June 8, 2009

How Dad Looks In Kiddie Books

just-me-and-my-dadI’ve noticed something about a lot of the books I read to my youngest son.

Dad usually looks the same.

There are variations, but certain themes seem to pop up.

Here are some examples:

The most noticeable is the Old-Fashioned 1950’s-Style Dad, which of course comes with the 1950’s-style family. Dad works, smokes a pipe, and spends a lot of time reading the paper in a big chair. Mom stays home, cooks, cleaning, and taking care of the kids.

Then there’s the Clueless Ineffective Dad featured in ‘Caillou.’ This guy can’t do anything, is bossed around by mom, and seems to have no idea where he is, much less how to handle a child. Luckily Caillou is a really whiny and annoying kid, so for the most part I’ve been able to avoid reading the books or watching the TV show.

Then there’s Super Dad. Super Dad is often the same as 1950’s Dad, just in different stories. Super Dad plays baseball. Super Dad goes camping. Super Dad can do it all. (See “Just Me and My Dad” for a good example.)

I don’t have a problem with Super Dad. Reading stories featuring this character can make me sad, since I lost my father at a very young age, and even while he was alive, he wasn’t exactly perfect. (Long story that I’ll talk about at some point. Just take my word for it for now.) But it isn’t a bad thing.

The others I’m less than happy with.

Old-Fashioned 1950’s-Style Dad isn’t necessarily a bad guy, or even a bad example for kids. But it’s not the way things are in our house, and it reinforces a stereotype that I consider negative. If a kid only reads stories about Moms Who Stay Home and Dads Who Bring Home The Bacon, that’s how they’ll think the world works. Of course, that just means it’s up to us as parents to make sure they know otherwise. But it would be nice to see something different every now and then.

Clueless Ineffective Dad is very irritating. Luckily I don’t encounter him all that often. When I do, I tend to either gloss over the character dismissively (somewhat like the Mom character usually does in the story) or mock him. Maybe not the best strategy but at least it’s honest.

William Leith has an article in The Daily Mail about a couple of other types of dad. “He’s a greedy slob, just like Homer Simpson. He’s more childish than his children.” Another is Emotionally Unavailable Dad, “sitting at the breakfast table, hiding behind his newspaper. His daughter wants to talk to him, but he’s not interested. He’s there, physically, at the table. But in all other respects, he’s absent.” I haven’t encountered this one much during read-aloud time. If I had, I wouldn’t much care for it, although it certainly exists.

In fact, all of these father-types exist. But so do Stay at Home Dads, Writer Dads, even Emotionally Accessible Dads That Aren’t Wimpy And Annoying Like That Schmuck in ‘Calliou.’ That dad, I haven’t seen in a book.

Maybe I’ll write it myself…

Link: Why do my son’s books tell him all men are useless? | Mail Online

Image: Amazon