My kids were watching TV the other day. Perhaps a purist would say that watching TV is not ideal for children and that they ought to be out climbing trees or reading Hamlet or something, but hey, I have three small children, an increasingly pregnant wife, and we all live in Pakistan, so watching twenty minutes of TV every day doesn’t seem too outrageous. The current programme of choice for my offspring is Mike the Knight, a show in which a young knight living in a sanitised medieval world (no Black Death, no Crusades, but plenty of cheery blacksmiths and friendly dragons) has adventures.
Then it struck me: we never see his father.
He sends postcards occasionally, which his son eagerly reads, but the father is never actually seen. This struck me as odd. I started to think about other shows which my kids have enjoyed and I started to realise that fathers are conspicuously absent in quite a few of them.
There’s Timmy Time, an animation where a cute lamb goes to playschool with his similarly adorable animal friends. His mother waves him off from the gate every morning, but of his father there is no sign.
Then there’s the Octonauts, possibly the best kid’s programme of all time if you ask me. One of the characters, Peso, is a penguin who is occasionally visited by his brother and mother – but not his father.
Then there’s the Pixar film Up: no dad there either, and the boy scout character mentions this fact sadly. Or take the film trilogy Toy Story: Andy’s sister features, his mother is a major character, but we never see his father. He’s not even mentioned once.
Why are fathers absent from so many programmes? Are the programme-makers trying to reflect real life? After all, a 2013 report from the UK stated that a million British children are growing up without a father around. In the US the numbers are even more appalling: 24 million children growing up without a father figure – that’s one child in every three. One in three! That is a staggering statistic.
Or perhaps the programme makers are paying tribute to single mums who raise kids on their own. If this is the case then I applaud them: anyone who has managed a household of kids on their own knows just how difficult it is, and frankly mums who do it regularly require infinite amounts of praise.
Or perhaps, most heartbreakingly, the script writers don’t even realise what they’re doing. Perhaps fathers are so regularly absent these days that the currency of fatherhood has been devalued to the point at which their absence is not even noteworthy.
One of the blessings of our life in Pakistan is that I get to be around my kids far more than most of my peers back in the UK. It’s a rare day when I’m not around for both breakfast and dinner. I can count on the fingers of one hand the times when I haven’t been able to put the kids to bed. So perhaps I feel this more keenly than most. But it still makes me wonder what kind of example today’s fathers are setting to their own children…