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Calling Andy’s Absentee Father a Deadbeat Is a Slam to All Divorced Dads

toy_story_bedThe Internet is abuzz lately with various theories and opinions about the back story of Andy’s mom, the question of what happened to Andy’s dad and the real reasons his dad was absent from the Toy Story movies. One article in particular came across my browser yesterday that really took me by surprise.

In his opinion piece on the Huffington Post, (a follow up to an earlier one about Andy’s mom) author Joe Negroni asserts that we should draw the conclusion — by connecting the dots in a series of subtle clues in the trilogy (such as a lack of pictures of the dad on the walls of the home, and the absence of a wedding ring on the mom’s finger) that Andy’s dad must’ve been a deadbeat, clearly having walked out on his family. He furthers the argument by saying that it’s actually the reason why the events throughout the Toy Story movie occur.

I felt compelled to craft a response to the assumptions made by the Negroni, as the continued generalization of dads is something we must look to change as a society. It also happens to be a generalization that hits me very personally.

I am a divorced dad. I have two beautiful children that live outside of the state that I get to see just a few times per year. We as a family struggle with the emotions of being separated every single day. We all struggle with the upheaval every time I place my kids on a plane when they depart. Now, I am fairly certain that if went to their mother’s house, there would be no pictures of me hanging on the walls.

If the absence of a wedding ring on my ex-wife’s finger and the absence of pictures of me on the wall mean that others probably assume I’m a deadbeat dad that lives far away because I want my kids out of my life, then that would be more than a little heartbreaking to me. It would also be about as far from the truth as could be possible.

While the deadbeat dad moniker is well-earned by some, it’s certainly placed on others that don’t deserve it. I have to assume that by and large, most men who become fathers feel the same biological pulls that I do. They want to be in their kids’ lives. They miss their kids when they’re separated from them. They love their kids, even if their ex-wives don’t hang photos of them on the walls of their homes.

Let’s take Negroni’s assumptions for a moment and turn them around. Could we not say that these same clues might lead to other conclusions? Maybe Andy’s dad lives far away, and maybe that was actually orchestrated by Andy’s mom as a form of parental alienation and that Andy is seeking escape through imaginative play to avoid the loss of his lifelong hero. While that scenario certainly never entered my mind while watching the delightful films, it’s possible.

Here’s another plausible back story: Maybe Andy’s mom dedicated her early years to her career and made millions through the stock market. Being independently wealthy, because she invested her money intelligently, Andy’s mom never really had time for dating so she decided to use a donor program and thus birthed the two offspring as a single mother.

Then again, maybe Andy’s mom prefers the company of women. Could she have had her children within a same sex union that is now over? Maybe that former partner is a deadbeat mom, hence the absence of photos of her on the walls.

It’s a testament to how deeply embedded the Toy Story movies are in our hearts that we long to pull them apart, scrutinize every frame, and draw more meaning out of them over time, to find more within them to experience in our eighth or ninth or 20th viewings of them. Jumping to the conclusion that an absentee dad is a deadbeat, however, even within the context of an animated children’s movie, is a strong sign that we’re making these assumptions in real life with real men as well.

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