Is Mr. Mom My Mentor?

I’ve written previously about how I have no problem being called Mr. Mom, the name of the 1983 movie starring Michael Keaton. In short, I find it quite endearing.

In the movie, Keaton plays Jack, an engineer who gets laid off. Struggling to find another job, his previously stay-at-home wife Caroline (Terri Garr) successfully restarts her career. The working dad becomes Mr. Mom.

I have fond memories of the movie, but probably hadn’t seen it since the eighties. Browsing Netflix for something, my wife suggested we watch it. I warned her it was pretty silly, and she probably wouldn’t like it. Well, as it turned out, she didn’t like it and gave up less than halfway through. I stuck with it though.

It was interesting to revisit what was probably my first exposure to a dad staying home with their kids, something I am now doing myself. I was struck that the movie did in fact cover a lot of interesting and relevant themes around the swapping of traditional gender roles in the household.

This is essentially a situation comedy, and for comedic effect Jack doesn’t choose his new role, it is thrust upon him by becoming unemployed. It’s interesting that one of the reasons for the rise of the number of stay-at-home dads is the recession. Many fathers have lost their jobs, while their wives either haven’t or have found work instead (just like Jack and Caroline). These dads may have found themselves taking on a role in the home they never intended to.

Initially our decision for my wife and I to swap at-home and working roles was made because each of us wanted it. When we relocated from NZ back to the UK, my wife landed a great job quickly, while I picked up freelance work here and there. So there is a mirroring of the situation, inasmuch that my wife is more employable than me, and that is one of the reasons I am home with the kid.

I was struck by a scene where Jack goes to see a temp agency, and gets involved in a conversation two other male jobseekers are having. Turns out they are enthusiastically sharing recipes, the implication being that they too are in the same situation as Jack. I’ve had a similar situation – where another dad and I were moaning about laundry. On this occasion, a mum overheard us and sarcastically commented “Well, what a manly conversation you two are having”.

One of the myths of Mr. Mom (as far as I’m concerned) is this – the storyline of a mother trying to seduce Jack. I can reliably report that there hasn’t been a hint of sexual tension in any of the various baby groups, classes, playgroups, etc. that I have attended in my years as a stay-at-home dad. Even if my mother friends and I weren’t all happy in our respective relationships, it strikes me that the life of the lead parent of a baby/toddler is too tiring to go to the effort of having an affair.

But like Jack, I’ve also let my appearance slide while being home. I was never a smart dresser anyway, but now my day-to-day outfits tend to consist of jeans with holes, and old t-shirts and tops. As I have a short window to use the shower before the munchkin gets up, shaving tends to be left to the weekends too. As a happily married man who interacts with mothers with partners most of the week, I’m not trying to impress any of them with how I look.

In the film, Jack ends up forming a fairly close social circle with local mums. Since my first time with the antenatal group, and then befriending local mothers in our new area, I have formed good friendships with mothers. I have never felt awkward in these all female environments, which I must admit surprised me. My wife often reflects on the fact that I know far more mothers in our local area than she does – though they’ll often say hello to her at weekends, because they recognise our daughter.

The way the role change affects the mother also has a lot of truth to it. Working mother guilt is an established societal issue, which my wife is no stranger to. I wouldn’t, however, berate my wife the way Jack does, for all the things she has missed while at work. I know we are very lucky that my she supports us, and I know she feels like she is missing much more than she actually is.

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Mr. Mom (1983), Starring Michael Keaton and Terri Garr. Dir: Stan Dragoti

A theme of the film is the style of Jack’s parenting compared to a mother’s. Do dads parent differently than mothers? I don’t know. My fairly relaxed parenting style is shared by a lot of mothers I know too. Like Jack, I have fed my baby (well, toddler) chilli, and while I’ve never dried her bum on a hand-dryer, I have held her over men’s urinals many times. But mothers have told me of instances when their kids have accidentally swigged beer, or they’ve fed them nothing but white toast all day – the kind of things ‘Mr. Mom’ would do too.

Is Mr. Mom My Mentor?

Ultimately, there is something important about Keaton’s portrayal and the way Jack is written. Confidence. Jack acts like he has every right to be there in all these situations, and that’s exactly how stay-at-home dads should be. The movie is only partly about a hapless hopeless stay-at-home dad. He quickly finds his feet, and then owns the role of at-home dad. Many men who have also spent their time working, and less around their kids, may understandably also experience this transition too. Jack may do things a little differently, but not necessarily because he’s a man.

I’m not going to lie to you – the eighties slapstick humour, of which this is full of, falls fairly flat now. Comedies of this era were full of similar gags, and they haven’t aged well. But I’m glad I revisited it.

