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 five year old son and a five month old son!
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, 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, parent, or adult, 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 and parents let’s help change this stereotype, and celebrate dad as a hero and for goodness sake turn off the Disney channel!