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.

By Brian Reid |  April 3, 2008; 9:47 AM ET  | Category:  Dads
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Doonesbury's on hiatus??? Damn and blast!

This comic strip is horrible -- I mean, not only for the stereotypes, but it's just not even remotely funny. If the best you can come up with is decades-old gags built from completely outdated stereotypes, maybe you shouldn't quit your day job.

Posted by: laura33 | April 3, 2008 8:54 AM

Thanks so much for the link to the voting - I enjoyed getting both the chance to vote against this terrible strip AND to slam "Classic Peanuts" (in the "what comic would you get rid of to make room for this one?" part). Great start to the day!

Posted by: beardo1 | April 3, 2008 9:45 AM

What happened to Leslie's On Balance blog?

Posted by: sharonw | April 3, 2008 10:56 AM

Eh. Don't worry about 'em keeping it. The comic will run out of material after about 20 strips, anyhow.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | April 3, 2008 10:57 AM

Brian, Thank you so much for posting the link to vote. I think this strip is terrible and offensive. Comics are supposed to be clever and funny, and this one is neither. Great to get to tell the WaPo how wrong they were to run this AT ALL, let alone for a few weeks!

Posted by: newslinks1 | April 3, 2008 11:18 AM

What happened to Leslie's On Balance blog?

Posted by: sharonw | April 3, 2008 10:56 AM

You mean, over the last 6 months, or just today, LOL?

Posted by: mn.188 | April 3, 2008 11:19 AM

I know this is your pet peeve, Brian, but this is a cartoon strip. Not a particularly funny or edgy one. There are still plenty of stereotypes about women out there that are far more damaging than the concept that a newly staying-at-home Dad may not know how to bake brownies. Just ask any intelligent, attractive woman trying to make it at a professional level. I could write a blog/memoir on all the times that professional men literally asked me "What's a nice, pretty girl like you want to be a geologist for?", and then overtly hit on me, as if I wasn't hired because I was actually a kick-butt geologist with an excellent resume.

The last time I checked, men still out-earn women, most CEO's and upper management are men, and Congress is still primarily made up of white men. I can't really feel for you because you find this comic strip unfunny, somehow.

Don't get me wrong - I love your advocacy. But as someone who had to fight stereotypes every day as a woman in a man's field, can I give you a bit of advice? Laugh it off lightly, brush it aside, and keep doing what you do brilliantly. At least in public. Because if you rail and rant about every little thing, nobody listens to your big arguments. Trust me on this one - I didn't succeed before I left geology because of health reasons because I was constantly saying "I'm a girl! I'm smart! Don't call me pretty!" I succeeded because I was very, very good and over time, my gender became less and less relevant.

Besides, all stereotypes are generally based on a grain of truth somewhere. I love my husband, but when I come home from one of my all-day volunteering gigs twice a month, he's exhausted. And we just have a Bulldog.

He said until I started leaving him alone with basic instructions to keep the house tidy (not "clean" mind you, just "tidy" so I'm not tripping over piles of cr*p when I come home), walk/feed the dog and take care of dinner (I don't care if it's take-out) on top of whatever he's planning to do that day, he didn't realize how much effort it took.

Not all guys are as enlightened as you. My father is a wonderful, loving husband to my mom. But when she went on an extended trip a few years ago to take care of her mother after an operation, he knew she wouldn't want to come home to the piles of laundry and dirty house.

He did a decent job of cleaning, since mostly he just had to warm up frozen stuff my mom had left him and he only really lived in a few rooms - there wasn't much to clean. But he had to call me to get a step-by-step of how to use the washing machine, including when it was appropriate to add softener. And when he called me, it was in his "serious problem" voice, so I know he was really concentrating because he didn't know what to do.

Is he a bad man or a bad husband or a bad father? No. Is he really a doofus? No - he's a doctor, far from a doofus. But domestic stuff simply isn't his bag. Many men are still like that (my husband is flummoxed by our HE top-loading washer), hence the stereotypes.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | April 3, 2008 11:39 AM

I don't get the whole doofus dad thing. My husband does as much or more work at home, spends as much time with the kids and does about the same work. OK, he mows but I change the whole-house water filters and set mousetraps. This seems very normal to us, but judging from the reaction from some other people, I guess it's not.

Posted by: aallen1 | April 3, 2008 11:58 AM

aallen1

"My husband does as much or more work at home, spends as much time with the kids and does about the same work. OK, he mows but I change the whole-house water filters and set mousetraps. This seems very normal to us, but judging from the reaction from some other people, I guess it's not. "

It's about the same in my house, except that we got a couple of cats to take care of the mice. Yikes!!!

