One Hollywood Show Is Getting Dads Right

What’s the popular portrayal of a working dad?

Not great – and not realistic. But there’s a TV show that’s changing it – by putting a Lead Dad in a key role.

In most Hollywood shows, a father is generally bumbling or angry or absent. He’s not comfortable in his parenting abilities. He’s a tough guy, which is exactly what’s not needed in pretty much every dad interaction. And he’s certainly not supporting his family in any way that isn’t purely financial.

Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and Equimundo (Formerly Promundo-US) teamed up last year on a report about representations of caregivers. It was fascinating stuff and put a stake in the ground to highlight the powerful and pernicious effects of those portrayals. Anyone need a lightbulb changed or something heavy moved to the next room?

(A report last week from The Conversation US provided data on just how closely sons model their fathers behavior.)

But there’s one show that’s evolving – albeit in a Hollywood way, so it’s not perfect. It’s NBCUniversal’s The Blacklist, which stars James Spader as the FBI’s top informant but also No 1 on its most-wanted list. (Hang with me here!)

I’ve watched every episode with my father – in a stereotypical old-school father-son way, shoulder-to-shoulder, talking during commercials.

The underlying story has always been one about parenting – whether Spader’s character Raymond Reddington is the long-lost father of an FBI agent whose mother was a Soviet spy. (Shrug and please keep reading.)

In its final season, the show has featured a new character Herbie Hambright – played by Alex Brightman. He’s forensic analyst who also happens to be a competent father and spouse. (His wife is a punk rock singer.)

When Herbie isn’t helping Reddington or the FBI task force that’s been working with him, he’s caring for his daughter Sue. His meetings to solve crimes happen at home but also in the FBI’s office – a top-secret black site, in this case.

What does Herbie do like many Lead Dads?

He doesn’t make cheap jokes at his wife’s expense.

He supports his wife in her career – she travels a lot as a punk rock singer – while still fulfilling his own professional ambition, as a forensic analyst.

He juggles like many lead parents, arranging childcare when he has to work in the office and not remotely from home.

He maximizes the time that he is in the office – in a recent episode, he offered up crime-solving advice on a related crime – by focusing on in-person interactions.

He brings his full self to work.

He makes time for self-care. He’s a professional foosball player.

Most of all, he amazes the childless FBI agents with his skill, professionalism and acumen. He’s a Lead Dad and a skilled forensic analyst.

Sure, the particulars are absurd. But the message is generally a positive one. Herbie is a competent and caring father, fully supportive of his wife’s ambition, and a successful professional in his field. Perhaps a new archetype for a father?