I may be an atheist, but I went to church this weekend for the first time in a very long time.
It was a different kind of church. The choirs were singing in karaoke bars on Bourbon St. You could call every man there “Father,” but each earned his title through parenting, not ordination. The readings came from blogs written by dads and read by dads. The prayers were wishes of change in the way dads are portrayed in media.
This church gathering of dads was at the Dad 2.0 Summit in New Orleans to celebrate fatherhood and the changing role of men in families. We attended workshops not just on blogging and how to better manage our hobby or business, but we worked through issues of raising teens, dealing with the paths blazed by fathers before us, and challenging the status quo.
Rob Candelino, a VP with Unilever and the man responsible for marketing Dove Men+Care, opened the weekend with a rallying cry about how the messaging to men needs to change.
Candelino emphasized how his company, from day one, has served to change the way men are perceived in media, highlighting that 73 percent of men feel that they are falsely portrayed in the media.
You know the routine. Commercials default to Mom as superhero and Dad as doofus. Dads are often bumbling sources of comedy instead of being inspirational leaders when it comes to the media portrayals of family.
That’s a perception that needs to change to better reflect the new reality.
It’s working too. Zach Rosenberg of 8BitDad did a wonderful piece of work watching 140 commercials in the past year and analyzing the portrayal of fathers in media. While our perception is that Dads are maligned by the messages, it turns out the opposite is actually true.
Eighty percent of the ads Zach rated had neutral, mostly good, or good portrayal of fathers. Of the 140 commercials he watched, only 18 were sticking to old stereotypes and dragging Dads down.
“These stats surprised me,” Rosenberg wrote. “I expected there to be a rubber band effect from all of the great work dads have done in complaining about the dumb dad images, but didn’t expect it to work this well.”
Media is crucial in shaping how we perceive reality. Jason Katims is a producer responsible for taking movies and bringing them to television. He did Friday Night Lights, he did Parenthood (based on the Steve Martin movie from 1989), and later this month About A Boy will debut (based on the Hugh Grant flick of ’02.)
A central theme in all of his shows is men communicating emotionally and honestly about their feelings and about being dads. From Coach Taylor to Zeek, Katims isn’t afraid to push the envelope forward and see where the role of men is headed. While we read a lot about stay at home dads now, when Parenthood started it was different. (The show features a stay at home dad as a main character.)
“The idea of a stay at home dad was something I hadn’t seen,” Katims said during his Q&A keynote at the Dad 2.0 Summit. “But I knew it was something that was a relevant and important thing to talk about. I thought it would be interesting to explore not just him, but her — it was this sort of reverse of the expected thing.”
This reverse of the expected is how the reality changes the perception, and how media can shape the message.
“You put it on the screen and it’s there and people start to accept it just because it’s being talked about.” Katims continued. “And if you talk about it enough, eventually the weirdness about it goes away.”
So that’s why we had the Dad 2.0 Summit this weekend. With men openly expressing feelings of love and fear about raising their kids. This church service had inspirational messages and long expressions of gratitude given through hugs.
Josh Levs of CNN was up on Day 2. He is the dad who had to file an EEOC charge against Time Warner when they determined he couldn’t take 10 weeks paid leave from his work because he was a father, not a mother. He bounced to the stage announcing, “This is the coolest fraternity in America. We’re all fighting the same fight and we realize there is work to be done and we’re doing it. This is what a real fraternity can be.”
“There is work to do” was a rallying cry in the weeks following the latest series of ads from P&G. The tearjerking series of ads for the upcoming Olympics had no dads, the perception being that mothers are the only ones to raise kids to be gold medal athletes. Sometimes the media’s messaging can be damaging by omission.
Many fathers raised a cry against the company.
“I had hoped the Olympic sponsor wouldn’t snub men again this year… but fine,” wrote Andy Hinds in The New York Times‘ parenting blog. “I give. In Procter & Gamble’s world, Mom is the martyr who gives up everything for her child’s success, and Dad is …elsewhere.”
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Parenting is a team sport. We go through this together, and just as women fought to raise their rights to equality in society, so are the dads fighting to be treated equally in the family.
“The issues facing dads in America are the same issues facing women in America,” said Levs. “You can’t have family values without valuing family, without valuing fathers.”