Posted by: gizmo | April 3, 2008 12:35 PM

For me I think it's easy to forget sometimes how much my husband does do around the house. He does the finances, taxes, anything that needs fixing around the house, most of the gardening, all the car stuff, tidies up, feeds himself & the cats if I work late. He does NOT cook or clean, despite his professed love of vacuuming--and generally by the time that I am cooking dinner and/or cleaning up, he is done with all of the above and is lying on the couch watching Mike Rowe. He's also a "do things early" person and I am a "do them late" person. So I get really annoyed with him for not doing anything, until I remember all the things he already did that day and how I really have it pretty good. In the end it works out well, I get to do the things I like and so does he, but when those things all happen at different times you forget.

Also, ditto re: cats/mice!

Posted by: teaspoon2007 | April 3, 2008 12:44 PM

I have to give credit where credit is due in our household. My husband is perfectly capable of wielding a vacuum cleaner and using the washer and dryer. In fact... he uses both of those tools exclusively.

When I started my second job... with only a bit of discussion, he stepped up to the plate in the house and probably does the bulk of the housework. I don't touch either of those household tools. Is he perfect? Nope. I have to admit that I will have to tackle the bathroom this weekend. He does the toilet, and the bottom of the tub but doesn't seem to notice the mold/dirt on the tub tiles or anything in the sink. Occasionally, he forgets to wash the sheets or something but in general... doing pretty darn good.

Thank you for all of your advice. I called Medicaid and spoke to them and if the kids are eligible for state care they will be approved and no wage garnishee or other things will happen. If they believe that the husband should have them on his work health insurance (which he declined because it ate up half of his take home pay) then they will decline the children. I told my husband to just be careful and be sure to ask lots of questions when they talk to Medicaid.

I will supposedly be getting contributions to the medical bills (about 1/3 to 1/2) but he asked that we pay the whole child support this month. This weekend (since we don't see each other much during the week) I am going to sit down with him to discuss what he sees in the future and if that is reasonable... how we get from where we are today to that amount. If his idea of reasonable is to continue basically as is.. I guess I have my answer on what my next step should be. I decided to see if I could find Virginia's child support tables online and I found them. I plugged in the appropriate numbers and they suggest that he should be paying about 1/3 of his take home pay. This leads me to believe that I am not being a big bad ogre who is trying to deprive his children of adequate support.

I don't imagine that going to a lawyer will help with the child support issue. The issue is not that the ex is forcing him/manipulating him or whatever to pay this amount of money. He is basically paying this because he believes it is in his kid's best interest. A lawyer is only helpful if the two of them are fighting and we need to protect our interests from her. The only way a lawyer is helpful in this case is to extricate myself from him and this situation.

Posted by: Billie_R | April 3, 2008 12:55 PM

Get over yourself

its a COMIC

You are a perfect example of some of this country's problems.

Nobody has a sense of humor award and everyone wants to play PC Police the minute they are offended.

I hope they make a comic strip mocking you next

Posted by: rdy4all2000 | April 3, 2008 12:56 PM

Billie_R

"The issue is not that the ex is forcing him/manipulating him or whatever to pay this amount of money. He is basically paying this because he believes it is in his kid's best interest."

No one can abuse you without your permission.

Good luck.

Posted by: gizmo | April 3, 2008 1:05 PM

Interesting, Chasmosaur. I'm a geologist as well, and in the same part of the country (upper midwest) and have never had the experience of any gender discrimination. Both of the academic departments I have been a part of have been evenly divided gender-wise among the students, while men drastically outnumber women in the faculty. As a woman, I have always viewed this as something that will change as the current generation of students progresses through the ranks. Many institutions are actively working to hire more women and underrepresented groups.

I agree that the strip premise is not funny, but it is hard to summon any outrage. If you personally are doing a good job as a dad and are competent around the house, pat yourself on the back and move on.

Posted by: Fern | April 3, 2008 1:26 PM

but it is hard to summon any outrage.

Posted by: Fern | April 3, 2008 01:26 PM

Of course not, this post has nothing to do with women/mothers.

Brian, why do you bother?

Posted by: daves000 | April 3, 2008 1:34 PM

I can't say a lot that hasn't already been said except that most things in this world aren't changed by people complaining about it but quietly, one by one demonstrating how things can be different. Brian, want a different perception, then simply be competent. People will see and learn.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | April 3, 2008 1:36 PM

I can't say a lot that hasn't already been said except that most things in this world aren't changed by people complaining about it but quietly, one by one demonstrating how things can be different. Brian, want a different perception, then simply be competent. People will see and learn.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | April 3, 2008 01:36 PM

If this were true, you could just post this comment every day. This blog is nothing but leslie complaining how badly the world treats women.

Posted by: daves000 | April 3, 2008 1:49 PM

I stand or rather sit corrected Dave S. My intent was to say that you gain more converts by showing the behavior you want them to notice than by yelling about the behavior you want others to stop.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | April 3, 2008 3:59 PM

Fern -

I'm in the upper Midwest now. I was a geologist on the Mid-Atlantic seaboard about 15 years ago. Light years different than today ;)

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | April 3, 2008 6:24 PM

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