Last night, A&E premiered their new reality show, “Modern Dads,” about four stay-at-home dads in Austin, Texas, and I feel compelled to admit that I kinda sorta liked it. I was prepared to be annoyed and possibly offended by it, for a number of reasons. First of all, it bothers me that stay-at-home dads are considered “modern,” while stay-at-home moms are deemed “old-fashioned.” But A&E did not create that dynamic, so I really shouldn’t blame them for calling it like it is. The show’s tagline reads: “A good day at the office for them is just keeping their kids, and their manhood, alive.” Why are dads just expected to keep their kids alive, while moms are expected to nurture and educate them? The whole premise of the show seemed gender-biased and absurd. That was before I watched it.
In the previews, the show’s four dads came across as stereotypical caricatures – there’s the new dad, the single dad, the step-dad, and the veteran dad of four. The ads proclaimed: “They’re like a fraternity, but this time around, all-nighters, babes in your bed, empty bottles and projectile vomit carry a whole new meaning: they’re on 24/7 dad-duty.” I imagined the show would be mostly bad one-liners and bathroom humor.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of that. Still, the new show has potential. The guys may swear and do stupid stuff, but what parent hasn’t been there? I have personally never made a friend jump into my moving car for fear that stopping to let him in would wake my baby sleeping in the back, but that seems both perfectly plausible and hilarious. As the Entertainment Weekly reviewer put it, “I know zero people who cannot either relate to this scenario directly or get an eye-rolly chuckle out of it.”
Though the dads each have their issues, they generally take fatherhood seriously, and seem comfortable deferring to their attractive, successful wives. More importantly, they seem to genuinely love, respect, and appreciate their wives, something that is increasingly rare on TV. For their part, the moms acknowledge the dads’ important contributions and try to support them. A Slate reviewer emphasized these refreshing relationships when comparing “Modern Dads” to NBC’s short-lived “Guys With Kids:” “Unlike on its scripted predecessor, on Modern Dads, fathers actually like their children and their spouses.” That means a lot to me. Throughout the premiere episode, my husband was laughing, nodding, and identifying with the dads and the situations they found themselves in on the show. I’m not sure what audience A&E is seeking to appeal to with “Modern Dads,” but my stay at home dad household will be tuning in again next week for sure.
After the premiere reversed my negative preconceived notions about the show, I decided to find out a bit more about it. On A&E’s website, I learned that 6 of the 8 executive producers on the show are women. I’d be willing to bet that at least one of those women is married to a stay at home dad. That changed my whole perception of the show – rather than a comical “Three Men and a Baby” farce about a man’s inability to raise his children, “Modern Dads” aims to confront the emasculating stigma of being a full-time dad and demonstrate that it takes a real man to be a good father.
In A&E’s Q&A with the stars, step-dad Sean is asked: “What was the biggest change you had to make when you became a dad?” He replies, “I had to start wearing clothes when walking around the house. I remember seeing my parents naked, and it is not my favorite memory.” I wish he had said something about how the awesome responsibility of raising two young girls had prompted him to model the values he wants to instill in them. Then again, I am pretty sure my husband would have given the same answer!