Old dads learn new tricks from Australian children’s cartoon Bluey | Children’s TV

A bright blue anthropomorphic dog may not have been the hero that dads had asked for – but he was the one they clearly needed.

After years of being depicted as affable morons in children’s media – from Peppa Pig’s daddy to the accident-prone father in the interminable Biff, Chip and Kipper books – a new community of dads has formed around the children’s animated show Blueyand more particularly Bluey’s father, Bandit.

Thousands of dads have joined an online community group launched in the UK by Matt Bellis, a Bluey superfan who wanted to connect with other fathers who loved Bandit – a dry-humored doggy dad who demonstrates a playing prowess most parents can only aspire to.

The BBC hit, which depicts the everyday life of the six-year-old blue heeler (otherwise known as an Australian cattle dog) puppy, her four-year-old sister, Bingo, and her parents, Chilli and Bandit, has been praised for making parents and children laugh in equal measure – while The Strictly Come Dancing star Tom Fletcher has called Bandit his “dad idol”.

Bandit is particularly loved by fathers because while he is not perfect – one episode shows him trying to turn watching the cricket into a game – he captures the fun many dads have playing with their kids, said Bellis.

“Bandit makes you realize you need to step up your game and it helps you bond with your kids because it gives you ideas and games you hadn’t thought of before,” said Bellis, who makes steam train boilers for a living.

Matt Bellis, founder of the Bandit fan group, with his five-year-old son.
Matt Bellis, founder of the Bandit fan group, with his five-year-old son. Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

He started the group – which is strictly for dads only – with a few friends on Facebook, but it now has more than 6,000 members from all over the world, with admins in Australia and the US.

The Emmy-award-winning show, written by Joe Brumm with the production house Ludo Studio, has been showered with plaudits since it first launched in Australia in October 2018. Viewing figures are the stuff of television executive dreams, with Bluey becoming the most downloaded show in ABC iView history and the most watched preschool show for Disney in the US, as a well as a hit for CBeebies.

In emails from his home in Australia, Brumm explained that Bandit was good at meeting his kids at their level. “He’s not faultless but he loves his family and would do anything for them,” he wrote. “This describes most dads I know. Given these qualities, I take great comfort in the fact that he is looked on as an icon.”

Presenting the parents in Bluey as equal partners came about organically, he added: “The scripts were based on my life and I was working from home at the time. I was very involved with parenting and this just came through in the show.”

But for those promoting gender equality and equal parenting that depiction is gamechanging, said Adrienne Burgess, the joint chief executive of the Fatherhood Institute, a UK thinktank.

“What Bluey does differently, and what makes it revolutionary, is it shows the lived experience of dads,” she said. “Fathers are so much more engaged than they were in the day-to-day business of raising children.”

While mothers did more caring during Covid lockdowns, the gender care gap narrowed. In May, the Office for National Statistics found that the first Covid lockdown led to a 58% increase in childcare undertaken by men.

Bellis, who struggled with postnatal depression after the birth of his son, said the group was also a safe space for dads, where they can open up about their own mental health struggles.

“I love my son to pieces, but to begin with it was difficult. I felt lost,” he said. “It can be quite lonely as a dad sometimes, so it was really important for me to have a space where we can support each other.”

While fathers share photos of the memories they have created with their children, they also, he admitted, just spend a fair amount of time talking about Bluey, and of course Bandit.

“I think as a show it is helping dads realize that they are just as important as mums,” he said. “It’s about co-parenting, isn’t it. You know, 50/50. You’re a team.”

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