I Don't Care If Bruce Jenner Was a Crap FatherJessica Ashley
I am a little too invested in the Kardashians, yes. But that’s mostly at about 11 p.m. on a post-“Mad Men” season Sunday night with a glass of wine and stale Halloween candy leftovers. In those moments, I feel concerned that Scott is so judgy of his super-health conscious girlfriend’s postpartum body that appallingly registers at a few pounds over a hundred on the scale. I feel chafed by Kris Jenner’s shrieky way of showing she cares about her kids. I wish I could rewind at the hilarity of a then-pregnant Kim wanting to remodel her family home with Kanye and Baby Yeezus to include a “wall of greenery”. And I wonder how in the hell Khloe survives being (sort of?) related to this bunch.
But mostly, the family and their show is a welcome zone-out from the buzz of deadlines and bills and schedules and misogynist healthcare agenda that occupies my mind most waking hours of the day. For that, and similarly for every couple on “House Hunters” I’ve cursed and been compelled to see through the entire painful home-purchasing process and the Real Housewives past and present, I am grateful.
The Kardashians, in all of their false eyelashes and vaj talk, have been background noise that I’ve occasionally turned up the volume on in my own everyday life. Including the hubbub about Bruce Jenner being a bad father.
I admit, I was all “dayummmm” when Brody Jenner showed up regularly this season and called his father out for being absentee for years, not even acknowledging his son’s birthdays repeatedly. A scene where Brody, at the encouragement of older brother Brandon and his wife Leah, confronts Bruce about missing out on having a dad who is present like he is for daughters Kendall and Kylie, made me rethink both these men.
Brody’s brattiness in “The O.C.” made a little more sense and Bruce’s belabored whipping-boy persona seemed to fade. I don’t know if the reality-ish heart-to-heart made either of them sympathetic characters, but the development certainly made sense — in this big, old, on-screen, California blended family with a lot of kids, a ton of money and plenty of drama, surely some of the children are bound to feel (or even be) left out.
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So Brody got the shaft. Bruce didn’t deny it but he also is never shown offering his apologies. He says something about doing better and they agree to do the whole clean-slate dad/dude bro thing.
The real honesty was never spoken aloud — Brody is shown watching Bruce with his teen daughters, being playful and funny and present and connected. What I read was jealousy. And if that is what Brody was really feeling, or was the underlying tone of the script he was delivered a few days before filming, then that’s the emotion that seems most right-on. That’s how any of us, on television or in a state park picnic shelter with our extended crazy family, would feel. And leave us a little sobby in our Bentley or custom race car or 1993 Honda Civic or whatever.
That was the end of the Brody-Bruce paternal drama, at least on the show. After two minutes of weight-loss commercials, Kim was back to refusing to talk about her divorce/pregnancy/non-maternity pencil skirt, Scott was being momentarily endearing/socially off and I was off on a mind-tangent wondering if anyone other than Khloe is still getting away with wearing those beady forehead-bands.
Until this week, when a source said Bruce Jenner is reportedly “really upset” about being portrayed as a bad dad on national TV. That same source used words like “ticked off” and “livid” to describe the whole thing and accuses Kris Jenner as demanding her husband give all his attention to their daughters rather than his children from a previous marriage.
It’s an eyerollingly easy tactic to point the finger at Kris — isn’t she the momager who we think is to blame for every damn thing among all those folks? — whether it is truth or fiction or the weird, amorphous middle of reality show living. And, as this HuffPost piece points out, there are lots of reasons to not pay attention to the outrage that Bruce may or may not have expressed after the show and accusations aired.
Honestly (and although I have devoted like 22 paragraphs to dissecting this whole possible-absent-parent dynamic), I don’t care if Bruce Jenner was a crap dad to his boys. If it is what happened, I feel a bit of sadness for the kid who needed and still needs an involved father, no matter how many other kids and stepkids and momager-boss ladies he has in his life. But this piece of information doesn’t make me feel any one way or another about the former Olympian who really just wants to be left alone with his remote-control helicopters.
What I do think matters is how Bruce Jenner proceeds in his relationships with his children and in the seasons sure to air for decades into the future. From this side of the television, it seems like he’s pretty involved with his teen girls, and if that is a sign of his evolution as a parent, I think that counts for something. We all can relate to admitting parental error and then wanting to better ourselves. Rather than reading a source’s report of a (possibly) bad dad’s rant about how his story was skewed, I’d like to hear him say something about making mistakes and moving on, about building relationships with his non-Kardashian kids, about how adults need parental guidance, support, love, presence, goofing off, advice and input, too.
In past seasons, I’ve been interested that Bruce Jenner has been the primary parent to the two youngest girls, and have been kind of compelled that his rules are stricter, more protective and more relatable than their mother’s. While he may not have to make lunches for Brody or teach him to drive a tank-like gazillion-dollar SUV down the driveway, it might be just as interesting to see him step up for his adult sons.
Reality TV is not at all like most of our lives. But the shows can help us talk about issues we do face in our worlds that are far more WalMart and Toms than D&G and Louboutin. And the issue here is how a man rises up when his adult child works up the courage and hope to tell his father that he missed out on having a dad growing up and really wants a relationship going forward. That, I care about. That platform, I will tune into, maybe even during prime time.
The source in this story might be as fictionalized as many of the other Kardashian plotlines. Bruce Jenner’s ranty, unaccountable reactions might be false, too. None of that really matters.
What does count is that this is a very real issue for many real people, one that isn’t tied up in a scene or put to rest with a guy back-slap hug after one episode, one that isn’t captured by cameras or given press when Baby North West’s name-shock wears off. What I care about is the real stories of families who want to mend old wounds, of kids who grow up strong enough to talk out childhood hurts with their aging parents, and mothers and fathers who are willing to say they are sorry, they want to try, that there’s time and love enough to start again.
Bruce and Brody are just two men in a world of us working out tough stuff with our parents and kids and exes and current spouses and stepchildren and blended families. Wouldn’t it be nice if they were more relatable? Yes. Isn’t it way more important we turn down the Kardenners and tune into our own families? Absolutely.
Maybe if we do that, have those conversations and speak them loudly, Bruce Jenner will hear the buzz of the real stuff. Who knows? Maybe the rest of them will listen, too.
I kid! None of them will listen. But it’s OK because none of us really care about what they are saying to each other that much anyway — at least once NeNe face pops up on screen. Right?
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