It’s been 30 years since the John Hughes movie, so can we put the cliche of the bumbling stay-at-home dad to bed already?
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“You’re like Mr. Mom”, the old man told me as I stood in line at the supermarket.
At the time, I had my infant son, Charlie, hoisted into the Bjorn and my two year old daughter, worming around in the racecar portion of the shopping cart, trying to grab candy from the rack. I nodded and gave him a courtesy smile as I loaded tampons and toilet paper onto the conveyor belt. I wasn’t sure whether to thank him or knock his teeth out.
Was this a compliment or an insult? Or neither? I’d seen the movie once or twice before, but not since I’d taken on my new role as a full-time stay-at-home dad – a role change that can be a challenge for all concerned. It was hard to avoid not seeing the movie, seeing that I worked in comedy in my former life, plus it was also written by one of the great comic geniuses of our time, John Hughes. The guy gave us The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller for crying out loud – this HAD to be a compliment.
I decided to watch it again one day while the kids were napping. Michael Keaton has a wonderful family… so did I. He had a great job… so did I. Then he lost his job… and so did I. Wow, so far I could totally relate to Jack Butler.
His wife went back to work, leaving Jack to stay at home with the kids. Jack and I are both smart, competent men who left the workplace and took on an accelerated patriarchal role for the greater good of our families. Our lives are pretty much a mirror image of one another.
I wasn’t even that far removed from him wearing the same flannel shirt and robe every day, growing a beard and falling into a self-loathing depression about the unexpected role he was suddenly faced with. I served a week’s sentence on that one.
But then the whole thing fell apart for me.
YES, I’ll admit that I had a period of emotional uncertainty after having the rug yanked out from underneath my career, leaving me in an unforeseen position. But is that enough to make me throw in the towel and completely abandon common sense and logical reasoning?
Unfortunately, these days, when someone references ‘Mr. Mom’, it seems the majority remembers the Jack Butler that drank beer at 7am, warmed up grilled cheeses on the ironing board and let the baby eat chili. Jack’s the guy that intentionally drove the wrong way into the ‘kiss n’ ride’ line, couldn’t manage to buy groceries and dried the kids socks in the microwave. He barely handled washing the clothes like a moron, encouraged a toddler to work the stove and let a vacuum cleaner get the best of him.
At one point, he seems to ‘right the ship’. Even though he uses paint thinner to clean off his face, he still manages to shower and shave – all to the ‘Rocky’ theme song. He’s resurrected. He resurfaces as a normal, devoted father. He makes executive decisions, repairs on the house and even begins networking again.
But that’s not what people remember. They remember what an idiot this guy was as a dad.
I appreciate the fact that this movie came out in 1983. It debuted in the midst of a recession in our country, the likes of which we’re seeing again right now. So does that mean that history will repeat itself? Have a brand new group of dad recruits entered the caregiver role, only to look like a bunch of incompetent fuck-ups?
I’ve been a full-time stay-at-home dad for over three years now and I can tell you with great certainty that is not the case. Thirty years have passed. As far as gender roles are concerned, the playing field is much more level. Women are thriving in the workplace and more men than ever are actively involved in their kid’s lives, as it should be. According to the US Census in 2010, among fathers with a wife in the workforce, 32% took care of their kids at least one day a week (considering families with children under 15) – that’s up from 26% in 2002. The number of stay-at-home dads has more than doubled in the past decade, as more families are redefining what it means to be a breadwinner. So while there were only 81,000 Mr. Moms in 2001 (about 1.6 percent of all stay-at-home parents), by last year, the number was 176,000 (3.4 percent).
So why are some people still hanging on to that ‘bumbling and aloof ne’er-do-well’ dad stereotype? Is it still funny? Was it ever funny?
Trust me, I’ve established a successful blog and penned a book about my new life, largely built on self-deprecating humor. I’ll be the first guy to laugh when something blows up in my face along the parenting journey – but these days it happens to both mom and dad.
I’m not out to spearhead a dad’s revolution. You’re not gonna see me on the streets of the nation’s capitol, swinging a pair of burning Hanes, but it doesn’t mean that next time I won’t stick up to the old man at the supermarket.
As much as I adore the career and legacy of John Hughes, Jack Butler didn’t do us dads any favors thirty years later.
If you happen to see me on the playground with my kids, please don’t call me Mr. Mom.
Adrian Kulp is a blogger, author and full-time stay-at-home dad. His first book Dad or Alive (Penguin), based on his blog of the same name, is out now. You can find him on Twitter @dad_or_alive or on Facebook.
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