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I spent some of my 10 days in self-isolation writing letters. Some of them touch on serious topics. Others are a little more light-hearted. Here’s one of the latter, sent to a father who I’ve been admiring for a while now.
You don’t know me—I mean, you're a cartoon dog, you don’t know anyone outside of your universe—but I wanted to send a little note, from my family to yours. We've been watching your escapades, and love them as much as your kids love to play.
Earlier this year I started a newsletter about the changing nature of fatherhood, and previously touched on cartoons as a catalyst for more interesting, deeper conversations with your children. They help our kids navigate the complex world we live in: understanding things like how to deal with trauma, to create space for mindfulness, and understanding that love is love.
But, for all the progress, something was still amiss. For as long as it has existed, TV has been filled with a steady stream of below-par dads. They might be funny, but they’re far from shining examples: think of George Bluth Sr., Al Bundy, or Homer Simpson. Often they're toxic: pity the poor children of Don Draper; and whilst Walter White said he was doing everything for his family, it was more about massaging his ever-growing ego.
Kids' TV doesn't fare any better. The most recognisable father figure to this generation of children would be Daddy Pig: a incompetent fool whose hobbies include watching TV, eating chocolate cake, and generally avoiding any physical activity; father to a daughter who is constantly fat-shaming him; and the cause of—and never solution to—all of his family's woes.
Anyway, enough about them. Let's talk about you. I want to thank you for gleefully breaking away from this bumbling dad TV trope. Because when we see you, joyfully rolling around on the floor with your kids, it's changing the perception of what dads can be, and inspiring us to be better too. It’s no hyperbole to say you're raising the bar for fatherhood. Showing modern parents what might happen if they put down their phones and joined in the fun; how important it is to be more present, more playful and more patient.
You're not perfect, of course. None of us are. When you took the kids to play at Uncle Stripe's pool, forgetting absolutely everything important and only bringing the fun stuff? Yep, I've been there. More than once I've been stranded outside without suncream (and, like you, thankful for a partner who came to save the day.) Or when you got busted on the way to the dump, trying to throw out all of Bluey's old drawings? Been there too (but have since learned the subtle art of hiding things under other things in the recycling bin.)
And I’d be rude if I left out the time you were waiting for your takeaway, hoping to play "Dad Reads the Newspaper", but not having a chance? It was the perfect encapsulation of the chaos that five minutes with your children can bring—and a nod to another three of my favourite characters memorably waiting for Chinese food. But, even amid the mayhem, you reminded us that if we can live in the present, and relinquish the need to control every little thing (like keeping wet kids out of the car), every moment can be an opportunity to create lasting memories.
You must know you're a great dad. I mean, you won Father of the Year in Australia—congratulations! But I just wanted to express my gratitude for being such a fantastic role model for all us dads out here. You seem to capture what it means to be a father today in such an honest and relatable way. There's no sugarcoating it—kids constantly demand your attention, they give you grey hair, and anytime you want just a moment to yourself you can forget about it. This fatherhood gig isn't easy, but there are few jobs more rewarding.
Most kids’ TV shows aim to teach the little ones a lesson. But I've learned more about being a better dad from watching you than anything else in the history of TV. When I recommend your show to dads I know, they come back to thank me, saying things like "it's made me more intentional about the dad I want to be", "I want to be more present in the lives of my kids", or "I’m now taking every opportunity I can to play together."
I was talking to a friend this week about how much we love your show. He told me "I often find myself thinking of Bandit when I’m busy and my daughter wants my attention."
He's not the only one. My current parenting mantra? Just four words long.
"What Would Bandit Do?"
PS. If you're looking for another great example of fatherhood, and you can get Disney+ out in Brisbane, I'd recommend checking out that Mandalorian fella. He's a progressive dad too: not a biological parent, but caring, protective, and always puts The Child first. Not as suitable for kids as your show though. Maybe watch it with Chilli once the kids go to bed?
PPS. It seems like us dads aren't your only fans. There’s a subculture out there of mums who are, err, very into you? Apparently you have “Big DILF Energy”. If you don’t know what that means, don’t look it up. And while we're on the subject of not looking things up, don't search for yourself on Tumblr. Things escalate quickly over there.
3 things to read this week
More on aspiring to be a better dad from the FT last month: What the pandemic taught me about being a better father. "It is not just time. The pandemic has also provided a window into my kids’ previously opaque lives. In the Before Times, I would inquire about their school day, often just as I was kissing them good night. “Fine,” they would report. Now, in real time, I overhear my eight-year-old daughter singing with her classmates over Zoom and repeating Mandarin phrases. The house rumbles when my son has a remote gym class."
Over on My Sweet Dumb Brain, Katie managed to weave an intricate thread through our brain’s addiction to social media, parenting with presence, and Bo Burnham's "Inside". It presses so many of my buttons there's no way I can't it. "Already, I see her grab for my phone when it’s out (which, sadly, is often). I can imagine the little wheels turning in her head: What is this thing that mama and dada are so interested in?"
From dopamine hits to serotonin ones: The Most Fun I Ever Had With My Kids, According to 25 Dads. I'm not going to pull one quote out because it’s all pure joy. Go take a look. And have a think of what yours might be, because this question will be coming your way on Friday.
One thing to watch with the kids this week
Padme was telling me about a new show she is watching with a character who "says 'drop a beat' then does funny noises with his mouth." She hadn't heard of beatboxing before, and when I showed her a video of Rahzel famously performing "the beat and the chorus, at the same time" she didn't believe it could come out of one person's mouth. So thank you Wired for this video, featuring one of her new idols, demonstrating the 13 levels of complexity in beatboxing.
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