Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fatherhood and Television

As some of you know, I'm not a father, but I play one in real life.  I barged in on the Kitten and her Kittens nearing four years ago, and life on this once peaceful farm has never been the same.  While I'm not the Kittens' father, I occasionally am called upon to fill father-like roles and responsibilities.  I have had very mixed results, but plug away nonetheless.

As I am without the proper programming that occurs when one gazes upon a newborn of their own line (I imagine there's some kind of RF transmission of wisdom/experience/knowledge that occurs), I rely of course, on my own experiences to help shape my image of what a father ought to be.  These influences fall into two general categories--1) the father images I have observed closely within my family--namely, Dear Old Dad and my more fecund brothers and 2) images of fatherhood that I saw growing up on television.  In both cases, the image of father I conjure is the following:  loving, supportive, consistent, smart, no-nonsense, and positive.  I got this from Dad, I see it in my brothers, and Mike Brady drove it home in spades.

So I come to my role as sorta-step-dad with an image of what "fathering" ought to look like.  It is however, apparently an outmoded, paternalistic, and harmful way of doing the job.  How do I know this?  Well, I watch TV with the Kittens.

The portrayals of fathers on what passes for kids television (you pick the channel) is ridiculous.  They are bumbling, they are milquetoast, they are consistently less intelligent and savvy than their children, and they are generally speaking, potted plants in homes driven primarily by strong-willed, generally favorably portrayed mothers.  It isn't only Dads who come in for this treatment--it is virtually any male authority figure, from the cop on the beat, to the teachers and principals to the coaches.  Everywhere you look, modern males are weak, dumb, and maladroit.  Is it any wonder that "MadMen" is as popular as it is?  There, the modern male can watch his grandfather actually BEING a man, while HIS OWN existence--portrayed several channels away on Disney--resembles some kind of Opera Buffa.
One Popular Image of Modern Fatherhood

I looked for some background on this subject before writing, and came up with this little article in Forbes.  Its one huge failure is in that it treats only with prime-time portrayals of Dads.  I don't know about you, but the 9 and 11 year-old inhabiting this house are in bed when those shows come on.  Their TV viewing consists of what is on a few "family" or "kid" oriented channels after school and a bit after dinner.  Here my friends, is the rub.  Kids today are forming at least part of their view of fatherhood ( and male adulthood for that matter) by watching the buffoons who pass for adults on shows like "The Suite Life on Deck", "The Wizards of Waverly Place", "Hannah Montana" and "Sonny with a Chance".  Watch these shows some time, folks.  And you'll come away with a sense that 1) every young girl in America is or should be a singer 2) every kid in America routinely talks back to adults 3) most adults are idiots who bumble through life waiting for the next instance of brilliant intervention by a "wise-beyond-her-years" teenager and 4) "because I said so", "because I'm the parent" and "because I'm your father" have become phrases of intense parody at best, or at worst open invitations for extended debate--if used at all.

So I ask friends, am I simply over-sensitive?  Have I "jumped the shark" on this one and allowed my own insecurities to cloud my judgment, seeing offense to fathers everywhere where little is offered and none should be taken?  Or am I on to something?


"The Hammer" said...

This is just a facet of the war on males in general. There was a good book about 10 years ago "The War Against Boys" which chronicles the evolution of the attack.

I guess gays and women and minorities don't need us anymore, unless they want to tax our incomes or send us to war. They tell us we're over populated, so we stop having babies and then they invite a neighboring country's underclass to move in. They tell us we're bigoted and we should get in the back of the line because the only reason we're in front is because of bigotry and privilege. They codify discrimination and call it justice. But even with all that they can't keep us down because nothing beats a hungry white guy with a set of brains and a set of balls.

JRBA said...

First, I must say, CW, that the phrase "jumped the shark" is one my favorite, favorite descriptors. Well done.

