Dads, we’ve come a long way at the movies since the fumbling and bumbling of Three Men and a Baby.
Or have we?
The movie adaption of the best-selling advice book What to Expect When You’re Expecting hits theatres today, and features multiple storylines that cover just about every cliché around bringing a child in to this world.
While the book mostly targets women, the movie is all about the dudes – so The Globe convened a dads panel to discuss the film’s portrayal of what it is to be a father. Globe Life reporter and father of two Dave McGinn, columnist and father of three David Eddie and Vince Blache, marketer and father of one, discuss the difference between Hollywood fiction and the realities of being a dad today. Here’s a hint: The movie industry has yet to get a clue about what modern-day fatherhood is really like.
LOOK WHO’S BALKING
McGinn: When the new guy comes to the dads group and says he might be a father soon, all the other guys try to scare him off by telling him how much of a pain fatherhood is. I’ve certainly bitched about it, but I’m much more likely to tell people how wonderful it is to raise kids. I just don’t get why the public face of fatherhood in these movies has to be one that constantly complains about how hard it is.
Eddie: The problem is the filmmakers are trying to come down on one side or the other, and it’s kind of both. You’re horribly tired, you’re happy about the situation. I can say as someone who’s a bit farther down the road, I miss those early days a little bit, but it gets a lot easier and more fun. There’s a magical moment when you’re youngest child turns about 3 when you hear them coming down the stairs early in the morning and you think, Oh, man, I’ve got to get up. But then you realize, no, I don’t. They can get themselves breakfast and watch TV. And then you and your partner roll over and go back to sleep. That’s when you come out of what I call the tunnel.
Blache: I have a little bit of a different perspective because when I was 20, I lived with my sister for the first two years of her daughter’s life. I obviously didn’t have to do everything I do now, but it prepared me at bit for having kids and the work involved. Being raised by a single mom, I was always expected to help out – so parenthood is just an extension of what I’ve always done.
I’LL KEEP MY MANHOOD, THANKS
Eddie: The guys in the dads group are pushing strollers around and wearing BabyBjörns. Every time the buff, hunky single guy comes up, they all go girlie, which is really strange. Hollywood doesn’t understand how men can retain their masculinity and yet still be dads. Personally, I find that frustrating.
McGinn: I had a mild panic when I found out my wife was pregnant – Was I really prepared to be a father? – but it’s not like I had some nightmare where my manhood was being drained away.
Eddie: The first thing I worried about is money, and the movie showed a little bit of that. You think, will I be able to keep a roof over this kid’s head? You’ve got to help provide for this kid.
Blache: I can relate to that – when we found out my fiancée was pregnant, I had to get a new job because I was close to starting a six-month contract in another city, and that couldn’t happen. So I took a pay hit because I needed to find a job, ASAP.
Being a father is a never-ending journey. I’m always filled with love and compassion toward my son, but at a flip of a switch I need to be stern. Nearly ever decision I make affects him or his mother. I can no longer be selfish. Being a father evolved my manhood to a state that I could never imagine.
THE DOOFUS DAD
McGinn: There are two dominant stereotypes in this kind of movie. One is the emasculated dad, and the other is the doofus dad. There’s a strong hint that the reason the dads group in the movie gets together is because alone, they’d be completely incompetent. It’s more like a support group for idiots. I might not have had a clue what I was doing at first, but I didn’t hide it like some dirty secret.
Eddie: Chris Rock’s character has a speech where he says he likes being a dad, but his kid is always falling down stairs and stuff like that. The stereotype of the clueless, doofus dad doesn’t get my back up so much as it just brings me down. Misandry in general just makes me tired – my wife, too, by the way. I think she finds man-bashing even more dispiriting that I do. It’s a lazy, worn-out reflex. Let’s move on!
Blache: I would never be a part of a dads group. What are we going to do, push our strollers down the street together? I just don’t feel the need to share. I’m in it and I’m doing it, I’m loving it, and that’s that.
Eddie: Plus, there’s not a lot to discuss. When I was a stay-at-home dad, if I met up with people, I wanted to discuss the things that I missed about adult life, like movies and books and what people were up to. I don’t believe there is one single “way dads work” or unified male “approach to parenting.” I think every man approaches fatherhood in his own unique way. That’s truer now than ever.
THE MINIVAN QUESTION
McGinn: I’d get one without any qualms.
Blache: Never. My partner doesn’t want one, either. But you know what, an SUV is the exact same thing. And we’ll probably get one of those.
Eddie: We bought a Honda Pilot. It’s somewhere in the grey area. It’s got eight seats. What does driving a minivan say about a man? Basically that he needs more seats.
THE DIVISION OF LABOUR
McGinn: There’s one scene where Cameron Diaz’s character tells her partner that in every relationship there’s an alpha and a beta, implying that one makes the decisions and the other just goes along with them. Which is a horrible, horrible attitude. I don’t know about you guys, but there’s a lot of give and take in how my wife and I raise our kids. Even just simple things like who’s putting whom to bed tonight, or who’s taking the oldest one to the park, are decided based on what we both have going on.
Eddie: I looked after my kids for four or five years, but my wife was the architect of the big picture. I would do what she told me, like what activities to sign the kids up for, so I think there’s some truth to that. But it can be in a happy way. It just seemed to come more naturally to my wife, Pam, to look at the big picture and for me to implement it.
Blache: It doesn’t have to be expressed in a demanding way. It’s a partnership. Who’s the alpha and who’s the beta? That’s a conversation I’ve never had. We both have strong feelings about things. But you have to let some things slide.
Eddie: These days, the roles are fluid. Sometimes I worked and she stayed home; sometimes she worked and I stayed home; sometimes we both worked. Whether it’s the finances or changing diapers, we’re both involved. And it can work really well. I’m so glad I wasn’t born 50 years ago. I don’t want to come home to somebody who’s been enmeshed in drudgery all day and then read the paper and get served a martini. I like being involved. I like being a dad in 2012.