Are cartoons too violent for children? Most people would say, ‘No, of course not; what kind of stupid question is that?’ But one woman says ‘yes’... Marge Simpson.— Brockman
He's the head of a famously dysfunctional family, he's a drunk, and he's far too fat - he's even been vilified by former President George Bush. But Homer Simpson is a great dad to his three children. As our youngsters grow up in a world where image is everything, Homer is an antidote to the superficial. He isn't bothered what he looks like or what people think about him - he simply cares about his family and trying to do the right thing.
For instance, in one episode of The Simpsons, Homer's son Bart comes home from school moaning that he doesn't get all the computer games that his friends do. Many parents today will understand just what that pressure is like. But rather than dashing out and trying to offset his parental guilt with expensive presents, Homer makes his son laugh by clowning around. By doing that, he shows he is able to give Bart what all children want more than anything - time and attention.
He also impresses upon his child that there is more to life than material goods. Homer, a manual laborer in a nuclear power plant, is an individualist who teaches his kids not to worry too much about what others think of them. He manages to chart his own course to avoid peer group pressure.
One of the ways he stands out from the crowd is by refusing to go to church. In one episode he skips Sunday service and has the best day of his life, while his wife Marge, fearful for his soul, prays fervently for him. Then Homer sees God in a dream and says: "I'm a good man, I care about my kids - why do I have to go to church and be told I'm going to hell?" God agrees with him and says: "You've got a point there." Homer has proved it is possible to be good without having to go to church.
To his kids - Bart, Lisa and Maggie - and to children everywhere, Homer shows the right thing to do is to act from your heart. The Simpson family have often been described as dysfunctional by politicians, moral campaigners and pundits. This seems to be based on Bart's rebelliousness and Homer's love of beer and TV. But the fact that the Simpson family is not perfect is what makes them so influential for our children.
They are a family with real failings who have real problems just like the rest of us. And, just like the rest of us, they try to muddle through. Homer's concern for his children's worries, however minor, is something many of us busy parents could do well to emulate.
In one episode, Lisa doesn't get the part she wants in the school play. Homer helps her realize that every part is important, however small. That's what life's about. Making children appreciate we all have a role to play in society however great or small.
There is also strong communication within the Simpson family, something often missing in our hectic real lives. These characters eat meals together, chat and laugh. It's a social occasion which is often missing from households today, where everyone runs to their own timetables.
Homer is a great parent because he would do anything for his kids. Most importantly, Bart, Lisa and Maggie know this. There is an episode in which Homer and Marge are found to be unfit parents because they've gone off to a health spa, leaving Bart, Lisa and Maggie with grandpa. As a result the kids are taken away and sent to live with the next-door neighbors, born-again Christians, the Flanders family. Homer reproaches himself for being a terrible father and undergoes a parenting class. In the confusion that follows he becomes baptized by accident.
But the point is that for all their shortcomings Homer and Marge are prepared to do anything for their kids - and the youngsters love them for that. Bart and Lisa realize their parents may not be educated enough to have all the answers to their questions. But Homer and Marge are honest about what they don't know - and what they do. That honesty, so critical in a good relationship between parents and children, enables Homer to maintain the respect of his kids even when he is being at his most stupid.
In one episode, Homer admits that he is no good at Maths and Lisa is delighted when he enlists her help to put bets on football. Lisa feels fulfilled and needed. Respect means that Homer doesn't have to be a tyrant in his own home. All parents can learn from Homer's ability to control his kids without yelling or using bribery. Homer is clearly not the brightest of characters but he is a great dad because he cares and tries to understand who his children are and why they do what they do.
When Bart gets drunk, the neighbors are outraged. But Homer recognizes some of himself in Bart's actions. He knows it was an accident. He is not quick to condemn without considering how he himself might have acted at the same age in a similar situation.
And Homer is a hands-on dad, too. He'll happily pick up crying baby Maggie and feed her a bottle. As a "boyish man" it's natural for Homer to do activities with Bart, such as seeing a baseball game together. But it takes a mental leap for him to realize that it is just as important to spend time with Lisa, who sometimes feels neglected. She's a bright spark but still needs fatherly attention. So he has heart-to-heart chats with her and goes to concerts to hear her play her saxophone.
Homer shows how all children deserve, and need, attention from their parents if they are to develop into confident adults. Homer may not always get the actions right but he cares about his kids, listens to them and is honest with them. We can all learn a lot from that.