Dad Camp: A New Era of Male Accountability

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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.

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7 Comments

  1. Lily A
    Posted June 18, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    The show seems pretty silly… but I’m happy to see it features several interracial couples! :)

  2. Claire
    Posted June 19, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    My sister had a “ain’t shit baby father.” He was an abusive drugdealer who we think may have convinced/forced my sister to get pregnant while they were living house to house with his no-count friends while she was estranged from my family. When my niece was born, and she and my sister moved in with my parents his control issues got worse. In the end he threatened to kill my sister.
    I hope this kind of stunt show will actually do some good for these women and their children. But some kids, like my niece, are better off with without their fathers around. While his criminality isn’t inherent it is ingrained.

  3. AuntieMay
    Posted June 19, 2010 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    How about a show that holds both genders accountable for consequences of their reproductive decisions?

  4. smiley
    Posted June 20, 2010 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    “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.”
    Has no one jumped on the mixed-up thinking here?
    Should the women not have asked themselves that question before jumping into bed with these men? Or if they did agree to partaking in sexual intercourse, at least ensuring that they wouldn’t conceive? How can two adults not make sure that at least one of them is using contraception (or preferably, both)?
    It seems incredible that a generation that has access to the most, cheapest and easily accessible forms of contraception in the history of the world seems to have forgotten that sex = children.
    Or has hedonism finally won?

  5. x-creepy-doll-x
    Posted June 21, 2010 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Mother Nature already does that, rather obviously, and so does the whole of society. There’s not much the show could add; plus, that’s not the problem we’re dealing with here.

  6. x-creepy-doll-x
    Posted June 21, 2010 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Do you know a 100% sure way to “ensure” you won’t conceive, other than hysterectomy? I don’t.
    If you’re here for woman-blaming and conservative rhetoric, may I suggest you are on the wrong blog. Having and raising a kid, possibly alone = hedonism? You might want to check the dictionary.
    I am jumping on the mixed up thinking. Yours.

  7. Mighty Ponygirl
    Posted June 21, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    I think that smiley does have a point–after you’re well into the pregnancy is not the optimal time to evaluate the father’s fitness to parent. And with complete understanding that accidents do happen, shoe-horning an unwilling man into the father role by hanging out his psychological dirty laundry on a national television show seems just a teensy bit on the obnoxious side to me.
    We have this cultural narrative that the pregnancy must be preserved, that abortion is just such a hand-writing tragedy, that we are taking leave of our collective senses.
    If you’re a woman who finds herself pregnant and the father is acting like a complete assnugget, you don’t “hope that the baby will bring you together.” This has been tried for generations and it makes everyone involved miserable.
    Instead, you either resolve to soldier it alone, or you don’t have the baby and try again later when you have the resources and support that you need. And we’ve somehow decided in this fucked-up morality play that is American conventional wisdom that we need to create these narratives where the menfolk are coerced and humiliated into taking a role they are unfit for because actually flat-out telling a woman that abortion might be the best option for her is verboten.
    If this Dad Camp thing fails, and after all of the crying and emotional encounter sessions and role-playing to built empathy the jerk-off dads still can’t get their shit together and be good fathers, they are still tied to the woman. It may be that they take off and are never seen or heard from again and she can be left in peace. It may be that he decides to become a manipulative, emotionally abusive ass who uses their shared progeny as a means of remaining in her life and preventing her from moving on. And I think shrugging your shoulders and declaring “well, you slept with him” is a bullshit way of dismissing just how tremendously fucked her life can become–not to mention the child’s, who has no say in the matter.
    We are so afraid to even breathe the word “abortion” that we’re doing a horrible disservice to women who not only feel that they can’t have an abortion because “only sluts get abortions,” but we’re also not challenging women to actually explore all of their options and what the consequences of those options might be.

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