Where Are All The Stay-At-Home Dads On Film And TV?

Sometimes an idea for a blog post doesn’t quite go as you intended. This is one of those occasions. You see, as a SAHD with nearly two years under my (ever-expanding) belt, I thought it’d be good to write a post to highlight other stay-at-home dads on film and TV. A kind of celebration of all the dads who are giving a middle finger to traditional gender stereotypes by raising the kids.

I’d not given it much thought, but I assumed that there’d be plenty of options to choose from. I was wrong. As I sat down with fingers eagerly on keys, nothing came to me. The plethora of modern dads who I expected to celebrate, just didn’t pop into my head. Where are all the stay-at-home dads on TV and film?

Actually, I lie. One SAHD did come to mind, but he wasn’t quite the role model I pictured. The person in question was Joe Miller from Broadchurch – you know, the alleged groomer, paedophile and murderer. Although he looked like a good husband and dad from the outside [green tick for stay-at-home dads], he ended up being a little – how should I put it – confused and disturbed [red cross for stay-at-home dads]. Obviously you can’t be normal if you’re a SAHD…

where are all the sahds stay-at-home dads on tv joe miller broadchurch

This really started to gnaw at me. Surely he wasn’t the only one on film and TV. I began to run through all of the programmes I could thing of – the ones I watch, the ones I watch with the missus and the kids’ shows I watch with Toddler L. I was struggling. One after another, I had to rule them out on the grounds of them not being a stay-at-home dad. Did my TV really not represent the idea that the dad can be at home as the mum works?

Then I got a hit. Doc McStuffins! A show that breaks down so many other stereotypes, obviously had to be the one to normalise the role of stay-at-home dads. If you’re unfamiliar, Doc McStuffins is about a girl who wants to follow in her mum’s footsteps to become a doctor – she does this by practising medicine on her stuffed toys who come to life.

where are all the sahds stay-at-home dads on tv doc mcstuffins

Not only does Doc McStuffins feature a black family (quite rare for kids’ TV) and a successful working mum (quite rate for kids’ TV), but the character of Dottie is a great role model (quite rare for kids’ TV). Considering it’s Disney, there’s none of the usual ‘girls must be princessy’ rhetoric, instead it focuses on things like friendship, being kind and determination. Throw into the mix that the dad is a SAHD who competently cooks, cleans and raises the kids, then it’s pretty much ticked most of the ‘not normal’ boxes.

At this point, I turned to Google and social media for help. I was obviously just being a bit stupid with my inability to remember all of the SAHDs. Here’s where things got interesting. Most of the people I found and who were mentioned – which weren’t many – didn’t really fit into my definition of a stay-at-home dad.

For me, a SAHD is a choice – not something you’re forced into. Most of the examples of dads spending time with their kids appeared to be because the partner had died / left, or they’d lost their job. Don’t believe me? Then think about films with positive dad and child relationships such as:

  • Marlin in Finding Nemo (wife dies)
  • Will Smith in Pursuit Of Happyness (wife leaves)
  • Mel Gibson in Signs (wife dies)
  • Eric Bana in Hanna (wife dies)
  • Eddie Murphy in Daddy Day Car (loses job)
  • Adam Sandler in Big Daddy (kid left at door, plus it wasn’t actually his baby)
  • Michael Keaton in Mr Mom (loses job)
  • Matt Damon in We Bought A Zoo (wife dies)
  • Tom Hanks in Sleepless In Seattle (wife dies)
  • Ned Flanders in The Simpsons (wife dies)
  • Georgle Clooney in The Descendents (wife in accident)
  • Joe West In The Flash (wife leaves)
  • Robin Williams in Mrs Doubtfire (wife leaves)
  • Liam Neeson in Love Actually (wife dies)
  • Tom Selleck, Ted Danson, Steve Guttenberg in Three Men And A Baby (baby left at door)

There’s no doubt that the above characters all do a great job as a dad. They are thrown into a difficult situation, and despite struggling to find a balance, they ultimately show dedication, love and an ability to cope. It’s a great narrative, but there isn’t a ‘proper’ SAHD in sight. FYI, I’m not saying a single dad isn’t as good as a stay-at-home dad or any of that crap. I’m purely pointing out that none of the above were SAHD until tragedy hit and *made* them become one.

