Kathleen Parker

Of those everyone loves to hate, few can compete with the deadbeat dad for longevity.

How much do we hate him? While we're counting the ways, Fox TV may try to help America organize its contempt and put a face on this loathsome character.

"Bad Dads," redundant in these male-bashing times, is the name of a new reality show Fox is considering. While the network reviews the pilot, outraged fathers' advocates are trying to nip this bad seed before it buds.

As proposed, the show features a bounty hunter sort of character, which is not an entirely fictional device. Bounty hunters do exist and pursue noncustodial parents who are behind in child support payments -- for a cut of the proceeds, sometimes as much as a third.

In the pilot, Jim Durham, director of the National Child Support Center, tracks a struggling mother's wealthy ex, whom he confronts at a country club. According to the program's description, showdowns typically would be preceded by phone calls urging Dad to be a do-right man.

When appeals to conscience fail, Durham investigates assets and does whatever is necessary -- getting mortgages foreclosed and cars repossessed -- until everybody gets paid.

Executive producer JD Roth describes his creation as "justice."

"It's a show that depicts the sacrifice and heartache of incredibly brave women on behalf of their kids and then ends in the most gratifying way possible."

Really? How gratifying can it be for children watching television to see fathers humiliated in front of the world? Not much is an easy guess.

For that reason, among others, fathers' advocates are justifiably outraged at this new exploration of human prurience. Glenn Sacks, a Los Angeles-based dad advocate and radio personality, along with Fathers & Families and the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, has launched a pre-emptive strike against Fox on his Web site (glennsacks.com/foxbaddads).

Chief among his objections is the potential harm of this image to children, who already have suffered broken homes -- and especially to the few who might actually see their fathers publicly characterized as someone who doesn't love them.

"Bad Dads" is just the latest insult to men and especially fathers who feel, appropriately, that they've been maligned and minimized through television programming and advertising. In sitcoms, men are typically buffoons. And fathers, if they exist, are inept and unreliable, while Mom is a paragon of virtue and competence. Television executives and advertisers may profit from such "entertainment," but who's having fun? Apparently, women are. Four out of five network sitcom viewers are female.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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