Jerry Seinfeld, Superdad?
That seemed to be the verdict at the fundraising luncheon at the Palm he hosted this week for wife Jessica Seinfeld’s Fatherhood Initiative, an organization devoted to making sure that fathers have the resources they need to be more involved and active in their children’s lives. The logic seems to be that mothers intuitively know how to care for their children—and in the cases of economically disadvantaged single mothers, to use the social safety net system to make sure they leverage every public dollar that’s coming to them—but men…don’t. Men need a little extra remedial help to figure out how to be effective parents, and the Seinfelds are going to make sure they get it.
And I suppose it’s not an untrue thesis, especially if you subscribe to the bumbling sitcom dad model of fatherhood (or, more specifically, the idea that the role of a Jewish father is typically a silent one; they’re sort of the nonspeaking townspeople of family life), which, why wouldn’t Jerry Seinfeld believe that? He’s successfully navigated the transition between the perennially single nitpicker of his television alter ego to devoted family man and father of three (he and his wife Jessica have been married for 16 years now, if you can believe it); it’s only natural that this master of observational comedy would have formulated plenty of fun anecdotal evidence of the ineptitude of dads, and as a good husband and loving father, tried to figure out a way to rectify that. In his own words to The Hollywood Reporter after the event:
“Men now in this cultural moment need to be more supportive to their women — the mothers or the wives or both because women are at a point in culture when it’s one of the most difficult in their history,” he said. “They have more opportunity than they’ve ever had but that doesn’t necessarily make your life easier. … Stress on them is a lot higher. When you first get married and have kids you don’t realize the stress that is on a woman. It takes you awhile to figure that out and be helpful.”
And you know, good on him. I’m for anything that gets more fathers to take some initiative to clean up after themselves, do the laundry, and maybe, just maybe, realize the kid needs to go to the damn doctor, make the appointment, and take her there all by his own self. But the problem with Seinfeld’s point is betrayed by the language he uses about the stress being, reflexively, on the woman, and the father needing to be “helpful.” Fathers, in a perfect world, would not be helpers. Women, despite being biologically equipped to actually give birth, don’t get an instruction manual either, and rather than fathers hanging around waiting for orders like an eager young intern, would better serve their aims by taking some ownership over the life they have helped to create.
If women are going to continue their rise and achieve their professional and personal aims, fathers must see themselves as something more than support staff and take an active, and extra role in their children’s lives and care. If we all sacrifice a little bit, we can make sure that nobody has to sacrifice too much. Jerry Seinfeld, father extraordinaire and friend to women (has there ever been a greater female comic character than Elaine Benes? I think not) has the right idea. Let’s just hope he can take it far enough.