There are lots of different dads on Parenthood: single dads, married dads, almost-stepdads, mostly absent dads, and of course, stay-at-home dad Joel Graham (Sam Jaeger). Married to high-powered attorney Julia (Erika Christensen), he was a contractor until the recession hit. Since then, he’s been the primary caregiver for the couple’s daughter, Sydney, who is 5 when the series starts.
The show doesn’t stint on clichés associated with stay-at-home dads, from Julia feeling threatened by the flirty, make-everything-from scratch homemakers her husband now hangs around with to his father-in-law wondering why he doesn’t have a “real” job. Joel himself sometimes seems frustrated by his lack of a creative outlet or a social life not involving children. But for the most part, it’s a positive portrayal of a man who doesn’t resent his wife for having a job, or consider his own contribution to the family to be any less important. He’s probably more patient than Julia, steps up to the plate when it comes to both discipline and showing affection, and is a caring, competent father.
Brainy, outspoken, and with a fashion sense all her own, Blossom modeled confidence (and oh, so many hats) for a generation of teenage girls.
Along with unquashable self-esteem, she also possessed that mixed blessing, the “cool” dad. With his tight jeans, collar-grazing hair, hippie past, and career as a professional pianist, Nick Russo wasn’t your typical TV father. He thought of himself as laid back, and his kids could confide in him.
When Blossom and her bestie, Six, made a video for a school-related media contest about the importance of wearing condoms, and the principal refused to submit it on the grounds of decency, her dad and Six’s mom went into school with the girls to complain. Sure, the show could be preachy and heavy-handed at times, and became known (and parodied) for its very special episodes, but it was also extremely open about issues affecting teens in a way it's hard to imagine happening today.
The first time we see Bill Sanford in Coyote Ugly, his daughter Violet is cooking him egg whites and urging him to stick to his diet. The first time we see Mel Horowitz in Clueless, his daughter Cher is telling him to drink his orange juice and reminding him about his doctor's appointment that afternoon. At different times, both of these men act like overprotective fathers uncomfortable with their daughters’ sexuality, but that isn’t the primary dynamic in either of these stories.
No, these young women are daughter-wives, or maybe daughter-moms. Each young woman's relationship with her father is based around the idea that (releatively healthy, able-bodied) men need looking after by their daughters. Sure, Clueless is satirical, but so are 10 Things I Hate About You and Suburgatory, both of which feature girls of around the same age, and fathers who act like an actual parents.
A man gestating and giving birth to a baby! Can you even imagine? Well, yes. But 1994 was a different time. A time when men having babies was science fiction but Emma Thompson snogging Arnold Schwarzenegger was all too real. I couldn’t write about dads as primary caregivers without considering a movie in which a (cis) man literally has a baby. Junior isn’t the only example of this, but it’s probably the best known.
It starts when the FDA decides not to approve the development of a new drug, Expectane, that scientist Dr. Alex Hesse (Arnie) and OB/Gyn Dr. Larry Arbogast (Danny DeVito) have been working on. The medication reduces the risk of miscarriage in chimps, and the men want to trial it with women. But having failed with the FDA, Hesse’s university withdraws his lab funding and installs Dr. Diana Reddin (Emma Thompson) and her ovum cryogenics project in his place.
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.
The Netherlands may be known throughout the world for their quaint wooden shoes and their progressive drug and prostitution laws, but soon they might be known for something else: forced sterilization of women. You read me right, a draft bill currently before the Dutch parliament will, if passed, force women deemed to be "unfit mothers" to take oral contraception for a period of two years.
From the machismo of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone to Woody Allen’s nebbishes and the teenage fantasies of the Porky’s and American Pie franchises, manhood in all its flavors is a staple of the silver screen. Writer-director Wes Anderson is clearly fascinated by the subject too, yet over the course of his four films he has turned his lens on one specific aspect of masculinity: the balance between boyish and manly behavior necessary for the health of not only the individual male but also the culture he embodies.
A few reviewers have acknowledged this by mentioning, if only in passing, Anderson’s penchant for father-son or mentor-protégé relationships, and Anderson himself has confirmed it. In a 2001 Los Angeles Times interview, he credited director James L. Brooks—who helped him find the funding to turn a short film into his 1996 debut feature, Bottle Rocket—with inspiring his filmic exploration of mentors. Each of Anderson’s four features involves a relationship between a young man and either his father or a man who is old enough to be his father: wannabe thief Dignan and crime boss Mr. Henry in Bottle Rocket; 10th-grader Max Fischer and his industrialist friend/rival Mr. Blume in 1998’s Rushmore; favored child Richie Tenenbaum and his irresponsible father Royal in 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums; and airline pilot Ned Plimpton and the titular marine-life documentarian he suspects is his father in 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Those simplified labels, however, are inadequate to describe the mutual give-and-take of the pairs.