Do Dads Have More of a Cultural Foothold Than We Think?Ron Mattocks
Last week on “Babble Voices”, Catherine Conners moderated an all-star ensemble of parent bloggers, writers, and TV personalities as they prophesized the apocalyptic 2012 end to fathers who will be wiped from the face of the earth by eight-foot tall Amazonian mothers, wielding blood-drenched swords while carrying slumbering infant offspring in the Baby Bjorn baby carriers strapped to their iron breastplate… hold on a second, let me recheck my notes. No, I’m sorry, that’s incorrect. The actual issue being debated was as to whether dads were losing their paternal relevance in age when cultural narratives indicate mothers can raise children free an independent from fathers whose only function in life is a proclivity for tripping over their own junk.
Conners’s thought-provoking question elicited a range of well-articulated opinions from the panel, which was fairly represented by the X and Y chromosomes. Most agreed a new fatherhood was emerging, yet differed on the trend’s extent and impact. As I read through the answers I felt like that annoying precocious kid in the back of the class waiving his arm in the air going, “Ooo, pick me, pick me!”
Are fathers stereotyped in the media? Sure. But so too are moms. However, is it accurate to conclude that dad’s influence as a parent is headed the way of the Dodo bird as a result? Or that there’s a widespread, conscientious effort afoot by the media to malign fatherhood? And, furthermore, is it fair to say that egalitarian parenting exists predominately within a particular socio-economic demographic?
Here’s a few items for consideration in answering these questions:
Going back to 2005, a Parents Television Council study determined that 87% of TV programs had an involved father (up 4% from 2004), 15% were being raised by a single father (up 11%), and only 13% had no father figure (down nearly 4%).
The Wall Street Journal reported that network execs said they heard more pitches this year for shows about the changing dynamics of men, than ever before.
The same articled noted that the 2011 sitcom man is, “confident, devoted to his family, happy working around the house, pretty good at child-rearing,” and is often the primary caregiver.
There’s increasing mainstream expression in books (Go the F*#k to Sleep), movies (The Change-Up), and TV (Up All Night)that are reflective of involved fathers’ parental frustrations and struggles with work-life balance.
Subsidiary brands of major corporations like Proctor & Gamble, Kellogg’s, and Kimberly—Clarke, have started developing pro-dad product campaigns, several of which came about after fathers voiced concerns about the lack of representation in ads.
Last month, Science Daily reported that, in a soon-to-be published study, 77% of men rated being a good father as very important while only 49% could say the same about having a successful career.
Northwestern University found that low-income, urban fathers take an active role in parenting, according to a study published in the latest issue of Psychology of Men and Masculinity.
So, in revisiting the question of, are dads culturally relevant, I’d have to say, in light of the points above, mmmmm, yes—very much so in fact. Superficial as this may sound, a good indicator of relevance in today’s society (for right or wrong) can be determined by what major corporations and the media are willing to invest money into, and by all accounts, they are sinking a lot into today’s father. What’s more, research is showing that art may actually be reflective of real life.