For too long, fathers were portrayed in the media as bumbling, useless oafs when it came to three very important aspects of family life:
- Empathizing with other family members,
- Carrying out the endless and competing tasks required to run the household,
- And providing effective childcare.
Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin of “Family Guy,” Al Bundy of “Married with Children” and countless more chronically treated children as competitors, acted like kids and failed to clean or cook effectively. While these portrayals were meant for entertainment, they carried over into very serious matters. In particular, they perpetuated stereotypes of fathers that ultimately impacted societal and legal perspectives on child custody and support.
Readers, I am thrilled to report: those were the bad old days. And for the most part, they are gone. Media portrayal of dads has changed, possibly by 180 degrees.
Today, Phil Dunphy has a flexible job as a realtor so he can cart kids around, and his father-in-law Jay readily changes his infant son’s diapers. The father on “Parenthood” helped to create a school to help children like his autistic son. Dads on many commercials these days are wearing Snugglis, walking though grocery aisles with kindergarteners and calming doing housework while smiling at children.
Several forces have helped to change how fathers are portrayed in the media. Today, we salute all of these.
Social Media On The Side Of The Competent, Caring Dad
While we don’t always land on the side of social media, in this instance, “new media” deserves it. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and more put a big old microphone in the face of every American consumer. One wrong move, and a flood of negative comments fly onto brand and network pages for all the world to see. This hasn’t gone so well for a number of big companies and broadcasters recently.
In 2012, Huggies learned a poopy lesson with its commercial featuring a father incapable of changing a diaper. The flood of protest on Facebook included this comment: “I can change a diaper with my eyes closed, but never a Huggies again.” Huggies quickly pulled the ad.
Clorox in 2013 wrote in a blog post: “Like dogs or other house pets, new dads are filled with good intentions but lacking the judgment and fine motor skills to execute well.” Its “List of 6 Mistakes New Dads Make” includes taking a lightly dressed baby out in a rain storm and mistaking Play Doh for food. That post had its 15 minutes of Internet infamy before coming tumbling down. When Clorox didn’t make a formal apology, CNN and several other cable television shows shamed it with pieces featuring the caption: “Dads to Media: Stop Playing Us as Idiots.”
Bonehead depictions of fathers have become rare. Today, Swiffer runs a commercial depicting an amputee dad calmly cleaning a ceiling fan with one arm while the children happily play nearby. Cheerios has been running a series of ads showing fathers shopping and cleaning while interacting in calm, meaningful ways with children. NyQuil’s spot depicting a red-nosed father sheepishly asking for a sick day from his toddler has a similar version with a mom making the same request. Having both begging a baby sounds like equal-opportunity comedy to me!
All of these commercials have been running for a months, indicating audiences appreciate them. Their survival reflects these brands have hit some emotional and even comedic cords without being ridiculously inaccurate or offensive. It IS possible! Today, brands must have a finger on the pulse of consumer sentiment to be successful. If they don’t, Facebook has made it far too easy for the masses to let them know, expletives included.
Daddy Bloggers On The Side Of Dads
Also arising from the great democracy of the Internet is the voice of the work-at-home and stay-at-home dad. While “mommy bloggers” made names and businesses for themselves starting in the early 2000s, “daddy bloggers” weren’t too far behind. 8BitDad covers “parenthood news stories, science, studies, opinions, lists and videos from around the internet.” Commentary on kids news? That’s there. Recipes? Yep. Samsung v. iPhone? That’s there, too. How about gushy stories about crying during a child’s play or award ceremony? You bet. These voices help to showcase the great diversity of dads in words, photos and videos.
In late 2014, Pappa Does Preach blogger Mike Kruse posted “It’s Time to Retire the Dumb Dad Joke Once and for All” on the Huffington Post. He was protesting a widely-circulated post on the popular Scary Mommy blog that imagined how a father would tell a birthing story in war and sports terms. The woman writer depicted this writer father as incredibly callous to the woman in labor. She also imagined the man as worse than inept during the birth. Kruse concisely responds, “Each poorly-told joke felt like a kick to the face, pushing dads/men rung after rung back down the ladder of progress we have been working hard to climb.” While Scary Mommy added an “It’s a joke; get over it!” qualifier at the top of the blog, it’s this very lack of sensitivity that the women’s movement has battled since the 1800s. Scary Mommy should have taken that post down.
Examples like the Scary Mommy blog post infuriate fathers and all family members who support them. Supporting or getting involved in the following official organizations will satisfy the men and women on fire to keep media on the positive track:
- National Fatherhood Initiative
- National Fatherhood Leaders Group
- National Center for Fathers
Demographics On The Side Of Dads
Families are changing shape so quickly, it’s possible the full-time stay-at-home mother and working father will occupy just a sliver of the styles in the family structure pie in the coming years. 2013 Pew Research reveals that, in the majority of two-parent families, both parents hold down either full- or part-time jobs. Further, the number of full-time, stay-at-home dads nearly tripled from 64,000 to 176,000 from 1995 to 2011. Experts believe that number will continue to rise as the question of who stays home or who works part-time will have far more to do with factors other than gender.