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The Father Factor

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Good Dads and Bad Dads in TV Ads

My wife hates watching TV with me because whenever I see a commercial depicting fathers in a negative light, I go off on the same rant. So, she hears this rant almost nightly.

But to be fair to the Madison Avenue crowd, there are certainly lots of commercials showing dads in a positive, or at least realistic, light (note: showing dads acting like childish idiots is not realistic, nor is it helpful). In fact, NFI has given the Fatherhood Award™ to several of these companies, including Google, Subaru, and many more.

In the spirit of being fair and balanced, here is one good and one bad example of current TV ads depicting dads.

The good

As a baseball fan, former Little Leaguer (where my dad was my coach for several years), and high school player, I love this ad.

Some may argue that it is another ad showing a dad looking pretty dumb, but my problem is not so much with “dumbness,” but with ads that are not realistic. This one is. Not everyone can throw a baseball well. What matters is that this guy is so sincere, and he’s spending time with his son, one on one.

Most importantly, the ad does such a great job of telling a realistic and touching story. Look closely and you can see that the dad is still wearing his work clothes. He pulled into the driveway from work and his son was waiting for him in the front yard wanting to play catch. And he started playing with him right there – he didn’t even go inside to change his clothes! You can almost hear the kid saying, “Dad, dad! Let’s play catch!” And he, being the loving dad he is, dropped everything and started playing, despite his obvious lack of skills or comfortable clothes.

Humor, storytelling, and a positive message about fathers – this ad has it all. As opposed to this ad…

The bad

In contrast to the one above, this ad is not realistic. I do not know a single dad who would be this negligent and uncaring. Nor would a dad be “bought” so easily with the promise of food that was probably purchased with his own money. I also hate the recurring commercial theme of “if it weren’t for moms, American households would be bastions of chaos and permissiveness.” One could counter that the ad was “bending the truth” for a comical effect – but so was the above ad, and it was great and heartwarming and realistic. Again, note to commercial producers: you don’t have to make men and dads look like idiots in order to make funny ads. Frankly, I think it is lazy writers falling back on stereotypes who are making these kinds of commercials. The non-lazy ones are making gems like the VW ad above.

To be fair to Kraft, they are a sponsor of the upcoming Dad 2.0 Summit, so clearly they are trying to make a genuine effort to reach out to fathers. But with ads like this (and it is only one in a series of similarly bad ads), I don’t think they are going to have as much success as they’d like. To be sure, if they want to work with NFI, we would need to have a serious discussion about what they really think about fathers given the mocking nature of their ad campaign.

Have you seen any good fatherhood commercials lately? How about bad ones? Let us know.

When Daddy Isn't in the "Family" Picture

For all the talk we hear these days about how “families can take many forms,” it seems there is one particular form that, if there was a popularity contest for family types, would be losing. It’s the one where dad is involved.

Every time I think NFI is in danger of exaggerating our claims around the prevalence of father absence and the lack of respect for the institution of fatherhood, a good reminder of our pinpoint accuracy smacks me right in the face.

The latest smack came in the form of a series of pictures in a book for toddlers. The book, First 100 Words, was sitting innocently on a shelf in my house. I mindlessly opened it and started flipping through, and came across the following picture.

Dad not in family

In case you can’t make out what is going on there, it shows a picture of a family that includes “mommy,” “brother,” and “baby.” Where’s “daddy”? Well, he has his own separate, much smaller picture to the right of the larger “family” picture. (it is probably also worth noting that grandma gets the second largest picture)

Talk about a stark, visual representation of our culture’s general disregard for the centrality of responsible fatherhood. It is as if the editors did not want dad interfering with the pristine image of a mom-child family.

Moreover, this is a book designed to give toddlers their first lessons about the world around them. May as well get to them early with the notion that when we talk about family, we are really talking about a mom and her kids.

One might defend the use of an image of a mother-only family with the premise that we should be cautious about offending such families, or making them feel “left out.” But why is no one ever concerned with offending two-parent families? After all, 2 in 3 children still live in mother-and-father-present homes, and reams of social science research shows it is best, on average, for kids to live in such homes. So, shouldn’t we be “protecting” this family type?

