Monday, June 20, 2011

The American War on Dads

Happy Fathers’ Day!  I’m so appreciative of the many great fathers out there, and especially the great father figures in our education system. I have a four year old son, and my wife and I found out recently she is expecting!!  

Fathers are under attack in our country today. Some of this is warranted because of the amount of dead-beat dads and fathers who give up their responsibility, but not all dads fit this description.  Our culture seems to be fueling this idea. If you are not sure what I am talking about, check out some of the family sitcoms on TV today.  Modern Family, Three and a Half Men (Thank goodness that is gone for now), Rugrats, and practically every Disney Channel show has the same character:  the goofy dad who acts like an idiot, is a pushover, and gives the kids everything they want.  This character completely leaves it up to the mom to be responsible, handle all the discipline, and clean up all of the dad’s mistakes.  I grew up watching Married with Children, Home Improvement, and Everybody Loves Raymond.  Don't forget the classic example of Homer Simpson! I don’t think anyone would argue that this pattern holds true for these shows as well. 

Unfortunately this is slowly leaking into Young Adult and Children’s books, and the movies that are associated with them.  Consider a recent entry in the Knuffle Bunny series (Hyperion), by Mo Willems, which revolves around the obsessive relationship between Trixie, a Brooklyn girl, and her plush bunny. Trixie, beginning school in Park Slope, discovers that another girl owns the same toy. They accidentally switch bunnies. That night, Trixie wakes up and realizes that her comfort object is an alien impostor. She flips out—she wants Knuffle Bunny, now! Her dad sheepishly requests a reprieve: “Trixie’s daddy tried to explain what ‘2:30 A.M.’ means. He asked, ‘Can we deal with this in the morning?'” Trixie’s fixed stare makes clear that the answer is no. Salvation comes in the form of a ringing phone: the other girl’s father, equally cowed, has called to propose a handoff in Prospect Park. There’s an element of satire here, but the idea that children have complete authority is now so normal that many readers, old and young, are likely to consider a moonlit stuffed-animal exchange an ordinary turn of events.  

The other day in my classroom I turned off the newest movie version of “How to Eat Fried Worms” because of its portrayal of parents and teachers.  I then went on to explain to my students that not all parents and teachers act like the adults in the movie, and we had a nice conversation about it. 

You may be asking, “What does this have to do with me?” I would like to ask that in your influential role as an educator, you make a point of picking some books that portray fathers as heros, or books that show a father as a firm, but fun-loving dad who is not an idiot, and doesn’t skirt all of his duties.  Do you teach Pre-K to 2nd?  You may want to consider Kevin Henkes, a Wisconsin author, who uses some of his Midwestern good sense to make the parents firm and consistent.   How about 3rd – 7th?  One of my favorite series to read aloud is the Adirondack Kids series. These kids know how to be respectful to their dads. As educators, let’s help change this stereotype, and celebrate dad as a hero!  

Happy Father’s Day!
Jason Elliott
AKA PowerPoint Maniac

5 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Excellent article, Jason! I agree with your assessment of dad-bashing in our culture. The stereotypical Hollywood dad is a bumbling fool who would be lost without someone there to help him; or, another version is the oblivious dad tinkering in the garage while completely unaware of the crazy goings-on in his family. As a dad and a teacher, I try to encourage my students to look past these silly portrayals. Sadly, as you mentioned, teachers are often lumped into that "adult idiot" category in most movies, TV shows, and books. It's no wonder that respect for adults has quickly become a rarity in our children.

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  3. Well said Jason! I am deeply concerned at the level of disrespect aimed at parents and teachers through media marketed to children. Dads are wimpy. Moms are tyrants, and teachers are idiots. What does this teach kids?

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  4. Thanks for your comments folks!

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