This Father’s Day, Thank Dad By Not Calling Him An Idiot

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According to a Pew survey, more than one in four children is separated from their father. That’s not good for many reasons, among them that children raised by single parents are more likely to suffer in poverty, have less education, and have a harder time escaping their socioeconomic situation.

Fathers are important and awesome and there’s no shame in acknowledging and celebrating that fact. Particularly since when they mess up or skip town, the results tend to be disastrous (barring tons of hard work and a few good breaks).

So at a time when we should be encouraging fathers to stick around and play an active role in their child’s life, why does so much of the cultural messaging condemn fathers as incompetent? At a time when more dads than ever are absent, it’s idiotic to suggest that staying with your family means you’re a bumbling idiot who can’t order a pizza or who breaks the toilet every time you try to fix it.

My husband, who is very funny in addition to being our family’s main financial provider and someone who loves to care for his children, has a theory about why fathers are always the punchline to every sitcom and ad. He says that comedy requires a target and while most every class of people has been declared off-limits when it comes to poking fun at them in advertisements (this goes for pretty much every minority out there), making a middle-class (or any class, really) dude the butt of your joke never offends anyone. In a way, it’s a compliment and a testament to the stable roll that fathers play in our culture. They’re less likely to get their panties in a twist or otherwise offended than many other groups.

But this year, finally, after what seemed like decades of this mockery of fathers, I think we may be seeing the end of the bumbling dad caricature. My colleague Shawna Cohen explained the kerfuffle earlier this year when Huggies had amajor misfire with an ad campaign:

The “Dad Test” campaign, posted on Facebook and geared towards men, was meant to be funny. The idea behind the campaign, according to Huggies, was to prove that Huggies diapers and wipes can handle anything. As the ad’s narrator explains, “We put them to the toughest test imaginable: Dads, along with their babies, in one house, for five days.” They showed hopeless, overwhelmed dads in cliched scenarios (i.e., watching sports, neglecting their babies) as their wives get their nails done and sip tea (how original).

Well, let’s just say that viewers were not amused (and I don’t blame them one bit). They flocked to Facebook with claims they’ll never buy Huggies again, and even created a petition – called “We’re Dads, Huggies. Not Dummies,” at Change. org (so far, around 1300 people have signed it). Huggies quickly responded by apologizing, pulling the ads and replacing them with new ones that show dads sitting in gliders and rocking happy babies in their laps.

The Washington Post wrote“we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the long-standing image of the bumbling dad.” I can only hope so. But this is about so much more than what advertisers or sitcom writers do.

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