Category Archives: Pop Culture


Pop Culture provides various takes on being a Modern Dad, inspired by pop culture references from movies, books, comics and TV shows.

When  I first saw the movie “The Royal Tenenbaums” I was disappointed. But I LOVED the ne’er-do-well patriarch Royal Tenenbaum. When his 11-year old daughter Margot put on a play which she wrote Royal said, “I didn’t find it believable,” and, “What characters? This is a bunch of little kids dressed up in animal costumes.” After Margot excused herself he said, “Well, sweetie, don’t be mad at me. That’s just one man’s opinion.”

I laughed so hard at moments like these – he is brutal but hilarious. He doesn’t do what Dads are SUPPOSED to do. When I re-watched the movie recently two things were different – I liked the movie more than I remembered and I didn’t find Royal’s shenanigans nearly so funny. The main difference? I’m a Dad now.

Twenty years after this episode, Royal claims he is dying in order to worm his way back into his estranged wife’s home and heart. Royal is still an unredeemed jerk – selfish, dishonest and reckless with other people’s feelings – but something happens – he bonds with his grandsons, whom are under the thumb of their own overprotective father (Royal’s alienated son).

Royal takes them on wild adventures: crossing against the light, go-carting in the street, betting on dog fights, and sneaking rides on the back of garbage trucks. Eventually, his ruse is uncovered and, though he is in even greater disgrace, he ultimately realizes all he has lost out on by being an absent father. He is granted redemption when he rescues his grandsons from a car crash and so reconnects with his alienated son – to the point that they are together when Royal dies of a heart-attack later that same year.

So, what’s the moral? It’s never too late to try and get better as a father. You don’t have to become someone you’re not – just a better version of yourself. This is summed up by what Royal requests on his tombstone:  “Royal O’Reilly Tenenbaum (1932-2001) Died Tragically Rescuing His Family From The Remains Of A Destroyed Sinking Battleship”. Of course, the real rescue was of Royal by his family.

Christopher Sweeney is a chauffeur, short order cook, quartermaster, frontline medic and a laundryman – i.e. a Modern Dad. He is also a lawyer, University lecturer and writes award-winning graphic novels, screenplays, online games and other transmedia projects. Check out more Pop Culture pieces on his blog: You can also follow his ravings on Twitter @SweeneyWriter.
A version of this article appears in the recurring column Pop Culture in Village Living Magazine: West Village and Village Living: Mount Pleasant.


But Can The Marriage Survive When Dad Is A Kept Man?


This is the bullshit subheading of Leah McLaren’s cover story in the most recent Toronto Life magazine: Power Wives and Their House Husbands. This is typical of many Toronto Life stories – all sizzle, no steak. Beyond the lack of any real analysis, the article fails to deliver on its premise – that marriages are in trouble when Dad stays home to raise the kids. In fact, the entire article showcases families that are perfectly happy and well-functioning under this set up. So WTF Toronto Life and Leah McLaren? As usual in Toronto Life stories, it is gossip, opinion, narcissism and unsubstantiated claims masquerading as journalism. Hey, my blog can fall under those categories too but it makes no pretense at journalism and you don’t have to pay to read it

What the article really is about is Leah McLaren trying to get her head around why ANYONE would choose to stay at home to raise their children if they had any choice whatsoever. The fact that she is a mother makes this difficulty a little concerning. Really? No conflict about leaving the raising of your children to other people? None? That, to me, is weird and maybe more of an interesting story. At least then the preening self-absorption is up front and not the subtext of a story claiming to report on external reality.

Admittedly, I did not go into reading this article with an open mind. It seemed like crap from the get-go but I was drawn to see what she had to report. The short answer – not a lot with substance.

I am not going to blow a lot of smoke about how fulfilling being a stay at home parent is because much of it is not. Much of it is repetitive drudgery and frustration. But it is important. It is worthwhile. Unlike a lot of jobs, like say, being a freelance journalist writing middlebrow articles for disposable magazines like Toronto Life. Being a stay at home parent doesn’t usually pay very well but if your boss is a demanding megalomaniacal jerk it can be somewhat forgiven in that he is 5 years old not 45, unlike in a lot of jobs.

McLaren mentions the old paradigm of mothers having to stay at home because they had no other choices, power or education and gave up money, status and a larger role in the world. She wonders why anyone now would choose that, be it a man or a woman. The answer is built into the very question: choice. Choosing to do something makes all the difference. These are not “kept men” or “trophy husbands”. The men in the article are all well educated and professionally successful who chose to put their careers on hold for a while to raise their kids. It’s not like they are condemned to spending their lives doing it.

Yes, there will be professional consequences but they don’t care. Maybe part of that is that they have learned that many jobs (and I’d venture to say most) or aspects of them are NOT fulfilling either. Most people work because they have to and they get paid to do it.  If you had a choice, why wouldn’t you spend time with your children? You had them after all – they’re expensive creatures. Why did you have them if not to spend time with them? That said, nothing made me happier than to go back to work after spending a long parental leave at home. That soon passed though. What I really liked was being able to choose (to some small degree) the shape of my life. I am happy I was not constrained by the small-minded attitudes of people who cannot conceive of deviating from the (new) traditional path. The real horror movies are ones like “The Piano”, “Mansfield Park” and “The Age of Innocence” where people could not choose the path to their happiness because they could not escape the confines of their societies.