These sorts of images reinforce the false belief that fathers are not as important as mothers. For a boy in a father-absent home, it reinforces the idea that he does not have to worry about being a central part of the family he will one day have. Mom’s got it covered! This attitude “empowers” neither men nor women.

fatherless family bookFor a child growing up with a father in the home, like my son, I am sure this image will be confusing. My 2.5-year-old son is too young to express himself about something as complicated as this, but this book -- along with a lot of other messages he will get from TV commercials, etc -- shows him that fathers are on the periphery of family. When he asks the question, “How now shall I live?” the answer provided by our culture will be vague at best. If it suits you to stick around for your family, that’s fine; but if not, don’t let the door hit you in the rear on the way out.

Now, you may say that it is just one book, and maybe it’s not indicative of what the general belief about fatherhood is in our country. But that is a cop out. If “just one book” published an image of a blonde girl struggling with a math problem, a ruckus would be raised. Or if “just one book” published an image of a minority being belittled by a white person, a ruckus would be raised. Because we know that images and messages matter; they communicate our culture’s values. When such messages are allowed to see the light of day, it is an indication that there is little fear of reprisal for publishing them.

Dads are not a feared demographic; very few people are worried about ticking us off. NFI will do its part to expose negative representations of fatherhood and award positive ones, but until market forces start to move, little will change. We saw a hint of how powerful those forces can be when Huggies made a mistake with dads.

Here’s to hoping that the mistakes are always pointed out and the offenders learn a lesson.

Connect with The Father Factor by RSSFacebook and on Twitter @TheFatherFactor.

 

PBS Parents Engages in More “Dads and Clueless” Stereotyping

pbsparentsOne of the reasons NFI gives out the Fatherhood Award™ to worthy individuals and corporations is because we believe that “lighting a candle” is often more effective than “cursing the darkness.” However, from time to time, we feel it is necessary to curse some darkness, as we did about a Huggies advertising campaign in March.

Now is another time. On June 15, just in time for Father’s Day, the Facebook page for PBS Parents posted this picture of dads in the baby food aisle, presumably on the phone with their wives, with the caption, “Ha!”

Sure, the photo is kind of funny. But, as we have pointed out numerous times before, would it fly if they posted a picture of clueless-looking women at an auto parts store? First, they would never post such a picture. Second, if they did, they would take it down the moment a negative comment came in.

After all, shouldn’t we be getting past stereotypes? PBS Parents apparently thinks so, as they posted this article called “7 Ways to Fight Stereotypes.”

Except, of course, when it comes to dads. Again, as we have often repeated here at NFI, despite the fact that there is a child-damaging trend of crisis-level father absence in America, our culture continues to think it is ok to make fun of dads, and thus, in our view, discourage them from getting involved.

Despite numerous complaints in the comments next to this photo, PBS Parents did not take down the photo, and basically shrugged off the complaints saying that they meant no offense and that it was meant as a “tribute” to dads.

I don’t believe them. They found the photo on a “humor” website that shares vulgar, even profane, photos, and captioned it with “Ha!” In other words, “laugh at these dads with us!” 

I don’t know enough about PBS Parents to say whether or not the rest of what they do reflects this immature attitude towards fathers. A quick glance at their website suggests that they are mom-centered but offer resources for dads, too.

So, why the dad bashing? First and foremost, they are not afraid. They have no fear that they will lose money or business as a result of posting such content. When moms or women are offended in the public eye, they make a big deal out of it and force change. Men and dads don’t do this, and no one does it for them.

However, this could be changing. I mentioned Huggies earlier. After they received criticism from the community of dads (and moms, too), they pulled the offensive ads and have since been in dialogue with NFI and daddy bloggers in a genuine effort to include dads in a positive way in their branding and messaging.

We indicated then that Huggies’ actions may have marked a turning point in brands actually responding to criticism from fathers. So far, PBS Parents has bucked the trend.

And it may be to their detriment. Research is starting to show that fathers are an important market force. If PBS Parents and their ilk do not change with the times, the last “Ha!” could be on them.

The Huggies Conversation Continues...

As regular readers of The Father Factor know, NFI recently played a key part in a firestorm of social media commentary that led Huggies to respond to the complaints of dads and modify an ad campaign to portray dads more positively.  (If you missed it, check out our blog post rebuking Huggies for their original campaign and the second blog post applauding them for listening to the feedback of dads.)

