“You’re doing it wrong,” everyone shouts at Jack Butler (Michael Keaton) his first day on the job as a stay-at-home dad. Recently laid off from his position as an auto engineer, Jack’s ego takes a few hits when his wife, Caroline (Teri Garr), returns to work in advertising, leaving him home to take over her daily routine. Penned by John Hughes in the early ’80s during an economic recession, Mr. Mom is based on the writer’s own experiences of being left in charge of his two sons while his wife was out of town. The comedic look at a father’s turbulent transition from family breadwinner to primary caretaker delivers on laughs with a star-studded cast led by the charismatic Keaton. His playful depiction of Jack’s chaotic journey from fish-out-of-water to militant master of the house is both hilarious and heartwarming.
Before the well-being of his three young children becomes his job, it’s obvious that Jack is a dedicated father. What throws him for a loop isn’t taking care of them, it’s adjusting to the sudden change from providing for his family financially to domestically. While every household blunder in the movie can be criticized for being gender-biased and overly exaggerated, most parents would agree that even the simplest tasks – like vacuuming and grocery shopping – become increasingly more difficult with children in tow. Regardless, it’s Keaton’s pitch-perfect tone of inexperience mixed with hypermasculinity that makes every mishap comical instead of condescending. Some of the funniest gags are a direct result of his bruised ego, including the moment Caroline's new boss (Martin Mull) drops by unexpectedly only to be greeted by her chainsaw-wielding, mister-fix-it husband. The competitiveness between the two men comes to a head during what has to be the most absurd, not to mention unmasculine, obstacle course ever invented. Despite numerous setbacks, Jack's difficulty adjusting to unemployment ends with him prevailing as the domestic master of his domain. Complemented by Teri Garr’s effortless banter and delightful presence, the couple comes across as a team willing to give whatever it takes (“220, 221…”) to provide and care for their family.
While many stay-at-home dads choose to do so, some may relate to the unemployment factor choosing the job for them. Jack’s initial reluctance eventually leads to him easing a little too far into the role, resulting in a full beard, a few extra pounds, and an obsession with The Young and the Restless. But, in the end, he’s gone from the type of dad who can’t remember to remove his son’s slippers before bath time, to one who has a heart-to-heart with the boy about letting his precious “woobie” go before the unhealthy attachment leads to something more serious – like bedspreads. It’s not that Jack Butler changes for the better or that he was never cut out for the job in the first place, it’s that his situation allows him the opportunity to experience moments he was missing out on before. Once he finds his own way of doing things, his household runs like clockwork. Revealing that there’s no such thing as doing it wrong, there’s only what’s right for you and your family.
Obviously, family dynamics have changed substantially since Mr. Mom came out in 1983. Since the late ’80s, the number of stay-at-home dads has been steadily increasing with over 2 million estimated as primary caretakers today. What stands out to me about the movie is that the Butler household is one where everyone works as a team despite their role. While what works for one family will certainly be different for another, the roles we play are chosen because they suit our personal interests and the best interests of our family. It's been said that it takes a village to raise a child and Jack Butler’s failed attempt to do it all on his own is a testament to the proverb. While we may like to think of our fathers as invincible, even Superman (or in Keaton’s case, Batman) could use a little help from time to time. Whether your dad spends his days looking out for your best interests inside or outside the home, this Father’s Day consider lending the old man a hand with the yardwork, the vacuuming, or any one of the millions of little things he does to make your home a happy one.