The Joke's On Dad, But That's Not Funny
By Rebeldad Brian Reid
I've always believed that the comics section of The Washington Post may be the truest part of the paper, in the sense that a three-panel strip, done well, can tell us a lot more about the human condition than a 3,000-word story. Not every strip can get to that level of truth every day. "Calvin and Hobbes" used to do it, as did the dearly departed "Bloom County." And "Doonesbury" did a damn fine job of illustrating "truth," too.
But "Doonesbury" creator Gary Trudeau is taking a break, and The Post is trying out some new strips. The first up is one about an at-home dad/writer called "Daddy's Home," and it's been running for the past couple of weeks.
I want to like any effort that puts dads-as-parents in the spotlight -- I really, really do -- but "Daddy's Home" is an illustration of how much further fathers have to go to be taken seriously as parents.
From what I've seen so far of the new strip, most of the attempts at humor are derived from the fact that dad has close to zero idea what he's doing. In the last month, there's been a strip where he rushes his kid to soccer practice dressed in baseball clothes, one where his brownie-making ability is mocked, one where he forgets to wear his pants to the bus stop, and one where he forgets his kid's food allergy. "Peanuts" it ain't.
I have grudgingly come to accept that there will always be a certain amount of clueless-father jokes in popular culture, but relying purely on the doofus dad for laughs doesn't get you as far now as it did with Mr. Mom in 1983.
I'll bet you don't remember "Meet Mister Mom," NBC's short-lived summer reality show from 2005 in which moms were whisked away and the camera crews rolled in to film dads parenting their kids. It was a dismal failure. Why? Because showing dads parenting isn't all that funny. Or even all that interesting. It's normal now, for huge numbers of families.
So, soon, "Daddy's Home" will get pulled off of the comics page -- but not before we have a chance to vote on whether we want to see it go for good -- and the next test strip will begin its run. Hopefully, that one will do more than dredge up hoary cliches.
Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at rebeldad.com.
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