The Strength of the ‘Soft Daddy’
The latest season of Netflix’s animated comedy Big Mouth explores the mysterious world of father figures, and emerges with a revelation.
A modern generation of animated sitcoms shows a rarity in the genre: well-adjusted fathers.
The latest season of Netflix’s animated comedy Big Mouth explores the mysterious world of father figures, and emerges with a revelation. The middle schooler Nick’s dad, Elliot Birch, has been harboring a secret: He used to be a fearsome competitor in the macho martial art of “Scottish nipple twisting.” Elliot is a sweetie pie, a family man who takes the concept of being a lover-not-a-fighter to the extreme. He’s a vocal feminist who kisses his male friends on the mouth and moisturizes as liberally as he praises his wife. So what gives? Elliot explains to Nick that he only ever engaged in the martial art to earn his own hypermasculine father’s approval. Eventually, Elliot left that life behind. “I vowed to myself that I’d be the exact opposite kind of father,” he explains to Nick. “You mean like a soft daddy?” Nick asks. “The softest, and the daddiest,” Elliot says.
Elliot made good on his vow: He’s likely the softest daddy around. And not only on Big Mouth, but probably in the contemporary animation canon—which is saying something, because today’s cartoon married men aren’t the patriarchs of the past. For decades, animated sitcoms frequently relied on cynical depictions of bad dads to make their audiences laugh: Think of the boorishness of Fred Flintstone or Family Guy’s Peter Griffin. Today’s “soft daddy” is a different—and welcome—archetype of domestic masculinity.
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