Other suggestions were made / found too. These kind of fitted the bill, but weren’t great. Again, I don’t see any of these as being stay-at-home dads:

  • Flop in Bing (Wikipedia says he’s Bing’s carer, not dad)
  • David in Alvin And The Chipmunks (Surely more of a pet owner than a dad?)
  • The Man with the Yellow Hat in Curious George (Surely more of a pet owner than a dad?)
  • Geppetto in Pinocchio (Surely more of a toy owner than a dad?)
  • Frank Gallagher in Shameless (More of an unemployed, alcoholic dad than a stay-at-home dad)
  • The Gruffalo in Gruffalo’s Child (Not enough backstory to decide. Is there a Mrs Gruffalo? If so, where is she? Either way, The Gruffalo is hardly real…I hope…)

where are all the sahds stay-at-home dads on tv gruffalos child

So, after all of this research and exasperation, what am I left with? The truth is not a lot. Considering all of the TV shows and all of the films, I’m left with seven recent SAHDs (two of which are from the same show and swapped roles for a while). Obviously there’ll be people that I’ve missed (including non-recent ones), but the fact that I’ve missed them is quite telling. My final list of SAHDs on TV and film is below:

  • Anders Holm (Matt Ostin) in The Intern
  • Nick Miles (Jimmy King) in Emmerdale
  • Ryan Eggold (Tom Keen) in The Blacklist
  • Eric Stonestreet (Cameron Tucker) in Modern Family
  • Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mitchell Pritchett) in Modern Family
  • Mr McStuffins in Doc McStuffins
  • Matthew Gravelle (Joe Miller) in Broadchurch

So what started out as a celebration of stay-at-home dads on screen has actually turned into a quite depressing hunt to actually find any. When more and more dads are staying home with the kids, it would appear that this isn’t being translated to film and TV, which in turn, is doing nothing to normalise what modern families look like these days.

As mentioned, there are some great films with positive dad characters who have a special bond with their kids. However, this bond only ever seems to come about when personal tragedy has been suffered, e.g. the wife dying or leaving. Wouldn’t it be great to see more shows like Doc McStuffins where the traditional family dynamic isn’t there? SAHDs, gay couples, blended families, single parents etc. Surely more needs to be done to reflect what society looks like in the mass media that we consume? How else are our kids going to grow up being balanced, fair and open?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Why do you think there aren’t more stay-at-home dads on TV / film? Are there any you can think of that I’ve not mentioned here? Let me know below!

  • Martyn Kitney

    Awesome! It’s strange to see that there are reasons to being a single dad rather than through choice and the fact youve highlighted it is quite interesting. The idea of the daddy track has been snowballing for years now that you’d think there would be more examples of this. I think that it literally comes down to statistics. The percentage of families that are (at least on the outside) 2.4 traditional set up against the growing change. The same example can be said about single dad’s and I think the list above definitely points out that its due to absence of wife in death rather than leaving.

    And from my pov thats the case of the gruffalo. Poor guy kicked his cheating wife out and since she’s left he’s quit his job and is a sahd raising the boy to his best abilities 😉

  • Graham Cole

    Really interesting but I’m not loosing too much heart in this. I think lots of movies and TV use a tragedy to enhance the story. The stay at home dad movie script would need some key story point to carry the film. It’s like asking how many films are there about career focused woman who decides to cancel going back to work to raising their child? I would guess not many if any.

  • Graham Cole

    Really interesting but I’m not loosing too much heart in this. It’s like asking how many films are there about career focused woman who decides to cancel going back to work to raising their child? I would guess not many if any.

