The Church and Stupid Fathers, All in Time for Mother’s Day

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.

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8 thoughts on “The Church and Stupid Fathers, All in Time for Mother’s Day

  1. I love this. You’ve put into words what’s been kicking around inside my head ever since I saw these two videos a couple of weeks ago. I particularly appreciate how eloquently you worked the faith and Church angle into this discussion. Well done!

  2. I agree with your thought on culture and what the trailer looks like. Just saw the movie. The trailer is incredibly misleading. The main dad is the only sane one in the movie. Nothing is as it seems. I could go on and on about each misleading portion of trailer. Sad they thought they had to sell it that way.

    • Chris, that is very helpful to hear. I’m glad the film doesn’t portray all dads as incompetent. It is strange that the studio thought they had to sell the film in a way that belittles dads. The fault most likely does not lie with the filmmakers, who usually have no say in how a film is marketed. I also wonder if there is only one sane character in the film, and that character is a dad, how do you think the film did in its goal of honoring moms? (Or is honoring moms even a goal of the actual film and not another misrepresentation from the misleading trailer?)

      I’ve never understood why studios cut misleading trailers since the audience’s disconnect between what they thought they were going to see and what they are watching has to create some confusion and dissonance, which can’t help people enjoy the movie.

      • I think point of the movie was that God made us different and we should stop comparing ourselves to others. The main mom has trouble with the fact she has all she ever wanted but not happy. She says in her moment of dispair, “I’m just not good enough…I’m not the perfect mom…” She comes to see through the rough, tattoo artist (trace Adkins) God has created her to be who she is…God loves her, always will. That should be enough to make her stop comparing. Her husband affirms her later that her job is important. So yes, it honors moms but not necessarily the point of the movie. I think we all, but maybe women more so, have trouble with comparison. Definitely was not subtle in talking about God and his love. It also was one of the better “christian” movies I have seen in some time. (I hate referring to things as “Christian or secular…but you know what I mean)

  3. And when I say that the dad is the only sane one, the rest aren’t crazy. Maybe I was too drastic in my comparison. But for the moment in their life of the characters in the movie, the main dad is the one that seems to roll with the punches and keep things together.

  4. Chris, from what you describe of the film, it sounds like something I would support. It really is a shame that it wasn’t marketed so that the film’s message came through in the advertising.

  5. I think it is an understatement to say that the trailer is “incredibly misleading.” The trailer tells a very different story than the film.

    The scene depicting the dads wrapped in plastic while the kids run around does not really occur: it is the frantic mom’s fantasy/nightmare about what is happening, in part because Sean Astin’s character (Sean) invited one of his video game buddies over while the moms went out. It is this non-dad who refers to the fun center as Shawshank. The trip to the hospital is not for something that happens to a kid because a dad was careless, but to a dad who protected his son from something (I didn’t catch what). The two other dads were unintentional fathers, depicting the immaturity that goes along with that. In no way were they representative of the film’s view of fathers. The film was in no way communicating “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.”

    The movie was not unlike The Hangover, with Christian moms out in their hometown instead of secular groomsmen in Vegas, and with a message geared toward encouraging moms rather than raunch geared toward men.

    There were some VERY funny moments, and I think it set a new standard for “Christian” movies.

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