Stay-At-Home Dad: Rest in peace, Mr. Mom
Stay-at-home dads everywhere danced on the grave of Mr. Mom last week.
The celebration followed a story in the Wall Street Journal declaring “Mr. Mom is dead.”
The term has long been considered disparaging among fathers, particularly those serving as full-time caregivers.
At-home dads flooded social media with images of involved fathers under the banner “I am not Mr. Mom.” A campaign was launched to add “Mr. Mom” to the Lake Superior State University list of banished words. “Retarded,” “That’s gay” and “Whatsup?” are among the hundreds of words already on the list.
A eulogy to Mr. Mom is scheduled for the upcoming At-Home Dads Convention.
Why such fervor? Most at-home dads think the “Mr. Mom” label is emasculating. Certainly, I’m nobody’s mom. My two boys have a mom. I’m content to be their dad. And few people would dare refer to a breadwinning mother as “Mrs. Dad.”
In making its case, the WSJ cited a study published in the Chicago-based Journal of Consumer Research. The authors looked at stay-at-home dads and found that these men are changing the perception of fatherhood. Stereotypes of inept dads unable to change diapers or give baths no longer apply.
Many of these cliches were cemented into our psyche by the 1983 hit movie, “Mr. Mom.” Michael Keaton plays Jack, a suddenly unemployed father. He fumbles through daily tasks before eventually settling into a household routine. The John Hughes film had some good gags, but it also ingrained the caricature of the clueless dad into our common understanding.
“You know what, the movie ‘Mr. Mom’ was great — in 1983,” said Al Watts, a stay-at-home dad and advocate. “Another ’80s movie, ‘Working Girl,’ was great too. A woman climbing the corporate ladder is not referred to as a ‘working girl’ in 2013. So I don’t think a dad who’s changing diapers and cleaning the house should be called ‘Mr. Mom’ either. Just call me ‘Dad.’ ”
Indeed, the at-home-dad study found fathers perform tasks differently than their female counterparts. Among the notable differences: Dads seem to have more fun.
While observing a play group, one researcher noted that the dads were active participants. The men shot toy cannons at their children and each other while the moms chatted and observed their kids from an adjacent cafe.
However, the dads in the study also see themselves as being more hands-off than moms. They feel less likely to rush to the aid of their children in nonemergency situations. Many said this empowered their kids with a sense of perseverance and a self-soothing ability.
The at-home dads surveyed also were willing to take some credit for their spouse’s career. Women with at-home husbands don’t need to rush home to relieve a baby sitter. They can work late and even squeeze in the occasional after-hours networking event.
As one dad put it, “I push Pam up the corporate ladder.”
But more than anything, modern stay-at-home dads want to be known for doing a good job. They also want to change the perception of child care as “women’s work,” thus nailing the coffin shut on Mr. Mom.
It’s somewhat ironic that just as Mr. Mom has been declared dead, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. is said to be considering a remake of the film.
Rather than rehash the same old bits, I think the studio ought to re-imagine “Mr. Mom” as a horror flick. A once-incompetent parent returns from the dead to make his family a healthy breakfast.
My working title: “Mr. Mom: Resurrection.”
Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business writer who traded his reporter’s notepad for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.