I was walking past the girls room the other day, and heard them playing dolls. One said, ‘This one will be the mister mom’. I almost dropped my rubber gloves and feather duster.
I know. It’s real cute. Guy opens a diaper, calms a sick tummy, or gets mushy peas into, instead of onto, a toddler, and the six o’clock news anchors fall over themselves cooing about ‘Mister Mom’. Cue the laugh track.
Mister Mom. Women hear it and smile knowingly. Real men take one step away from each other and chuckle, manly. He’s a joke. Mister Mom.
Mister Mom is the slack jaw guy who can’t figure out pasta sauce for dinner. Who uses the smoke alarm for a kitchen timer. The doofus helplessly holding his infant boy turned pee fountain. The ‘here, you take the crying baby, you’re a woman’ guy, who then wipes his hands on his faded football jersey like he’s afraid he’ll catch something. The man whipped by life or love of a woman into domestic submission. He’s the rough male forced to fill in for a real mom, out of his nature and out of his depth, trying to ape what real moms do, in his silly, clumsy way.
He’s not someone you’ll ever meet, however. You won’t find that guy in your neighborhood, or any neighborhood, unless you’re watching the flat screen. Because Mister Mom is pure fiction, a Hollywood cartoon, a figment toasted by ad men everywhere.
Ever wonder where he came from?
If you look back at macho 50’s and 60’s TV – black and white glory – you won’t find him. Just the opposite. There’s ‘Sky King’, a spy chasing pilot raising a couple of kids himself. And ‘My Three Sons’, being raised by a pipe smoking engineer and tough old male housekeeper. And, ‘The Rifleman’, an iron-spined solo frontiersman running a homestead in the West, standing up to bullies, bringing up a son. Up on the Ponderosa, Ben Cartwright mans the house in ‘Bonanza’. Danny Thomas, in ‘Make Room for Daddy’, takes charge of the home and kids for a stretch after his TV wife dies. Chief Warden Rick chases criminals in Coral Key Florida while raising two sons with some help from Flipper, a dolphin. By the 1970’s we find Fred Sanford, who raised son Lamont by himself, and Manhattan widower Phillip Drummond bringing up three youngsters in ‘Diff’rent Strokes’.
Throw in a dozen or so movies with single fathers – think Atticus Finch of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ – and there’s plenty of testosterone-at-home culture. And every single one of them was just called, ‘dad’. With respect.
It wasn’t until the 70’s that dads at home caught some disrespect. First they were laughed about as ‘househusbands’, and with 1983’s movie release of “Mr. Mom”, that term took over. Suddenly, the notion was, men who fell out of their ‘traditional’ male roles as breadwinners, were morphing into female roles, and being feminized in the process.
And in my opinion, that’s where the Mister Mom stereotype comes from. From the disrespect many have for feminists, and feminism, and men who didn’t fear it. As women moved out, and men moved in, suddenly the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s man at home, a strong highly capable male raising kids, turned in the public imagination into a wimpy incompetent pretending to be a mother.
The sad fact is, that’s the image that’s stuck today, and frequently repeated in major newspapers, magazines and television coverage.
What difference does all this make? I’m not just being cranky. It doesn’t dent my ego to help raise my children or man the kitchen. And there’s a legion of dad bloggers out there now proving the same point.
But, how many other men in this country, and around the world, avoid taking more time with their children during daylight hours, or contributing to their home life, because of that stigma? How many children grow up thinking that men can’t be men and raise them at the same time? How many women work double shifts, out and then home, to make up for it?
It’s time to bury Mister Mom.
It’s time to recognize that a man at home isn’t less a man. He’s not a surrogate mother. He’s a father. Dad, trying to be the best dad he can be. Nothing more, nothing less.