The film makes a compelling case for the positives of being a stay-at-home dad, or even an engaged dad, and that there’s no rule that dads MUST be the breadwinner of the family. I’m sure that influenced my subsequent thinking. I have no idea why I wanted to become a stay-at-home dad so much. I had no role models in my friends or extended family that have done it.

What I do have is the fond memories of watching this film as a child. Perhaps Mr. Mom planted the seed of an idea to become a stay-at-home dad, that became a reality many years later.

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Curious to watch the movie? Check it out on Netflix.

Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam program. Our household receives free Netflix for a year and I post about how our family uses the service.
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A Stay-At-Home Dad’s Netflix Duvet Day

Last week I had manflu was sick. Really really sick (*cough *cough *manflu *cough *cough).

Before being a parent, feeling like that would’ve resulted in calling in sick to work and spending a day or two in bed or on the couch, eating bad food and watching TV between naps.

When you’re an at-home parent of a pre-schooler, calling in sick involves taking industrial strength cold & flu remedies and hoping your kid will give you a break for a change. They rarely do.

However, something wondrous happened. My unwellness coincided with my daughter’s scheduled time at nursery. Normally, I would spend these days catching up with blogging stuff and freelance work, but this week I thought to hell with it… I really need a duvet day, the kind I used to have before being a parent. So I treated myself…

Actually, one thing was different about this duvet day. Netflix. So I took this opportunity to explore some of the content that my daughter can’t watch with me, and my wife won’t watch with me.

Orphan Black (2013-present)

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This is one I’ve been meaning to check out for some time. It’s a BBC America sci-fi show about a woman called Sarah Manning, who discovers she has an identical double. This immediately leads to her being thrust into a world of intrigue, deception, violence, death, and some great character led drama. We soon learn that Sarah has many doubles, as she is – surprise surprise – a clone.

Central to the series is an amazing performance from Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany, who plays Sarah Manning and all her doubles with such skill that it is easy to believe they are different people.

The story so far has remained engaging and frequently edge of your seat. Needless to say I am hooked, and shall be checking out the rest of the show when I can – like tonight while my wife’s at the hairdressers. While she does like some sci-fi (such as the amazing Battlestar Galactica), I thought it likely this would be one of those shows that she would end up disengaging with, so having the chance for me to sample it properly was great.

Frank (2014)

Frank StreamTeam-Netflix-Sep-2015

This was a movie I had wanted to see, but my wife already had (on a plane), and thought it was weird. Unenthused, it was never going to be a joint watch.

Inspired by the real life music and comedy persona of Frank Sidebottom, I’d say weird is a fair assessment of the movie, which is also funny, engaging, and rather endearing.

The story follows wannabe musician Jon (played by Domhnall Gleeson, soon to be seen in The Force Awakens), and how he gets involved with Frank and his band. There’s clearly something different about Frank, and it’s not just about the large false head that he wears.

Co-authored by journalist and writer Jon Ronson, who was in Frank’s band in his youth, this is a touching and quirky movie, that does go down a bit of a dark path towards the end.

Battle of Britain (1969)

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75 years ago, England was under sustained attack from the Nazi Luftwaffe in what had already been named the Battle of Britain. I’m assuming this is why the movie popped up in the ‘Trending’ category on Netflix. Curious, I took a closer look.

I’m pretty sure I must have seen this as a kid, but it’s a distant memory. A glance at the cast list alone made this movie worthy of a look – one of those epic collections of actors that is unlikely to ever be repeated in the modern era: It includes Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Robert Shaw, Trevor Howard, Kenneth More, Edward Fox, Michael Redgrave, and even Ian McShane.

It was actually incredibly moving seeing this part of history depicted on film. I had a real sense of England – my England – being under attack, and had only a glimpse of how it must have felt to see this battle raging in the sky. The all too familiar English landscapes were particularly poignant – especially as one of the locations was a former airfield up the road from me (where Star Wars: Rogue One is currently shooting).

Another aspect that makes this movie worth watching are the incredible aerial sequences. In these pre-CGI days, filmmakers had to rely on models and real vehicles to bring these stories to life. Well, for this movie, over 100 actual planes were used to recreate the aerial battles. There is nothing like seeing sequences celebrating the iconic British warplane the Spitfire on film.

It’s a fairly workmanlike movie, directed by James Bond stalwart Guy Hamilton. But the cast, flying sequences, setting, and historical accuracy make this well worth watching, if only to bring alive Churchill’s famous  quote about the battle:

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.

And finally…

Monsters University (2013)

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All things must come to an end, and so did my time alone on the couch. I finally dosed up on cold remedies and picked up my daughter from nursery. But I still had a few hours of lone parenting ahead, so the couch day continued, and upon returning home, my daughter and I settled down to watch Monsters University, a prequel to Pixar’s Monsters Inc. (which had been my daughter’s first film – we put it on because one weekend we were all sick, and watching a movie was the last resort).

