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The Cure for Fatherhood Stress: Become a Sitcom Dad

The best parenting sometimes happens with a laugh track

Collage of sitcom dads from old TV shows sitting on a couch
The Arrow

Dadding ain’t easy. Today, being a provider alone doesn’t cut it. Any dad worth his Brut by Fabergé gift set needs to be all in, shouldering stressors our pipe-and-slippers predecessors never imagined: coordinating car pools, cooking dinner, paying attention at parent-teacher conferences.

That’s a good thing, of course, but layer on workday demands, keeping the better half happy and just wanting to sit down in front of a football game with a cold one come Saturday, and most dads have less patience than an awards-show orchestra when the winner’s acceptance speech runs long.

In the teeth of the pandemic, when the pressure applied by all these responsibilities was amplified to absurdity, parenting my tween and teen daughters began to show serious stress fractures. Then, during an insomniac battle spent binge-watching MeTV, I realized I had been going about this dad role all wrong.

The right approach, the worry-free way forward, had been modeled for me every weeknight during my own formative years. Television revealed the secret to easy fatherhood: I would become Sitcom Dad.

Being Sitcom Dad means accepting that you are, at best, a stooge in your kid’s show — a combination of middling antagonist and comic relief, which includes pratfalls/slapstick, wearing cargo shorts and earnestly saying things like, “Sounds kinda suss.”

Play the game right, and you’ll notice the self-imposed pressure to be taken seriously begin to fade. When a son or daughter slinks or huffs through the room, they're on to another scene.

In the quietude of the showdowns you avoid, you can think through a proper response to whatever parenting challenge has presented itself. Maybe it means waiting awhile until your kid is ready to talk. Maybe that means calmly walking upstairs to his room to say, “I’m serious. Wash the damn dishes.” Or maybe that means a vodka gimlet.

Kid struggling to fit in at school? Serious Dad sits her down for a lecture about focusing on the future and not running with the wrong crowd. Sitcom Dad? He breaks out the milk and cookies and bores her to sleep at the kitchen table with a story about getting pantsed on the practice field during his sophomore year.

Kid brings the car home looking like it was in a demolition derby? Serious Dad wails about insurance rates and trade-in value. Sitcom Dad? He shakes his head and says, “Welp, there goes that Uber-driver side hustle.”

Find a pack of smokes in the kid’s jacket pocket? Serious Dad goes ballistic, using phrases like “Not in this house!” and “Where did I go wrong?” Sitcom Dad? He lights one up and strikes a goofy Joe Cool pose before collapsing into a debilitating coughing fit. Point made.

It would be easy to dismiss Sitcom Dad as a glorified method of unhealthy disengagement. But trust me, it’s a powerful, sanity-preserving coping strategy.

Finding the right gag for those tough moments gives you time to recognize that life’s parenting plot points are driven by the juvenile reflex of a developing brain. You’re not pretending there’s no problem. You’re activating the ultimate pick-your-battles filter.

If something really does set you off — I’m talking high-velocity stuff like finding drugs or dick pics — don’t worry, Sitcom Dad can handle it. It just becomes “a very special” episode. The point is, you’re there. The kid’s gonna be alright.

And here’s a final thought: As Sitcom Dad, you’ll likely be in a few “tender moment of connection” scenes from time to time. These will involve sighs and eye rolls, along with a hug or at least a back pat. The last line will be your son or daughter saying something like, “Gee, Dad, you’re not as big of a dork as I thought you were. I mean, you’re still a dork — just not as big as I thought.”

Hear the crowd laugh and say “awww” at the same time. Cue theme music. Roll credits. Nice work, Sitcom Dad.

Left to Right: AF archive/Alamy; ©ABC/Courtesy Everett Collection; ©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection; ©NBC/Courtesy Everett Collection; ©ABC/Courtesy Everett Collection; ©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection; Background: Getty Images

Follow Article Topics: Family-&-Fatherhood