Jimmy Fallon understands that kids are funny and many of his commercials demonstrate this as he plays foil to toddlers and infants. But while his new show, Guys With Kids, ostensibly pertains to kids, the humor comes from exploring the changing and new frontiers of fatherhood. Some reviewers find nothing funny about the show but as a guy who’s spent years on the cutting edge of bending gender roles, it’s also spot on in touching upon some of the issues facing men who now take an active father role.
Each of the three main characters, all close friends, is representative of a different fatherhood model – the traditional working father (Zach Creggar as Nick), divorced with joint custody (Jesse Bradford as Chris) and homemaker father (Anthony Anderson as Gary). This trio is part of a new generation of television fathers, akin to NBC’s Parenthood, who take an active, involved and hands-on role in the care and raising of their children. Humor aside, how does this particular program do a decent job of examining what men face and how things are changing?
They actively incorporate the kids into their daily lives. It’s jarring to see dads take their babies into a sports bar, but they want to maintain their friendship and instead of having to find sitters so that they can gather separately, they take the kids along with them. There’s an acknowledgement that fatherhood isn’t compartmentalized into one facet of a man’s life, but instead permeates it so that if the other guys have kids, they just bring them along as well. In previous eras, the kids would be at home with the mother or the babysitter while the guys gather but with men taking a larger role, they adapt accordingly to make it work.
Does Mother automatically know best by dint of childbirth? The divorced dad contends with a sense of parental inferiority when his concerns and opinions are undercut by his ex-wife’s rote response of grew inside me to any disagreement that they might have about the baby. The explosion in the divorce rate in the 1970s left many fathers out in the proverbial cold as the legal system simply adopted the credo that mother knows best in terms of the well-being and care of the child and realistically, the typical father back then wasn’t clued into the daily issues of childcare and raising kids. But two generations of fatherhood advocates have argued that men are capable of effectively and lovingly raising children and the actions of a new generation of fathers – many of whom have the insight of having been a child of divorce – have taken the opportunity to heart and the court system has begun reassessing whether custody questions should be determined solely by gender.
While I do believe that there’s such a thing as maternal intuition, I think that it’s partially a function of having spent so much time around the children that a feel is developed for what’s occurring. Years ago, I spoke with a new mother who admitted that when her husband asked her a question about the baby, she responded that she was also new to the baby experience; that fact that she had given birth to a baby didn’t necessarily make her an immediate expert on what was best in the moment. The key difference is that there’s a broad and deep support network for new mothers, a huge sisterhood of maternal mentors that really doesn’t exist for new fathers. Likewise, the media is constantly churning out a supply of new and/or reissued materials for the mother. But even this network breaks down, as evidenced by the existence of lactation consultants; this subspecialty would never have come into existence had two generations of mothers not bought into the Madison Avenue schtick that mother’s milk wasn’t as good as manufactured formula. When the medical evidence conclusively showed that nursing benefits outweighed that of formula, literally an entire generation of mothers had no clue how to nurse and even their mothers couldn’t help them because they themselves didn’t know how to nurse.
It’s not the gender, it’s the role. There’s a common image of a frazzled housewife with small children, chronically ill-tempered and a wee bit squirrelly with the kids all around them. Bill Cosby did a terrific routine on the changes in his beloved wife when she encountered doofus husband feeding the kids cake for breakfast and her response to this ridiculous situation. The upshot through the years is the perception that these changes and images are largely common to women by dint of being…women. But the reality is that spending all of your time in the homemaker role is what makes the person change, regardless of the gender. I speak from experience and truly laughed aloud when Gary, the stay-at-home dad, commiserated with Nick’s wife – also a stay-at-home mom – about what the working mates don’t realize. Yes, they dished and I’ve been in the same situation where a group of us sit and share war stories. The effect upon a father, tasked with cleaning up after and raising multiple children, will likewise make him cranky and a bit forgetful.
Children take over your life. Both married fathers joke about enjoying "playing with" the divorced father’s life, helping him meet new women; they live vicariously through him. It doesn’t mean that they don’t love their mates, but they recognize that the full-time responsibility of child-rearing and providing a roof means that the freedom that being single allowed is a thing of the past. When you’re responsible for the care and raising of children, even teens, you don’t have the latitude that existed before their arrival.
What has truly taken me aback however, has nothing to do with the show itself. As I took notes prior to beginning this article, I came across a television critic’s review in which the reviewer described the three men as emasculated. I actually watched the show again and nowhere in it do I find anything that would denote the three characters as being anything less than men. Goofy, sometimes uncomfortable with their responsibilities? Absolutely, since that’s the nature of television and the situation in which many new fathers find themselves. But as the show revolves around men being responsible and taking care of children, the nagging sense is that there’s a belief that caring for the kids is emasculating and that men who step up to that role are less than real men. I believe that there’s nothing emasculating about the role but if the reviewer would like to see us return to the traditional masculine role, then we’ll just go back to leaving the kids unsupervised while the mothers are out working, and we’ll see how that works out in another decade.
Knock yourself out, Sport. I’d rather be a guy with kids.