There is nothing quite like a good dad.
We are interested in their stories, praise their body type, sing their praises in cheesy Instagram posts on their very own national holiday, and even use the term as a term of endearment for our favorite celebrities (dad AF, amiright?).
Some of the nation’s most beloved men are dads and traditional “family men.” From TV characters, to their real-life personas, to our politicians, we can’t get enough of sweet and wholesome father figures. In fact, many male political figures play up their roles as fathers, like President Obama playfully telling his kids to go to bed during speeches and famously promising them a puppy if he wins, or Bobby Jindal’s “secret camera” declaration to his kids that he is running for president.
But in the past few decades, we’ve also seen people eat up the ideas of these very same family men that we loved falling very far from grace. In the past few years, we’ve seen the crumbling of the wholesome and family-friendly Duggar empire by the admission of Josh Duggar (a dad)’s sexual assault, which was covered up by his dad, Jim Bob Duggar. We’ve seen John Edwards, who fathered an illegitimate child while his wife was battling cancer. And, of course, we’ve seen perhaps one of the most iconic father figures, Bill Cosby, be accused of rape by dozens of women over the span of decades.
Plenty of ordinary people go through sex and drug and other scandals every day, but for some reason, for these wholesome family men, it is all the more shocking. Take the Cosby scandal for instance. When it first broke (well, the most recent break of it, brought on when Hannibal Buress’s stand-up routine went viral), people got extremely defensive. This wasn’t just the usual “innocent until proven guilty” mentality that normally accompanies rape allegations. This was an anger and a disgust by many fans of Cosby who not only saw him as an iconic actor, but as a father figure who raised them via his portrayal of Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show.” He was the goofy dad, wearing sweaters and pushing JELL-O pudding pops, so how could he possibly do this?
Once more and more of the survivors of Cosby’s alleged assaults came out, along with a damming deposition, more and more die-hard supporters of Cosby had to face the cold hard fact that not only do dads make mistakes; it’s becoming more and more of a trend.
So why does this happen? Why do these men play up these innocent stereotypes in the day, only to brand themselves “Carlos Danger” online and whip out their dicks for women who are young enough to be their daughters online?
Well, part of it has a lot, in my opinion, to do with exactly that dichotomy. For as sex-crazed as our culture is, we don’t have a lot of conversations about, well, sex. And healthy sex at that. We don’t see these family men as sexual human beings who most likely had sex with their wives at some point (most do have kids, after all). Expressing this sexuality could risk their careers and chances at political office. These men become a weird mix of childlike and elderly in our eyes, with the playfulness of a toddler and the sex appeal of your grandpa. We don’t allow them to be fully formed human beings because, thanks to our good friend the patriarchy, male sexuality is seen as predatory. And, unfortunately, that’s exactly what plays out behind closed doors in these situations.
As anyone who has ever kept a secret knows, things can escalate pretty quickly. Some of these men may have been content with the occasional extramarital tryst that could be extinguished rather quickly. But these men were overworked, narcissistic (they’re politicians and actors, so…), rich, attractive, powerful and bored, and sexual desire turned predatory and evolved into full-out affairs, serial rapes, and criminal activity.
That’s not to say that they’re not to blame for their behavior. In the case of Josh Duggar, he was a child molester long before his days of fame, and extreme privilege doesn’t make everyone become an embezzler. There are certainly famous men known for being scummy (Scott Disick keeps coming to mind) and we all know that the trope of the uncaring, masculine douchebag is alive and well. But, for one reason or another, some men just don’t fit into that role. Take for example, Bob Saget.
Saget, while not a criminal or known rapist like many mentioned above, got his title as a “family man” stamped on him pretty early in his career. He played clean-freak Danny Tanner on “Full House,” a show known for its squeaky clean image. But, in his stand-up routines, Saget is crude and vulgar, and has experimented with drugs. Still, he has been branded with the “dad” label, something a lot of men can’t control.
And while some of these men, like Saget, can’t control their images or actively rebel against them, many have carefully crafted this idea of the “family man” because in Hollywood, on Wall Street and on Capitol Hill, everyone needs a label. And, like many dads I’m sure we all know personally, not all dads are good.
When you’re a parent, your child sees you as a savior, as perfect, as a role model. They don’t imagine you complexly or see your flaws. When you’re a parent figure to thousands of people, the same thing can happen. And when you’re a flawed person to begin with, that kind of blind love can be very appealing and very addicting.
So there’s an incentive to keep up this squeaky clean image, especially if you’re a politician, in which your family is toted around like an accessory. Dads are nice and sweet and stern but never sexual and most certainly never criminal so even if you’re a pervert or kind-of a criminal, it can be appealing to cash in on this idea that is the father figure.
At the end of the day, father figures (actual fathers or not) are at their core, men. And men, despite all evidence to the contrary, are human. And as humans, they are going to screw up and though it may be difficult, it is our job to call them on it.
While we may feel this love and affection and kinship towards them, it’s important to remember that they are not our fathers, they are not our family and when they do heinous shit, we have to resist the urge to defend them as such and be there for the people they have wronged.
Bill Cosby’s survivors don’t have the name recognition like he does, every woman who Alec Baldwin harassed publicly will eventually have their voices silenced by the next big headline, and countless other people affected by these men’s actions have to bear the weight of other peoples’ affection for these men. And they know that. That’s why we have to be there for those people, because countless others are going to defend the dads.