USA Today, June 9, 2003
Except on Father's Day, dudes trump Dads
across the country had good reason to
celebrate Father's Day. Emerging from the
centuries-old stereotype of the breadwinning,
off-site patriarch whose time with his children
was as scarce as it was detached, more
fathers had begun taking advantage of
corporate flex-time policies, setting up offices
in their dens and logging in extra hours along
the stroller paths and in the aisles of the
supermarket. Dad was, in effect, coming
I was among the newly enlightened, having left the workplace six months earlier to
devote my energies to writing about parenting. My timing couldn't have been better.
The publishing and entertainment industries had caught drift of this little daddy
boomlet and, always eager to tap into developing trends, decided it was meaty
enough to begin targeting in a serious way: From January 2000 through Father's
Day 2001, an unprecedented wave of ventures designed specifically for the
American dad began rolling across the nation's fatherhood landscape.
For me, that meant dozens of new opportunities to do what I enjoyed most: writing
about my kids. Among my potential new employers were Dads magazine, an
independently published glossy billed as "The Lifestyle Monthly for Today's
Father," and a sudden eruption of fatherhood Web sites, led by odaddy.com and
dadmag.com, both of which offered fresh, hip spins on the role of today's father.
Out West, the TV industry also had caught the buzz, introducing no less than a half-
dozen sitcoms devoted to the lighter side of fatherhood, including Normal, Ohio,
starring John Goodman as a gay single father; Daddio, with Michael Chiklis as a
straight at-home dad; and The Bernie Mac Show, a November 2001 arrival in which
a cranky married man reluctantly takes custody of his sister's children.
Did America ultimately greet this formidable mother lode—uh, father lode—with
open arms? Not exactly. With the exception of Bernie, the rest have long since
closed up shop—and along with them go my dreams of bringing home the bacon by
Curiously, the numbers don't support this drop-off of dad-oriented fare in society.
According to Peter Baylies, the founder of the At-Home Dad Network and publisher
of its monthly newsletter, the number of stay-at-home fathers nationwide hovers at
2 million and continues to rise slowly but steadily. So what to make of the crash-
and-burn of daddymania?
I've always maintained that fatherhood is too often undervalued and overlooked.
Looking back at the fleeting daddy wave of 2000, I'm now convinced of the reasons
for its short life.
First are the economic factors. "In publishing, you need a lot of staying power to
introduce a new idea to the mass market," says Eric Garland, former editor of Dads
magazine, which folded after three issues. "Remember, every time a Working
Mother or Martha Stewart Living debuts, they've had 70 years' worth of successful
women's publications to help them formulate their concepts. In the case of dads,
that level of consciousness wasn't there yet. We knew there was a real audience of
involved fathers out there, but we ran out of money before we could tap into it."
Beyond the budget crunches is a more significant, and, at times, more insidious,
obstacle: a public for whom the celebration of fatherhood remains an unfamiliar, or
even off-putting, commodity. Daddio never caught on, says Matt Berry, its creator
and executive producer, in part because of the insistence of the popular culture on
typecasting fathers as domestic bumblers.
"When we began putting Daddio together," Berry says, "the media had started
focusing on the increased commitment fathers were making to the American
household. We thought we were catching a little lightning in a bottle. Therefore, we
tried to make sure that our main character didn't even remotely resemble the
stereotypically incompetent 'Mr. Mom.' Instead, we created this real guy's guy who
makes a deliberate, conscious choice to leave the workforce in order to be closer to
his kids. And, lo and behold, he turns out to be pretty good at it.
"Yet even with all this forethought on our part," Berry concludes, "we still got hit with
the 'Mr. Mom' label."
Daddio was canceled midway through the first season.
As much as I would like to blame modern society for stiff-arming fatherhood, some
of the blame for fathers' inability to shed the typecast of parental also-ran is our
"Even the best of fathers will not cozy up to consumer products that have the word
'dad' in it," Baylies says. "That label somehow turns them off. It threatens their self-
image as someone who's macho."
Baylies says he has concluded that "guys are a lot more comfortable identifying
with masculine subjects. I guarantee you, if my newsletter were about sports or sex,
my mailing list would skyrocket from 1,000 to 200,000 easy. But many men are
reluctant to have a 'dads' product in plain view on the coffee table. It's almost as if
they didn't want to appear to be seeking parenting advice."
One need only look at the success of such publications as Maxim, Stuff and FHM—
with their reliable recipe of booze and babes—to know that Baylies has a point.
Maybe some men would rather be dudes than dads, after all. The tide, however,
may change yet again.
"There's definitely a dad's market out there," Dana Glazer Gers says. She and her
husband, Olivier Gers, left their respective jobs in the early 2000 to launch the
odaddy.com Web site, only to clean out their desks six months later.
"Maybe there were too many players all at once," she speculates. "Maybe all of our
efforts fractured the marketplace instead of capturing it. But I'm still confident that
this whole daddy thing is an excellent idea. Its time will come."
From the very start, fatherhood found its place on the TV dial, as popular radio
shows such as The Life of Riley and One Man’s Family (both 1949) carried over to
the new medium, giving Americans a first peek at a long line of small-screen dads.
Writer Bruce Kluger takes a look back at some of television’s more memorable
hangs around house dispensing advice. Stumper: What’s his job?
Make Room For Daddy (1953): Nightclub star barely has time for kids; Danny
Thomas’s TV pop is hot-tempered but warm-hearted.
Father Knows Best (1954): Television meets the perfect dad (Robert Young). A
bit too perfect, maybe?
Bonanza (1959): Rugged cattleman Lorne Greene keeps his boys home on the
The Andy Griffith Show (1960): Daddy gets countrified; sage old tales replace
My Three Sons (1960): Congenial widower Fred McMurray presides over
suburban frat house. Prime-time testosterone.
Family Affair (1966): Rich, gruff bachelor (Brian Keith) reluctantly takes in twin
moppets and big sis—who then rule roost.
The Brady Bunch (1969): Bell-bottomed, widowed dad of three (Robert Reed)
remarries (Florence Henderson), inherits three more. Silliness ensues.
The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1969): Clueless widower Bill Bixby endures
son's dating advice. Japanese nanny fills in for mom.
The Waltons (1972): Blue Ridge mountaineer Ralph Waite lords over three-
generations of kinfolk. Family values abound.
Good Times (1974): John Amos’ struggling ghetto dad pulls no punches, yet still
manages to get laughs.
Little House on the Prairie (1974): Frontier father Michael Landon provides
endless life lessons for fetching brood. Each week a tear-jerker.
Eight is Enough (1977): (See Waltons, add Dick Van Patton, electricity.)
The Cosby Show (1984): The Cos brings a first to TV: the upper-middle-class
black family. It’s about time.
Married With Children (1987): Chicago slob Ed O’Neill hates wife and kids. The
Murphy Brown (1988): Headstrong D.C. TV reporter (Candice Bergen) decides
she can raise a child without the father. America cheers, Dan Quayle fumes.
The Simpsons (1989): Dad gets a new complexion: yellow. Beer-swilling
nuclear power plant inspector (Dan Castellaneta) adds new word to the paternal
Party of Five (1994): Eldest of sibling quintet (Matthew Fox) is appointed legal
guardian when parents die in car crash—then discovers daddyhood isn’t so easy
The Bernie Mac Show (2001): Wise-cracking comic inherits sister’s brood while
she's in rehab. Guess who gets last laugh.