Mind you, I personally couldn’t spend time at home with my kids if I didn’t have other things going on in my life professionally or otherwise – I do need more stimulation and personal growth than spending all day with small children can give you. I like trying to strike that balance. This points out the false dichotomy in McLaren’s article: you don’t have to choose one or the other.

I would have liked to have seen some dads who did not have the choice and were resentful. There are probably a lot of them – victims of the man-cession a few years ago and the societal shift to shed old-style manufacturing jobs. There might be others whose wives make a lot of money and they didn’t and so it didn’t make financial sense to pay someone else to raise your kids. Rock paper scissors – you lose. Those guys may not be temperamentally suited to the gig or like the fact it was foisted on them. Maybe they come from a background which told them their entire identity came from the job they held and the amount of money they brought home to the family (wait a minute, that’s all of us). Maybe it’s easier for effete liberals like me though. This is tough – society never really held out being a stay at home dad  as a viable and respectable option and for some classes and cultures it would be shameful. This reminds me of women on the cusp of the last sexual revolution who stayed home to raise their kids and watched their younger sisters go off and have careers and despise them for not doing the same.

Or how about featuring some women who despised their husbands for being at home? At least justify the premise of the article. There are women out there, like McLaren apparently, who feel men who earn less than they do or are interested in a more nurturing role are lesser men and not attractive. Maybe this is the real idea behind the subtitle – that if she had a spouse who’d rather spend time at home than work she’d lose interest in him and hook up with some alpha male bond trader, seal hunter or MMA aspirant. I don’t know. She perpetuates this stigma against men who choose (or have to accept) the modern reality of many parents. This attitude is what really pisses me off. Like the old canard about women who wanted careers who must be lesbians, or not able to get a man or are frigid bitches etc.

I don’t get the motivation for this article. Maybe this ties into the last article McLaren wrote for Toronto Life about how she couldn’t make her first marriage work because she was a child of divorce herself. It seemed that she hooked up with her current spouse while still married to her first husband. Nice.

Or maybe it has something to do with not always putting yourself first and doing the hard work of being a parent – especially if you don’t have kids simply to add to the list of your “accomplishments”.

Thanksgiving Decorations

A holiday snapshot from Pop Culture

For Thanksgiving (CDN) my wife puts out a glass vase full of small decorative white pumpkins on the dining room table. My six year old tears into the room and skids to a halt staring at them.


HIM: What is that?

HER: It’s a decoration.

HIM: No, it’s not. If you set it on fire then THAT would be a real decoration.

He tears off again making robot and machine gun sounds. He has a point.

My Parental Failure Reposted on The Good Men Project

Working Out is Like Parenting: An Exercise in Failure


Being a good parent ain’t easy; it helps Christopher Sweeney to remember scenes from his own childhood

Every so often I wonder, am I any good at this? By ‘this’ I mean parenting. And by ‘every so often’ I mean like maybe once an hour. I can’t remember if I’ve used this analogy before in the blog but I compare parenting to a kind of approach to weight lifting I was introduced to in high school. It’s called working out to failure

Follow the link to the full piece on The Good Men Project:

The original piece appeared in a slightly different form in Pop Culture here:

POP CULTURE: A Boy Named… Who?


I love the Johnny Cash song, “A Boy Named Sue”. You can sing it; it tells a story; and it’s funny as @#$%. It’s about a boy who was abandoned by his father, leaving him with nothing but the name “Sue”. This made for a hard life for young Sue, who had to learn to look after himself on account of his name. Sue swears that when he finds his father, he’ll kill him. Hilarious, right?

When Sue sees the “low down snake” playing stud in a saloon, he introduces himself and punches Dad between the eyes.  Down goes Dad but comes up with a knife and takes off part of Sue’s ear. Then commences a fight that sends them crashing through the wall out into “the mud and the blood and the beer”. In the end, Sue draws his gun first and Dad smiles. He tells Sue he knew he wouldn’t be around to raise Sue right, so he gave him a name which would kill him or made him stronger. Tearful reconciliation follows.

While Sue’s father’s methods were flawed, he wanted Sue to be able to take care of himself when he wasn’t around. All dads hope to teach our kids that – even though we may go about it in questionable ways, like my Freedom 16 Plan. My three boys are alreadymeasuring my throne with their eyes but, as I explained to one when we were playing FourSquare, I’ll always be the king. If they want to rule the roost, they better find their own. Because I love them, I have instituted the F16P: I raise them to be able to look after themselves should they, after 16, feel they cannot handle my kingly ways.

I WANT them to stick around longer than that (well, until their schooling is done) but, whenever they strike out on their own, it’ll be comforting to know that they, like Sue, can handle themselves. My lessons may be more about cooking, driving a car and succeeding in a job interview but there’ll be some back-alley fighting moves in there too.

Pillow Talk


Another snapshot of life here at Pop Culture.

As we snuggle at bedtime at lights out, my six year leans over and confides in me.

