TV programmers seem to think that men serving as mothers are inherently funny. Just think of all the mom-less sitcoms we’ve seen, including this season’s Me and the Boys, starring Steve Harvey as the latest hapless dad trying to raise kids alone. we asked psychotherapist/comedian Dr. Will Miller to throw Boys and its forebears on the couch to analyze the genre.
MY THREE SONS ”Of all the shows, this one was the most unapologetically male-oriented. It posed the question, Could a family function without a woman? It’s as if the widower father were in grief reactions and decided he was only going to have men in the family. Even the maternal role was taken up by Uncle Charley, a very masculine man. Eventually, the boys started having girlfriends and the father got remarried. But when women came on, the show’s ratings went down.”
FAMILY AFFAIR ”Mr. French, the butler, was another illustration of the man taking on the surrogate mother role. Interestingly, the kids on this show grew up to be the most dysfunctional in real life. Family typifies shows in which the loss of the mother is acknowledged as very painful. It was unthinkable in that era that a family could truly be complete without a mother.”
THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER ”Once again the search for the lost mother is prominent. The boy continually hunts for a wife for his father. He’s always saying: ‘I’m not getting what I need from you, Dad. I need more. I need a mom.’ This is really the saddest show, partly because it’s just the two of them (not counting Mrs. Livingston).”
MY TWO DADS ”Here the premise is, If we can’t have a woman, maybe two men can make up for that. One of the guys was more nurturing, and the other took on the opposing, stereotypical father role. In that way, they re-created the normal parental conflict.”
FULL HOUSE ”Full House gets criticized for being too milk-and-cookies, but one of the show’s nice messages is that it portrays the so-called blended family in a positive way. It says that what matters in family life is the love between the people, not how — or even whether — they’re related.”
ME AND THE BOYS ”The father is struggling because he is too permissive. He’s fallen prey to the American idea that if you are a stern disciplinarian you are unloving. The kids eventually end up knuckling under to parental authority but then defy him all over again. Of all these shows, this is the one that needs a mother most (despite the presence of the maternal grandmother). The father’s too isolated. If I were his therapist I would get him out and involved with other people.”