Deadbeats, Duds and Doofusses: Dads in the Media

These are tough times to be an American dad, and indeed, an American man. The recession, or "mancession," as it's been called, hit men harder than women; male unemployment was 8.9 percent compared to 8 percent for women in May. Adding insult to injury, leftwing journalists have sniggered about the plight of the "beached white male." In 2010, women became the majority in the work force for the first time in history. More women receive college degrees than men do.

Culturally, in article after magazine article, on TV and in films, fathers and men in general are portrayed as hapless bumblers at best, abusive deadbeats at worst.

Sure, dads are useful as sperm donors as the media proudly tells us of "career women" who "can have it all" including a baby without a husband. They're useful as ATMs, too even some more practical feminists will admit. But to the Washington Post, they're blustering know-it-alls, in detergent ads they're prudish kill-joys, and household annoyances on a par with muddy dogs. Googling the phrase "Who needs men?" draws 355,000 results, including big stars crowing about artificial insemination. The rise of "gay chic" and the relentless smudging of traditional gender lines have devalued manliness, even as male politicians, entertainers and star athletes highlight the less-than-admirable male traits in scandals.

According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, 24 million American children - one in three - live in homes without their biological fathers. To many on the left, this is a sign of female empowerment. The stigma has been removed from single motherhood. Women are more independent now, more willing and able to control their own destinies (including reproduction) without need of a man. The character of "Murphy Brown" blazed that trail on TV in the early 1990s. The character of Dr. Lisa Cuddy ratified it on "House M.D." by adopting a baby in 2009.

"Who needs men?" indeed.

The answer is, "Everyone." But don't look to the media for that truth. Instead, look for liberal journalists to ponder "The End of Men" and "Why We Need to Reimagine Masculinity." Look for sitcoms and movies to normalize the absence of fathers. If you do see them, don't be surprised if they're loutish bachelors like Charlie Sheen and buffoonish dads like Homer Simpson. If you want to see men in a positive light, look for them changing diapers, listening sympathetically - in short, filling traditionally female roles.

 

Acceptable Prejudice

The belittling of men isn't a racial issue, but an April cover story in Newsweek detailed with special glee the plight of "BWMs: Beached White Males." Titled "Dead Suit Walking," the article by Rick Martin and Tony Dokoupil told of the "Great Humbling," the recession has brought to white breadwinners.

"It might be tempting to snark at these former fat cats suffering lean times. But when Beached White Males suffer, so do their wives and children," the authors wrote. "Lives, marriages, and futures are at stake. Examining who these guys are, and what washed them up, is not an exercise in schadenfreude. It's a cautionary tale."

Despite that assurance, Martin and Dokoupil's contemptuous amusement ran throughout an article strewn with references to oxford shirts, Viagra and BMWs. To a couple of liberal journalists, it's indeed "tempting to snark" at people losing their jobs, because those people were white men. And the German word schadenfreude is defined as "Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others." So these men who have worked hard providing for their families are "others."

Even more sympathetic commentary on the changing place of men in society asserts that men have a problem. In "Where Have the Good Men Gone?" in the Wall Street Journal in February, Kay S. Hymowitz wrote of the rise of the "pre-adult" (a post-college, pre-marriage state in which young professionals put off the responsibilities and characteristics of adulthood; "It doesn't bring out the best in men," Hymowitz said.)

Hymowitz quoted comedian Julie Klausner saying of the 20-something men she'd dated, "They are more like the kids we babysat than the dads who drove us home." Hymowitz observed that economic and social trends are setting modern young men up to be perpetual frat boys:

It's been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles-fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity-are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.

Back to Newsweek where, in another article, Dokoupil and Andrew Romano suggested "reimagining masculinity." What men need, they wrote, is a "New Macho."

Men shouldn't "stick to some musty script of masculinity ... For starters, it encourages them to confront new challenges the same way they dealt with earlier upheavals: by blaming women, retreating into the woods, or burying their anxieties beneath machismo." Really, is that how men dealt with upheavals? The fall of Rome? World War I? The Great Depression?

If that's how Dokoupil and Romano believe men dealt with unsettling events, you can be sure their "New Macho" is heavy on the new. Not so much on the macho. Sure enough, men "need to embrace girly jobs and dirty diapers."

As with most liberal solutions, the example lies in enlightened Scandinavia, where "smart public policy" has begun re-engineering the nuclear family. "In 1995, Sweden passed a simple but revolutionary law: couples would lose one month of leave unless the father was the one who took it," the authors explained. "Now more than 80 percent of Swedish fathers take four months off for the birth of a new child, up from 4 percent a decade ago." "Simply put, men are expected to work less and father more."

But really, it's not so much fathering as mothering.

"Swedish dads of my generation and younger have been raised to feel competent at child-rearing," writes Slate's Nathan Hegedus, an American who experienced the system firsthand. "They simply expect to do it, just as their wives and partners expect it of them." If a man refuses time at home with the kids, he faces questions from friends, family, and, yes, other guys. Policy changes produced personal changes-and then, slowly but surely, society changed as well.

