After the best father’s day ever I’m sitting on the couch eating pork crackles and scratching my balls and hoping like hell that the first episode of Channel Nine’s House Husbands evades the pitfalls of previous TV programs that have relied on the stereotype of the goofy, incompetent Dad to build it’s storylines.
When Reservoir Mum walks in from our garage gym wearing daggy tracksuit pants, an oversized t-shirt and a devil-may-care attitude, I say, ‘They have a real opportunity here to build realistic characters, to make the house husbandry a side-issue to a great story, and to separate themselves from shows like Everbody Loves Raymond, The Simpsons and Married With Children.’
‘But you loved those shows,’ she says, falling on to the couch next to me and sucking noisily on an Evian water bottle.
‘And that’s a real shame,’ I say.
‘Massage my feet?’ she asks, plopping them in my lap and giving me a wink.
Her hair is pulled back into a pony tail and her face is red with exertion and, my god, look at the way she’s panting. She’s all sweaty and naughty-looking and it’s when she’s like this that I’m most open to manipulation and coercion. She knows this about me. But I also know something about her – when I massage her feet, going from the tarsals to the metatarsals to the phalanges and then back again, she is much more likely to manipulate and coerce me in the way that I like best, and so I go to work immediately on the tarsals of her left foot.
As House Husbands begins I’m all a-flutter with nerves because even though I love ALL my Father’s Day presents – the card with Tyson’s smiling face on it, the Father’s day book that Lewis created, the bottle opener with World’s Greatest Dad on it from Archie – the one that I love most of all is the two tickets to the Rick Astley concert in November. The fear that I might lose them or misplace them is so strong that I’ve tucked them into the waistband of my pants. I let go of RMs metatarsals and reach in to retrieve them.
‘Hey,’ she says.
‘Look,’ I say, holding up the tickets and pointing at the print. ‘It says Over 18s Only. That’s because of the way he moves.’
RM laughs and sticks her foot in front of my face. When I move it to my lap I see Gary Sweet painting cornices while his daughter makes her own lunch on her one and only first day of school, ever.
‘Fricken hell,’ I say.
‘What?’ RM asks.
‘My mouth is really dry because of all the pork crackles.’
‘You can’t be happy with that portrayal,’ she says, handing me her Evian bottle. ‘He’s painting cornices on his daughters first day of school? It’s stupid.’
‘It’s straight out of Mr Mom,’ I concede, suddenly enthused by an idea. ‘How about we make this fun,’ I say. ‘Every time we see a gender based stereotype I’ll remove a piece of clothing. It’ll be like an anti-sexism striptease.’
‘Okay,’ she laughs. ‘But you took your clothes off in the first House Husbands post. Is twice in a row too much.’
‘I won’t be including the stripping in my review, silly.’
RM lays back and moans because her phalanges are now raging bliss-balls of pleasure thanks to my magic fingers. (Tip – when massaging your partner’s feet, linger longest on the phalanges.)
‘Here we go then,’ I say. ‘A piece of clothing peeled off for every stereotype.’
I’m nude before the next ad break and feeling a little peeved. ‘I’m cold.’
‘You could turn on the heater,’ RM says. ‘Or put on some clothes. Or dance a little.’
I get up, turn on the central heating and dance a little as the House Husbands’ kids are hijacking a school bus and driving it down the road. I’m almost certain RM’s clapping is for me even though I can’t decide which scene is more ridiculous.
‘The kids are five years old,’ I say. ‘Kids that age are doing all they can to just walk straight under the weight of their oversized school bags. They’re not gathering in the quadrangle to formulate a bus heist plan. Hey, didn’t Maggie hijack a bus in The Simpsons once?’
‘She was driving a car. I think a dog was driving the bus.’
‘Oh yeah,’ I say, as I sit back down on the couch.
Fifty minutes later, as the credits roll, RM kicks me in the hip and says. “What are you thinking?’
‘Do you remember that tampon add?’ I say. ‘The one where the woman’s looking all over the house because she can’t find her tampons? And then she sees her boyfriend throwing them to their cat because he thinks they’re little white toy mice with long stringy tails?’
‘I remember,’ she says.
‘I’m watching these men cowering around their wives, and shaking in front of their corporate female bosses, and stumbling over themselves as the female principal chastises them in the office and I’m thinking of that guy. Dumb child-men selling products and making storylines. I’m also thinking it was a good idea to include Firass Dirani’s ass in next week’s episode – House Husband’s would have a largely female audience – and I’m wondering if my ass looks as good from that angle.’
When I stand and look back at RM she bunches her lips up and looks back at me apologetically.
‘I’m also thinking that Gary Sweet’s character, Lewis, is one step away from being engaging,’ I say. ‘I’m almost ready to like him despite his jokey-blokey comments. He’s only been stay-at-home-dadding for two weeks so I’ll forgive him for now. But he’s really going to need to develop some basic domestic skills and get a tad cleverer with his one-liners.’
‘I think Justin’s story is the only interesting one so far,’ RM says.
I nod. ‘But he washed his dishes with a hose… and I had the feeling he was just on the verge of violence for this entire episode, and they showed in next week’s episode that he thumps his wife’s new partner in the face and even though I feel some sense of satisfaction in seeing that, I am worried that our four main men – who are fathers – have been portrayed as neglectful, incapable, disinterested and violent.’
‘They definantly wouldn’t have placed in your Most Mentally Sexy Competition,’ RM offers. ‘So that’s it? You’re not happy with it at all? A negative review?’
‘There’s no point in being negative,’ I say, as I kneel down beside her. ‘Stay at home Dads are on the telly! They’ve entered the mainstream. It might just take them a while to shrug off the stereotypes.’
When I kneel down next to RM, she says, ‘You know what? In the past hour I’ve seen you eat from a packet of pork crackles, scratch your balls, flaunt yourself in front of me, leer at me suggestively several times, and make two nod-nod/wink-wink jokes about your largest phalange?’
‘Yeah?’ I say.
‘Pretty stereotypical don’t you reckon?’
‘I guess,’ I say, considering it for a moment. ‘But I have no more clothes to remove.’
‘Plus, you’re an almost forty-year-old Dad who loves Rick Astley.’
‘Hey,’ I say, as the cry from 11 month old Maki cancels our plans for an intimate end to the night. ‘Everybody loves Rick Astley (and Raymond!).’
PS – Poppy is a great character and the little girl who plays her is extremely talented.*
*We are related to the girl who plays Poppy.
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