The future of fatherhood: Actual fatherhood.

Cheerios Super Bowl Ad

It’s not often that a mom gets the privilege of spending an entire weekend learning from 250 dads. Not just 250 random dads, but 250 dads who deeply care about their role as fathers. Dads who are proud to trade diaper disaster stories, share tough confessions about their own fathers’ missteps, roll their eyes at Mr. Mom references, hug other dads who are having a hard time, debate introspectively about how best to write about their families without hurting them, and tear up discussing their abiding love for their children–all between ribbing each other about misplaced NFL allegiances and bourbon hangovers, New Orleans Style.

In other words, they’re still dudes.

I even saw one guy call another guy a dick, in the nicest possible, shoulder chucking, we’re-still-buddies-right? way.

Speaking at the Dad 2.0 Summit this past week, I felt lucky to be welcomed in as an XX fly on that XY wall and really witness where I believe–I hope–fatherhood in America is headed. Because as I’ve said, the more involved fathers become in the raising of our children, and the more society supports them with things like paid paternity leave and flex-time jobs, the more it benefits mothers, too.

It’s an interesting irony that the conference took place over Super Bowl weekend, when some of the most stereotypically awful portrayals of fathers frequently light up our screens. And yet, last night,  in some of the best Super Bowl ads of 2014, I saw examples of fathers depicted positively. Lovingly.

They were just like so many of the dads I talked to this past weekend.

It still surprises me when I’m in a meeting with a marketer–or an advertising creative–who still wants to cling to this notion that a father’s role is simply bringing home the bacon, eat too much of the bacon, then make bacon fart jokes about it with his kids. If he’s even taking the time to have breakfast with them at all. I may be speaking from a little bubble-wrapped enclave of wild optimism (and it wouldn’t be the first time) but those times they are a-changed.

And what hasn’t changed, is going to more and more each year. I believe it with all my heart.

So it’s time, brands. It’s time that more advertisers take the lead of brands like Cheerios (shown above), Hyundai, and conference sponsor Dove Men and step right up and show the world just what fatherhood really looks like today.

I mean, when 73% of dads feel falsely depicted in advertising, we have a problem, Madison Avenue.

Now I do wonder how much of the problem has to do with moms perpetuating the stereotypes: My husband is terrible at doing the dishes. He gave the kids donuts for dinner. He keeps asking me where the kids keep their ballet leotards. He never remembers what time soccer practice starts. I’ve been guilty of it too. It’s an easy laugh.

Write a Facebook update about your husband’s boxers on the floor right in front of the hamper and see how fast you get likes.

So maybe we need to take responsibility for changing the conversation too.

There are so many good dads out there. So many good dads working overtime to support their families, but being sure to turn off the phones when they’re home. So many good dads trying to be better dads. So many good dads bravely mining their lives to reflect on their own challenges.  So many good dads sharing parenting tips. So many good dads supporting other kinds of dads. So many good dads creating opportunities to participate in their children’s lives. So many good good dads finding their tribes so that they can actually work through all this stuff in the first place.

The guys who put themselves out there to write about it? They are pioneers.

And no they don’t get a big pat on back or some shiny medal for being involved, engaged, self-aware, and thoughtful with their kids; that’s just parenting.

The cool thing is, these fathers would be the first to tell you that.



34 thoughts on “The future of fatherhood: Actual fatherhood.”

  1. Excellent, supportive and insightful. I really like the idea that we are all responsible for helping change society for the better by supporting one another. For example, it’s not just that women need to be paid equally to men, it’s that it benefits society if men support women being paid equally. And that support comes in words and action.

    In this post, you mention that women need to be responsible for changing the conversation about men. I agree! Thank you for your support of dads on the front edge of our rapidly changing societal makeup. I just wish there were more women who shared your view.

    To be clear, this isn’t about men’s rights. It’s about making the world a better place. If we support each other in moving the bar, it will happen.

    Finally, you did a fantastic job moderating your panel at Dad 2.0 in New Orleans. I wish more conferences had panels moderated at that level. So glad I attended your session.

    1. Thanks so much Jon. I wish more people understood that mutual support really benefits everyone. But I do think that a lot of women share my views–as the role of fathers is changing, so is the role of mothers. They can’t be mutually exclusive.

