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The Scary Love of Homer Simpson

By October 1, 2010 No Comments

A few years ago I was involved in a heated conversation about the portrayal of fatherhood on television. This took place during the heyday of those movements dedicated to getting men to be more manly, which usually entailed climbing rocks or jumping around like W WF wrestlers. This particular argument started when I was asked whether I thought Homer Simpson was a good father. Without hesitation I emphatically answered “yes”–and the debate was on. Happy Homer How could I justify believing that this lazy, beer-drinking buffoon ser ved as an appropriate symbol of fatherhood? Isn’t he a better example of how the biased media is intent upon dismantling the family structure, in this case by making men look foolish and weak? I replied by saying that I didn’t know about the intent of the media, nor was I entirely clear which family structure was being referenced; nevertheless, I strongly reaffirmed my belief that Homer was indeed a great dad. A fter all, I argued, Homer Simpson represents those fathers who desperately love their kids but have no clue how to show it.

I appreciate Homer Simpson’s many awkward attempts to show his kids that he loves them. Like the time that he took a second job so Lisa could have a pony, working all day at the nuclear power plant and all night at the Kwik-E Mart with only one minute of sleep in between. Or the time when Homer discovered that he wasn’t “planned,” which became the motivation for him to work at being a better parent, as seen in the following exchange:

Homer: Kids, your … daddy has realized something very important: a father should always make his kids feel wanted. Starting right now I promise to spend a lot more time with you and give you the attention you deserve.
[gets up, hugs Bart and Lisa really tight so they can hardly breathe]
Homer: I think Lisa needs another push on her new tire swing!
Lisa: No, Dad, I want to get down. This tire is filthy and the steel belts are poking me.
Homer: [pushing her] Whee! Whee!
Lisa: Nooo! Nooo!
Bart: No offense, Homer, but your … under-parenting was a lot more fun than your … over-parenting …
Lisa: Dad, it’s just that too much of your love can really be…scary. /div>

Homer: [sighs] Someday you’ll thank me for all this scar y love. But now I’ve got to go somewhere and do some serious thinking.1

Scary love–I’m sure most of us have experienced the sort of thing Lisa means: Dad’s vacation outfit of shorts, dress shoes, and those pulled-up white socks with colored stripes on the top–all while taking us places that we tried to enjoy, really. The awkward conversations in which love and pride come wrapped in strange words and incomplete sentences. The long hours of work and sacrifice so the kids might have new opportunities open to them–opportunities that he most likely will never fully understand. This is the type of father Homer Simpson represents.

Don’t misunderstand me–I believe all of us should work hard to be the best parents we can be. However, at times I find myself struggling to live up to the ideal fatherhood so often trumpeted by the Christian community. I love my kids, but as with Homer I often show my love awkwardly: irrational anxieties, overzealous parenting, and activities or places I think they should like–all in the name of wanting my kids to be OK. So I’m glad for TV dads like Homer Simpson, representing parents who love their kids so much it can’t help but come out in quirky, unexpected ways.

Jason Lief

Jason Lief teaches Practical Theology at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, and is former editor of the Reformed Journal.