|The real Pa Ingalls|
I loved Little House on the Prairie when I was the kid. Loved the books, loved the TV series. I watched the TV show every week, and read and re-read the books more times than I can count.
So when I had kids, I naturally wanted to introduce them to characters and stories that had brought me such pleasure. I bought the books — and my oldest, like me, read and re-read those books more times than either of us can count. We purchases Seasons 1 through 3 of the TV series, and spent many enjoyable hours watching together as a family.
But that was many years ago, before my divorce and before my youngest was a fully functioning big kid. I didn’t want him to miss out though, so a few months ago, I read him Farmer Boy. This boy loves farming and outside work and hates school; I figured Farmer Boy would appeal to him on many levels, and I was right. He was thrilled when I told him there were more books in the series.
We’ve since worked our way through Little House in the Big Woods, and are currently reading Little House on the Prairie — a good time, I decided, to introduce the TV show.
This weekend, we sat down and watching Episode 1 of Season One, “A Harvest of Friends.” And I fell in love with Pa.
As a kid in the 70s and 80s, I’d always focused on Laura and Mary and their adventures. But now, as an adult who thinks and writes a lot about boys and men, I found myself drawn to Pa.
He loved his wife! His eyes twinkled when he looked at Caroline, and you could hear his love in the banter he shared with his wife.
He loved his kids — and wasn’t afraid to show his love. Pa was harsh when needed, according to his culture and time, but he was also compassionate and forgiving. He shared music and stories with his kids. He brought them along and involved them in his work and interests, at least some of the time.
He was honest and trustworthy. Pa was nothing if not an ethical man.
He was hardworking. The man built homes for his family with his own two hands, with minimal materials. He did whatever was needed to provide for his family, often working long, physical hours.
He was a good neighbor. Pa helped others; he wasn’t too busy or too poor to assist someone else.
Pa, in short, is the polar opposite of what passes for a “man” in today’s popular culture.
About a year ago, I wrote a post about less-than-ideal male role models. The post started off with this comment from a fellow blogger:
The current culture portrayed by the media denigrates both men and women into sex-starved animals.
Our boys are surrounded by inaccurate depictions of male strength and masculinity. Men, our popular culture implies, are strong and powerful. They sleep with a lot of women. They dominate other men. They are sarcastic and self-interested. And they are completely incompetent as partners and parents.
I’m not sure why the popular image of men veered in this direction. Men and women have made tremendous progress since the Little House TV series premiered in 1974. Men today are more likely than their fathers to be involved in childcare, to help with the household chores. But you don’t see that on TV.
Instead, we surround our children with unhealthy and unrealistic images of manhood, and then bemoan the fact that boys today are taking so long to become men, that so few boys are growing into full, healthy men.
Do we not see the link?
What would happen if we once again presented healthy images of manhood in the media? What if we surrounded our boys with people like Pa Ingalls and Cliff Huxtable?
I don’t know. But I’d support an effort to try.
In the meantime, I’m going to keep reading and watching Little House with my boys.
Are you troubled by the media’s depiction of men? How do you help your boys make sense of male stereotypes? Do you think Pa is a good role model?