Several years ago, our daughters became hooked on episodes of The Brady Bunch.
They were fascinated by the characters and their 70s outfits and the fact that the family had a rotary dial telephone with a cord hanging on the wall of their kitchen. They especially loved the theme song, which they sang often and loudly.
We knew that their new passion was serious when our girls started to include the Brady kids in their bedtime prayers and our older daughter dressed like Cindy for Halloween. They both still think that Carol and Mike are the grooviest parents ever.
And the Bradys were indisputably groovy, what with Carol wearing her mod skirts and high heels around the house, and Mike in his paisley shirts and plaid sport coats. But beyond their flare for fashion, they were quick-witted, even-tempered, and always prepared to deliver a wise monologue embedded with a monumental life lesson.
They were nothing like real parents.
As a father, I knew I wouldn’t stand a chance trying to live up to the standards of a smart, successful, well-rounded guy like Mike Brady. But seriously, TV dads have rarely realistically portrayed the nuances and complexities of fatherhood.
On one end there were the super dads like Mike Brady and Cliff Huxtable, who were paternal remnants of the Ward Cleaver era. These characters helped set an unrealistic bar for how a good father should conduct himself.
Then along came the likes of Al Bundy and Homer Simpson, who sent the pendulum swinging in the other direction. Pretty soon most sitcoms featured fathers who were portrayed as hapless buffoons, kept out of trouble only by the well-timed actions of their intellectually superior, infinitely patient and forgiving spouses.
I applaud the fact that TV moms have shaken their June Cleaver images to become stronger and more complex characters. But it seems that in the process, fathers have been relinquished to the role of court jester.
Although I can do some pretty dumb things, I’m pretty sure that I don’t have to act foolish in order for my wife to look good. She can shine on her own without my help.
I suppose that ordinary, everyday dads don’t make for very good sitcom material.
These are the dads who consider parenthood a true partnership and who actually enjoy changing diapers. These are dads who get their kids dressed in the morning, tie their shoes, and walk them to school, and dads who let their giggling daughters paint their toe nails. These are stay-at-home dads and the dads who only see their kids on weekends and the dads who are separated from their kids for months at a time and still give everything they’ve got. These are dads who sometimes get overwhelmed and yell and go through periods of serious doubt about whether or not they’re being a good father.
I’m confident that these dads really don’t need TV and other media to set the standards of a good father.
My guess is that these dads already know that some days they’re Mike Brady and some days they’re Homer Simpson, and most days they’re effectively maintaining somewhere in between.