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Balancing Act: ‘Mr. Mom’ in 2019? A show by any other name would be a more accurate reflection of parenting reality

I spent Sunday afternoon at a birthday party on a baseball diamond in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood.

The dad of the birthday boy ran the show – greeting parents as they dropped off their kids, calmly mediating disputed calls, waving all 17 boys in when it was time to eat. The mom of the birthday boy worked off-field getting the pizzas and veggies and ice cream cake and coolers of drinks and plates and napkins ready to be pounced upon.

It was, like so much of parenting, a team effort.

As the boys ate, I stood off to the side with another dad. His son had six friends sleep over the night before and this dad was telling me a few of the highlights, including that morning's breakfast buffet, which he manned.

When the party ended, kids dispersed with their grown-ups: dads, moms, the occasional neighbor. I took a call from my daughter, who was at the grocery store with my husband. They had a question about dinner. When we were done talking, I answered a text from a dad from my daughter's gym about this week's practices.

None of this is particularly remarkable. Dads running birthday parties, dads preparing breakfast for a bunch of 9-year-olds, dads grocery shopping, dads nailing down carpool arrangements. A pretty average weekend, really.

So why, in the year of our Lord 2019, is a new comedy series launching called "Mr. Mom?"

Why, if you've created a show about a stay-at-home dad, would you saddle it with a name that manages to insult everyone it touches? Dads are portrayed as temporary substitutes for the real parent (moms); moms are portrayed as wading into a man's rightful territory (the workforce); and audiences are handed a trope that already felt a little stale in 1983, when the first "Mr. Mom" hit screens.

"How our culture still hasn't embraced the concept that dads are parents is just baffling to me," author Hogan Hilling told me.

Hilling belongs to Dad Marketing, a group that works to improve the way dads are marketed to and portrayed in commercials and other media.

When Vudu, a streaming service owned by Wal-Mart, announced it would release an 11-series "Mr. Mom" reboot starting September 12, the group made a plea on Twitter: "Oh, please don't do this, Vudu. Dads aren't punchlines. Nothing positive can come from it. The title alone is offensive enough. What's next, 'Mrs. Dad?' "

Hilling was a stay-at-home dad from 1991 to 2011.

"Millions of at-home dads have proven that a dad is just as capable as a mom when it comes to raising children and managing the household and making the same kind of commitment to be an involved and dedicated parent," he said. "Yet, our culture continues to mock and devalue the role a dad plays as a parent."

Dads made up 17% of all stay-at-home parents in 2016, up from 10% in 1989 according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. Dads are equally likely as moms to say parenting is "extremely important" to their identity, Pew data shows, and fathers reported spending an average of eight hours a week on child care in 2016, triple the time they provided in 1965.

A show whose title marginalizes a dad's contributions to his kids' growth and happiness and friendships and hobbies and homework and memories and sense of self is not only insulting, it's wildly out of touch with what's happening in actual households – the ones where dads stay home as well as the ones where dads work outside the home.

Hilling said there's rich territory to be explored – in a TV show or movie or book – about families with at-home dads. But it shouldn't set the tone, from the outset, that the kids are stuck with a substitute, rather than a loving, all-in parent.

(Contact Heidi Stevens at hstevens@tribune.com, or on Twitter: @heidistevens13.)

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