I used to love My Two Dads. To recap, or in case you (shocked face) never saw it: the show was about two single, straight Manhattan bachelors who were given joint custody of 12-year old Nicole after her mom/their joint ex-girlfriend died. Living with just one mom, I was fascinated by a show that centered around a girl’s relationship with her two fathers. Except I re-watched some of it recently, and it’s not about that at all.
I don’t have exact stats, but it seems like the vast majority of shows and movies about single and stay-at-home dads feature a father-daughter dynamic. This could lead to some interesting explorations of what it means to parent a child with a different gender to your own in our patriarchal society. But most often, it's a way to reinforce society's discomfort with young women's sexuality.
I’m reliably informed that the poster (right) grandly named L’Enfant but more commonly known as Man and Baby wasn’t a phenom in the United States like it was in the U.K. Here, it capitalized on the worldwide success of Three Men and a Baby and perfectly captured the sensitive man zeitgeist of the late ‘80s, becoming one of the country’s top-selling posters of all time.
Honestly, I never understood its popularity. Sure, the guy was hunky in that Levi’s ad beefcake way, but what was the baby adding? Even as a kid, I associated having children with stress and domesticity; I didn’t yet understand that a man caring for his child was considered a novelty.
Three Men and a Baby isn’t the first pop cultural example of a male primary caregiver, but it is arguably the most iconic and definitely one of the most successful. Released in 1987, it was the first Walt Disney Studios production to gross over $100 million domestically, taking $168 million worldwide and making men with kids a hot proposition. I loved the movie as a kid, but I dreaded re-watching it.
I imagined it to be rife with gender stereotyping, goofy gags demonstrating that men can’t cope with babies, and jokes about the how emasculating being a father can be. Turns out, I was way off. Three Men and a Baby is a lot of fun, and more progressive than you might expect.
As you might have noticed, there have been a lot of primary caregiver dads in pop culture (no pun intended) lately. In addition to populating long-running shows like Two and a Half Men, Castle, and Dexter, we’ve seen single dads on Raising Hope, Louie, and Suburgatory, plus Will Arnett as a sensitive stay-at-home-dad (SAHD) on Up All Night. This year, though, we’ve hit the father lode.