It’s common to see TV commercials portray dads as blundering and inept. The following commercials for Eggo Waffles and T-Mobile are examples.
Though an uncritical perusal of these ads may provoke laughter, are they all in good fun or could they be harmful? Let’s consider this question in honor of Father’s Day. (Keep in mind, though, that men in general—not just fathers—are often portrayed in this way, so this question is relevant for all of the men in your life.)
The harm in portraying dads as incompetent
Research indicates that nearly every father who lives with his children takes an active role in their day-to-day lives (e.g., sharing meals, helping with homework, playing). These commercials are a figurative slap in the face to these dedicated men. As Christians, we are taught to honor our fathers and respectfully listen to them (Exodus 20:12 and Proverbs 23:22). In order for children to learn how to do this, we must model it. Countering the message sent by these commercials is one way to do this.
These commercials’ depiction of paternal incompetence as normal and acceptable can lead us to grow comfortable with the concept. When we see this depiction often enough, it no longer surprises or bothers us. Eventually we may even develop lower expectations for the dads in our lives.
This portrayal is especially harmful to children who live in homes without dads and who have no positive male figures in their lives. It’s quite unfortunate, but dads in advertising, on TV, and in movies may be the only father figures some children in this country have. If these sources feature dads who are blundering and inept, their young minds are left to conclude that this is what fatherhood looks like. Even children who do grow up with good dads may begin believing that this is what they can expect of dads.
In a time when our nation does have a problem with many fathers being absent from their households, is it really wise to perpetuate via advertising the stereotype of incompetent fathers? I’m not naïve enough to believe that commercials that depict dads as competent are sufficient to compel absentee fathers to return to their households. However, I think that portraying incompetence among dads as the norm can only worsen the situation.
Ways to counter the portrayal of dads as incompetent
- Critically examine the commercials you watch. Instead of being a mindless viewer of ads, scrutinize the message sent by advertising. When you see commercials that depict dads (or others) in unflattering and inaccurate lights, remind yourself that the depiction is inaccurate. Take time to communicate your displeasure with the commercials to the companies that created them. The companies may take you very seriously. In 2012, Huggies stopped airing some ads that depicted dads as dumb and inattentive after fathers across the nation signed petitions and complained on social media about the ads.
- Share stories about the good dads in your life and in your community. We all hear stories about deadbeat dads. Why not tell stories of dads who are present and active in their kids’ lives? Ladies, this means not complaining about your husband in front of your friends or coworkers, even if you’re really frustrated with something he did. Speak highly of him instead.
- Encourage the dads around you. Tell the responsible, competent dads in your life that they are good at what they do and that they are valued. Don’t follow behind and supervise or “fix” their work (e.g., changing baby’s clothes after dad dresses him or her in a mismatched outfit, hovering to make sure playful wrestling doesn’t get too rough). Express your gratitude for his contributions on a regular basis.
The public’s increasing awareness of and vocal opposition to the portrayal of dads in stereotypical manners have increased the demand for commercials that are much more positive. The following commercials for Tide and Subaru are examples.
I don’t believe the companies that have portrayed dads as incompetent did so in order to intentionally harm society’s view of fathers. They are just trying to publicize the products they sell. Thus, my point here is not to promote or denounce any companies. My point is to encourage myself and others to critically view ads so we can identify detrimental messages and combat them with edifying messages.
I hope you’ll join me in rejecting the messages sent by ads that portray dads as incompetent by choosing instead to honor and express gratitude to the dads in your life.
Prior to reading this post, had you noticed commercials that portray dads as incompetent? What impact do you think these commercials have?