“Daddy, I know God’s secrets.”

“Huh?!  Really? How do you know that?”

“I saw a wizard today and his shadow told me.”

I alternate between concern that he is totally insane and awe at how incredibly cool that is.

La Vache Qui…

A small snapshot of life around Pop Culture.

6 year old son “toots” right in front of me. 

ME: Hey, don’t you have something to say?

HIM: It wasn’t me.

ME: Oh? Who was it then?

HIM: A cow.

ME: (trying not to laugh) A cow? How did I miss a cow in the bedroom?

HIM: It’s invisible. And it went under the bed. And the cow is not me.

ME: (dissolving into laughter).


Big Balls

I regularly get irritated at the junk masquerading as science in the media. I guess I could say just that I regularly get irritated. Or testy (this word choice will pay off later, you’ll see).”Burning Man”? It could be my nickname. I regularly blow my stack, let off steam, whatever you want to call it.

I am confrontational. I come by it naturally – in my family, when two members get into an argument it’s like a chemical cue is released, alerting all members to congregate and get in on the fight. Something akin to how sharks can sense a drop of blood in the water from miles away. I am cocky. I may in fact be described as a “macho” guy. I have what are colloquially known as “Big Balls”.

Thus my testiness with the release of a recent “study” that links being a good dad to having smaller testicles. What a load of bollocks. Of course a stir has been created in the chattering classes by this publication (not to mention a run on codpieces). It is silly science, there are a number of problems with the study and the conclusions drawn. First of all, what makes a good dad? The researchers focus on diaper changing and the like rather than on coaching sports teams for example – both of which can involve dads in important ways in a child’s life.

Also, what is the cause and what is the effect? Previous studies have shown men’s testosterone drops after becoming fathers (and apparently many of those desirable mates had higher than normal testosterone to begin with). Researchers aren’t sure that a similar physical change hasn’t occurred below the belt.

Lastly there is a great deal of variation in the study which seems to point at a certain amount of choice by the men involved. Some men with big balls are good dads and some men with small balls are not. A study like this makes me shake my head anyway. What is the POINT exactly? Other than to get people all riled up?

I read a fascinating book recently, “How The Brain Changes Itself” by Dr. Norman Doidge, which discusses, among numerous other instances of brain plasticity, how when people fall in love their actual physical brains change. I think most of us who have had kids know what I’m talking about when I say you fall harder in love with your children than you can imagine. It proves the old adage that you can’t wait to be ready before you become a parent, you become ready by becoming a parent – literally.

There is no doubt that I radically changed in the way I saw and related to the world when my guys were born. Talk about baby brain. I was totally messed up each time – thought I was going crazy. I would cry singing Molly Malone to them (it was so tragic how she died so young!) Now I kinda wonder what the hell was going on there. It makes sense to me that men change radically and physically when they have children – the science supports it. And this is a good thing, right? You need to change to become a good Dad (or Mum) It’s called growing up.

So, ladies, you can put your calipers/scales away – no need to measure the heft of the coconuts before choosing a mate because,

while men may have smaller balls after they become involved fathers, one thing is clear:
they have BIGGER HEARTS.?



We’re big Harry Potter fans in our house – the books, not the lousy movies. I have read them, my wife has read them and our oldest has reread them so many time I found myself involved in a ridiculous argument. It went something like: “You are rereading Harry Potter AGAIN?” “So? I want to read Harry Potter.” “This is ridiculous. You have to read something else. No more Potter!” “You can’t stop me from reading Harry Potter!” “I… You’re right. Forget it.” And I slunk the hell out of there – another parenting fiasco.

We love to read our kids the books. I read the first one to our middle son before my wife took the project over (even though my character voices are much superior). I was reminded how awesome the headmaster, Dumbledore, is. Harry, as an orphan, is looking for replacement parents throughout the books to help him grow into the man (wizard) he needs to be. Though his mother is central to his story (she sacrificed herself to allow him to live), Harry is searching primarily for a Father figure. By far the most important of these is Dumbledore.

Initially, I was amazed by Dumbledore’s willingness to permit  Harry to go on these risky adventures without interfering.  This is contrary to current hyper-involved bubble-wrapped parenting. Dumbledore knows Harry must undergo risks to BECOME the hero. He has to try and fail. Dumbledore doesn’t do Harry’s homework for him, he doesn’t micromanage or call from the sidelines about how to do things (something I am prone to).

Also, when Harry asks Dumbledore to tell him the truth, he gives a great answer:

“I shall answer your questions unless I have a very good reason not to… I shall not, of course, lie.”

He gives Harry what Harry can reasonably handle but doesn’t try and “protect” Harry from the world.

Lastly, Dumbledore regularly demonstrates the quality which makes all kids love him: a childlike curiosity and humour about life. At the end of the book, he tries one of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans – even though he had a bad experience in his youth with a vomit-flavoured one. So, like Dumbledore, I try to give my kids permission to fail. Learning to deal with failure and to keep trying those beans (even though the next one might taste like earwax) is a very important lesson.

A version of this article appears in the August/September issues of Village Living Magazine: West Village and Village Living Magazine: Mt. Pleasant.