I don’t write much about being an at-home dad. One can easily find plenty of solid blogs written by good guys. That said, I want to address a couple of videos that recently crossed my path and deal with fatherhood. The makers of these videos seek to honor in a comedic way the hard work that mothers do. The videos they produced, however, rehash tired stereotypes found in the popular culture as they portray dads as bumbling incompetents who should not be trusted with the care of their children. I’m all for celebrating the unique work of mothers—I merely don’t think we need to make dads look like idiots in order to do so. I address these videos in particular because they are produced by Christians and are marketed toward the Church in preparation for Mother’s Day celebrations. (I wonder, how many churches will celebrate non-Church holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Memorial Day, but not the Ascension of Jesus or Pentecost? That’s another post.) I am concerned some Christians think the best way to honor one group of people, mothers, is to ridicule another group, fathers. Further, we should not be in the business of mocking dads as inept, but instead celebrating dads who are deeply involved in raising their kids and encouraging dads to be even more involved and Christlike. Let’s look at the videos.
First is the trailer for the film Mom’s Night Out.
I hesitate to comment on a film I haven’t seen since trailers can be cut in misleading ways, but we can at least discuss what appears in the trailer. Here we have overworked moms needing a break from childcare. They set up a mom’s night out and leave their husbands to take care of the kids. The dads are so inept they can’t think of anything to do except take their kids to a restaurant/indoor playground where they can lock their kids up, “like Shawshank Redemption.” This inevitably leads to a trip to the emergency room. Another dad leaves his child at a tattoo parlor and goes out on the town by himself. All this fatherly incompetence requires the moms to cancel their night out and save the day.
The second video comes from The Skit Guys, entitled, “Mom Goggles.” They make short videos with faith-based messages and often use humor to make their point. The set-up for this video is essentially the same as the trailer above: a couple moms take some time for themselves, leaving their children with the fathers. The dads worry about possible outcomes, realize they don’t have the necessary skills, and thus order “Mom Goggles” from a “Daddy Doomsday Survival” website—doomsday for a dad is apparently having to take responsibility for your children. Through this wonderful invention, the men are able to see the world as their wives do. Toddler babble suddenly becomes intelligible. A child’s painting becomes a masterpiece. And the greatest miracle of all, these men realize just how hard their wives work as mothers. Thankfully, “Mom Goggles” does not fully encapsulate The Skit Guys’ view of dads. As Chris Routly points out, The Skit Guys have produced an excellent video extolling the virtues of fatherhood and show dads being great in their roles.
Since these videos are intended for Christian audiences, we can take a look at the theology they communicate.
Positively, these videos seek to honor mothers, which is one of the Ten Commandments. It is right to remember how our mothers offer us unconditional love and grace and to thank them for it. It is no accident that biblical authors describe God’s love like that of a mother’s. To that extent, we learn more about who God is when we experience our mothers living into their vocation.
By adopting the dominant culture’s mockery of dads as 8-year old boys trapped in middle-aged men’s bodies, the Church offers no counter narrative, no city on a hill to be a contrast to the rest of society. Instead we say the dads in the Church are selfish, immature, and obtuse. Sure they have their moments of epiphany, but that only happens after some catastrophe or because of magical tools. As my friend Chad wrote, “If you need Mom Goggles to change a diaper or see the beauty in your kids’ artwork, well I’m just going to say it, you suck as a dad.” What we’re saying is that the gospel has largely not transformed these men into people who think of the interests of others before their own. At least they cannot be bothered to work at becoming better dads until after the kids are released from the emergency room. I do not think we need to present Christian fathers as though they are without blemishes, but it would be nice to see how the good news has made a difference in their vocation as dads.
I am also concerned that these jokes can only work in a world in which there are hermetically sealed gender roles. A mom is honored only when a dad crosses the boundary and tries to engage in a different role. Worse, these videos encourage keeping those roles entirely separate. These videos actually don’t encourage men to become more involved and caring fathers. Instead they warn dads away from engaging in childcare. The videos communicate, “Just stay on the couch and watch football. Don’t try to do what your wife does because you’ll hurt the kids and yourself.” Theologically, this is dangerous, because just as we learn about God from the examples of our mothers, we also learn about God from the examples of our fathers.
If you think I’m being obstinate or just can’t take a joke, which is a possibility, I invite you to engage in a thought experiment. Imagine someone made a video or a feature length film wanting to honor dads by employing the same gender stereotypes, but reversed the players so that the filmmakers mock moms. Are churches going to show a Father’s Day video in which a couple moms have panic attacks about mowing the lawn and needing to order special “Dad Gloves” so they can teach their kid to throw a baseball or work the circular saw without cutting their fingers off? Imagine a movie in which moms have to fill in for their husbands at the office and then make such a terrible mess of it that the dads have to come in and save the day because, well, you know, the office just isn’t the woman’s place. We would say those stereotypes are backwards and sexist because mothers—and women in general—are capable of excellence in the workplace and can skillfully use power tools.