Go watch Fleishman is in Trouble right now, I’ll wait.
Dads Getting Divorced on TV
From the opening of Fleishman is in Trouble to the closing moments (an ending which I can’t really embrace – no spoilers) this tv show is the kind of show I’m trying to make for The Off Parent. A lot of the information is raw, unfiltered, and true. Of course, your experience with divorce may vary, but in general, our lead character is trying to rebuild his life with his two kids. The book is better, but the tv series is spot on. Dad is trying hard to make it work. Dad is struggling with work, the kids, and his own identity. Good (painful) stuff.
Fleishman is not about me. I’m not Jewish, my wife wasn’t the bigger breadwinner, and our split was not mysterious, it was simply a self-absorbed middle-class white women losing her grip on what was important and choosing divorce as a resolution. She was resolved, that’s for certain. The tender moments in this show, between Fleishman and his kids, between the three best friends, even some of the scenes where Fleishman and his wife are trying to understand why they are so unhappy together. “This is what I thought I wanted.”
Divorce Story is another honest depiction of divorce where the dad is not a complete idiot or philandering ass. The story is told chronologically as we see two young people struggling to maintain relevance in their adult lives while adapting to their roles as parents. In the course of the movie we have good lawyers and bad lawyers and we see many of the manipulations they (the lawyers) use to fire up conflict and misery.
Boyhood is Richard Linklater’s masterpiece about divorce and the 12 years of our lens is powerful and true. The scene where dad, returned from prison, and a bit of escapism, is trying to connect with his kids. “Tell me about school.” Silence. “Tell me about sport.” Nothing. Then dad (Ethan Hawke) stops the car, “We’re not going to do this. I’m still your dad. We’re still a family. Let’s get that straight. We will have a conversation about life, school, and stuff.”
And, of course, the mother of all divorced dad movies was Kramer vs. Kramer. Here we see a stay-at-home dad fighting the good fight and winning. And Tootsie, divorced dad dressing as a nanny to see his children.
The Other Side of the Divorce Story
And then we’ve got divorce shows about strong and creative women and the shit ex-husbands that are flat characters who exemplify the stereotypical narrative. Divorce with Sarah Jessica Parker was the most hopeful, but I found the show unwatchable after about three episodes. Then there’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce about a writer experiencing the success of her new book and hiding the fact that her marriage is going to shit.
Here are Vogue’s 14 Best Movies About Divorce to round out the list. I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.
But here’s the truth about divorce in the U. S. A. Dads are most often (85% in my state of Texas) given the divorce shaft. The same divorce shaft that was put in place to protect our moms during our parents’ divorce. Back when the prevailing wisdom was young kids need their moms more than their dads. And in the case of my parent’s divorce, the guardrails of the family court kept my wealthy father from crushing my stay-at-home mom. In the end, because of the family court system, she got the house, she got me (the only child under 18) and she got $500 a month in child support.
In today’s divorce world, dads are still seen as breadwinners and second-class parents. And there are plenty of scripts that show this to be true. It is my hope that we can continue to update our understanding of the equal value of moms and dads. It’s my hope that we can start divorce at 50/50 shared parenting, rather than the current “standard possession order” schedule that gives dads 30% of their kids’ time, and moms two weekends off a month.
In my tv series, The Off Parent, dad is the good guy. Mom is not bad, she’s just a bit self-absorbed and influenced more by her family of origin trauma rather than dad’s actions. She’s not trying to be mean, she just wants the kids to herself. “Maybe you could leave the house tonight, we’ll tell the kids you’re away on a business trip,” she said, 30 minutes after revealing (in couples therapy) that she’d been to see an attorney.
Until We Find Balance in Divorce
I’m supporting several non-profits that are working to revise the family court system, state by state. And in my writing, I hope to show that dads can be the emotional center and the good guy in the divorce. Until we find that balance, we’re going to have to do better as fathers, as single parents, and as men finding our way alone.
John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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Some further reading: