Recently, a small part of the small corner of the internet that is occupied by stay-at-home dads (like myself) was abuzz about the news that you are working on a remake of your 1983 movie “Mr. Mom.”
I know, this is actually old news (Variety reported it almost a year ago now), and I’m sure the remake has actually been in the works for some time before that. But, seeing as I’ve been unable to find any more up-to-date information on the state of the project, I’m hoping it’s not too late to chime in.
By no means do I speak for every stay-at-home dad, I just hope someone out there is listening to a few simple requests.
Let me get the obvious one out of the way:
Oops, I mean outrageous and unrealistic request, I guess.
Look, I know, that was the name of the original. And yes, I know there are specific marketing considerations you need to keep in mind in order to capitalize on the success and familiarity of audiences with the Michael Keaton film.
But in the almost 20-years since the original, it has been the moniker slapped onto men who act as primary caregivers for their children, and it has always been awful. At best it’s a tongue-in-cheek insult to the masculinity of men who care for their kids. At worst it insults women too.
Dads who care for their kids are not “moms,” any more than moms who go to work every day are “dads.”
Sure, you could make a movie about a stay-at-home mom who goes to work and humorously struggles with the change, but you would never call that movie “Ms. Dad,” would you? Of course not.
I would suggest finding an alternative, that could still use the term while perhaps poking fun at it, like “Don’t Call Me Mr. Mom.” Or better yet, call it “At Home Dad” or “Daddy’s Home” or “Modern Man” or something, anything other than “Mr. Mom.”
Yes, I know that it’s a comedy. And yes, I know that much of the humor by the very nature of the project is going to come from the fish-out-of-water situation of a guy having to do things he has never done, and make some hilrious mistakes along the way. That’s a given. I don’t expect a movie about a guy who suddenly finds himself as an at-home dad and has it all figured out from day one.
But don’t pretend men of these recent generations of young fathers are stupid when it comes to anything domestic. It’s 2012. Men do laundry. Men do dishes. Men cook. Men are involved during pregnancy and present at the birth of their children. Men go to PTA meetings. None of these things are exclusively the domain of men who are primary caregivers.
So show him learning. Show him screwing up. Show him finding his footing. But don’t treat him like a moron. There are already enough movies about dads who are morons.
If you’re going to poke fun of anyone, poke fun at the people who can’t accept dads as equal and important parents beyond dispensing discipline or playing catch when the kid is old enough. Poke fun of the passive-aggressive way stay-at-home dads are treated by nice little old ladies in the grocery store. Or how so few public men’s restrooms have changing tables. Or how SAHDs are so often categorized by the local mom’s group as being super guys, but who are still treated like a probable sexual predator.
I honestly believe that there is ample fantastic material that comes not from humor based on male domestic incompetence, but instead on the shared struggles of all parents of little ones. Please don’t go for the cheap, easy joke about a man shrinking the laundry or not expecting a baby’s poop to smell.
I know you’ve been reading about the “Mancession” and how this increase in laid-off men whose wives still have jobs has resulted in a rise in the number of stay-at-home dads. I’m almost positive that “a successful businessman gets laid off, and has to take care of the kids while his wife returns to work” is exactly the plot of the movie you are planning. And sure, how the economic downturn has been affecting families is definitely a huge part of the zeitgeist right now. So it’s understandable that’s the direction you’ll go.
However, you need to understand that when it comes to the rise in numbers of at-home dads, the role of the “Mancession” is mostly baloney.
Yes, there are a lot of men who have been laid off, and many of them are doing the right thing by stepping up and taking on primary care of their kids for a time. Many of them are finding they love it, and some embrace the role while it lasts.
I was recently contacted by a reporter who wanted help in finding some of these laid off men who are apparently all becoming stay-at-home dads in droves, because she was having a terrible time finding any. I told her what I’m telling you, which is that few of those guys call themselves “stay-at-home dads” at all, or identify as such. They call themselves “temporarily unemployed” and define themselves by the job they are seeking to return to, as soon as possible. In the meanwhile they are just being a dad. Awesome dads, who are doing the right thing.
But by a very large margin, those who call themselves “stay-at-home dads” are men who have made the decision with their wife that it is the best arrangement for their family. Usually their wife has the higher income (or income potential), but not always. They’ve embraced the role not out of necessity, but because they have been given the opportunity to choose the role of full-time caregiver.
So, again, while I understand your main character may end up in his situation because of a layoff, let the layoff be less a reason he gets “forced” into being an at-home dad, and more of an opportunity (if also a challenge) to do it instead. At the very least, please let him encounter some fellow at-home dads who chose and are thriving in the role.
The actual name “Mr. Mom” aside, I must admit that for a lot of people the original movie was something of an eye opener about the shifting gender roles of the time and how fatherhood was changing in that generation. I was recently reminded that, in the end, Keaton’s character was a champion, and the message a very positive one. So for all my hatred of the name, I can’t hate the movie.
But, the world has continued to change. Roles have continued to shift. Dads who can change diapers are not anywhere close to an anomaly any more. At the same time and on the other end of the spectrum, many communities are facing an epic amount of absentee fathers.
People need to see a positive, honest depiction of what full-time dads do, but more importantly they need to see competent fathers being involved and engaged with their kids’ lives from before they are even born and when they are still young.
The time is definitely right for a movie that sheds some light on this new reality of gender roles in our current society in a fair and accurate way.
Please don’t screw this up.