Ask anyone who isn’t a stay-at-home-dad what their familiarity is with the fine art of being a man running the household, and most will say it begins and ends with 1983 John Hughes film Mr. Mom.
It surprised me to learn that many of my fellow SAHDs dislike this movie and in particular being called “Mr. Mom” because they feel that it disparages the role that men can have in the modern family. Upon hearing this I always have to ask: Did we watch the same movie?
On the surface of the story and the plot itself, yeah, Mr. Mom maybe goes a bit too far to depict the worker-turned-homemaker Jack (played by Michael Keaton) acting effeminately, and it holds nothing back about that fact by being titled what it is. Of course Jack blunders the laundry, picking the kids up at school, man-to-man talks with the kids, and shopping – like in this popular grocery store scene.
But that’s just movie making. In particular, it was early 80s movie making, and the world was a little different. The filmmakers wanted to extravagantly express the idea that a man can still be a man while handling “woman’s work.” The result is a title that sounds insulting but is in fact only ironic, and a story that goes all out to make the father become the mother, but only to show how tough it really is to be a homemaker.
This theme is supported and backed-up at various stages in this movie, and in other movies made by John Hughes, one of Hollywood’s most skilled writer/directors, who has a talent for taking commonly accepted roles and making us think about them in different ways. That’s also true of his movies Christmas Vacation, Uncle Buck, Home Alone, and Plains Trains and Automobiles; each a classic in its own right.
Yet what really surprises me the most about SAHDs who don’t like Mr. Mom is that frankly very little has changed since the movie was released in 1983. Sure, payphones are now HTC phones, and the movie’s hotel scene between Teri Garr and Martin Mull would likely be avoided today by a quick Skype video call; but not much else is different. In fact the reason the main character Jack is brought to become the stay-at-home parent in the first place is because he was laid off as a result of the recession of the early 1980s. It’s an American family experience that’s as true today as it was 30 years ago. Countless men across the country are currently SAHDs because they’ve been laid off or are unable to find work at all.
To become easily offended at being called “Mr. Mom” is to fail to recognize the true accomplishments that have been made in the world of parenting thanks to SAHDs. We’ve proven that the sex of the parent is in no way a determiner of how well they can manage a household and raise youngsters. The term “Mr. Mom” is meant to express the senselessness of such titles when determining the value of a parent or a husband and wife.
When it comes to raising a family, a parent is a parent. It doesn’t get more complicated than that.
If you are a stay-at-home dad (or mom) I want to hear your story. If you’ve run into gender bias or parenting discrimination leave a comment for discussion below.