In a recent lengthy interview with GQ Style, 53-year-old Brad Pitt, looking thin, self-serious and contrite, says that he has quit drinking and finally leaned into his emotions. Perhaps more importantly, he admits he hasn’t been that great at being a dad to his six children — three biological, three adopted. This is a rare moment not just in celebrity humility, but in dad humility, too.
In the interview — certainly well-timed after six months of a lot of bad press surrounding his divorce from earth mother Angelina Jolie and a kerfuffle on a plane that led to a child services and FBI investigation that he’d been drunk and abusive toward 15-year-old son, Maddox — he cops to doing fatherhood wrong, admitting he hadn’t revised the model he grew up with.
I come from a place where, you know, it’s strength if we get a bruise or cut or ailment we don’t discuss it, we just deal with it. We just go on. The downside of that is it’s the same with our emotion. I’m personally very retarded when it comes to taking inventory of my emotions. I’m much better at covering up. I grew up with a Father-knows-best/war mentality — the father is all-powerful, super strong — instead of really knowing the man and his own self-doubt and struggles. And it’s hit me smack in the face with our divorce: I gotta be more. I gotta be more for them. I have to show them. And I haven’t been great at it.
This is important for a few reasons: It’s always nice when celebrities, who have hit the jackpot of looks, money and adoration, admit they have problems, too. They’re just like us, and all the money in the world doesn’t make their lives easier or them any better at those lives.
And while cynics could easily declare this a perfect humble confession for a post-divorce PR apology tour, it’s still a striking admission from any father, particularly a celebrity, in a climate where simply not abandoning your children usually puts you up for an award for World’s Best Dad.
We live in an era when fathers are the most engaged in domestic life than ever, yet the reward for finally catching up to mothers seems to far outrank the effort: We over-praise them for doing the bare minimum — changing a diaper, feeding a kid, or spending time with them at all. Proof of this came in January when The New York Times reported an oof story for the history books: How men heroically struggled to parent their own children alone for a few hours without incident, on a weekend no less, while their moms were busy protesting at the Women’s March on Washington.
Slate snarked of the piece, written by Times reporter Filip Bondy:
Fathers reheated leftover pizza, dressed their children in winter coats, and played with their kids at parks — without help from their wives! This could have been a story about the life of any single parent, primary caregiver, or parent whose partner is away for a weekend. Almost every parent outside the 1 percent has days where he or she must parent, unremarkably, alone. But because the parents of Montclair were men who usually have women around, Bondy gave every banal duty of parenthood the weight of a superhuman feat.
The Times apologized, admitting they “blew it” with an unintentionally sexist take that perpetuated not only the idea that men suck at fatherhood, but that their most basic efforts at parenting are laudable. That’s a shame, because anything less than the most basic effort parenting a child is actually criminal.
Viewed in this light, Pitt’s admission, in the heat of very public claims that he sucked at being a dad, that he did, in fact, suck and is working diligently to do better, is an important dialog about what it actually means to be a good father. In his view, it’s being emotionally open and consistently present, and not so self-absorbed in a career, whether it’s at a factory or in a major motion picture, that you forget what the point is of raising children. The job of dad couldn’t get better PR than that.