Dr. Helen

Superbowl Dads

National Parents Organization: SuperBowl to Dads: You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby:

No matter who you were rooting for in the SuperBowl, there was something to cheer for last Sunday. At least three advertisers ran ads that were “father-positive.” In fact, they were so tender towards fathers that I couldn’t blame mothers who might feel, “Don’t we deserve some accolades too?”

This is a welcome change from the past. Glenn Sacks’s 2008 article, “Advertisers: Men are No Idiots,” provides several examples of dad-bashing by advertisers. One egregious example is “The Elliots,” in which Verizon seemed to think it would sell its DSL service by portraying a father who is so clueless mom has to rescue their small daughter from his hapless attempts to help her with her homework.

We’re all familiar with the tired old stereotype of the completely incompetent dad. He has terrible judgment and bumbles at even the most routine of tasks. Often, he’s portrayed as yet another child – impatient, selfish, irresponsible. Usually we see a mature and supremely competent mom who keeps the family running despite dad’s utter cluelessness.

It’s a big change, then, to see three different companies use their extremely costly Super Bowl ads in ways that generally cast fathers in a heartwarming light. Toyota ran “My Bold Dad,” which showed dads in a patient, protective, loving light. (Toyota also ran a pre-Super Bowl commercial “To Be a Dad” in which men, some former pro football players, talk about the influence of their fathers.) Dove ran a tearjerker ad for Dove Men+Care called “Real Strength.” And Nissan produced an ad about a courageous but child-focused race car driver called “With Dad.”

But we still have a ways to go. “My Bold Dad” has an air of preaching to men about how to be a good father. There is a hint of the portrayal of fathers as dangerous, but redeemable, especially when it says that “being a dad is a choice to get hurt, rather than to hurt.” It is a good sermon; but is it necessary to sermonize? And would you ever see such a sermon directed at mothers, who commit more physical child abuse than dads?….

These things matter. The way fathers are portrayed in popular media affects how they are treated by courts.

Good last point: a change in culture can mean a change in the law.