The conversation about how brands and organizations can effectively reach out to dads - and why it's important for them to do so - continues.  Vince DiCaro, NFI's Vice President of Development and Communication, was NFI's voice in the Huggies "debacle."  The National Diaper Bank Network invited Vince to share NFI's thoughts on the important role that dads play.  As we've frequently noted, calling on men specifically as fathers, and not just parents (which is often interpreted as a code word for "mothers") is key to welcoming them into the conversation.  Vince elaborates on that and other ways and reasons to engage dads.

Read what he shared with The National Diaper Bank Network in his guest blog post "Today's Dads Can Help Close The 'Diaper Gap'"

 

A Dad's Lesson: The Price of Fame

There is a verse from the Bible that says, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” I was reminded of the wisdom of these words recently after reading this Billy Ray Cyrus GQ interview where he shared his regret about how he has been raising Miley Cyrus.

Ironically, several weeks ago, I wrote “For Father's of Older Children—No Time for an Achy Breaky Heart” when the report came out about Miley doing bong hits of salvia at her 18th birthday party. Recently, I have found a few blog posts like this one from Jim Daly of Focus on the Family and this one by Melissa May for “Modestly Yours” to be quite compelling as well.

In any case, Billy Ray’s regret is a poignant reminder of how critical it is for all fathers to protect their children. Indeed, many will come along to sell our children the “whole world.” But, as Billy Ray unfortunately discovered too late, the price is just too high.

Dads must help deal with bullies...

There has been quite a bit in the news lately regarding the impact of bullying on our nation's children. Accordingly, I thought that you would find of interest this article that I wrote about my personal experience of being bullied as a kid as well as how I handled a situation when my son was bullied. Dads have a key role to play on this issue.

But What If I Don't Want To Be A Dad?

NFI President's Roland Warren has recently responded to an article by Cord Jefferson entitled, "But What If I Don't Want To Be A Dad?," addressing the argument of "financial abortion."

Roland writes: Actions have consequences, and although a person can choose his actions, he cannot choose the consequences of his actions. When it comes to sex, one of the consequences can be a child. So if a guy wants to keep his wallet closed, I suggest that he keep his zipper closed, too.

Check out Roland's full response here at theroot.com.

Despicable Me: From Super Bad to Super Dad

It is no secret that movies, TV shows and media today often take a swing at fatherhood. Our President, Roland Warren, posted about this issue around Father’s Day when he struggled to find a Father’s Day card that did something other than portray Dad as ignorant or detached. The release of "Despicable Me" however, brings attention to a both humorous and heartwarming side of fatherhood: transformation.

The ultimate super villain, Gru (voice by Steve Carrell), adopts three orphans and, throughout the movie, transforms from super villain to super dad. Though his intentions for adopting the three girls is undoubtedly despicable, the consequences are both emotional and edifying as Gru slowly transforms from “Super Bad to Super Dad."

A recent article in USA Today discussed NFI’s InsideOut Dad program and the positive, transformative effect of reconnecting incarcerated fathers with their children. Children statistically benefit by having a relationship with their father, but as every father, parent and child knows, fathers benefit as well.

We at NFI will be cheering for more movies like "Despicable Me" and pushing for a greater focus on these heartwarming and realistic effects of fatherhood in media portrayals of fatherhood. Check out the movie trailer:

Father's Day Rewind

We hope all you dads out there had a GREAT Father's Day! Here at National Fatherhood Initiative, we were celebrating our favorite holiday in a pretty big way. Here's our Father's Day Top Five:
  1. Chris Brown, our Senior VP, was trackside to honor three NASCAR drivers with Fatherhood Awards.

  2. President Roland C. Warren appeared on CNN, CNN.com, and BET talking about the important role dads play.

  3. News outlets across the country were buzzing about our work and about the issue of involved responsible committed fatherhood.

  4. We snacked on HIS Chips from Herr's and Dad's Root Beer thanks to our Father's Day partnerships with these great companies.

  5. President Obama spoke on the importance of fatherhood and the direction of his fatherhood and mentoring issues.
Click here to see a full recap of our Father's Day celebration, and check out our news feed to see what the media were saying about NFI and fatherhood this weekend!

Thanks for following us here on The Father Factor. We're committed to raising awareness about the importance of involved, responsible, and committed fathers and equipping our nation's dads to be the best fathers they can be!

Tiger and Nike...Really?

