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Ad Campaign to Sell Dads on Fatherhood

By John Cave Osborne |

Do dads need a commercial reminding them to do this?

The New York Times reported a new series of ads introduced by the Advertising Council yesterday. The target demographic? Dads. The hard sell? Fatherhood. The campaign created by Campbell-Ewald specifically targets American-Indian, Asian-American and Hispanic dads and is a follow up to the “successful” 2008 spots which you may recall. They featured an African-American dad teaching his daughter how to cheerlead as well as other ads which contained Hispanic and Caucasian fathers.

The reason for casting such a wide demographic net is to assure the campaign successfully delivers its message to as many diverse groups of fathers as possible. And the message — “take time to be a dad today” — is a good one. But is it a necessary one?

It is according to our government, more specifically, the Department of Health and Human Services. As Campbell-Ewald created the pro bono spots for that department’s two subdivisions — the Administration for Children and Families and the Office of Family Assistance. (No word, incidentally, on whether or not the Coalition of Redundantly Named Familial Departments Association was involved.) The campaign’s website will be run by Roland C. Warren, who is the media campaign director for the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse — a government project which supports fatherhood.

These most recent ads come at a time when nine out of ten parents believe a “father absence crisis” exists in America. At least according to a survey conducted by the National Fatherhood Initiative. And guess who heads up that organization? None other than the aforementioned Roland C. Warren. Is it just me, or is that a $5,000 hammer I’m starting to smell?

To be fair, it may just be me. After all, I don’t head up a nonprofit whose research generates statistics cited in conjunction with a government-sponsored ad campaign of which I’m also a part. But I, for one, do NOT think there’s a “father absence crisis” in America. Rather just the opposite. From what I’m able to discern, fathers appear more active than ever before. I see it in the carpool line, on the soccer field, and at church.

And I also see it online where dozens of leaders within the realm of fatherhood have emerged. Many sites like DadCentric, DadWagon and DadLabs offer their readers top-notch, father-related content and are building communities in the process. Other sites like TheDADvocateProject are working hard to define exactly it means to be a dad today — presumably because it means something different than it used to.

Please don’t get me wrong. Messages encouraging dads to be, well, dads, are positive ones. And men like Roland C. Warren who build careers out of advocating fatherhood are good men. The world is a better place because of them. It’s just that this dad has a hard time believing that nine out of ten parents feel there’s “father absence crisis” in America right now.

But even if I’m wrong, why can’t such an ad campaign attribute its emergence to the growing number of dedicated dads rather than piggybacking off of doom-and-gloom statistics which portray us in a negative light? All that does is reinforce the (obviously false) perception of Daddy being nothing more than Mommy’s goofy domestic subordinate.

But maybe I’m out of touch. What do you think? Do you believe what supposedly nine out of ten American parents believe? Do you believe there’s a “father absence crisis?”

Photo: morgueFile.

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About John Cave Osborne


John Cave Osborne

John Cave Osborne is a writer whose work has appeared on such sites as Babble, TLC, YahooShine, and the Huffington Post. John went from carefree bachelor to father of four in just 13 months after marrying a single mom, then quickly conceived triplets. Since then, they have added one more to the mix, a little boy they named Grand Finale. Read bio and latest posts → Read John's latest posts →

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21 thoughts on “Ad Campaign to Sell Dads on Fatherhood

  1. Chris (@tessasdad) says:

    Good post John. I too find 9 out of 10 a pretty staggering number and hard to believe, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean it’s not true. I think the caveat here is that there is unfortunately a class/racial component to this which most of us don’t see unless you’re involved on the frontlines of human services efforts. I am part of the Michigan Fatherhood Coalition here in Lansing and from what I hear about at meetings, there is still a strong need to get fathers more active as more kids than ever are going into programs like Head Start, who have a serious need of a male figure in their lives.

  2. Jason says:

    Hey John – thanks for mentioning my site, DadCentric. I think one of the problems with the so-called “father absence crisis” is that it is (no offense intended to The DADvocate Project) so hard to define exactly what it means to be a dad today. Traditional fatherhood roles are being challenged by dads who are operating outside society’s often outdated ideas of what a father should be – from the dad who gives up his career to stay at home with the kids, to divorced dads, to gay dads. One has to wonder about the questions that were asked of those parents who believe that fathers are nowhere to be found. Perhaps they’re looking for Ward Cleaver, who’s been dead for quite a while.

  3. Micky says:

    I am not certain whether there is an actual “crisis” but I do know that anecdotal observations about involved fatherhood can be misleading since we are all limited in terms of the social spheres in which we interact on a daily basis. I have witnessed an increasing number of white, middle-class fathers who are involved and comfortable with their children and an increasing (all though by no means universal) social tolerance of men who are sensitive caregivers and educators. Yet the crisis, if there is one, is not likely to be a demographically uniform one, so this very well could be the exception rather than the rule. For example, I’d believe that in the African American community, where 1 in 7 men–mostly from lower SES communities–is incarcerated, absent fathers could very well be rising to the level of “crisis.” And who knows what other class, social, and cultural barriers there are to involved fatherhood in various communities?

