Here’s what happens when I’m asked to travel for work for a whopping three days: The entire staff at the local day-care center arrives at the mistaken conclusion that my wife and I have separated. I returned from the trip a few weeks ago to find my kids’ teachers regarding me with an odd mixture of pity and concern (as opposed to their usual “so long as you don’t spring some oppressive dietary requirements on us, we’re good” bonhomie). This confused me, especially when comments like “just so you know, I replaced the heavy sweaters in their coat bags with lighter ones” were met with a pained expression and “don’t worry, we’ll take care of the little guys. You just worry about you.”
It took me until Monday to figure out what was going on. As it turns out, during my time away kid #2 told everyone that daddy was “sleeping at the hotel now.” He did so using his outside voice at the peak of the morning drop-off rush hour, thus ensuring a sizable audience for his announcement.
While technically accurate, that description pretty much begged to be misinterpreted. It was only when I informed his teachers about another imminent trip and my aversion to family-free travel that the light bulb went on over everyone’s head. Enormously perceptive individual that I am, I saw the newly enlightened expressions and asked, “Guh?” They spilled and we had a big ol’ laugh about it. Related: My wife and I look forward to a semester’s worth of conspicuous displays of unity at school-related events.
Now that I’ve moved back into the house I never left and reclaimed my seat at the dinner table from which I hadn’t been banished, I find myself overthinking all things family-related. This is probably why I had a difficult time determining whether “Tougher Than Tough,” an Ad Council PSA released this week that extols caregivers, was real or “SNL”-lite parody.
In the clip, tough-guy-for-hire Danny Trejo does tough guy stuff - shaves with a sword, leaf-blows the driveway while lifting a car, knits a sweater… wait, what? - as he rhapsodizes about the toughness of a middle-aged caregiver who “does the work of two jobs, but only gets paid for one.” In between Trejo’s bouts with macho-mania, we witness tender scenes of the aforementioned caregiver shaving his father’s face and tucking a blanket around his legs. The video ends in a faux-explosion, with “caregiving is tougher than tough” superimposed over it in a font usually associated with going-out-of-business sales.
Most of my confusion stems from the fact that “Tougher Than Tough” attempts to address a perception that doesn’t exist. Has anyone anywhere ever suggested that taking care of an aging family member or friend is anything but a herculean task? Is there a “lollygagging caregivers” subreddit? Don’t get me wrong - acknowledging a worthy group that too often goes unacknowledged can never be a bad thing. I just don’t sense the unawareness of/indifference towards the plight of caregivers that would ordinarily prompt an effort of this sort.
Meanwhile, the decision to cast Trejo as the heavy doesn’t help, because there are only so many times a performer can play against type for giggles. In recent years, Trejo has sent up his tough-guy bona fides for Sling, Snickers, Miller Lite and Dodge. You’re allowed to say no, dude. At this point, whenever Trejo pops up on screen and starts scowling, I sit back and wait for the wink and smile. He’s as menacing as a panda.Maybe I’m missing the point here. It’s within the realm of possibility that the goal of the clip is to call attention to the challenges faced by adult male caregivers, rather than caregivers in general – I personally don’t read it that way, but reasonable minds may disagree. Still, even if that’s the case, the tonal disparity between the images and the Trejo shtick renders “Tougher Than Tough” incoherent and, ultimately, pointless. It’s rare that a well-intentioned PSA prompts little reaction beyond “well, duh,” but here we are.