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Darth Vader wasn’t much of a model but a new Star Wars series provides a genuine depiction of life as a working dad.
What will be the Tiger King of this lockdown? When the nation closed down in the spring every get together in the virtual pub or Facebook quiz included talk of Netflix’s outrageous documentary series about the deranged owner of a big cat zoo.
Now the nation’s going back into lockdown it’s back to the telly schedules. And even if you’re in Wales and exiting lockdown or somewhere in the Scottish tier system of restrictions the likelihood is that you’re staying in for the foreseeable.
The latest series of Motherland ran on BBC2 through the autumn. It may have ended its run but I bring it up because it typifies TV’s attitude to dads who are defined by more than just their work. Kevin is the stay at home dad who hangs around with the mums who make up most of the cast. And he’s a drip. The message isn’t even subtle – a dad who looks after his children is weak and laughable or something.
But there is a new model in town. Or in space actually.
Season 2 of The Mandalorian started streaming on Disney+ last week. The timing of the UK launch of Disney+ remains hugely suspicious. It became available over here in late March, literally days after Boris Johnson ordered everyone indoors. The second season of the channel’s landmark show started last Friday, the PM announced another lockdown within 24 hours. Never mind dodgy procurement deals, is Downing Street in cahoots with Disney??
For those unaware, The Mandalorian is a Star Wars spin off. It picks up after the events of Return of the Jedi. It follows the adventures of a bounty hunter who finds himself charged with protecting a child. (The child is otherwise known as baby Yoda, you’ll have seen the memes).
Now, Star Wars doesn’t have a great record on dads. The most notable is Darth Vader. He was an absent father in extremis. And then he chopped his son’s hand off. And when he learned he had a daughter too his first thought was to turn her evil.
The Mandalorian starts much the same way. The main character never takes his helmet off and is no nonsense in pursuing his bounty hunting ways.
Then a baby comes into his life.
By the end of the first series he’s pledged to protect it. But as one of the other characters says ‘maybe it will look after him’. That’s a nod to the baby’s magic powers but it’s a wider point about relationships.
The Mandalorian is tender with his charge. It widens his world view. Makes him a better person and improves his ability at his job – where previously he had skills, now he has skills plus empathy.
And that makes him more useful to those around him, more willing to help strangers and better at building quality relationships.
The dad is an armoured bounty hunter. The green baby resembles a magic bogey. Yet it’s a healthy, positive view of life as a working father.
We need more of that.
Many dads have spent more time at home this year than ever before. Most have enjoyed it. The responses to our latest survey were deeply moving. Dads reporting quality time with their teenagers, building lifelong bonds with their babies, realising what they’d been missing out on and just what their partners had contributed in their absence. Single dads, like the Mandalorian, have had it particularly hard. And the endeavour of those with children who have disabilities or learning difficulties is humbling.
Working dads have been changed by this experience. Fatherhood, work and life in general have all been enriched by the process of blending different elements.
Now let’s maintain that way of living, snuggle in together to watch the rest of The Mandalorian and see how it plays out. It’s a shame we must look to a galaxy far, far away for a healthy model of fatherhood.
But let’s hope that the process of building back better from the pandemic means we see the new experience of fatherhood reflected accurately on screen in future.