      I’m really glad you liked the panel. I wish it was videotaped–it was fascinating even from my vantage point! Great range of panelists, thanks to the vision of Doug French.

  2. Glad to hear it went well. One day I hope to join. One day…

    Expectations and accountability play such an important role in all this. The bar won’t always be so low for fathers. It certainly isn’t in my house, where I’m pretty sure I’d be kicked to the curb if I tried parenting like the stereotypical tv-dad.

    1. Really hope you get a chance to join Jimmy. It’s a wonderful weekend, even from my outsider perspective. These are guys raising the bar high for themselves and each other.

  3. I make it a point to never speak about my husband like he’s an idiot, and it bothers me when I see men – fathers specifically – depicted as such in the media. I love my husband and I refuse to put him down, even when he loads the dishwasher differently than me. The point is: HE LOADS THE DISHWASHER.

    So I think these points and conversations are really important. Women need to be part of this conversation. If you make fun of your male partner publicly, Madison Avenue is reflecting back on you.

    1. I bet he really appreciates you Karen. It’s rare–for any of us–not to jab at the funny/annoying/stereotypical things that anyone in our life does. But you make a good point about Mad Ave reflecting back on you. Or maybe reflecting back on their (our) own lives?

  4. Yes. Imagine if we took the reins of advertising and quit trafficking in stereo types. Dim witted dads and plastic knockered, headless female forms or beleagured, wide wale, high-waisted cords wearing moms.

    Take away the element of “Do they really mean it?” in the Chevy ad and you have a luminous, uncaricatureish woman and a loving, believable man. Can’t we do more of that?

    The best start is posts like this and purchases that back up what we’re saying.

    Thanks, Liz.

    1. Thanks Amanda. I know it really is hard to walk away from stereotypes that geet easy laughs. Even the mom at the end of the Cheerios ad qualifies. But amen to purchases backing up your belief system.

  5. Was a pleasure seeing you again this past weekend. Thank you for this post. You nailed it.

  6. I love this. My husband, the soldier, is the stay-at-home-parent in our house, and he’s amazing. Clueless dad stereotypes in advertising are insulting. Hope that really is on the way out.

  7. You and I have butted heads on this topic before … but all right already. I’ll take up this challenge. 🙂

    Perhaps I was coming from my own little bubble, which was the opposite of yours. It’s easy to think that whatever happens in our own homes is the way that it happens everywhere. Over time, my perceptions have been challenged — partially from reading this blog, perhaps. So THERE. I hope you’re happy. 😉

    1. Ha, I still remember your post about Baby-Men Fathers. It’s not to say they’re not out there–even as a majority–but I see the needle moving, and I see in these 250 dads the ability to move it forward. As a marketer, I also feel I have an obligation to push the culture forward in whatever way I can; not to take the lowest common denominator or the low-hanging comedic fruit (bumbling dads, know-it-all moms, ethnic and racial stereotypes) and hold it out to the world as the standard. Which is hard, especially when it’s funny. Believe me.

      And I’m always happy when you come here, Trish! Whatever you have to say.

  8. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around and write a post all about dad bashing. We do it all the time, whether as a real vent on an online forum, as a chuckle like you mentioned, or even in our products (onesies with “instructions” on how to slip their arms and legs through the holes). Even in good fun, it still perpetuates a stereotype that won’t go away if we keep harping on it.

    I read a statistic on an article that said only 32% of fathers in equal-earning households contribute equally to mothers. This shocked me and was a bit disheartening considering how much more we have to go. Although the positive side was that it did go up, from 26%.

    1. I’m not shocked by that statistic–and I’m encouraged by the fact that it went up. As I said, I was in a bubble of incredibly dedicated dads who so define themselves by that role, they’re actively writing about fatherhood and advocating for positive change.

      I wonder if that 32% skews younger…if you have a link to the article I’d love to see it.

  9. Good points! I *try* to give my husband space to be the dad that he is. It can be easy to step in and to assert my way when I see that he takes care of the kids differently than I do. I am working on not making comments when he feeds the kids (no donuts, just different foods than I would make), puts the kids to bed his way (less stories, more practicing math – weird, but they love it), etc. I know that its important not to supersede his parenting style.