So while we're on the theme of of father-friendly or father-focused ads, Nike released a new Tiger Woods ad yesterday, featuring the voice of his late father, Earl Woods. Here are the pearls of fatherly wisdom that he shares during this commercial (in which Tiger is eerily still and silent):

Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion, I want to find out what your thinking was, I want to find out what your feelings are, and did you learn anything?

Oh, there are so many things we could say here - and many of those things are already being said. It's too soon, it's poor taste, it's ill-conceived, it's creepy. Not to mention the fact that who knows what Earl (with transgressions of his own) would say to Tiger.

You know what is interesting here? It's still all about Tiger. Flash back to his press conference a few months ago:

I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself.

And now an out-of-context quote from his late father asks to know what Tiger has learned and what Tiger is thinking? Has Tiger asked the same of his children? His wife?

No, I'm not saying I want an ad with Tiger and his family and no I don't think they should be followed around paparazzi-style as they work through these issues. But, Tiger's "indefinite leave" to focus on his marriage and family and recover from what would appear to be a pervasive, rampant sex addiction has not even lasted six months.

No one can know if Tiger's heart has changed or how his family is healing...but I have a hard time believing that everyone is already well on the road to recovery and ready for tournaments and ad campaigns...even ad campaigns that are selling shame and penitence.

Clearly, Nike has accomplished what it wanted/needed to. We're all taking about this ad...linking to it...blogging about it. Tiger and Nike are back in the spotlight, but who knows where his family will end up?

Talking to Your Kids about Disasters

As the recent news of the earthquake continues to come in, the Haiti situation looks grim. When serious events such as this happen, kids (especially younger ones) naturally turn to their parents for explanations and reassurance. Here a few pointers on helping guide your kids through the emotions resulting from serious natural disasters:

  • Ask them if they've heard about these events. If they are in school, they might have also discussed it there. Ask them what they think about the event, and if they have any concerns related to it.
  • Assure them that you care for them and are doing everything you can to keep them safe. Answer any questions they have for you; it is important that children have a sense of hope and perspective on natural disasters.
  • Work with your kids to develop positive and constructive action steps to respond to the disaster. Children like to do things that make a difference in the world. Be creative. Encourage your children to write letters or donate "piggy bank" money to relief efforts. Pray with your children for the people who were affected. Help them focus on helping others in their time of need.
Do you have additional thoughts? How do you help your kids with difficult situations in the news?

Why do dads think they are replaceable?

Check out this video of Roland C. Warren, NFI's president, discussing why dads think they are replaceable at the release event for Mama Says: A National Survey of Mothers' Attitudes on Fathering.

Flex Your Facebook Muscles and Vote for NFI!

Chase Bank is taking a new approach to corporate philanthropy by hosting a contest on Facebook - and YOU can vote for NFI to receive funding!

If you're on facebook, search for Chase Community Giving, download the app, and search for "National Fatherhood Initiative."

Why should you vote for NFI? Well, we're working in all 50 states (plus DC and Puerto Rico) on an issue that affects every community - father absence. Our programs are changing lives and reconnecting families, ensuring that no child grows up without his/her father. This funding will enable us to continue to strengthen families, communities, and give you and your children a brighter future for a stronger America.

So...flex your facebook muscles and vote for NFI!
http://apps.facebook.com/chasecommunitygiving/

Crime of fatherlessness...

In light of the execution of D.C. sniper John Muhammad last night, I thought that you would find of interest a piece that I wrote about 7 years ago in the aftermath of the shootings. Of note, this was very real and personal for me. On October 22, they caught Muhammad and Malvo sleeping at a rest stop that was one exit up from my wife's office. It's a pretty secluded setting and there is a gas station--that she frequently uses--right across the street.

_____________________________________
In the days since John Muhammad and John Lee Malvo were detained in the “Beltway Sniper” case, we have all wanted to know why these crimes occurred. Who were these cold-blooded murderers? How do people become so unabatedly evil?

Many have made up their minds about John Muhammad. He is an angry, frustrated, middle-aged man with gripes against his ex-wives and his country. It has been reported that he was sympathetic to the 9/11 terrorists. It is not too difficult to put the pieces together with him.

But what about the 17-year-old boy, who is now believed to have been the triggerman in these vicious acts? As we learn more about Malvo’s upbringing and his tumultuous childhood, things start to become clear. How did a young boy with a bright smile and a promising future become a 17-year-old killer? The answer: John Lee Malvo did not have an involved father.

