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Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Obligatory "Mr. Mom" Post

Emily and her mom have gone out to the nail salon for the afternoon. Erin is napping contentedly, and will continue to do so for another hour. So, that leaves me with an hour to kill before the girls return, my daughter wakes up, and I hand her over to them so that I can watch the Wings pummel the Stars again.

In that time, I can probably fulfill one of my SAHD-vocate duties: writing about Mr. Mom, that role-switching Michael Keaton vehicle from 1983 that seems to immediately spring to mind whenever a dad mentions that he stays home.

Being called "Mr. Mom" offends some at-home dads. And probably understandably: either the person who makes the comparison is suggesting that the dad is doing mom's job, in which case the dad takes offense at the job being categorized in that way in the first place; or the person who makes the comparison is referring to the haphazard, bungling, and incompetent way in which a dad would raise his kids, were he home full time as Michael Keaton's character is in the film.

This is the one that rankles, usually: the assumption that dads just won't do as good a job. It gets under SAHD skin and itches. If we encounter this attitude at the grocery store we bring it home with us along with the hot dogs and beer (dinner for the kids, you know).

It is this vision of the Stay at Home Dad that makes many SAHDs despise the movie. But not me. I love Mr. Mom.

I love it in the way that I inexplicably love other Michael Keaton movies: Johnny Dangerously, Gung Ho, Beetlejuice. But I also love it because it tells it a little like it is: there is a pretty steep learning curve when you are new to the parenting/at-home gig. A brand new mom faces all of these problems as well, and is probably not very much better equipped to deal with them. Teri Garr's character in the film is a competent parent, but she's also been doing it for a while: the oldest child is old enough to talk to and to help out, and that's a lot of parenting years behind her. So anyone coming into that situation fresh is bound to take some time to adjust, and it would be absolutely unreasonable to think that they would get it all right in their first week, month, or even year.

He's incompetent at first, and maybe this bothers dads because they think "How could he have gone several years without knowing the least little bit of what goes on at home on a daily basis?" I don't know. Maybe he and his wife don't talk that much about the mundane details; he probably doesn't go on and on about his job either. In any case, exaggerated as this segment was, it is not unfathomable to me that he wouldn't be very good at the daily stuff at first, or that he would feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of things that actually go into making a home operate. In fact, had a movie been made that ignored this learning curve it probably would have been deeply insulting to everyone who stays home full-time. Our job is not easy. (Well, mine is, but that's because Erin is brilliant and causes me no trouble whatsoever.)

He is depressed at first, and seems to give up and to let the house go to pot and leaves the kids to their own devices. This is probably the Mr. Mom image that dads worry is hanging over their heads, but frankly I don't blame the movie for the stereotype. This part of the film is actually presenting an honest, if exaggerated, problem for many at home dads: Depression is not a small thing, and every few years a new study is done that talks about depression in dads. For an at home dad, in a new, unfamiliar, and sometimes un-welcoming environment depression is something we always have to be wary of. It's too easy to isolate ourselves with our kids and pretend as though the moms don't want to be our friends and our old friends don't want to see us any more now that we have kids.

He is challenged by infidelity. And this worry comes up a lot for at home dads who spend most of their time in the company of women. Unfortunately this is a worry that doesn't go away easily, and movies like The Little Children don't help. But infidelity is a problem generally, and probably less prevalent among at home dads than among dads who are never home (I'm just guessing here). And also, Mr. Mom is not to blame for this at-home dad trope. In fact, in the movie Michael Keaton is so worried about being pursued by someone else that he has nightmares about it; he tries not to cross the friendship line that he is very conscious of. In fact, in the movie it is his wife's boss who is the real dirt bag, but Mr. Mom is not blamed for ruining the reputations of male supervisors. Instead it is wrongly associated with infidelity among at home dads.

Importantly, Michael Keaton's character does figure it out. He does realize how to take care of his kids on his own, how to manage their schedules, cook their meals, take care of the house, maintain friendships with the moms around him. He gets it. Men can get it is the actual message of the movie.

But the message that's taken away from the film is that men are incompetent at home. While this may be a real attitude among some people, it is not one that anyone can lay at Michael Keaton's feet.

The only real problem with the movie is that he goes back to work without a backward glance in the end. This says "I was just filling in for a while", and that stereotype, the dad-as-babysitter stereotype, is one that can legitimately be blamed on Mr. Mom. (Not that it originated there, but it's one that actually shows up in the movie and is never corrected.)

But at least he was a competent babysitter. And that's why I can watch Mr. Mom without cringing, why I can admit that I actually like the movie, why I say that it does no genuine harm to at-home dads and the way they are perceived.

That doesn't mean that I like being referred to as "Mr. Mom" by people who don't know me. Because as I said, to them they probably either mean that I'm doing mom's job, or that I'm probably incompetent, or both. So, if you do want to address me as something I'm willing to answer to "Trophy Husband".

