A new reality show on dadhood is sure to spark some conversation this Father’s Day. Although America is only 3 episodes into the new TV series “Dad Camp,” I can’t help but feel somewhat smitten. I think it is the beginning of a meaningful era of male accountability in reality TV and it is an important twist on the cadre of pregnancy shows that have multiplied over the past few years. While there are some potential drawbacks, the main clincher of the show is that it promotes responsible fatherhood while simultaneously empowering mothers.
In case you haven’t heard of it, here is the breakdown: 6 pregnant women and their ain’t-shit baby fathers head out to a 30-day camp where the parents are given parenting education courses. The fathers are given therapy that enables them to change their behaviors. At the end of the show, the mothers are empowered to decide whether to allow these men to be romantically involved with them as they raise their children.
So what are the greatest aspects of the show?
For starters, it epitomizes how progressives view many of the social ills that face Americans. At the center of the show is Dr. Jeff Gardere, a licensed psychologist, whose mission is to treat these men who are in danger of being dead beat dads. Thus Dr. Jeff focuses on the issues that create barriers to these men being fully-functioning fathers as if it is an illness instead of an inherent criminal pathology. And these issues are intense! From alcoholism, incessant weed smoking and issues surrounding the pain of abandonment of having an absent father–this show is an accelerated version of “Intervention” with youth pregnancy in the mix. Thus, before the child support dogs must be called out, these men are given an opportunity to be equipped emotionally and with information for the undertaking of fatherhood.
Other aspects of the show I love is how the men are posed moral questions about their behavior from a gender equality standpoint. The show stresses that it’s not just questionable that they go out drinking because of how they neglect their partners. In many ways the men are told that it’s important because they should empathize with the sacrifices their female partners endure as visibly expectant parents. It is also golden that the experience of growing up with an absent or discontinuous father isn’t a narrative that is monopolized by men. It is something that the mothers discuss in their reasoning for why they will eventually leave these men as partners if they do not shape up.
Despite it’s many strong showings, “Dad Camp” definitely has it’s drawbacks. I made a reference earlier to “ain’t-shit baby fathers.” I could have went with the more benign “responsibility challenged,” but these men really piss in my cheerios when they call the mothers of their children out of their names. The word bitch has been used more times than I care to remember and this specific offense hasn’t been the fodder of their counseling sessions and I think the show can do more to intervene in the most heinous act of verbal abuse.
In addition, the show has great trouble reconciling it’s relationship to marriage. For better or for worse, the show has been largely framed as a response to President Obama’s call for responsible fatherhood. With quotes of his speech in the show’s introduction, the show resembles a pilot program that might be slated for funding by the 500,000 million dollar provision the President has called for in the Fatherhood, Marriage, and Families Innovation Fund in this year’s budget request.
Given the show’s interplay with public policy, I am disarmed by the absence of married couples. It’s also disappointing that current casting for the next season has left out married couples as well. This is so problematic because this makes a false assumption that involved fatherhood is the province of folks who happen to have a marriage certificate. While the details of what exactly the “Fatherhood, Marriage, and Families Innovation Fund” will entail is forthcoming, it’s of the utmost importance that programs that fall under this–take on a holistic approach to the problem of absent fatherhood–one that impacts the married and unmarried.