FARGO — Remember "Mr. Mom"? The title pretty much summed up the entire plot of the popular 1983 comedy: Auto engineer is laid off so his wife must — gasp! — go back to work to support them.
Because she’s lovable Teri Garr, whose hausfrau experience gives her valuable insight into what the average consumer wants — and because her amorous boss has not yet heard of the term “sexual harassment” — her career star ascends. Meanwhile, Michael Keaton’s lovably clueless homefaker ties on an apron and blunders his way through housewifely challenges such as battling a possessed vacuum cleaner, changing his baby daughter’s thermonuclear diapers and growing addicted to soap operas and coupon poker.
The premise was supposed to be so outrageous that it would be hilarious. A man cleaning house and parenting kids? What’s next? A temperamental actor who finds he can only find work if he pretends to be a woman? Three swinging bachelors who decide they want to raise a baby? A big-haired, Staten Island secretary who climbs her way up the corporate ladder?
What would Hollywood think of next? Only in the movies could such pish-posh be real.
Fast forward a few decades, and "Mr. Mom" doesn’t seem strange at all. After all, we’ve already seen the many dads out there who expertly change diapers, cook dinner and plan their children’s birthday parties. It’s likely we’ve cooed over the heart-melting YouTube videos that show single dads learning how to style their daughters’ long hair to send them off to school in the morning.
Modern dads take parenting seriously, spending three times as much time with their children as men did two generations ago — and they’re doing a lot more during that time. Back in 1982, 43 percent of fathers admitted they’d never changed a diaper. By 2000, that number was down to 3 percent.
On a personal note, I frequently get Snapchats from my nephew and his wife. I treasure them, not only because they show the precious “growing-up” moments of their two adorable little girls, but also because I get a glimpse into the kind of dad my nephew has become. Here he is — the man who makes his living as a diesel mechanic — helping to make girly decorations for a birthday party. Or pushing his little ones on the swing, fixing hair bows and making dinner.
Their mom is a very loving and involved parent, too, but she also is a doctor with a lengthy daily commute. She could not do what she does without a supportive and engaged partner, and she frequently expresses her gratitude for that.
Are today’s dads more loving and nurturing than our own dads were? I don’t think so. Life was simply different then. Men were more apt to be socialized that they needed to be out there, earning a good living while their wives held down the homefront. I actually kind of feel bad for some of those dads, who missed a lot of first giggles, first steps and first sentences because they were expected to work all the time.
My own dad worked marathon hours, which left most of the day-to-day parenting to our amazing mom. Even so, he still managed to show his nurturing side in dozens of ways — playing “horsey” so all four of us little ones could pile on and ride him around the living room, writing special little booklets about each of us and giving us our own funny nicknames. (I still use mine to sign his Father’s Day cards: Tammasena Josephina Swiftavitch.)
Like every parent, he was surely exhausted after long days of working cattle or fixing equipment, but he often found time to smile and joke with us. I still see him sitting at the head of our farm table after lunch, making us laugh or asking one of us to scratch his head (one of his favorite things).
Here’s to all the dads out there, young and old. May your day be filled with head scratches, a reminder that you are loved and one really good nap.
Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at email@example.com.