A good way to make a room full of stay-at-home dads cringe is to mention “Mr. Mom.” It doesn’t matter whether you are talking about the movie or the moniker most full-time dads will take at the very least a little exception to it.
Give all the credit to the 1983 Michael Keaton vehicle for giving us the biggest cliché in the stay-at-home dad arena. A term that really in no way represents what SAHDs are or do. And what about the antics his character goes through, especially during his early days of staying at home? Gives dads everywhere a bad name. Right?
Well, yes. The early scenes where Jack Butler doesn’t seem like he’s ever been in a grocery store or done a load of laundry, has to ask the kids where the vacuum cleaner is, and does the same to locate diapers – on his second day of staying home, no less – is pretty ridiculous. I have a hard time believing even more than 25 years ago dads didn’t have some of these basics down.
All these years later the craziness that ensued in those early scenes, which is nothing less than typical Hollywood fare for a few laughs, still taints the stay-at-home dad something fierce. This is all people remember from the movie, and face it, movies become reality in many people’s minds. It is more than enough to justify that cringing.
Some Stay-at-Home Lessons?
But take deeper look at the film and you may be surprised. It actually addresses several aspects of stay-at-home dad life that hold up quite well.
There are breadwinner and gender role conflicts, which result in some pretty nasty masculinity stereotypes inflicted on the main character. There also is isolation, and the economic foundation of the entire movie is not a whole lot different than what is going on in the late 2000s.
We see Mr. Butler in this predicament because he lost his job. As soon as he gets home that day his wife, played by Teri Garr, says she has made some calls and may have a job opportunity. Jack immediately bets her $100 that he’ll get a job before she does. He, of course, loses. Breadwinner issues at their finest.
And some of the nasty stereotype lines that wouldn’t shock me if they were uttered today: A woman directing traffic, and a confused Jack, at school, “This is what I tell all my new mommies.” And the best of all, when Caroline’s boss smacks Jack down at a company function: “Why don’t you stick around for awhile and you can watch with the rest of the wives. I’m sorry, families.” Nice.
Soap opera day dreams, a lack of communication with the spouse, guilt. It actually is all there and addresses some of the biggest challenges of at-home dads. And it does it fairly well.
'Mr. Mom' is Here to Stay
In the end, it gets tied up in typical movie fashion, but it winds up being about family. Is that an awful thing?
And I’ll be honest, risking my stay-at-home dad card, I mostly enjoy the movie. It has its funny moments and there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes. There, I said it.
Besides, Mr. Mom will always be a part of stay-at-home dad culture, no matter how mad we get at the thought or how ignorant the media is for continuing to call us the name regardless of how untrue and beat into the ground it is. So we might as well ignore it or laugh along with the silliness and see that it actually had a little foresight. Once that cringe surpasses, of course.