    Whatever the case, I’m a fan of any public service ads that encourage men to be involved and attentive caregivers and to reap the immense rewards of parenting.

  4. Kevin (TheDADvocate) says:

    John, I think you are hitting the nail on the head. I too disagree that dads are continuing to be absent. As a matter of fact I started The DADvocate Project partially because of media protraying men as absentee, uncaring, beer drinking dolts who do nothing more than watch football and scratch. We are not that. As you say men are more throughly involved in their children’s lives than they have ever been and that trend seems to be growing. I believe that rather than focusing on how uninvolved dads are it would be better to show how we are involved. Now I understand the ad described above shows the the Native-American father leaving his friends, while watching football and going to play drums with his kid. The problem is the premis that he was with his friends watching football without his kid. I’m not about to say that dads don’t occasionally get together and watch football but a) does that constitute neglecting your child? b) Is it wrong to begin with? c) Why don’t you show the more likely scenario where the kid is right there with the dad giving high fives and having a good time? and d) Why not show the rest of the weekend where the dad takes his kid to some event early in the morning, plays at the park, after the game, go out to dinner with the family, take the child to sunday school the next morning, goes to soccer with one child then comes home and grabs all the kids to goto the next childs soccer game so mommy can get a few minutes to herself and play tennis. That is more reality. Alright I’m off my soapbox now.

  5. John Cave Osborne says:

    Micky — you won’t get an argument from me on at least one front — as i said in the post — any message encouraging dads to be dads is a positive one. and it was only word count which precluded me from going deeper into socio-economics. i understand that i’m not exactly part of the demographic that is experiencing this “absent father crisis,” but i still vehemently maintain that there is simply no way 9 out of 10 parents categorize America as currently undergoing such a crisis. particularly given how far most of the demographics have come. me personally? i think the coolest thing any man can be is an emotionally available and completely plugged in dad. and i know a lot of other men who feel that way, too. a higher percentage, certainly, than that of the fathers who came before us. thanks for reading.

  6. Jeff Allen says:

    I find the message, encourage dads to be dads as a positive one, yet there is NO WAY that this “crisis” is happening to this proportion, UNLESS the system is eagerly trying to perpetuate the myth in order to justify the blatant bias underlying the “non-biased” awarding of custody cases. How would the public react to a PR campaign entitled “Take time to be a Mom today?” After all, are all mothers good parents? I don’t imagine that campaign would be received as warmly as this one. The belief, I think, is that “good dads” will perhaps spend time with their kids, sure, but mostly only because studies show that those that do also pay their child support. And that’s more at the heart of much of this issue.

  7. Chris (@tessasdad) says:

    Micky makes an excellent point which I think we have to keep in mind. That 1 out of 7 number of African-American fathers being imprisoned is a more astounding number in my opinion and is the one worth even greater study. That’s a lot of kids growing up without the presence of a father.

  8. Kevin (TheDADvocate) says:

    Jason, No offense taken, I suspose the difficulty of defining what fatherhood today is, is why there is a need for the project. Wouldn’t you agree?

  9. Melisa says:

    I think that there are more dads nowadays who are more active than they used to be, but at the same time, I think that, being bloggers with lots of dad blogger friends, we are perhaps not feeling the absence in real numbers. We are friends with dads (and you ARE one) who are TOTALLY involved and wouldn’t have it any other way. I just still think there are plenty of dads out there who aren’t.

    That being said, I’m not sure if it’s worse today or not. There are also many moms who don’t focus on the family.

    Sorry, I’m BABBLE-ing. haha, get it?

  10. Odd Dad Out says:

    I think it’s difficult to say definitively whether there is or is not a “father absence crisis” because as Jason alluded to, the criteria for determining such a problem more than a little subjective. This Obama administration initiative actually started early in his term, but the President really didn’t do much with it until announcing an associated mentoring program this past June. In a related article, the Washington Post referenced census numbers that claimed more than 24 million children did not live with their biological fathers, and among low-income children, that number jumped to two out of three.

    I share all of this because, according to government statistics, I am an absent father given that my biological sons live three states away, and yet, aside from geography, I’m more emotionally available to them than are most fathers in “traditional” homes.

    Still, despite not being a definitive indicator of a crises, the census numbers are at least a general gauge, and furthermore, less suspect than the 9 out of 10 figure determined by the National Fatherhood Initiative. It seems as if they’ve concocted something of a self-serving, straw-man argument.

    In the end, I’m all for promoting positive images of fatherhood, but the initiative feels a little hollow with questions being raised as to whether or not the gesture is predicated on personal and/or political interests.

  11. K says:

    “I see it in the carpool line, on the soccer field, and at church.” I’m going to venture to guess that you probably don’t live in a lower-income area. I think this is probably the demographic that those ads are targeting. Not priveleged dad bloggers (like my husband!) who have the luxury of time and home internet access to philosophize about fatherhood.

