By Donald Hubin, Ph.D.Member, National Parents Organization Board of Directors
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?
The Nissan ad preaches in another way. The soundtrack for the ad is Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle,” which tells the sad story of a man who was absent from his child’s life. The ad portrays a father who is obviously away from his son a lot, and ends with the kid surprised that his dad shows up. Still, the dominant feeling of this ad is strongly positive. No doubt there are men who need to hear the message of the background song. But most fathers want to be involved in their children’s lives, and are often frustrated by the need to support their family financially.
These three commercials aren’t the first to present fathers in a good light. During last year’s Super Bowl, Hyundai ran “Dad’s Sixth Sense,” which portrayed fathers as having an unnatural ability to protect their kids from harm. And Subaru has run several of the most touching commercials portraying fathers doing what they do best: protecting their kids and teaching them through play and in other ways. Any father who’s watched his children go off to school for the first time can relate to the dad in “Little Girl Goes to Kindergarten” and any dad whose kids are grown can relate to the father in “Baby Driver.” Cheerios has a dad-positive web-only ad “#HowToDad”
The three Super Bowl commercials are touching. They aren’t perfect, but we have come a very long way since Glenn Sacks and Ned Holstein were meeting with ad executives to urge them to clean up their act. If you want to feel good about yourself as a dad, just click to any of these ads.
These things matter. The way fathers are portrayed in popular media affects how they are treated by courts.