Or "Prom King".

17 comments:

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

How about just plain "Backpacking Dad?"

Backpacking Dad said...

jenn: Oh, if you must ;}

Mrs. A. said...

First of all, asshole, you only spent 50 seconds on my blog, which is an offensively short amount of time. Second, although I found A.'s posts charming, he has aborted the endeavor--perhaps because of YOUR nasty comments. (Although he may start a philosophy blog.) Third, I have a link to your blog on mine, and I think you should return the favor.

Mom22 said...

I found your blog through Suburban Turmoil, and I am addicted. Here's why:
First thing I saw on your profile was that you liked 90's HS Music (class of 94 and musically still stuck thre)
Then I see Gung Ho listed on your blog, does it get better than that?No, except maybe Throw Momma from the Train...I shall leave you with this "No more feeding Annabell, no more Twisted Sister"!! I really thought I was the only one who just loved that movie!
And if I didn't mention it, from what I read so far you seem like an awsome husband and dad.

Scary Mommy said...

Happy Mother's day, Mr. Mom :)

Gerbil said...

You know, that's similar to why I absolutely hated the movie Mrs Doubtfire.

Aunt Becky said...

Happy Mother's Day, y'all.

And if it makes you feel the teeniest bit better, I often feel like Mr. Mom myself. Without, of course, the penis.

mommastantrum said...

I only like Beetlejuice. But that is because I am sick and twisted like that, Mr. Mom icked me out, because he just was an idiot.

You sir, are no Mr. Mom.

You are my prom king.

Swanny said...

"We've come for your daughter Chuck" alwaysmakes me giggle. "Johnny Dangerously' taught us all what "dork" really means. And "Mr. Mom" is one of those movie that I love but always forget about. Nothing beats Keaton telling his boss "If you talk to my son like that again, I'll knock you out." Or, words to that effect.

BTW, you are now the proud owner of a link on the "Other Stuff I Read" list on my blog.

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms in your life.

for a different kind of girl said...

What about "Jack Frost," Prom King? Do you love "Jack Frost," hmmm?

S.A.H.D. Guy said...

I'm with you there guy! I've always loved "Mr. Mom" (even used the name on a couple of internet games I've played). I'm proud to me a SAHD and don't care if people call me Mr. Mom, even if they mean it in a derogatory way. Those people are usually the ones who have no idea who their kids actually are. I love staying home with my kids and wouldn't trade it for anything. Hope to see you in Sacramento at the convention in November!

Backpacking Dad said...

mrs a: Stop drinking and blogging. You waste your buzz trying to type.

mom22: I do like me a good Billy Crystal/Danny DeVito farce.

scary mommy: I haet u so hrd.

gerbil: because he was competent? incompetent? because he leaves?

aunt becky: I think you can pick those up at the hardware store.

mommastantrum: oh stop, you'll make me blush...and you'll make my wife beat me again. ;}

swanny: Yeah, I kind of fantasize about being able to deploy that kind of righteousness all over someone. I'll probably have plenty of opportunities once my daughter hits puberty.

FADKOG: Uh...um....well....dammit. Wait! Wasn't that one made in the 90's? Ok. 90's don't count.

SAHD Guy: I'll do my best. It's only an hour and a half from home, so I'm pretty sure I can swing it.

W said...

I still prefer "Domestic Engineer."

I too love "Mr. Mom." I've never been insulted by the film for all the reasons you allude to.

Backpacking Dad said...

W: I'd go with "Domestic Engineer" too, but my skills in that area are not professional grade, except for cooking. But I am pretty, so "Trophy Husband" works for me. Pisses Emily off though :}

asecrettobluebamboo said...

"...there is a pretty steep learning curve when you are new to the parenting/at-home gig. A brand new mom faces all of these problems as well, and is probably not very much better equipped to deal with them."

You hit the nail on the head with that simple statement. Try moving into a home with your soon-to-be husband and his five and seven year old daughters. My learning curve? Steep doesn't even begin to cover it.

Patti Mayo said...

Ok, the Mr. Mom movie is just awesome. I do have to say that in the beginning when my husband was the SAHD, things weren't so great, but he got better at it. He was much braver than I and would take the kids (all four of them) everywhere: to the beach, park, library, stores etc.

I have alot of respect for SAHD's. I think you guys do a great job.

I do have to say that Multiplicity was my favorite Keaton movie (next to Batman of course)

Laurie of the Seven Stories said...

Used to watch Mr. Mom all the time when I was feeling down and blue- could totally relate to what Michael Keaton's character was going through.

Also love Johnny Dangerously. "Somebody hung me from a hook, once, ONCE- and the scene going to the electric chair with the fake latin, "hominubus, omnibus, when is the next bus?" Love it!