During the height of the pandemic last year, our family caved in and subscribed to Disney Plus. Our family doesn’t watch movies or TV shows much, but I was curious to watch some of the new live-action remakes of old animated movies I had watched as a kid (like The Lion King or Aladdin), and I wanted to catch up on old superhero films that I had missed. But I soon stumbled upon a show that blew everything else out of the water—Bluey.
On the surface, Bluey doesn’t seem very special. It is an Australian TV show for kids that revolves around a family of anthropomorphic dogs. There’s Bandit the dad, Chilli the mom, Bluey the six-year-old daughter, and Bingo the four-year-old daughter. The family is often playing silly games with one another, and the episodes deal with topics that most kids go through—sharing toys with your siblings or not giving up even when it’s hard.
But the oddest thing started happening as I was watching Bluey. I started crying.
There’s a lot I love about the show. I love the music and how each episode has its own arrangement that seems to match perfectly. I love the writing and how each episode is tied up together at the end so well. I love the creative free play of the kids and how I get so many ideas from it. But the thing I love the most is the father figure, Bandit Heeler.
Bandit plays with his kids like no other dad I’ve ever seen before (here’s a YouTube compilation of great playing-with-Dad moments from Season 1). But he’s not just playful; he’s also humble, engaged, empowering, and gentle. In many ways, Bandit is the father I want to be.
In the episode “Trampoline” (spoiler alert), Bandit is about to go to work, but the kids keep asking their dad to play with them. He keeps reluctantly playing “one more game.” They play a variety of creative games, but eventually, Bandit needs to go. As he’s packing up his stuff on the front porch, Bluey comes and says that she doesn’t want Bandit to leave because she wants him to stay and play with them. Bandit acknowledges her feelings, and then he says, “I have to do my job though, and you have to do yours.” Bluey expresses surprise, saying, “What? I don’t have a job.” And Bandit responds, “Yes, you do. Making up games. Making up games is more important than you think.” And with that, Bluey is empowered to go back inside and make up games for her and her sister to play.
As I watched this, I thought, “I want to be like that.”
A Child of First-Generation Parents
Many second-generation Asian Americans, at some point in their childhood, come to this place of realization that their Asian parents are unlike the parents of their non-Asian friends.
During my elementary school years, I was playing basketball with a friend, and the friend’s dad also showed up dressed to play—he was actually really good. I remember thinking, “How come my dad doesn’t play basketball?” I recall another time, in middle school, when I went to a friend’s house for his birthday party, and the friend’s dad had bought all of these supplies to set up a wild glow-in-the-dark capture-the-flag event. I remember thinking, “How come my dad doesn’t plan birthday parties?”
And I recall another time, in my college years, seeing a dad get down on one knee with his little kids while they were having a fight. He turned to the older brother and calmly said, “If you keep calling your brother names, and if you keep putting him down, then we’re going to have a weak family. Is that what you want? Do you want us to have a strong family or a weak family?” I remember thinking, “How come my dad never talked to me like that?”
To clarify, I don’t think it’s fair to blame my parents for being who they are. Everybody is a product of their own childhood upbringing, and everybody can only pass along what they’ve inherited from others. Additionally, I also want to clarify that I believe that the average first-generation Asian parent instills a lot of positive values that many non-Asians don’t usually emphasize as much—a hard work ethic, prudence with money, a this-world-is-not-my-home mentality—all of which I’m thankful for.
But still, these childhood reflections would cause a lot of inner tension, and all of this intensified when, in 2017, I became a parent myself. Then I started to ask, “What kind of dad do I want to be?”—and even more soberly, “What kind of dad am I capable of being?”
So much of parenting is trying to replicate the best of your own parents’ behavior while trying to reject the worst of your own parents’ behavior. And on my worst days, I would often find myself unable to do the good and only able to do the bad.
The other day, our daughter asked me why I am always on my phone. It was a bit of a wake-up call for me. I don’t want to be that kind of dad.
Bandit, in many ways, seems to be the exact opposite of everything negative about not traditional Asian fathers, but all fathers who struggle to be good dads. He’s playful, attentive, and creative. And when I watch Bluey, I feel inspired to be like Bandit. I feel inspired to give my kids the kind of childhood that Bluey and Bingo have.
The Greatest Father
In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis writes, “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire. But if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
Or to put it in standard theological language, there is common grace even in secular media. TV shows like Bluey give us the feels because they are pointing to a deeper spiritual reality. The character of Bandit, with all of his positive qualities, is simply a shadow of our heavenly Father. Bandit’s playfulness, attentiveness, and creativity point to the playfulness, attentiveness, and creativity of God.
If the doctrine of common grace is true, then it means that it’s not Bandit that I ultimately want to be like. As amazing as he is, he has shortcomings too. It’s God himself I want to be like.
And the amazing thing about God is that, unlike Bandit, God is not a character in a fictional TV show. He is real, and he is our Father.
As parents, we will all let our kids down sometimes. We will all pass on the baggage we inherit from our own parents sometimes. We will all have those moments when we echo the words of Elijah in 1 Kings 19:4, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
During those moments, let’s hold on to the truth that God is our Father. We can be okay with us not being perfect fathers because God is a perfect Father. Therefore, every time we fail, that is another opportunity to show that God is a perfect Father. That is an opportunity to say to our kids, “I am sorry. I am not a perfect father. But God is.”
Fathers, let’s do that. Let’s not make it our aim to show our kids how amazing we are. Let’s make it our aim to show our kids how amazing our heavenly Father is.