Stories about Men Taking Care

Some crowdsourced examples of fictional men looking after others

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Pingu’s dad doing the ironing, via Anya Metzer on Twitter

I’ve been looking for everyday examples of fictional men doing routine acts of care — and it turns out, that’s a difficult thing to research.

When I type “caring man” into Google, I get a lot of “15 Signs You’re With a Great Guy” type articles, and not a lot else. (Of course, your mileage may vary here.)

I was looking for examples of fictional men doing housework or caring for a vulnerable person without that care being a sign of weakness. It was relatively easy to think of examples of men who were comedically incompetent (Daddy Day Care), men who were somehow ridiculous (Kevin in Motherland comes to mind, or even Zane — a male presenting teenage robot —who gets laughed at in an episode of Ninjago for wearing a pink apron), and weeping widowers whose misery was a prelude to romantic storyline (Sleepless in Seattle), but it was harder to think of examples of fictional men who were just getting on with it, in the way that lots of people do — all of the time. I also excluded men doing very fancy cooking, and men being nice to people they are trying to sleep with, which narrowed the field even more.

I also brought some bias to the search. My Rolodex of memorable media moments offers up lots of examples of women looking powerful (I once gave a 20-minute talk about the social signals of the hair and make-up in The Good Wife; AMA about Alicia Florick’s temporary sex fringe), and in discussing it with a friend, I realised that the point of gentleness is that it’s a lot less dramatic than overt expressions of traditional power. Perhaps, by its very nature, gentleness is less memorable and less entertaining.

Anyway, I just wanted some examples of normal people doing normal things, in the way that normal people do all the time. So I asked Twitter for examples, and lots of people gave examples, and I thought I’d share some of them.

Here is my original tweet. You can click on this and see all the responses; below I’ve extracted some highlights.

People were very generous and (at the time of writing) I’ve had nearly 300 responses, many of which contained numerous examples — thank you to everyone who replied. I did a very crude copy and paste from Twitter and looked at the responses in a spreadsheet. Of course, caveats apply about this being a non-representative sample of 291 people who saw my tweet. Also, I haven’t credited individual people for examples here because I would have had to clear a lot of permissions to do that, but all the specific responses are linked from above.

Anyway, doing this, I saw some trends:

  • Lots of people who responded did so very emotionally and conveyed a lot of love and respect for the characters they were talking about.
  • Around 22 fictional characters were repeatedly recommended (some of them many, many times).
  • 13 of the most recommended characters were caregivers in children’s books or films; of these, 5 were animals or some other kind of cuddly creature. (There was one teen movie.)
  • Of the 8 in adult genres, the vast majority were dads who are, or have been, in heterosexual relationships; the notable exception was the Mandalorian.
  • In the “long tail” of recommended examples, there were some examples of men looking after men within non-familial structures, such as during daring adventures and in military contexts, or as butlers and “gentleman’s gentleman”. (It occurs to me that Christopher Robin in the Winnie the Pooh stories falls into this model.)

Here are a few of the most recommended characters. If I have a conclusion, it’s that men get stereotyped in fiction and on screen just as much as women—and while normal life might be considered to be more boring than explosions and gun fights, there is an appetite for depictions of men taking care. And perhaps, as Cassie pointed out, this could be an alternative measure to the Bechdel Test.

Here are some of the most popular examples:

Section 1: Cuddly-animal dads

  1. Pingu’s dad, in Pingu

Pingu’s dad does a lot of ironing. I’m not sure he’s ever that delighted (he seems to be cross a lot of the time), but he’s definitely across the household logistics and makes sure everyone has clean towels.

2. Bluey, in Bluey

Bluey was new to me. In case he’s new to you too, he’s an Australian cartoon dog dad, that a lot of people recommended. I watched this episode, and was quite underwhelmed by his “I’m a fun dad, let’s leave it to mum to bring the useful swimming stuff!” approach. But perhaps this is untypical. He certainly seems to spend a lot of time with his children.

Section 2: Enormous benevolent cuddly creatures

3. Duggee in Hey Duggee!

Duggee is a very large dog who runs the Squirrel Club. He does some low growling and is very good at hugs. Mostly we know he’s male because he’s called Duggee. Everyone loves Duggee.

4. Totoro, in My Neighbor, Totoro

Lots of people mentioned Totoro. Here’s the trailer; also, it’s now on Netflix, so it’s possible lots of people mentioned the film because they’d just watched it on Netflix. (̶I̶ ̶m̶e̶a̶n̶,̶ ̶a̶l̶s̶o̶,̶ ̶I̶’̶m̶ ̶n̶o̶t̶ ̶s̶u̶r̶e̶ ̶h̶o̶w̶ ̶w̶e̶ ̶k̶n̶o̶w̶ ̶T̶o̶t̶o̶r̶o̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶a̶ ̶”̶m̶a̶n̶”̶ ̶p̶e̶r̶ ̶s̶e̶,̶ ̶b̶u̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶a̶n̶o̶t̶h̶e̶r̶ ̶t̶i̶m̶e̶.̶)̶

Update: I’d spent so long looking at cuddly dad proxies that I completely forgot that of course everyone means THE DAD not the great big cuddly mouse monster. Thank you to @sloeboris on Twitter for pointing this out very politely.

Section 3: Human dads being really nice

5. Danny’s father in Roald Dahl’s Danny, The Champion of the World

Even though there’s this humdinger on the first page — “my father washed me and fed me and changed my nappies and did all the millions of other things a mother normally does for her child. That is not an easy task for a man” — I defy any adult to get to the end of the book and not have at least bit of a crush on Danny’s dad.

It’s a love story, about the love between a boy and his dad, and the love of his dad for shooting pheasants — which is really a lot more romantic than it sounds, partly, somehow, because they live in a caravan. But also because every sentence is so full of love, it’s impossible to read the first chapter without feeling like you’re somehow in love too:

My father, without the slightest doubt, was the most marvellous and exciting father any boy ever had… he never smiled with his mouth. He did it all with his eyes. He had brilliant blue eyes and when he thought of something funny, his eyes would flash and if you looked carefully, you could actually see a tiny little golden spark dancing in the middle of each eye… I was glad my father was an eye-smiler.

6. Stanley Tucci in Easy A

This example — from a 2010 teen movie — came up again and again. As someone commented on Twitter, he seems like a really great supportive dad, “sporting grey t-shirts, blithely putting together dinner, opening wine, chatting amiably w anxious daughter about his bisexuality…”

Section 5: Dads dealing with complexity in adult fiction

7. Adam, in Sarah Moss’s novel, The Tidal Zone

So many people loved this novel. The Independent describes it as, “about the daily grind of loading the dishwasher, wiping jam smears off the kitchen table, sorting through laundry, making packed lunches for school and cakes for bake sales. Tasks so repetitive they quickly become as second nature as breathing or the beating of one’s heart.” — and it’s told from the perspective of a man. You can buy it here. It’s next on my “to read” list.

8. Rob in Catastrophe

Here is a clip of Rob generally dealing with being a stay-at-home dad: doing some dad stuff, chopping onions, dealing with perspiration, and having a terrible job interview in which he has to deal with his own, and other people’s, perceptions about not being the breadwinner.

Written by

Feminist. Responsible technologist. Reading and writing on equality, automation and climate crisis. On sabbatical-ish. Formerly @doteveryone .

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