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Dads Through The Decades: From Ward to Homer to Selfie Dad

By Adam Holz
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Dad and daughter taking a selfie with phone
In telling Ben’s story, the movie Selfie Dad invites us as dads to ponder some questions worthy of intentional self-reflection on our part.

Hollywood’s depictions of dads over the decades has swung from one end of the spectrum to the other. From Ward Cleaver to Homer Simpson, and now Selfie Dad, these characters not only shape our culture but how we view dads.

The Ward Cleaver Era

In the 1950s, Leave it to Beaver’s Ward Cleaver was the epitome of fatherly steadfastness, wisdom, and dependability. For six seasons and 234 episodes, his character stood out like the Rock of Gibraltar among other television shows. Ward and his unflappable and indefatigable bride, June, guided their lovable but prone-to-mild-trouble boys, Wally and Beaver, through the lesson-rich trials of that era.

In addition to Leave it to Beaver, shows such as My Three Sons and Father Knows Best further cemented the fatherly ideal that Dad was an omnicompetent problem-solver. He was a man who was never without a word or way to help his children (especially his sons) navigate life’s waves.

Even as late as the mid-1980s, that perception of what a father could be continued to include largely positive examples with a broad cultural appeal. The Cosby Show and Family Ties carried the torch for depicting loving, engaged dads. The dad-like trio on Full House didn’t do a bad job either.

Ward, Meet Homer Simpson

By the late ‘80s, however, the suggestion that Dad was an ever-flowing fount of wisdom and knowledge had begun to erode in popular culture. The descent could be traced as far back as Archie Bunker’s corrosive cynicism on All in the Family throughout the 1970s. Vietnam, the Cold War, economic turmoil, increasing divorce rates, and culture’s drift from traditional ways of life all contributed to an atmosphere in which fathers were increasingly the butt of jokes and punchlines.

Enter the “doofus dad” brigade. And marching proudly at the front was none other than Homer Simpson. Right alongside him? Married With Children’s anti-patriarch, Al Bundy.

Since then, with occasional exceptions, dads have taken more shots to the midsection than Rocky Balboa. A joke at a father’s expense isn’t something that anyone will ever question. I can’t help but wonder how these narratives have lowered expectations for what a father can and should aspire to be in the lives of his children.

7 Traits of Effective Parenting Assessment

Good parents aren’t perfect. There’s no formula to follow, but there are ways you can grow every day. Focus on the Family’s 7 Traits of Effective Parenting Assessment gives parents an honest look at their unique strengths, plus some areas that could use a little help.

Selfie Dad’s Messy Self-Portrait

When I look back at the idealized portraits of yesteryear’s fathers, I don’t totally resonate with them either. I know that I have some deep flaws and that I don’t always have the answers. The perfection depicted in that era (for both dads and moms) feels out of touch with the messy reality of our own age.

Occasionally, a movie comes along that splits the difference. By the time the credits roll, I’ve enjoyed a bit of gentle dad-ribbing but I’ve also been inspired to be a better father and husband.

Selfie Dad offered that kind of storytelling experience for me. In the movie, we meet a struggling guy named Ben Marcus, played by Christian comedian Michael Jr. Ben is winning awards in his role as a TV reality show editor. However, he works with an aptly named woman named Rosie Puncher who does nothing but belittle him. At home, Ben’s wife Jessica wants him to be more engaged and aware of what’s happening with his family. But Ben’s tired. He dreams of a stand-up comedy career that never came to be. He wearily tells a co-worker, “I’m trying, man. I’m trying.” I suspect it’s a sentiment with which most of us can relate.

That’s when Ben learns from his son about a video site called UToo. On the site, a person’s videos can generation millions of dollars if enough people view them. Ben suddenly has renewed purpose and passion as he strives to create such videos. But it comes with a lot of self-focused narcissism and even more obliviousness to his family’s growing needs. In the end, Ben comes to his senses as he learns how Scripture can help him focus on the needs of others – especially those of his family – and not just his own.

Selfie Dad is a Story That Resonates

Selfie Dad paints a portrait of fatherhood that resonates with me as a dad. Ben is not perfect. He does some “doofus dad” things – such as his spectacular failure to fix a broken toilet. If you’ve ever failed to be a “fix-it dad,” these scenes will prompt a smile and knowing nod.

On a deeper level, Ben Marcus has to come to terms with the fact that this self-pity and narcissism have kept him from seeing some deep problems in his family. His daughter is drifting toward sexual experimentation. His wife is at the end of her rope trying to hold the family together. To enter into those problems in a meaningful way, Ben must first see them. Next, he must admit that he’s been so caught up in his own stuff that he hadn’t even noticed them before. Ouch.

In between laughs, Selfie Dad nudged me – sometimes like an uncomfortable elbow in the ribs – toward the realization that I share some of Ben Marcus’ blind spots. The solution? The movie rightly suggests that God’s Word has the power to transform our perspective on what is most important in life. We watch as Scripture gives Ben new eyes to see his petty behavior and self-absorption – and to begin to turn from those habits. That transformation takes place in the context of a real relationship with his wife, family, and one particularly good friend who is willing to tell Ben the hard truth he desperately needs to hear.

What About Us Dads?

Selfie Dad gives us a picture of a man in a perilous place: a man who is going through the motions, and who lacks a vibrant connection with God and other men. He is increasingly willing to indulge a pity part for himself because he believes no one cares about his needs. In that valley of weakness, Ben is sorely tempted to have an affair. He doesn’t. It’s only by God’s grace and his faithful wife’s prayers that he is able to dodge that bullet.

In telling Ben’s story, Selfie Dad invites us as dads to ponder some important questions. These questions are worthy of some intentional self-reflection on our part.

  • What tempts you to feel sorry for yourself? How do you respond in those moments? Do you have any harmful habits that you justify because you work hard and feel under appreciated?
  • What are you passionate about pursuing in your life? How do those passions line up with your relationship with God?
  • Do you carve out time to let God’s Word reshape your thoughts and desires (see Romans 12:1-2)?
  • What significant relationships do you have with other men? Do they have the freedom to speak truth lovingly into your life, even if it might sting?

Watching Selfie Dad reminded me that I have work to do in all of these areas myself. That work begins by choosing to be in relationship with my wife, with other men, and with God. These relationships should happen in ways that reveal places where I need to grow. They should give me the strength, courage, and hope to be more than just a dad who spends his time focusing only on himself.

© 2020 by Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. 

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Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.
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About the Author

Adam Holz
Adam Holz

Adam R. Holz is the happy director of the Plugged In team at Focus on the Family.

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