That's awfully cooperative of those Swedes, isn't it? It's worth wondering if the state of American manhood has degenerated to the point where men (and women) outside Newsweek would stand for bureaucrats reaching into their relationships and redefining their manliness for them.

 

Daddy Dumbest

Government wouldn't be the first to redefine manliness and men. Hollywood's been too happy to do that in the last few decades. Last year, Jennifer Aniston, plugging a movie in which she played a single woman who decided to have a baby without a father, told reporters that a family is whatever she wants it to be.

"Women are realizing more and more that you don't have to settle, they don't have to fiddle with a man to have that child," she said. "Love is love and family is what is around you and who is in your immediate sphere."

And considering that Aniston spends all her time in Hollywood, it isn't surprising she feels that way. As has now been irrefutably documented by Ben Shapiro, Hollywood lefties aren't shy about pushing their liberal social and political agenda through their products. When Aniston made the statement, her movie "The Switch" was joined by "The Back Up Plan," in portraying women deciding to parent without men. Meanwhile, "Parenthood," "Lost," "Cougar Town," and "The New Adventures of Old Christine," were among the TV shows celebrating single parenthood.

When dads do appear in popular culture, they're a far cry from "Father Knows Best" or "Leave it to Beaver." Homer Simpson, Al Bundy, "American Dad!'s" Stan Smith and the father on the despicable "Family Guy" are just the most extreme examples. Since "All in the Family's" Archie Bunker - a bigoted, undereducated and selfish curmudgeon, it's been fashionable to caricature TV dads.

Back in 2005, The New York Times' John Tierney wondered "Where did we fathers go wrong?"

We spend twice as much time with our kids as we did two decades ago, but on television we're oblivious ("Jimmy Neutron"), troubled ("The Sopranos"), deranged ("Malcolm in the Middle") and generally incompetent ("Everybody Loves Raymond"). Even if Dad has a good job, like the star of "Home Improvement," at home he's forever making messes that must be straightened out by Mom.

Before Charlie Sheen's implosion earlier this year, "Two and a Half Men" was a case study in what Hollywood thinks of men - or at least how it wants to portray men. The son (Angus Jones) is simultaneously shown two unappealing role models: his decent but ineffectual father (John Cryer) or his irresponsible, hedonistic uncle (Sheen).

In TV ads, Dad is often a foil to help sell cleaning products to women and fast food to children. "Kids, pets, teens and husbands - ever wonder how you can keep your house clean? Call today about our $99 special," ran a recent Stanley Steemer ad.

More egregious was one of MasterCard's successful "priceless" series of ads, featuring a young boy shadowing his father, saving the lout from committing a series of environmental atrocities. When Dad leaves the water running as he brushes his teeth, Junior is on hand. "Water glass," says the (child's) voice over, "five dollars." Cut to a hardware store where Dopey Dad is looking for light bulbs. Luckily, his progeny knows enough to point him to the acceptable ones. "Energy saving bulb: four dollars." Now at the grocery store checkout, Lil' Billy thinks quickly to save Dad from the horror of plastic bags. "Reusable bag: two dollars." And the payoff: "Helping your dad become a better man: priceless."

So according to MasterCard, this father who has clothed, fed and comfortably housed his son, who is spending time with the child, and who isn't getting justifiably angry at being scolded by a 6-year-old, isn't as good a man as he should be because he's environmentally ignorant. Dads just can't catch a break.


Papa Was a Rolling Stone

Popular culture and elite opinion diminish fatherhood at society's peril. Last year, a Centers for Disease Control survey found that 64 percent of male teenagers thought it "okay for an unmarried female to have a child." In that light, the 24 million fatherless children figure makes sense.

Unfortunately, most single women raising children aren't affluent professionals like Ms. Brown or Dr. Cuddy. The National Fatherhood Initiative's website lists some troubling statistics. Kids without fathers are five times more likely to be poor and 43 percent of unmarried mothers received food stamps in the year before their baby was born. Twenty-one percent got a housing subsidy. In 2002, 39 percent of jail inmates had lived in "mother-only households." Fatherless kids are twice as likely to drop out of school. Kids without involved fathers statistically try drugs and alcohol and engage in sexual activity at a younger age than their peers.

Furthermore, without fathers, children - both boys and girls - lack an example of responsible manhood. Boys come to believe there is no role for men inside the family, and girls don't learn what kind of behavior is acceptable from the men in their lives.

These are truths liberals in the media ignore, largely out of political correctness. Because African-Americans are disproportionately affected by absentee fathers, and because it feminism forbids questioning the ability of women to single-handedly raise strong families, they ignore the dad vacuum and instead attack the idea of traditional fatherhood and the men who lived it.

Matthew Philbin
Matthew Philbin
Matt Philbin is Managing Editor of MRC Culture