Once upon a time, I was a Berenstain Bears fan.
I checked those books out of the library at least a dozen times.
My favorite was The Berenstain Bears and the Truth–an episode that I swear was source of the idea for “Larry Boy and the Fib from Outer Space”.
Brother Bear and Sister Bear are playing soccer in the house–always a no-no–and they knock over Mama Bear’s favorite lamp, shattering it. But instead of fessing up, they tell a tall tale about a large bird with a purple breast, red wing tips, green claws, and yellow fringe above its eyes. Or was it a bird with a red breast, green wing tips, yellow claws and a purple fringe?
Or was it, as Papa Bear adroitly guesses, a black and white bird JUST LIKE THAT SOCCER BALL BEHIND THE CHAIR?
Yes, I loved the Berenstain Bears.
I remember that my mom wasn’t too keen on them–she didn’t like the way Papa Bear was portrayed or something. But I paid her little mind and kept on reading.
Re-reading them as an adult, I am aghast at how unperceptive I was as a child.
Papa Bear is described as an absolute boor. Not only is he portrayed as just like another of the kids that Mama Bear has to keep in line–he’s even worse than the kids.
He gets behind on his taxes, he breaks the Mama Bear imposed TV fast, he gobbles up junk food like nobody’s business. He hops right into the Beanie Baby craze (called something else for the sake of the book, of course), he is the world’s worst sports parent, he never remembers his manners. He’s a lout, plain and simple.
I’ve heard of the “Father knows Best” phenomenon (while I’ve never seen the show of the same name)–but I can’t help but think that this opposite extreme is just as dangerous or more.
Fathers are fallible, they don’t always know best. They make mistakes, sometimes big ones.
But that doesn’t mean fathers are do-nothing, overgrown children who need Mama’s strong hand to keep them in line.
Portraying fathers in this way can only degrade them in the sight of their children. Portraying fathers in this way gives boys and men no standard by which to live.
At least in the olden-way, the “father knows best” way, men were expected to be hard workers and good providers. In this portrayal, men are expected to be toddlers, reluctantly straining against the wife’s leash.
My opinion of the Berenstain Bears has changed (with the exception of The Berenstain Bears and the Truth, the one title that does not portray Papa Bear as a big galloof.)
I do not like them. I do not like them at all.
For more comments on children’s books, see the rest of my Reading My Library posts or check out Carrie’s blog Reading My Library, which chronicles her and her children’s trip through the children’s section of their local library.