Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The End of the Useless Dad?

Okay, before we go on, I need you to watch this video real fast...



Done? Okay.

Media has a mixed history with fatherhood, you ever noticed that?

It tends to be the case in most media, especially the mainstream sitcoms of the 80's and 90's. Dads are usually overweight, out of touch with their children, just wanting to go home and sit in their favorite recliner and have a beer. Usually when referring to their children they're hesitant at best and completely useless at worst, needing the mother to swoop in and explain to the child that "Father means well" and to father "at least you tried".

It's even worse when we hit Disney. Going through Disney's filmography we notice a disturbing trend. Usually the father is perfect but dead (Mufasa, Cinderella's father, Snow White's father), wise but completely out of touch with their children (Chief Powatan, Fa Zhou, King Triton), or what I think is worst, tiny useless man-children (the Sultan, Morise, and Professor Porter). It's hard to find a father who starts and ends the story in a good place with regards to their children in Disney.

Fictional films I feel are the worst culprit of all, replacing the man-children in the Disney formula with turned evil, the best example of course being Ol' Shiny Head, Darth Vader. Most of the time in film the fathers aren't even mentioned unless they've turned evil or the child is avenging their deaths for one reason or another.

So why do fathers get so much grief?

Really sad to say but that's just what people can relate to most. I want you to try something: Picture all the divorced people you've ever met and tell me how many fathers were granted full-time custody of their kids. I bet that number is pretty low. Now I want you to go through all the married couples you know where the mother goes out to work and the father stays home and takes care of the children. I bet that number is even lower yet.

What we have here is that children get to see their fathers as tired from a long day at work and not wanting to interact, or father barely if present in their lives at all due to the complications of divorce. Writers, who grew up in the same environments we all did, take these life experiences and translate them into their writing, so thus we get a majority of fathers who are absent from their children's lives, or who must be rebelled against or defeated entirely.

This is why I like the video.

I am going to say that not ALL fictional dads are hopeless. In recent years positive father role models have been popping up in fiction. They're small and kept mostly in the background but they exist.

Sitcoms have given us Kurt's father from Glee (Look I don't watch this show that much). His son is gay, and instead of having to do an episode where the homophobic dad learns a lesson, the dad already knows and just wants his son to be happy. He even goes as far as to defend his son against a boy who in some TV shows would've probably been the man's son, an athletic tall straight young man. This is a father who loves his son, not in spite of or because of any socio-cultural factors, but because Kurt's his son.

I can't talk about fathers without bringing up Legend of Korra's Tenzin, the son of Aang. Tenzin has four beautiful children, three of them airbenders, and he not only loves but trusts them implicitly. He trusts them to teach the new airbenders that cropped up this last season. He spends time with his children, including training them in the Air Nomad ways and teaching his son how to train flying lemurs. Tenzin is the son of a man we all knew would make a great father, and has passed that love down to his children.

Disney's even got a good father, in the form of Pacha from Emperor's New Groove. Pacha is fighting tooth and nail to defend his home, not because it's his or because of some property law, but because his family lives there. We sadly don't see much of him with his kids, but what we do see are kids excited to see him and he's just as happy to hear about their days. Plus any family who can defeat an evil sorceress without powers and a bun in the oven has to have a good dad in the mix somewhere.

Last but not least is film. It took me some time to find a father who didn't have to go through a story arc to be a good dad but I found one, though sadly it cracks my rule because the guy ends up dead: Thomas Wayne from Batman Begins. Thomas doesn't judge his son for falling, but teaches him to get back up. He also doesn't judge or shame his son for his fears, but instead shows him compassion. In all the stories written about Batman we almost never get as clear of a glimpse at the Waynes before they die as we do in Batman Begins, and what we do get finally gives us what we need to understand Bruce. He didn't just lose his father, Bruce Wayne lost his dad.

So I am very excited for this Cheerio's commercial, if for nothing else than because it gives us a celebration of fatherhood, and dads everywhere.

-JOE




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