According to today’s Times, Homer Simpson tops the league of Deadbeat Dads. Daddy Pig comes in for some negative comment too. (A whole page of it, actually, reflecting his cultural significance as a “classic incompetent.”)
In a similar vein, the Daily Mail asks why does TV portray every dad as a dimwit? It argues that fictional fathers are depicted as “useless twits who can’t change a nappy, mop a floor or unload the dishwasher without causing a tsunami of chaos.”
The features apparently come off the back of two surveys. One is by Netmums. Netmummers (and Mumsnetters, for that matter), we know, are famous for enjoying a good gossip and eating lots of biscuits. And they’re not shy of controversy.
In contrast, the other survey carries the heavy weight of academia and social commentary. According to the Centre for Social Justice, over one million children grow up with no contact with their fathers. Certain parts of the country have become “men deserts,” with no positive male role models at home or, due to the lack of male primary school teachers, in the classroom.
The Centre’s report, Fractured Families, Why Stability Matters, criticises two dysfunctional models of fatherhood, the absent father and the disengaged father.
It’s not too hard to see elements of both in some of the TV Dads under fire in today’s papers. Strangely, however, the report doesn’t mention them, or any other fictional Dads. Not once.
Why then has Netmums been so vociferous? According to its founder, Siobhan Freegard, many fathers are trying harder than ever to be good parents. It’s unfair for the media to mock them. Affirmative action is required, even by cartoons.
However, not everyone agrees that our comic strip dads aren’t making the grade. Times readers have risen to Daddy Pig’s defence. He cares for his kids, holds a world record in puddle jumping and takes part in charity fun runs. He cooks and is very tolerant of his overbearing in-laws.
So what if he sometimes slinks off to read the newspaper, eats too much chocolate cake and is a bit overweight? What do you expect? Afterall, he is, as his name implies, a pig.
Homer loves his wife and children, holds down a job at Springfield’s nuclear power plant (after a fashion) and stands by his friends (most of the time). He’s kind to animals (when he’s not eating them). He’s rehomed an abandoned greyhound, Santa’s Little Helper, and adopted a pig otherwise destined for slaughter. (You can’t kill him, he’s wearing people clothes, a clearly choked Homer explained to his fellow diners).
Love them or loath them, aren’t we in danger of taking Homer and Daddy Pig too seriously? I’m all for equality. But, after all, they are cartoons. And cartoons are different from real people. Straight up. They’re meant to make us chuckle. When we laugh, we’re laughing at their foibles, those recognisable imperfections that we can identify with, that makes them (almost) human.
Should we be looking at cartoons for role-models? And what does our criticism of Homer and Daddy Pig really say about our attitudes to fathers? Do we really expect them to be multitasking, ever-patient, domestic gods with abs like tea trays and political correctness shining out of their coiffured ears?
What should a model cartoon father look like? Captain America pushing a pram?
For years Netmums has championed the cause of the good enough mother. Isn’t it time it cut fathers the same slack?
Hang in there, Daddy Pig. You’re doing great!