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Are fathers clumsy and incompetent?

| December 28, 2013


In this modern society with increasing responsibility being taken by fathers – married, divorced or other – why do the stereotypes of clumsy and incompetent fathers still take such pride of place in the media?

I have been a single father for many years now, and I fulfill multiple roles as a Dad

  • Comforter
  • First Aider
  • Cook
  • Mechanic
  • Coach
  • Cub Leader
  • Cuddler
  • Disciplinarian
  • Playmate

and these roles are not unique to me, they are filled by fathers all over the world.

A survey in 2006 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics clearly references the changing role of Fathers in modern society.*

Why then do advertisers continue to pander to old stereotypes of fathers who do nothing at home, or who are incompetent.

I may still be a small minority when it comes to annual spend for big brands, but I consciously avoid brands who advertise specifically to women, or who portray fathers as incompetent lay-a-bouts.

Sadly though it is not only advertisers who make these errors. It does not matter how many times I indicate that I am the initial contact on all forms for the various activities that my children do, when problems occur I am usually the second choice for the phone call.

The world is changing, fathering is no longer the silent, income earning role that it may have been in the past, it is now a more involved and inclusive role, that the media, advertisers and organisations need to take in to consideration.

What has brought about these changes?

The changing role of Fathering has been brought about by many factors

  • Dual income families, therefore a shared responsibility
  • Increasing number of single parent families
  • Working from home

A further factor that is not easily captured in one sentence is also the modern realisation that parenting of the past does not have to be parenting of the future, and many fathers I have met and discussed this with often refer to the fact that they love their own father, but missed a connection, and wanted something more for their own children.

This is always brought home to me by the words of the Harry Chapin song

Cats in the Cradle

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away

I called him up just the other day

I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”

He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time

You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu

But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad

It’s been sure nice talking to you”

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me

He’d grown up just like me

My boy was just like me

What can we do about this?

If you are reading this as a Fathering parent you are already part of the way there, your contribution to your child’s life is incalculable, and without your positive and constant influence your child would be worse off.

What is important is to let society and the market know that your contribution counts and that the old gender biases are unacceptable. We have worked hard and continue to work hard to remove negative female stereotypes from public space, to create equality in the work place for all genders, and we should be proud of all of this, but where is the reverse support for improving male fathering stereotypes.

Write to the advertisers who continue to use male stereotypes of fathering, boycott their products talk to the schools and organisations about the fact that you are a prime contact. It does work!

I received an sms from a mother recently at the school my children attend, and she was inviting all the mothers and children for a playdate and was delighted to receive the sms starting with “To all Mums(and Dominic)”.

Enjoy your children, be proud of your contribution

* Australian Bureau of Statistics Paper – http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/bb8db737e2af84b8ca2571780015701e/acf29854f8c8509eca2571b00010329b!OpenDocument

Dominic Parsonson

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