Oh dad, poor dad. TV has painted you as a boob, but we know better.
By Leslie Bilderback 06/01/2010
Father’s Day is coming, so I suppose I must talk about barbecue. Why is that? Why has barbecue become the bailiwick of men? I know plenty of women who enjoy the Weber. I also know men who enjoy cooking other foods. Yet I can’t for the life of me find a goofy apron that reads “King of the Soup” or “Master of Muffins.”
Cooking meat over fire is, after all, what civilized us. Whoever discovered that meat tastes better cooked than it does raw was almost certainly the leader of the pack. If it weren’t for that guy, we’d all still be gnawing on freshly felled zebra thighs.
As luck would have it, anthropologists have recently uncovered transcripts from what appears to be the very first barbecue:
“Hey, Gronk! Why we stand near hot burning thing? Me afraid.”
“Well, Clarg, tonight we warriors will gather and sit together, perhaps in a circle, and I will cook these animal parts on the fire whilst recounting the amazing stories of my brave deeds.”
“Me like parts.”
“So do I, my brother. So do I. Hey, Flagus! Did you feed the kids?”
Yes, even then, fire-cooking was the job of the dad. And for some reason, dads have been the keeper of the fire ever since. Not that all dads are pyro-proficient, mind you. I have known plenty of dads who relied on starter fluid and a Bic. But if you are a dad, you are expected to be in charge of the barbecue. If you’re a dad and you do not barbecue, then there is something wrong with you. You are either a vegetarian, or possibly French.
It’s sad but true. We are a country addicted to stereotypes. No matter how insulting, we feel the need to pigeonhole people. I am convinced that this tendency has been promoted by retailers desperate to unload certain merchandise, like glow-in-the-dark toilet seats (“You can’t miss with a gift like this!”), naked lady golf tees or Big Mouth Billy Bass, singing Take Me To The River. Why do they think dads want this junk? Sure, it makes gift-giving easy, but it all ends up in a pile in the driveway behind a sign that reads, “Your choice, 25 cents.”
Moms have an easier time of it, for although we are still stereotyped, at least our generalizations are intriguing. I’d be fine with any of the classic mom labels —hockey mom, cold-hearted career woman, hooker, sociopathic stalker. I can guarantee that any one of those would make me more popular than I am right now.
But the dad stereotype is the worst. No matter what you do for a living, if you’re a dad, you’re an idiot. In every movie, television show and TV or print ad, fathers are portrayed as dopes too stupid to feed themselves, let alone be parents. They are bumbling, confused nitwits who must rely on their dictatorial, yet beautiful, wives to get them through the day.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look back at the annals of fatherly television history, shall we? The Dick Van Dyke Show’s Rob Petrie was more likely to trip over the barbecue than cook on it. In Bewitched, Darren Stevens let his mother-in-law walk all over him. (Would a real father put up with being called “Derwood” for 156 episodes?) The Douglas household from My Three Sons would never have survived if it weren’t for Uncle Charley, who was more of a mom than I’ll ever be. All in the Family’s Archie Bunker was so stupid he tried to bribe an IRS agent to avoid an audit. Howard Cunningham of Happy Days never seemed to notice that his eldest son, Chuck, mysteriously vanished after the first few episodes. Phillip Banks, the uncle of Bel-Air’s fresh prince, was smart enough to be a judge yet allowed Will to borrow the car to drive to a pool hall (!?!?). Tim Taylor of Home Improvement communicated thru a series of grunts. Bonzanza’s Ben Cartwright had three sons by three different women. What kind of a role model is that? Also, he and his sons had no loops for bullets in their pistol belts and never left the Ponderosa with extra ammo.
Mike, the father of The Brady Bunch, spent a little too much time in his study, probably because he was embarrassed by his perm.
Cartoon dads are no better, as evidenced by the following list — Peter Griffin, Homer Simpson, George Jetson, Fred Flintstone. The only good cartoon dad was Mr. Peabody (“…and his boy Sherman”), and he was a dog.
Commercials are worse, because in them, stupid dads are used to sell us stuff. And we’re buying it! Commercials tell us that dads have stinky feet and are easily distracted by beer, pizza and loose women. (That is such an unfair accusation. I am totally distracted by that stuff too.) You can easily recognize the dad — he’s the one sitting in a ratty old recliner, wearing a torn football jersey, eating Cheez Doodles and cracking wise to his confused dog while watching “the game.”
If they’re not depicting dads as idiots, advertisers are shunning them completely. During the recent Winter Olympics, there was an ad showing Olympians as kids being cared for by moms, with the tagline “Thanks, mom,” because no dads ever drove anyone to practice, or cheered at a game, or provided a roof under which said athletes could sleep, or bought airline tickets
Apparently advertisers believe that it’s only the women who decide how best to spend the family dollar, as if men never go shopping for peanut butter, toilet paper, new cars or air freshener. (Okay, maybe not that last one.)
Why is this? Dads are bright, useful creatures. They have skills many women do not possess in abundance, like rationality. Plus they have a high gross-out tolerance and can lift heavy stuff.
So let’s put an end to this dad-bashing, shall we? After all, it’s not your dad’s fault that women still earn 77 cents to a man’s dollar.
Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker and chef, a cookbook author and a former executive chef of Pasadena’s California School of Culinary Arts. A South Pasadena resident, Bilderback teaches her techniques online at culinarymasterclass.com.