On one level, A&E’s new series “Modern Dads” is almost refreshing: The four guys the show follows, stay-at-home dads all, come across as loving fathers who don’t recoil at the sight of a dirty diaper or act as though they’ve been emasculated* by the situation they’ve chosen.
(*Not that you’d know it from the way the show’s press materials oversell it. “A good day at the office for them,” the show’s synopsis reads, “is just keeping their kids — and their manhood — alive.)
Television — scripted, unscripted or in between, as “Modern Dads” seems very much to be — is not exactly overrun with fathers who take the lion’s share, or even contribute much, to child-rearing. So seeing dads take good care of their children is hardly a bad thing.
On another level, though, the travails of four middle-class (or better) white dudes from Austin does not exactly paint the most representative picture of modern dad-hood.
A&E clearly wants us to see their situation as a curiosity, a comedy of (non-life-endangering) errors about men taking on what has traditionally been the responsibility of women. And to be sure, parenthood — whether you’re a mother or a father — has more than its share of moments where the only sane response is to laugh.
But for a great many Gen-X fathers (the four stars of the show are all between 37 and 42) — myself included — being an active parent is just how things work. It’s not really a question of if we make dinner for the kids or make sure they get to daycare or school on time, but just a matter of scheduling which partner does what when.
In that way, the four guys on “Modern Dads” are no different than most of their target audience. Where they do stand out, though, is in their economic circumstances. The guys on “Modern Dads” aren’t exactly sleeping on piles of money, but theirs is unquestionably a privileged position that a lot of parents, men or women, would be thrilled to have.
The show does at least jokingly acknowledge this fact — dad Nathan Hall says of his wife, who works a medical director, “Hell yeah, I married up!” Beyond that, though, the show — or at least Wednesday’s (Aug. 21) premiere episode — doesn’t really delve into the idea of “opting out” or work-life balance. The significant others of the three guys in relationships (the fourth, Stone Slade, is divorced) just aren’t on screen a lot, although they come across just fine when they are.
A docu-com serving as the lead-out for “Duck Dynasty” is probably not the place all those issues are going to get tackled. And the four guys at the center of the show, in addition to actually being friends before the cameras came around, are portrayed as caring, involved dads, albeit with a few sitcommy quirks. (The talking-head segments in “Modern Dads” may be almost as tightly scripted as the show it’s clearly trying to evoke, “Modern Family.”)
That’s all great. But thinking the dads on “Modern Dads” are somehow unique is really not capturing the whole picture.
What did you think of “Modern Dads”?