'Bluey' is the Show I Need as a Stay-at-Home Dad
I don't consider myself the best stay-at-home dad, but I always have plenty of popsicle sticks and googly eyes and glue. I carry teethers to munch on and books starring animals—never humans—to read. I also make pretty good noodles. My 2-and-a-half-year-old and 6-month-old seem happy with my work. They pay me in cuddles.
By 11 a.m., I'm often bored and drained. That's when I click on the TV and we zone out to Bluey.
Australia's most popular children's TV show hit America in September 2019, airing on Disney Junior. It stars a family of four dogs, Dad (Bandit), Mum (Chilli), and two kids (Bluey and Bingo); the same size as my family. Whereas other Disney Junior shows can be predictable and cliché (looking at you Puppy Dog Pals), Bluey's storytelling is quirky. Watching the family stumble through the smallest of life's difficulties (such as surviving the wait for takeaway food) incites legit belly laughs.
The aspect of the show that's most important to me is that it demolishes gender boxes, so much so that even though it's been established in many episodes, people in Bluey-dedicated Facebook groups still debate whether the children are boys or girls. Like it even matters. My son, the older of my duo, doesn't care. Bluey and Bingo's friends are Pomeranians, Dachshunds, English Bulldogs, and Jack Russell Terriers. They are blue, orange, pink, and red. They like science, seesaws, and playing circus. They carry gender-neutral dog names and don't comply with gender stereotypes. As a stay-at-home dad, I don't either. My colors blur.
Dad and Mum share caretaking duties. They're regularly zonked. Often, Mum is trying to escape to fix the toilet, to take gum out of a doll's hair, or to work (at Airport Security—get it, she's a sniffing dog). Dad works, too, as an archaeologist ('cause dogs love them bones), but seems to spend more time with the kids than Mum, as evidenced by him appearing in more episodes. The family invents magical games together, but most end with Dad covered in makeup (under the spell of the magical xylophone) or getting attacked by imaginary nits (while the kids play hairdresser). He sacrifices himself to keep them smiling.
Inevitably, someone feels left out. Someone feels unheard. Dad and Mum don't solve problems for their kids, instead they offer space so the kids can work through it on their own. If needed, they will provide prompts, but sometimes Dad and Mum don't have the answers themselves. They "squabble." They forget how to do "romance," and the kids come to the rescue, staging a date night featuring a mock fancy restaurant where guests are served slop.
It's impressive that a show marketed toward kids nails the dad character much better than most adult television. While there are exceptions (shout out to Modern Family), sitcoms have long portrayed dads as stern lecturers who work high-paying jobs in male-dominated fields and enjoy brewskis. But with the number of stay-at-home dads rising, these stereotypes feel dated—and do more harm than good.
Last summer, my son and I returned home from our morning walk. To transition him inside faster I promised we could visit Mommy, who was working remotely for the New York State Department of Health from an office upstairs. But my kid is hi-happy, waving at anyone who walks by, so when a car pulled up to our curb, of course he greeted the driver. The man exited his car and made some idle chat about the Jamaican flag billowing off our porch, representative of my wife's background. He went on about how exciting it was that America was changing, soon everything will be more equal. He looked me in my eyes and asked if I had the day off from work.
"Oh, no," I said, laughing nervously. "My wife and I both work from home thanks to COVID."
Once inside, I fell into the couch, overwhelmed with shame, feeling like I lied, as if being a stay-at-home parent wasn't work.
I clicked on the TV, and my son cuddled up beside me. There was Bandit on Bluey, always present. My son looked up at me and smiled. He was watching, and what he saw was a loving parent modeling how to make it through life.