It was a nice idea to follow up Monster Inc. with a prequel – a sort of ‘Mike and Sully Begins’. They start out as rivals, but of course become friends.

It was fine. It lacks the greatness of a Toy Story sequel, female characters hardly get a look in amongst the new creatures, and it lacks the clarity of the original’s reversal of the ‘monster in the closet’ scenario. But the characters remained engaging, the animation is inventive, and it was a fun way for my daughter and I to interact without too much physical effort from me. So I’ll take that as a win.

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This month we have also been alternating between Narcos and Orange is the New Black, both of which remain great.

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Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam program. Our household receives free Netflix for a year and I post about how our family uses the service.

If any of these grab your attention, please head over to Netflix to check them out.
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You Baby Me Mummy

Of Dinosaurs, Detectives, and Drug Lords (#StreamTeam)

This past month we’ve shown our daughter a classic superhero in action, brought some long dead creatures to life, learned about the highs and lows of an iconic performer, and discovered a great new drug (show) to get hooked on.

Batman: The Movie (Cert U)

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Batman: The Movie

My 3-year-old daughter has declared that two of her favourite superheroes are Batman and Robin. The 1966 Batman movie is probably why.

It’s ironic that the majority of modern superhero movies aren’t actually suitable for young children. That’s certainly not the case here, with this movie version of the famed campy Batman TV show.

The film features largely the same cast as the show, and the same style and sense of humour. The ‘plot’ sees Batman & Robin (Adam West and Burt Ward) take on a super villain team of the Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman.

Made after the first season of the Batman TV show, legend has it that it was made so the production could have access to more Bat-vehicles for the ongoing TV show – so here, as well as the iconic Batmobile, you also get the Batboat, Batcopter, and Batcycle.

In an age where superhero movies have become ubiquitous and ever darker (thanks in part to the dark detective’s recent trilogy), seeing this movie is a great reminder of how much fun comic books and superheroes can be.

The Land Before Time (Cert U)

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The Land Before Time (1988), Dir. Don Bluth

My daughter has also taken a liking to Dinosaurs of late, after reading a book to her about them. She also has a few toys, but I really wanted to show her some film and /or TV showing them for her to engage with them even more.

This was the perfect choice. Directed by Disney exile Don Bluth (An American Tail, The Secret of NIMH), and produced by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas no less, this is a great introduction to dinosaurs for little ones. It’s the story of a group of cute young dinosaurs who get separated from their family, and their journey to be reunited with them – with a T-Rex in hot pursuit.

While it’s rated U, it does have a family death near the start which might upset some children.

(We also tried Walking With Dinosaurs on her, but it was so well done – even though it’s 16 years old – it was too scary. For her, not me. Honest.)

What Happened, Miss Simone? (Cert 15)

Netflix has a great documentary selection, and this (a Netflix Original) was one I’m really glad we watched.

Previously, I knew very little about Nina Simone other than she was an African American performer who’s most famous song was ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’.

So I didn’t know about her role in the civil rights movement, her protest songs, the troubled family life, and the highs and lows of her career and life.

A fascinating story, well constructed with a mixture of new and archive footage & interviews, with some great music too – this is well worth a watch.

Narcos (Cert 15)

This is a terrific new Netflix Original series. I’m a sucker for a good organised crime drama, and this is a fine example. It’s a dramatised account of the 1980s American drug wars and the rise of the infamous kingpin Pablo Escobar. The story is told through the eyes and narration of US DEA Agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), who guides us through the ins and outs of the emerging Central & South American drug cartels – especially the Medellín Cartel headed by Pablo Escobar (played here by Brazilian actor Wagner Moura).

We’re only two episodes in, but rest assured that if we didn’t have a 3-year-old in the house we’d have binge watched it all weekend.

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Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam program. Our household receives free Netflix for a year and I post about how our family uses the service.

If any of these grab your attention, please head over to Netflix to check them out.

Celebrating Disney Princesses of Colour

Something a little different from me. Today I want to celebrate some Disney Princesses.

You can’t escape seeing merchandise adorned with the likes of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Merida, Ariel, and Snow White – and of course the as yet unofficial Disney Princesses of Frozen’s Anna & Elsa.

But as well as being Disney women, they also have something else on common – all of them are white.

As parents of a mixed race daughter, it’s important we include representations of girls & women of colour in stories, films, and merchandise she is exposed to. As far as Disney Princesses are concerned, the women of colour tend to be far less prominent than their caucasian counterparts, so here are some Disney Princesses of colour that I have made a point of introducing our daughter to.