Malvo’s childhood was characterized by constant moves from one school to another, one island to another, and one caretaker to another. His mother, Una James, was constantly trying to find new work and a new life for her and her son throughout the Caribbean. Many of the people who knew James and Malvo became exasperated at the constant upheaval in the intelligent Malvo’s life. However, the biggest mistake James made was that she did not feel it was necessary for her son to have a father.

As Malvo grew up, he searched for his father from time to time, but had limited contact with him. Friends and relatives point out that Malvo was keenly in need of a father figure in his life and he tended to flock towards older males in his neighborhood. But his mother and her sister grew up without their father. James simply did not realize the importance of father-love for a child. Her sister said, “We grew up without a father. We don’t know father-love.” She went on to say that James did not realize that her son needed the father-love they never had.

Leslie Malvo, the biological father, owns a construction contracting company in Jamaica. Reporters located him the day after his son was arrested, and he commented in American media that he had been following the sniper murders. This is not a poor man living in an isolated, backwards village. He owns a business and reads American newspapers. However, he was a failure as a father. He did not contest James’ attempts to keep him uninvolved with their son. He never sought out his son, or tried to improve his son’s life despite his relative wealth and despite the fact that James was causing such upheaval in the younger Malvo’s life.

Eventually Malvo had become tragically accustomed to childhood without a father. But as a boy enters his late teens he wants to find out what it means to become a man. He looks for examples of mature behavior from the adult males around him. He loves his mother, but begins to pull away in an attempt to establish independence - to fill the “hole in his soul” in the shape of his father.

In one of the many unstable settings Malvo found himself in, this time alone on the island of Antigua and his mother in Jamaica, John Muhammad entered the picture. Muhammad was a human smuggler, getting people from the islands to the states. He was a powerful looking ex-military man with strong political and religious convictions. To the impressionable Malvo, Muhammad immediately became an attractive and authoritative “father figure.” Through many twists and turns, the two ended up living together in the United States, apart from James, and in relative poverty. Lee Boyd Malvo changed his name to John Lee Malvo taking the name of his new “father” and becoming his “son.” Muhammad’s interest in guns and shooting provided another means for the two to bond. We now know what the grotesque product of that bonding would become – 10 dead, 3 wounded, millions scared.

The statistics of father absence are potent, and illuminate several aspects of the Malvo case. A study of 1,800 middle-school students found that children who did not live with both biological parents were more likely to carry a gun. The likelihood that a young male will engage in criminal activity doubles if he is raised without a father. Seventy two percent of adolescent murderers are fatherless. However, as helpful as these statistics can be, they sometimes obscure the human tragedies that lurk behind them. Lee Boyd Malvo was abandoned by his father, and kept away from him by his mother who grew up without her father. He then turned to another man, who also did not know his own father. Together they killed.

Many will continue to analyze why these two men committed such crimes and they may come up with some very definitive answers. Psychologists, criminologists, academicians, and forensic experts will feed us with countless explanations. But we must look at this crime at its roots, as a crime of fatherlessness. If we do, not only will we have the greatest understanding of what happened, but we will also begin to embrace the solution to this problem - men must be involved, responsible, and committed fathers so that their shoes will not be filled by the likes of John Muhammad.

Paying More Attention to Fathers

The New York Times published an interesting article that not only highlights the importance of involved fathers, but also the turnkey role that moms play in involving fathers. "A mother's support of the father turns out to be a critical factor in his involvement with their children."

It goes on to report findings that show that when a couple's relationship is strengthened and a couple has positive interactions, dads are much more likely to be involved and kids are much more likely to thrive. Truly a win-win situation.

This article explores the fact that the mother-father relationship is one of several factors that can affect father involvement. We know that dads don't parent in a bubble; that's why we built a session for mothers into our 24/7 Dad curriculum and why we've developed Mom as Gateway. These resources help break down the barriers between couples (regardless of marital status) so they can effectively co-parent.

As this article points out, more and more people are realizing just how important dads are - and that there are many factors to enabling their involvement. Helping moms and dads see eye-to-eye and respect each other's parenting styles is key to thriving kids and families.

The Father Factor Blog: News, tips, and tools for dads and those helping dads.

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