The classic “family man” in literature and media

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

Strong, burly, commanding and unfaithful: all characteristics of the classic “family man.” The character depicted in literature and media throughout history remains unchanged and consistent. 

The dependable father figure comes in different forms but at the core, is the same person. 

The “family man” tends to care for his family and puts them above all. He usually works hard and quantifies his self-worth and pride using his career and ability to do unnecessary manual labor. This character derives itself from gender roles dating from before 1900. 

The man was the head of the household and held all power in a household dynamic. This is reflected in the characterization of male figures in many television shows, movies and books, even in contemporary media. These heteronormative “dudes” are inescapable in any media. 

In Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” Willy Loman laments his inadequacies in his workplace and issues with his family. He begins to cheat on his wife and all his problems come to a head, driving him to suicide. 

He is an example of a “failure” in this trope but an applicable character all the same as he functions on the same principles. His sense of self-worth and his mental health were obliterated by his work failures and family issues. Without those successes, he felt his life held no value. 

The television show “Bones” exhibits similar phenomena. The main male lead, FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth incessantly emphasizes his masculinity and heterosexuality. 

He immediately shoots down any parallels made between him and femininity, and his religious and military backgrounds are used as grounds to explain his insistence. This follows the same pattern of the “family man” with Booth being a father and family-oriented individual. He, while never unfaithful to his partners, is commanding, strong and emotionally unavailable. He almost seems to fear being perceived outside of his notion of a “man.”

This “family man” idea extends even as far as well-known celebrities and figures in internet media and music. 

An example of this is Adam Levine, lead  singer of Maroon 5, also known as the band whose music plays at Target.

His visage depended on him being a family-focused person, who puts his wife and daughter first. His whole “schtick” was being an easily digestible household name. 

Then, news breaks that he cheated on his wife. 

Another similar instance is with Ned Fulmer, formerly of The Try Guys, a YouTube-famous group with a wide-reaching platform. His entire internet persona was sculpted around the fact that he “loves his wife!” 

Then, videos emerge of him fraternizing inappropriately with an employee and eventually, news of his affair goes viral. 

These are the “family men” in the flesh (or through a computer screen, naturally). 

Their public identities center on their families and yet, their actions contradict this. The concept of the unfaithful husband is no surprise to viewers and consumers of mass media in today’s digitally connected world. 

The general sentiment of “I’m not even surprised” floods social media in response to such events. However, is it okay to normalize these concepts just because they are common?

Common and acceptable are not the same, though the lines often blur. 

With the “family man” being portrayed in all facets of media and literature consumption, it is hard to delineate the issues with the trope. 

However, the intrinsic issues lying within the “family man” concept make for a need to break out of the status quo. 

The idea that someone who identifies as a man cannot exhibit conventionally accepted qualities of femininity and emotionality is deeply antiquated. 

Though male portrayals of the “family man” have steered away from this convention, such as with Phil Dunphy of “Modern Family,” it is time to abolish the tiresome, dated trope altogether.