainly loaded with a ton of A-List actors who saw something in the script. I mean – come on – Jennifer Lopez, Dennis Quaid, Cameron Diaz, Chris Rock, Chace Crawford and Elizabeth Banks aren’t a bunch of rookies. Actually, the IMBd site for this makes the movie look downright dandy:
A look at love through the eyes of five interconnected couples experiencing the thrills and surprises of having a baby, and ultimately coming to understand the universal truth that no matter what you plan for, life doesn’t always deliver what’s expected.
Unfortunately, for me, the trailer didn’t deliver what I expected, either.
Looks like a lot of good old-fashioned slaps at dads. But it looks like they also take their shots at moms, as well.
Which brings me to my question:
Why is it so hard – for some of us (myself included) – to see the humor in these slapstick dad portrayals?
I recently heard Shawn Bean, editor of Parenting Magazine, speak at the Dad 2.0 Summit. Sean’s a pretty smart guy. And he mentioned that (and I paraphrase) “…something changes for a lot of guys when they become a dad. It changes how they see things. They become very passionate.”
I tend to agree with Shawn. You can make fun of my baldness, my lack of athletic skills or how I tend to burn burgers on a grill. You can tell me my driving sucks, that I have bad breath or take on any number of my easy-target traits. I can deal with losing a job, having my retirement savings dwindle down to nothing and feel scorned by a loved one. Put me face-to-face with any of those things and you’ll see that I have extremely thick skin. And a fine sense of humor.
But when you even remotely suggest that my fathering and parenting skills are limited, I take offense. Great offense. I’m not going to cry about it. But it bugs me. My kids are a central theme of who I am as a man and I’m quite proud of the fathering and parenting I give them. And sure, as a dad, there are plenty of funny experiences. They’re around us 24/7. I laugh and write about it daily.
But it seems there’s some fine line – at least for many of us – that make the humor fail.
What are your thoughts?
When is it funny? And when is it not?