Fully in agreement on your observation of fathers and men in general. A career focused on the development of college men has rendered me petrified at the prospect of successfully raising my son. The decks are increasingly stacked against boys. The maturity at which some (not all) are arriving at college...frightening.

"Boys Adrift" is another eye-opening read.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

JRBA--stay with it. I was in the "development of young men" business too if you remember, and there are enough victories to keep one hopeful.

Anonymous said...

No more than women should have been offended at the role of mother in older tv shows, as just the clueless housewife whose accessories included aprons. I don't think many mothers now emulated June Cleaver.

Treat children with respect as children and you'll have similar adults. Kids model what they see at home moreso that what they see on tv.

BigFred said...

My 9 and 7 year old watch those shows, and I have not had too much trouble, and while when I was younger I liked the sassy girl, these days when I get talked back to, or they get sassy I fill up a black calf length dress sock with a cup full of nickles, and wail on them until I break a sweat, and all is right in the world. You should try it sometime.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

Anon--are you truly trying to tell me that the role mothers were portrayed as carrying out in the 50's is analogous to the role men are now portrayed as carrying out? Perhaps it is you who has jumped the shark.

"Treat children with respect" is a loaded statement. Respect based on what? Their humanity? Absolutely. Their wisdom and sagacity? Uh, no. Their broad and varied experiences? Uh no.

Anonymous said...

I will touch this from a different angle -- the media being very comfortable treating the white male as the bumbling idiot, while treating all other demographics as hip, savvy, competent, wise and sage.

While you are watching the football games this weekend, I challenge you to find a commercial out there that doesn't make the while male the the "foil" or "object of ridicule" in the commercial (there is only two recent examples -- the cell phone provider commercial where the black guy's lunch invite to the taco party is delayed, and the "momma's boy" Miller Lite commercial. In those cases, black guys are made to look foolish).

This came to my attention when watching the publicly funded
DUI commercials. You know the ones -- where the interior of the vehicle is filled with beer, wine, or martinis and the officer says, "Excuse me sir, have you been drinking?" You see the beer-drinking redneck white guy in the pickup truck, the beer-drinking white guy on the motorcycle, and the wine- and martini-drinking white guys in the sedan and sports car. Where is the Courvoisier-drinking black guy in the Escalade?

Marketing folks won't touch it, just as they won't in any other commercial.

Doc Milnamo said...

CW: As you know, the tiny bundles of joy arrive sans a Howto Manual (or these days a wiki!). You follow your heart, your head and memories of Dear Ol' Dad and friends and siblings who have children. You're on the right track.

"The Hammer" said...

I've got a letter for everything. Here's one right on point. A golden Oldie.

How Girls Got an Edge
New & Observer
Editorial / Opinion A22

Published: September1, 2007
Regarding the Aug. 29 letter "Men and maturity" I feel compelled to respond to the mother of three sons who said their "lack of personal responsibility, accountability and time management" is responsible for the sorry state of young men today. In other words it's their own fault.

I suggest it's the victimhood status conferred on girls as exemplified by the Gender Equity in Education Act of 1994 that resulted in a whole gamut of programs, grants and set-asides for women. Back then girls were portrayed (falsely as it turned out) as shortchanged by an education establishment unsympathetic to their needs, trapped in a system built for males by males.

Inevitably this view would result in boys being positioned as unfairly privileged and deserving of special attention to reorient them to the new realities of gender equality (i.e. brought down a peg or two).

Today, women lead in just about every area apart from athletics, and that's under constant attack. We have raised nearly a generation of boys with too many having low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, depression and social withdrawal; a bunch of web-surfing, xBox playing losers living in their parents' basement.

But who cares? It's their own fault.

The Hammer

Anonymous said...

Part one

I missed this while recovering from an illness this weekend, but feel compelled to comment.

Fear not CW, your assessment of fathering is dead on, and has not changed in spite of the media's attempts to make us look like a collection of incapable intellectual Al Bundy's.

