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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Beyond the Armchair: Defying the Myth of 1950s Fatherhood From Outside of the Household

  • Author(s): Pacheco, Henry
  • et al.

A strong, well-balanced family doesn’t always have to be driven by an equally strong and well-balanced father. However, the all too recognizable idealization of the media-perfected, everpresent, firm-but-fair father of the 1950s continues to resonate with us even after 70 years of his evolution and progressive change. It is assumed that he governs the household with a stern, yet not iron fist, he comes home after a long day of honest work with poise, and he cares for his wife and kids with an equal reserve—not affectionate but not cruel. The father is supposed to be the rock of the 1950s home, and he does this in the way in which society believes he should. In Taylor Sheridan’s Hell or High Water, divorced father and disconnected brother Toby Howard provides none of these characteristics for his family, and it would be impossible for him to follow this mythological lead. Unlike the traditional ‘50s father figure, Toby robs banks with his ex-con brother, Tanner, in an attempt to save his recently deceased mother’s ranch to secure a prosperous future for his children. Yet despite his deviation from what cultural tradition demands, Toby does for his family what a father of that era would never think to do: provide for his family even in separation, maintain his loyalty to his brother even after his tumultuous past, and remain a father figure to his sons despite the unorthodox model he presents. Through his endeavors, Toby breaks the mold of the nuclear father that the nuclear family demands by displaying how a father can be just as virtuous, admirable, and worthy of reverence by not taking on this memorable role. Instead, Toby defines this role through what he is willing to do in pursuit of supporting his family, his commitment to his brother despite his turbulent history, and the position as a role model he is able to maintain despite the immoral actions that accompany his mission.

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