By: Tam-Nguyen Nguyen
When I started this final project, I knew the topic of “how fathers are being portrayed” by the media was not on my identity brainstorming list in the workshop section. However, one of the readings for week 2, “The Evolution of Doltish Dad “written by Hanna Robin gave me the inspiration to make this topic one of my proposals. It all started at the end of her article when she got surprised by “the sight of a stay-at-home dad making hand-print T-shirts for the teachers in [her] preschool” (Robin 2012). This illustration raises a question of what it actually means a stay-at-home or a single dad.
In the 90s, the figure of dads has been portrayed as doltish widely for entertainment purposes in the media, especially in films and television shows. When it comes to housework and children in films and TV shows, dads are very clumsy, clunk, and often don’t know what they are doing. In which case, their core comedy comes from the doltishness of dads, and it’s one of the elements holding the successful factor of a film or a TV shows. The trend of doltish dads has been really successful in term of entertainment and has brought laughter to audiences around the world. However, after fighting for their rights, moms have been able to work hard for what they desire to be in the outside world; on the other hand, dads have also realized that it’s a necessity for them to learn how to help their partners care for the house and children. The learning of these important tasks requires hard work and patience. As a result, the media has misrepresented the role of dad to its audiences.
The film, Mrs. Doubtfire, directed by Chris Columbus is a good example for how the doltish dad figure is being used to create funny moments. The story of the film revolves around the separation of a couple, Daniel Hillard portrayed by Robin Williams and Miranda Hillard portrayed by Sally Field. Because of his love for his children, Daniel decides to disguise himself as a nanny and plans to get hired by his ex-wife in order to be close to them. Throughout the film, the comedy revolves around scenes involving Daniel being clumsy and making silly mistakes while trying to fulfill his role as nanny. One of the funniest scenes in the film is when Daniel tries to prepare food for the family while his ex-wife is at work. The scene contains a series of confusing and silly mistakes made by him in the kitchen, and it turns out be a disaster; in the end, he cheats by ordering take out. As an audience, we know under the disguised nanny is a dad, and here, the doltish dad figure has been used for entertainment purposes.
Behind the laughter that Mrs. Doubtfire brings to the table, critics point out the underline meaning of the film. In the Mrs. Doubtfire’s review on http://www.commonsensemedia.org, critics address “serious issue such as the perception that Daniel is a bad father because he doesn’t make a lot of money” (Mrs. Doubtfire 2003). Throughout the film, Daniel’s voice does not have much value in the society that he lives in, and his ideas are not taken seriously. On the other hand, we have other opposite male figure, Stu, who has the potential to become his ex-wife’s new husband. Stu’s character is portrayed align with what our society considers a successful man, wealthy, out-going, and intelligent. Throughout the film, Columbus compares in contrast the two male role models through the view of our society. Looking at the dad role in the family, we have Daniel, who loves and wants to bring happiness to his kids, but he is not so effective at earning money, and thus, he is portrayed as doltish and clumsy. Besides, we also have Stu, a person who possesses all of our social expectation of what a successful man should be. Even though Daniel is able to be with his kids more, which is his desire, we, the audience, still main an image of Daniel as being doltish.
On the other hand, the article, “The Challenge of Becoming a Single Father” written by Dave Taylor depict very different to the doltish dad figure portrayed by the media. Being a single father is a journey that once taken, a man will experience dramatic changes in his life; he will have to learn about things that he would never consider learning before, and he will have to assume both mom and dad role. Taylor’s journey started after many unsuccessful attempts to save his marriage, he and his wife decided to separate. Thus, he found himself “a single dad, with children who were 10, 6 and 3” (Taylor 2014). During the time of being a single dad, he recognized that he was not taught to “nurture and be empathetic” and he also had trouble creating rules and enforcing them. On the other hand, his ex-wife did not have any of his problems; she was fully capable of nurturing and being empathetic; she also “rarely had rules and hated to enforce them” (Taylor 2014). Fortunately, after seven years, he has learned how to be “tough when needed” but also “sympathetic” (Taylor 2014).
At first, I had trouble wrapping my head around why I felt so different when reading Taylor’s story than watching a movie about single dad like Mrs. Doubtfire. From Taylor’s story, I find that his initial experience and the doltish dad figure are similar in term of them both not knowing how to deal with housework and kids. However, the characteristics of doltish dads are clumsy and careless when it comes to housekeeping; whereas in reality, being a single father or a stay-at-home dad requires a tremendous amount of afford to learn because it requires one to fulfill the roles of both father and mother; it’s a difficult challenge that one must embrace in order to become a single parent. Hence, the doltish dad figure portrayed by the media misrepresents the spirit of being a single father; it’s a challenge, not a joke.
In referencing back to the article, “The Evolution of Doltish Dad”, Robins points out issues coming from a large amount of movies and TV shows that “over the last 60 years woman have rapidly changed their role in the public domain, from Mary Tyler Moore to Murphy Brown to Hannah Horvath” but on the other hand, the dad’s role in the media has “[evolved] but only in tiny increments, and very slowly” (Robin 2012). The doltish dad figure portrayed in the media embraces the social aspect that men are not built for housekeeping, only the doltish ones have to deal with housekeeping and they look idiotic when they do so.
In article written by Walkinst,“5 Celebrity Dads Who Retired From Hollywood to Raise Their Kids”, he discusses the lives of 5 celebrity fathers., who gave up their Hollywood career in order to fully care for their children. These single dads are not idiots who have nothing to with their lives that we usually see in movies or TV shows; they were wealthy, successful and intelligence people, who decided that their children were more important to them than their own success. Unfortunately, even though their sacrifice might be understood by people, many non-famous single dads don’t get the attention that they deserve in the media, especially in movies and TV shows.
Our current social stereotypes believe that the female partner is more likely to be better at nurturing and housekeeping. However, the music video, “Blurry” performed by the band Puddle of Mudd is one of the rare popular artifacts that proves otherwise. In the video, the father desires to be with his son, and he treasures every moment with him. We also see the smile on the boy’s face whenever he is with his dad. On the other hand, the mom struggles to keep her new family together, and all we can see on the boy’s face is sadness and loneliness. While watching the video, I was wondering why the dad does not have the right to care for his child. The reason can be interpreted differently from audience to audience, but one thing we know, is the case where we, as an outsider won’t understand. Thus, measuring one’s ability to take care of the children should not only be based on gender; dads can also be good at “nurturing” and “being empathetic”.
The Doltish Dad figure has been used for entertainment purposes for decades, and it seems to be successful in term of reaching to a wide range of audiences. However, because of the success of this depiction, the doltish dad figure has been overly used and perpetuated a stereotype which diminishes the value of dad’s role. Being a dad, a single dad, or a stay-at-home dad is a journey, a challenge that one decides to take, and the media should portray the dad’s role to reflect the spirit of being a dad, not a joke.
Over the course of this class, I have realized how vulnerable we are. Movies, TV shows, news, commercials, and many other things provided by the media all influence our ways of thinking and being one way or the other. Because we are surrounded by the media almost everywhere we go, being able to recognize and analyze what direction the media is attempting to lead us to is a very important ability to have, especially in America.
Columbus, C. (Director), Williams, M. G., Williams, R., & Radcliffe, M. (Producers), & Singer, R. M. (Writer). (1993). Mrs. Doubtfire [Motion picture on DVD]. United States: Twentieth Century Fox.
Mrs. Doubtfire – Movie Review. (2003, July 13). Retrieved May 09, 2016, from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/mrs-doubtfire