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Peter B. Gray Ph.D.

Modern Dads

What a new TV show says about dads today


A new show debuts on A&E with a focus on four fathers from Austin, Texas. These are the “modern dads.” While fathers have been central figures in TVland before, this show can be situated within an increasingly niche-specialized set of reality programs, and also provokes a few questions about contemporary fatherhood.

As one of the fathers notes, this isn’t “Leave it to Beaver.” Nathan is a stay-at-home father, Stone a single father of a five year old girl, Sean a stay-at-home stepdad, and Rick a stay-at-home dad of four children. The mixed families and roles of these dads contrast with the more typical TV fare featuring fathers in intact families. This is also a show in which the dads are the central family figures. The show literally revolves around them and their ties to their children and other women, a contrast to offerings in which the fathers are part of a wider social frame. These dads thus have a central and diverse role compared with most depictions of fathers on TV. Yet these are also just four guys, who walk that line between being characters whose lives are dramatized for TV and living everyday lives. They are also four guys who seem to be socioeconomically well-situated: a couple of their wives do very well, allowing them to be stay-at-home fathers in their division of labors.

What do these guys do? Many of the guys’ activities may resonate with a father of a young child. They meet up several times at a park—their “stay-at-home dad headquarters.” They change diapers, push strollers, plan and deliver on a princess party for two one-year-old daughters (at the park), shop for groceries, talk on cellphones, and hear the baby crying. They seem to enjoy that “being a dad gives permission to be a kid again.” They are not shown laboring at work to bring home a paycheck or watching sports or shuffling their kids off to sports. They are shown making light-hearted jokes about their predicament: how “I feel like I have no testosterone left;” how Stone the single dad can contemplate a vasectomy (he decides to “sleep on it”); and how, like the destructive power of Godzilla, having kids can wreck a man’s sex life.

Who will watch this show? It’s on A&E, which says something about the anticipated demographics. There was a Bounty commercial late in the show that featured a dad helping his two kids clean up a mess. Are the jokes and featured fathers enough to bring an audience back for more? I don’t know. It says something that a show like this can be aired in 2013; it would have been difficult to imagine these types of dads serving as focal TV fodder in past decades. Yet when a dad wants to unwind after a kid-filled day, there’s tough cable competition amidst ESPN offerings.

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About the Author

Peter B. Gray, Ph.D., is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is the co-author of Fatherhood.