  10. A lovely post, Liz.

    I’ll just add the idea that whether you have a daughter or son, as a dad, you are helping shape that child in so many ways. Obvious I know. To the son, you are showing what it means to be a man. How to treat women. How to show love. And so on. Positively or negatively. And to your daughter, you are showing how a woman should be treated by a man. By someone she loves. Self esteem. What love is. And so on.

    Not only is it bad form for adults to perpetuate stereotypes amongst themselves via advertising. But children watching these ads – who are more impressionable (even in this “enlightened age”) shouldn’t be on the receiving end of these stereotypes.

    1. Awesome Craig, thank you so much. It’s true, I’ve had to have conversations with my kid about ads like “why that lady is dressed so sexy” or “why you can see that singer’s boobs.”

      Good times.

  11. Sounds like a great experience in my favorite city on Earth (I spent 2000-2009 there).

    I think sometimes dads keep the stereotype going themselves, especially first-time dads. I think maybe, if you are scared you are going to fail at something, it is easier to poke fun at it and even embrace it than it is to step up and be better. I think this was true for my family, anyway.

  12. I discovered the Dadsaster podcast recently (courtesy of my favorite “mom” podcast) and am thoroughly enjoying hearing their viewpoints and experiences as the primary caregivers in their families. It’s definitely affected, in a positive way, how I see and treat my husband as a father to our kids, and I thought I was doing pretty well! Sounds like you had a similar experience at the conference. Wouldn’t it be great if every parent had a chance to be the primary caregiver and the primary breadwinner at different times, to truly understand each other’s sides and the many facets of parenting? I think that would open up so many peoples’ eyes. Thanks for your continued thought-provoking posts, Liz.

  13. it goes without being said – you are so insightful….

    sometime in the last 5 years, I realized… just as I am not my mother (love her, respect her, adore her)…my husband is not his father. After spending close to a decade mostly supporting my husband’s career goals and convincing myself that I DO load a dishwasher better than him, I decided to toss that notion.

    Best thing I ever did. I put my foot down, and yes, my husband listened but don’t think it was all hearts and flowers. I had to make choices and bite my tongue when he sent the boys to school in the same pants they wore the day before and totally didn’t do the dishes right…just among a few.

    We as women /moms have to make up in our mind to let go of the reins…it is so gratifying to moms AND dads to take part in raising our children.

  14. Sometimes I wish my husband would write about being a Dad. He would be good at it. And he’s good at being a Dad too. You’re right, they do not get enough credit these days. And mine does dishes. The underwear thing…. well, we’re still working on that one… 😉

    Glad you had a good time at Dad 2.0. I should have gone since it was so close to me!

  15. I’ve often joked that my husband is a better wife/mother than I am. He has taken over all the shopping and cooking in our house and he works full time. And don’t get me started on how amazing he is when it comes to be a parent of our special needs daughter. Among other things he takes the time to coach Special Olympics for two of her sports. Kind, thoughtful, and a role model to other fathers. I could go on and on about him but it would border on gagging.

  16. GREAT post… This subject is one of the things I am hoping to highlight with The PopLyfe Shop… One of my philosophies of the brand is that proud and responsible fathers should be recognized not more than, but equal to the hard working mothers we are used to seeing… More focus on the job men and women as parents do everyday, responsibly raising their children. I love reading the comments from some the wives in saying their husbands aren’t the typically portrayed “dumb dad”. I think the more positively we portray fatherhood, the more responsible fathers we can help create and inspire…

  17. Uh oh. I can’t post on Facebook — MY underwear might be on the floor right in front of the hamper.

    Interestingly in my circle the dads aren’t dumb at all (diaper changers, all of them) — but none of them seem able/willing to take on the jobs that require some sort of complicated mental inventory, like managing the kids’ wardrobes, planning a weekly menu or keeping the craft supplies stocked. Though mine has (masterfully) taken over the diaper/toilet paper/Kleenex shopping 🙂

    These men do a lot, but the division of labour splits along such typical lines for just about every family we know. I wonder why?

  18. Really like your post! One of the biggest thrills and joys of my life has been being a dad to two beautiful girls. Also, everything that comes with it as well. The diaper changing, dance classes, school plays, and so on. But as you pointed out, it’s all a part of parenting. I love everything about it. Again, I love being a dad! Enjoyed reading your post, thanks for your write up.

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