Princess Jasmine in Aladdin (1992)

Disney Women of Colour, Disney Princesses of Colour, Disney Women of Color, Disney Princesses of Color, Princess Jasmine, Aladdin, 1992
‘Aladdin’ (1992), Dirs: Ron Clements, John Musker
© Walt Disney Pictures

One of the early films in the Disney Renaissance, this sees Princess Jasmine as the female lead opposite the eponymous Aladdin. Of presumably Persian royalty, she is a character who is destined for an arranged marriage but is looking for more than a foppish or arrogant prince. Could Aladdin be the one?

The animation is classic Disney, the characterisation very American, and the songs are catchy enough. Jasmine has an independent spirit, but storywise she’s really there to support Aladdin. And the fact is that the human characters are all upstaged my Robin William’s genie anyway – one of the first times a big star was cast in an animated movie.

Probably the best reviewed and most popular film on this list, it is a fairly safe choice. However, some scenes may be a bit intense for young children. I had lots of cuddles during the finale.

Pocahontas (1995)

Pocahontas, 1995, Disney Women of Colour, Disney Princesses of Colour, Disney Women of Color, Disney Princesses of Color
‘Pocahontas’ (1995), Dirs: Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg
© Walt Disney Pictures

Imagine Avatar minus spaceships, plus songs. That’s kind of what Pocahontas is.

I’m doing this film a disservice. While it was cited as one of the main sources of theft inspiration for James Cameron’s sci-fi saga, it’s a far more involving movie than that (not a fan).

A highly fictionalised version of the true story, this focuses on the romance between the Native American ‘princess’ Pocahontas and the English Captain John Smith.

Pocahontas shares similarities with Princess Jasmine, in that she is expected to be married off to a husband of her father’s choosing – but she wants more.

Featuring some stunning design and animation, this was a far better movie than I remember. It was an engaging mix of comedy, drama, and action – and a great starting point for conversations about race, colonialism, and the consequences of the choices we make. The casting of Mel Gibson as John Smith, in this tale of racial tolerance, seems somewhat ironic in the light of later events

I also found myself humming the standout musical numbers of ‘Just Around the River Bend’ and ‘Colours of the Wind’ for many days afterwards.

Mulan (1998)

'Mulan' (1998), Dirs: Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook  © Walt Disney Pictures
‘Mulan’ (1998), Dirs: Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook
© Walt Disney Pictures

Based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan (or Fa Mulan), and voiced by Ming-Na Wen (now well known as Melinda May in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Mulan is a woman who joins the Chinese army in the place of her elderly father, disguising herself as a man.

The film possibly tries a little to hard with the ‘women can do what men do too’ angle, and it perhaps falls into the trap of songs that pause rather than progress the plot – but the most memorable number of all, ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’ navigates this adeptly.

Mulan is a welcome Disney Princess because she is a woman of action. We need more of those, alongside princesses known for dancing or sleeping.

Honourable Mention…

Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

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‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ (1996), Dirs: Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg
© Walt Disney Pictures

You probably won’t find Esmeralda on any backpack or water bottle at the Disney Store. She was never fully admitted to the hallowed ranks of the Disney Princesses, and has now all but disappeared from the world of Disney. This is a real shame.

Based on the book by Victor Hugo, the film liberally adapts many elements of the story, including this character. Voiced by Demi Moore, here Esmeralda is a dark skinned Romani Gypsy, who displays the exuberance of a woman who is confident and adventurous, as well as being kind and empathetic.

Set against a backdrop of the Romani people being demonised as subhuman criminals (sound familiar?), Esmeralda is both despised and lusted after by the villain of the tale Judge Frollo, who is waging a campaign against all Romani in Paris yet is having trouble dealing with some repressed feelings for Esmeralda. She is a trusted member of her community, who is older and wiser than most Disney females, a step ahead from the teenage heroines we are generally used to.

Again, this film offers a good starting point for discussions about discrimination and injustice, while presenting a well rounded female character who is full of life and determination.

And I wish I could get my daughter an Esmeralda lunchbox at the Disney Store.

Representation Matters

Disney have made a decent effort over the past twenty or so years to be more racially diverse (recent examples also include Princess Tiana in The Princess and the Frog, and the forthcoming Moana, set in the south pacific). While I appreciate there are overriding issues with gender representation and Disney Princesses (admittedly only two of these movies – barely – pass the Bechdel Test), that is something that I can address by talking to my daughter about these stories. But there is no substitute for her seeing women who look like her, or at least the woman she will grow up to be, on films, tv, and merchandise.

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Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam program. Our household receives free Netflix for a year and I post about how our family uses the service.

To check out these Disney movies featuring women of colour, please head to Netflix.