  12. John Cave Osborne says:

    @K and to a certain extent, Melisa — i am not professing to be the demographic in question. i understand that many demos have absentee father issues. i get that mine is not at the top of that list. HOWEVER, i’m questioning the veracity of the following statement. 9 out of 10 parents believe there is an “absent father crisis” in america. i do NOT believe this. all that said, there have been some fantastic comments and i appreciate everyone who chimed in. i hope there are more to come…

  13. Nathan says:

    Great to see you here at Babble. Congrats on the gig; I couldn’t think of a finer to represent the dad side of the equation. As for this post, I’m also incredibly skeptical of these types of service ads. I suppose it wasn’t meant for us “involved dads”, but even for those who aren’t doing right by their kids, it’s unclear what it would bring. Make ‘em feel guilty? Make ‘em miss their kids? Who knows.

  14. Vince DiCaro says:

    I actually work for the National Fatherhood Initiative, so I wanted to comment and clarify. What people are responding to when they talk about a father absence crisis is that we have a record number of children living in a home without their biological father present. One out of every three children in America lives apart from his/her dad. That is 24 million children. The surveys cited were conducted by the University of Texas Office of Survey Research, so they were very carefully done.

    However, what I think some folks here are responding to is the fact that today’s involved fathers are in fact more involved than ever. They spend more time with their kids doing more things.

    So, at NFI we actually talk about “the state of fatherhood” in this way – that it is the best of times and the worst of times for fatherhood in America. Record levels of father absence, but involved fathers are more involved than ever.

    I hope this clarifies things.

  15. the muskrat says:

    Eventually, women will just take a sperm pill to get pregnant, and dads will be eliminated from their status as a begrudged necessity. Until then, I’ll keep paying a ton of taxes so that folks can say there’s a crisis and “raise awareness” as a method of fixing it. ‘Cause look what that’s done for the spread of AIDS!

    Regarding the demographics differences, yes, the dearth of dads in the black community is horrible: more than 2/3 of black kids born today are outside of wedlock, which usually means no “dad figure” (but not always). And given this segment of society’s tremendous use of the right granted them in Roe v. Wade, I shudder to think what the figures would be without that option. It will improve when we get involved locally, not nationally. That’s why I volunteer at a local school in the ‘hood (with the highest % of kids with dads in prison in the state), donate money to local charities that give clothing/school supplies/mentors at local schools, and choose to live in a gentrifying area of town. I’d gladly put measuring sticks by my small efforts and Campbell-Ewald’s any day.

  16. John Cave Osborne says:

    @the muskrat — your take is as strong as it was well articulated. excellent, excellent points. and i’m with you…little things like what you describe will do more to further fatherhood than will questionably positioned, convoluted, government-backed ad campaigns — one are which quite possibly driven by personal and political agendas to boot. great stuff.

  17. John Cave Osborne says:

    @vince — two things. #1 — i appreciate the clarification. #2 it’s good to know that NFI categorizes the state of fatherhood as being in the best of times as well as the worst of times. yet the statistic attributed to y’all in the Times article, the 9 out of 10 comment? it clearly plays on the worst of times. wish y’all had chosen to throw out a “best of times” stat, too.

  18. [...] lord) and a stepdaughter in Knoxville, is off to a strong start at Strollerderby, first with a post calling into question a new, and highly questionable,  be-a-better-dad PSA campaign, and then with this morning’s [...]

  19. Vincent | @CuteMonsterDad says:

    Quite frankly any positive statistics pertaining to fatherhood would lack the sensationalistic sizzle needed to attract attention. Much like their use in political campaigns, negative ads garner more interest from the public at large. If the outcome prompts more focus on communities that desperately need help one could argue progress has been made. Then again, the long term effect of labeling ALL communities as being in crisis and by association all fathers as being inept irresponsible human beings may cause more damage than the Department of Health and Human Service campaigns aims to fix.

  20. Otter says:

    I think the problem is a marriage problem. Divorce and having children out of wedlock are the reason so many dads aren’t around. I think Dad’s in the home are much more involved now than they ever were. What is happening is the institution of marriage is dying. Good post and discussion.

  21. Don, the 14%er says:

    I hope John Cave Osborne never has to find out first hand if there is a “father absence crisis” in this country. There is definitely a problem with fatherlessness in the U.S., but it is not what the National Responsible Fatherhood would believe. Roland C. Warren and others at the NRF think the crisis is because men just drop out of the lives of their families. No, Roland, men are being pushed out of the lives of their kids. It is a fact that most divorces are filed by women. And it is a fact that most custody courts ‘award’ the children to the mother. Of course, Mom gets ‘awarded’ child support along with the primary relationship with the kids. Some believe that child support acts as an incentive for these women to divorce. Regardless if this is true or not, the fact remains – dads are routinely relegated as visitors in the lives of children of divorce. When one considers the divorce statistics (more than half of all marriages end before death) and when one considers the preponderance of out-of-wedlock births (nearing 30 percent, which usually results in another single-mom household), one can certainly surmise there is a “father absence crisis” in this country.

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