While my children are now transitioning to young adulthood, they still seek my advice in matters where experience and wisdom are of great importance.

My role as a father has always been to provide them with unconditional love, moral fiber, life skills and the opportunity to become successful and prosperous young adults.

Life in our home was enormously fun. Anything was possible. However, there were ground rules, and very strict expectations of behavior that were adhered to unquestioningly. We had very few rules. As long as they were not broken, there was no need for additional rules. For example, my daughter never had a curfew. She always kept us abreast of where she was, what time she would be home, and returned at a reasonable time. No need for a curfew. Screw that up like my son did and you have a curfew.

Our children were required to be well behaved, perform well in school, be respectful and treat people well, and make some small level of contribution to the maintenance of our home and family. These rules were followed. If they were not followed, there were real consequences.

Most importantly, my wife and I were a united front. There was never, ever any arguing over anything in front of our children. We ate dinner together. There were no televisions in our children’s bedrooms. No meant no, not maybe. There was no changing our decision, whining or complaining resulted in things generally being worse off than before the whining and complaining. I only gave explanations when I felt it was warranted. I had no desire to debate with an eight year old. Because I said so, is sufficient. Children learn quickly and at a very young age that they can play their parents like a Stradivarius. My children almost always followed the rules. They had their moments, but by and large we all had a very clear understanding of what our expectations of each other were.

Because of that, anything and everything was possible in our home. We had water gun fights in the kitchen, we bounced on the beds, took baths in the hot tub, built forts in the living room, had ice cream for breakfast, lobbed stuffed animals into the ceiling fans. We went fishing, biking, sledding and hiking. We got dirty, we built bicycles. We truly lived.

My children went everywhere with us. They were very well behaved in restaurants, because not behaving would result in being left home. When we went away on vacation and left them both home as teens, they knew that if they got in trouble, the next time they'd have to go stay with grand mom instead of having the house to themselves.

Anonymous said...

Part two

My children had traditional male and female role models that no amount of idiot television could possibly overcome. They are very close with my wife. There are things that they are open about with her that they would never discuss with me. I admire her for that, but that is not my role.

With me they debate politics and religion and business and philosophy. My children are both more liberal, and more religious than I am. I taught them how to change the oil in their cars and the importance of establishing good credit. My daughter and I rebuilt the air cooled flat four in a 1970 VW.

I coached softball, baseball, soccer and hockey. I have attended hundreds of track meets, field hockey games and equestrian events. I've spent more time in barns than the Budweiser Clydesdales. I can tack a horse and know the difference between dressage and hunt seat. My daughter and I have been to at least one hockey game a year since she was five years old. My son and I piled on the winter weather gear and trapsed off to watch the Eagles together nearly every weekend going back to Vet stadium. I went to grade school and baked bread, and did career day, and brought the dog to school and chaperoned field trips and did parent teacher conferences. I taught them how to properly tap a beer and the difference between and single malt and a blend. I tought them to body surf and skimboard. I took them snorkeling in the Keys, played miniature golf in Myrtle Beach, I took them to Ireland and stood with them on the Cliffs of Moher.

That is what fathers do.

There is no advertiser, or screen writer, or television producer director or actor that will change that. That is what my children know of what a father does.

I have never been particularly vocal about how I've raised my children. This is the first time I have ever said or written anything this long or detailed. I don't know that there is a right way to raise kids, but I have been asked often.

As a father, you mean more to your children than most men realize. 1000 hours of garbage television cannot reduce the image that a child has of even the most mediocre father. My father set the bar low. I've never forgotten that. I vowed to be better. I've done everything I can, been involved in every way possible, and now I am enjoying watching them become wonderful young adults. I have two amazing children; it's been a fun ride. There is no media fabricated imagery that will ever make me or my children think differently.

You are a good man CW, you will be fine.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

Anon--thanks for the great narrative. I enjoyed reading it, and I hope that if I know you in person, I have some sense of what a great role model you were.

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