The dumb dad and children’s media in 2021

My kids are consumers of lots of shows, including Disney shows, and part of the problem is their portrayal of the dumb dad.

It’s not always the dad. Sometimes the “dumb dad” is some other adult male in a position of relative responsibility. It permeates shows like Jessie, classics like Everybody Loves Raymond, and countless other shows my kids – and millions of others – watch regularly.

What are they learning?

Dumb dad in Jessie

My three girls love the Disney show Jessie. In the show, the title character Jesse is a nanny caring for several children.

The primary adult male is Bertram, the family butler, performed by actor Kevin Chamberlin. He is portrayed as lazy – only doing housework when the parents are actually home, which is quite rare. Bertram is shown as being more concerned with reading magazines and watching TV than he is caring for the kids.

He is lazy and the actual care of the children falls to Jessie, another child herself, albeit an older teen. When Bertram tries to help, he is insulted constantly and condescendingly by the kids and treated rudely (not that he treats them any better).

Heck, in Jessie, the parents aren’t even taking care of their kids.

It’s not just Jessie

Huggies – the diaper – once aired an ad. It proclaimed to put the diaper through the “toughest test of all” – a dad alone with his infant for five days. The implication is clear – Dad can’t take care of his child.

Is Phil Dunphy, well-meaning and loving but incapable of a coherent thought or doing anything right, the accurate portrayal of a father? Is Al Bundy? How about Tim the Toolman Tailor? Even when the father has some success, he is still a doofus at home who has to be bailed out by mom, but only after the kids have insulted him repeatedly.

dumb dad
Phil Dunphy from Modern Family loves his family and always tries hard. But his efforts always fall short and illustrate the plight of the dumb dad.

Bunk’d; Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn; The Thundermans; KC Undercover; Lab Rats. All have adults and in all shows the adults are idiots and all the dads are dumb dads.

These don’t even scratch the surface of dumb dads in the media.

What does it matter?

It’s what I call the Caillou effect. When my three daughters were little they liked to watch Caillou. When they did, they became whiney just like the main character.

If they watch shows with blatant disrespect of adults by pre-teens and teens, guess what they do? Spend a lot of time grounded.

Today, if they watch shows where kids “tell off” adults and dumb dads are abound, they adopt the characteristics of the kids in the show. Their disrespect increases (or tries, I shut it down quickly). But I see the backtalk. I see the behavior witnessed on television emulated pretty quickly – and pretty closely.

The problem is, of course, money. The producers of kids’ shows, sitcoms,, etc., are going to purse the money. You don’t often see the kids running to watch a stable family with a strong mother and a strong father. That narrative is no good and probably doesn’t have much money in it.

Dumb dads? Nope.

While growing up, my father worked two jobs. He worked as a full-time, professional firefighter and on his days off he did construction work. My dad provided for his family and in many ways still does. He lacked a college education but he was not, and is not, dumb. And he was never a dumb dad.

Why aren’t these men praised? Why aren’t they set on pedestals and highlighted in children’s programming? I guess it is just not funny enough.

But then again, what the hell do I know? I’m just a dad.

A 1980s Samsung Ad. It’s been going on for a while.

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