    I think lots of movies and TV use a tragedy to enhance the story. The stay at home dad movie script would need some key story point to carry the film. Still it would be nice to see something made in the future.

  • I’ve never noticed this before, you’d think that modern tv would be more realistic to modern life really! You need to get on the telly!

    Stevie 🙂

  • ROBERT MCKINNEY

    1. “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” has a literal club of SAHDs.
    2. To be fair, how many SAHMs are prominent in movies? Sure, there are more, but for the most part no one wants to see a stay-at-home parent of any gender front and center in a movie. Thinking back as far as I can to any of my favorite movies, and not a one centers around a stay-at-home parent unless there is that dramatic element (divorce, death, etc.). By virtue of the fact that a parent is living a pretty mundane life, they aren’t going to be going on very many harrowing journeys or slapstick romps. A stable home life does not lend itself to action scenes. Drives to Target and tot time don’t usually end with a duffel bag of cash in the trunk. This isn’t to disagree with you – clearly the lack of SAHDs is a thing – but it’s not a problem unless you’re looking for it to be one.
    3. Serious question: What are some movies where you watch them saying “That character could so be a SAHD instead of a SAHM”? Not “they should make more movies with SAHDs,” but actually “this movie right here would be better with a SAHD?”
    4. Other serious question: How many movies feature SAHMs in leading roles, or even significant guest roles? I feel like most modern movies feature parents who both work, and/or who co-parent with no real clear “primary” caregiver, or the home life is barely alluded to enough to discern exactly what the situation is.

    Again, you’re quantifiably correct…but is it a problem?

    • M Marshall

      Um, I think a) there are lots of family-style tv shoes where the mum is stay at home or mostly. More importantly, there are loads and loads of movies where the central character is a man. A successful man. With a SAH wife in the background. You don’t even see those in popular fiction. It’s not only a “problem if you’re looking for it to be one.” It very clearly is a fact that SAHDs are not visible, even in minor parts, in popular culture. While SAHMs are.

      • ROBERT MCKINNEY

        While the author didn’t respond, I did answer his question (Where are the SAHDs…) on Twitter. I’m not disagreeing that moms aren’t more represented as the homemakers, just that I don’t think the role itself is usually played up that much. But you’re right: now that I think about it, I see where there are several movies (I wasn’t arguing the case for TV) where SAHMs feature prominently. That said, here’s a list of SAHD titles not mentioned in the piece, with all due respect to its writer (copied from Twitter):
        “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” has a literal club of SAHDs.
        Also a pretty atrocious show called “See Dad Run” and the short-lived “8 Simple Rules…” Matt LeBlanc’s “A Man With a Plan” is a newer one.
        Joel in “Parenthood.”
        “Delivery Man.”

        I’m sure there are more. Not saying it’s equal, but to act like there aren’t *any,* that’s trying to inflate an issue. Again, with all due respect to the author.

        Thanks for engaging, and point taken about SAHMs being more front-and-center in cinema!

        • Hey. Sorry, totally missed all the comments on this post – wasn’t trying to avoid them. I totally get your points. I wasn’t trying to ‘inflate an issue’ or anything, only throw light onto the fact that there are a lack of stay-at-home dads in popular culture. As M Marshall replied, there are loads of films and shows with a SAHM – my point is why does it have to be a mum and not a dad? I’m not saying that every film should be made with a SAHD as the main figure or that SAHD life is like Die Hard. It’s simply the awareness that if there is a stay at home parent role, it is 99% of the time a mum. My point about the family tragedy too is that it feels like the perception is that a dad can only be a good dad if the mum isn’t there – that’s ridiculous. Thanks – you obviously highlighted a few shows I’m not aware of – I Googled a lot and asked the question in a group of 100 other dads, but this post is not designed to be a comprehensive list of everything ever made. At the end of the day, I’m raising the question of where SAHDs are in popular culture – they are a growing group of people who are not reflected in popular culture yet.