The Myth of the Bumbling Dad

Originally written in April, 2013

I had a great Sunday with my family this past weekend. We were able to step away from our daily hustle and bustle and spend (almost) the whole day together. We drove out to Berkeley and visited a comic book store and a game shop, my 6 year old dying to spend the birthday money he's been squirreling away. We also saw a musical at the Bay Area Children's Theater entitled Knuffle Bunny, based on the wonderful children's book by Mo Williems. My son almost hit the floor laughing as the little girl in the story desperately tried to communicate to her thoroughly incapable dad that he had left her beloved stuffed animal at the laundromat. Mom clearly would never have made such a grievous mistake, right?  Only the inept male parent would have screwed up so badly. The whole thing got me thinking: are we embracing the image of the Bumbling Dad?

Parenting roles have clearly changed over recent history.  My father continues to state (somewhat guiltily I think) that he "never changed a diaper." (Don't worry, Dad. I've got us both covered.) I guess it's difficult for a father like me to continue to see our role in the family so frequently reduced to such a dimwitted stereotype. After all, this is Berkeley, California, capable of making San Francisco look surprisingly conservative  when it comes to social consciousness and traditional gender roles.  What do we love about this portrayal of dad as the idiot? 

The Bumbling Dad is not a new concept. It's been represented in movies like Mr. Mom as Michael Keaton resorts to drastic diaper changing methods.  Dads haveShrunk the Kids and Blown Up the Kids in their respective films.  They can be portrayed as Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin in animated form. In the popularTwilight series of books and movies, the character of Bella's dad is a harmless, clueless male figure who can't possibly understand or help his daughter as she falls madly in love with the local teen vampire (oh, I've seen it).  Advertising seems to be flush with dumb dads who can't do laundry or (heaven forbid) be left alone with their own children for an extended time without some kind of family disaster.

While it's easy to think of examples of this playing out over and over again in popular culture, I can't think of any reason why men are inherently bumbling when it comes to raising their children. The dad of the millennium stays home with young kids, changes many a diaper and volunteers at the elementary school. In fact, our society puts tons of importance on dad just being physically present in the family, giving us all kinds of statistics about what happens to kids when their dad is not around.

Let's hold ourselves to a slightly higher standard. Dads are doing more and more in the modern family and are producing a new generation of boys who will see men taking a more active role in parenting as the norm.  I'm ready to reject the tired stereotype of the Bumbling Dad in all its forms.  The best evidence will not come from movies or TV, but from the example set at home for our own sons and daughters.  We are capable of so much more than just being around.