Not all good fathers are good men. The act of procreation is not (unfortunately) an immunization against callousness or an unbreakable vow to fight the forces of evil. In fact, there’s little correlation between breeding and goodness and often a complete disconnect between good parenting and good person-ing. Still, 2018 saw a lot of men flashing their dad credentials to distract from scandal or to cloud public narratives of moral failure.
Hiding behind children is not a new practice. But modern men seem to be perfecting it. With the #MeToo movement in full swing, corruption on the rise, and social media laying bare the very dumbest impulses of the well-known, men have had a lot to apologize for of late and many of those apologies have taken paternal detours. Bad behavior or bad press was met with happy Instagrams of loving families. “Sure,” these images said, “I committed a terrible act or got indicted or said something hateful, but this kiddo vouches for me.”
Yes, it got a little disgusting. Will this nonsense stop? Likely not. Fathers will likely continue to play moral peekaboo, hoping nobody notices the way it commoditizes their children. And when fathers do this in response to scandal, they will be emulating the five men below, each of whom helped bring the art of hiding behind children into the modern era.
Earlier this year, Conor McGregor, UFC fighter and well-known racist for shock factor, lead an assault on a bus full of other MMA fighters outside of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. During the incident, two MMA fighters were injured and at least one was removed from the lineup of an upcoming fight due to wounds he sustained. After being booked on assault charges for the bus attack and stripped of his UFC title, McGregor’s social media account, which often trafficked in bombast, softened in tone. Gone were the pump-up pics and close-ups of chest tattoos. In their place were photos of he and his baby, snuggling, fully clothed. That’s not to say that McGregor can’t or shouldn’t share photos of his kid, scandal or not. But it was a clear play to soften his image. It was his way of saying, If I’m a dad, I can’t be a jerk, right? Wrong.
When Chief Justice Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Trump, allegations quickly surfaced that he had sexually assaulted more than one woman, including, Christine Blasey Ford, who testified before the Senate about her experience. In rebuke of the allegations, Kavanaugh used the women in his life — his wife and his two daughters — as a means to suggest that these fatherly characteristics make him incapable of doing wrong or having done wrong to women.
On one pivotal day of his nomination hearing during which Kavanaugh lost his cool and yelled at Senators, he also used his role as a father as a shield. “I was very emotional last Thursday, more so than I have ever been,” he wrote in pre-written remarks. “I might have been too emotional at times. I know that my tone was sharp, and I said a few things I should not have said. I hope everyone can understand that I was there as a son, husband, and dad. I testified with five people foremost in my mind: my mom, my dad, my wife, and most of all, my daughters.” That may be, but he also used them as a way of displaying character as he deferred questioning.
Michael Cohen had one hell of a character arc in 2018. Shortly after the beginning of the year, a report surfaced that linked him to an alleged visit to Prague through Germany in early August or September of 2016, at the height of President Trump’s campaign for president. It was alleged that he was there to meet with Russians on Trump’s behalf. Whether or not he did go to Prague, the criminal charges he received at the hands of the federal government in late 2018 show that he may have concealed the extent to which he was working for President Trump in the service of Russian interests. Whatever the case, when he was initially accused of visiting Prague on the sly, Cohen said that he was in Los Angeles with his son. If that’s true, that’s true. If it’s not true, he was essentially looping his son into a lie that could have federal consequences.
When Paul Ryan resigned as Speaker of the House earlier this year, he said that he was stepping away from the position in order to spend more time with his kids. However, reports circled that the reasons that he was likely stepping down had little to do with his kids and more to do with his dissatisfaction with his job in general. It was not just rumors that swirled around the fact that the former speaker’s relationship with Trump had soured; Trump often took to Twitter to deride the former speaker and they were repeatedly at odds throughout Trump’s campaign. It didn’t help that in 2017, a leaked recording surfaced in which Ryan suggested that Putin was paying Donald Trump throughout his 2016 political campaign. Joke or not, the relationship could not have recovered much after that.
That they were forced to work together was never going to be easy. But it might not have been the only reason he stepped down. Other experts suggested that the likely possibility that he would be ousted as a majority leader due to Democrats regaining the House was a reason Ryan tried to get out before the door closed on him, or that he might be considering running for President. Either way, Ryan walked — or rather scurried — away from Republican leadership at a time when the party needed it deeply. He needed an out, so he mentioned his kids.
When Kevin Hart was tapped to host the 2019 Oscars, internet sleuths were quick to find and resurface homophobic tweets and jokes the comedian had posted to social media and performed in stand-up specials. One particularly problematic 2011 tweet read: “Yo if my son comes home & try’s 2 play with my daughters doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head & say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay’.” This echoed his sentiment from one of Hart’s 2010 comedy special, in which he said that one of his biggest fears as a father was his son growing up to be gay.
When pressed on the issue, Hart said he wouldn’t apologize because he had already done so. Within a few hours, however, Hart did apologize and immediately withdrew as the Oscars host. The most confounding moment of all was when he tried to use his son as a defense against legitimate criticism at jokes that even in 2011 were outdated and mired in homophobia. Taking once again to Twitter, Hart said: I was asked the most amazing question from my kids today on the phone….they said “Dad why don’t you get mad when people talk about you on the internet” …my answer was “I never see that stuff because I’m to busy being happy & loving you 2.”
Imagine trying to cast off accusations of homophobia by saying you weren’t bothered about it because you love your kids too much, one of those, the very same kid you said you would break a dollhouse on if they were playing with it because you thought it was gay.