Kevin Hart is every stressed-out dad in Fatherhood

Jack Tregoning on the scene that gets what it’s like to be a dad and primary carer

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You might have noticed we’ve been making some renovations around here — sweeping up, rearranging the furniture, Marie Kondo-ing our wardrobes. Welcome to the new and improved Scene & Heard! Each week, from here on out, you’ll be reading a conversation between myself — Michael Sun, Netflix Culture Editor at Junkee — and a guest writer. The bones remain the same: they pick the scene they can’t stop thinking about.

This week, I chat to writer and dad extraordinaire Jack Tregoning on the one scene from Fatherhood that perfectly captures the sweaty, splitting-hairs stress of being a dad — and how it stacks up against the expectations we level at new mums.

MS: Jack, I know you loved Fatherhood, a movie which provides the answer to the question on everyone’s lips, that question being: what if Kevin Hart was a single father? But you’ve chosen a scene featuring a mothers’ group. In fact, when Kevin Hart enters the room, it feels like an intrusion — like stepping into a high school cafeteria…

JT: Exactly — he’s just a desperate dad looking for answers! Playing single father Matthew, his baby girl won’t stop crying, and initially the group is hesitant to take him in, even though the sign on the door said parents’ not mothers’ group. I might’ve connected with it because while I watched the scene I was literally bopping around with my 12-week-old — and thankfully, unlike poor Matthew, not colicky — daughter. 

Say what you want about the character’s decision to go straight to a mothers’ — sorry, parents’ — group instead of, say, a pediatrician’s office or even Doctor Google, but that’s movie magic for you. Fatherhood has plenty of comedic hapless dad moments — he can’t fold down a pram, he can’t put up a bassinet, he can’t believe all the nappies — but I particularly enjoyed the desperation of this scene and his sweaty relief at finding a way to soothe his baby girl via vacuum cleaner white noise. 

Not gonna lie, I felt incredibly stressed just watching him racing into that parents’ group, tinkering with prams and folding nappies — and especially that flat-pack bassinet, which is the stuff of IKEA furniture nightmares. I can only imagine how it must feel to actually do those things…

For sure! Although if anyone’s going to help you assemble furniture, let it be Lil Rel Howery. I can definitely relate to the hapless dad stuff — although, unlike Matthew, I am gratefully not a single father or a widower. My wife and I had our first baby in New York, far away from family help. When my wife went back to work after six months (that was generous — those American companies do not go easy), I stayed home with our boy for the next year, fitting in work any time he napped. 

In Fatherhood, Matthew wants to do it all himself and sends his family away. That was not me — I would’ve gladly taken daily grandparent drop-ins — but I definitely relate to that feeling of being this tight little father-baby duo. That year formed a really deep bond between us, and I know that all-day-every-day connection can still be rare for fathers. 

There are definitely lower standards for fathers. We get told we’re doing great for lots of things that women do unacknowledged every day.

But man, there were definitely some comedy movie-like moments. When my wife went on a business trip, I distinctly remember my son standing up in his cot, wailing because I couldn’t find the one blanket that might ensure a full night’s sleep. I turned the whole house over while pleading with an eight-month-old to please cut me some slack. I sounded absolutely insane.

Sounding insane is a forte of mine, so you’re absolutely not alone there. I think something else interesting you — and the scene — both touch on is these differing gendered expectations for parents. Were there times where you felt like you were the only father in the room?

Yes, because I was! 

Actually, you just reminded me of something from yesterday. I braved the supermarket with my now-three-year-old and I’d made it to the register with an overloaded basket and a toddler exercising all his toddler-ness. As I frantically packed shopping bags, a woman stopped to tell me I needed to get a dog (unclear what that meant) and that I was doing great. 

There are definitely lower standards for fathers. We get told we’re doing great for lots of things that women do unacknowledged every day. It’s funny and true that in this scene of the movie, all the mothers seem way more worldly, informed and composed than this flailing father. On the flipside, I feel like I fall into a kind of grey area. The articles I would Google often started with a variation on: “As Mums, we all know how hard it is to…” Obviously there's a lot more openness now to dads being primary carers than, say, in my parents' generation, but these gendered expectations are really deeply rooted.

During that year, I was often the lone dad at the playground or the weekly music ‘class’ we went to. Someone once drive-by yelled at me to put him in a warmer jacket. But generally people are very nice to you when you’re a man with a cute child — you kind of get used to it. I’d spend so much time rolling around the streets of our neighbourhood with him, picking up smiles from passersby, it always felt weird to go out on my own. 

I like that line — “we get told we're doing great for lots of things that women do unacknowledged every day”. And I think that’s a great tension that’s set up in the Fatherhood scene, which ultimately ends with this circle of mothers letting him in on a parenting trick. For him, there's kind of this realisation, like “oh, this is what mothers go through daily”. 

For sure. I mean, the whole movie is premised on the unlikelihood of a father muddling through parenting on his own. For a lot of women, that’s just everyday life. The gender-flipped version of this story would need a totally different elevator pitch. 

Fatherhood definitely leans into the realisation that being a parent is really, really hard work, and whatever do-it-all vision you had for your life might need some adjusting. But as Matthew realises in the second half of the movie, there’s no better feeling than just being there as your kid grows up. It’s tough and sometimes scary being a dad, but it really sets your priorities straight. 

I keep coming back to that parents’ group scene in particular because it feels like the culmination of all Matthew’s little learnings up to that point. In that moment, his bravado about doing it all himself crumbles. I like the honesty of that realisation, and it's really the scene that sets up where the movie goes next. It’s admirable to want to be the best father possible, but you’re never going to have all the answers.

Case in point: we will never have an answer for why the woman at the supermarket told you to get a dog.

You're right! And little did she know, my son does not like dogs. 

Jack Tregoning is a Sydney-based music and culture writer. 
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