Breaking Dad Beyond golf, real ales and farting
Dad jokes, dad bod, dad rock, all things that cultural consensus tells us are bad, that we must either endure or ‘guiltily’ enjoy. What does it say when so many maligned cultural phenomena are identified with the apologetic prefix “dad”? And is there anything this father’s day that dads, or those who care for them, can do to change this narrative?
Perusing the themes of a selection of father’s day cards available at a local retailer, one would be forgiven for thinking that fatherhood is all about tools, real ale, golf, and farting. This narrow focus communicates that while handy with a bit of DIY, in the minds of card-carrying members of the public, dads are otherwise either a drunken, absent, or a flatulent impediment to the successful raising of a child (or perhaps all three). Thankfully, this image is out of step with the realities of modern parenting, a world in which fathers are far more likely to be active co-parents than in any previous generation. Why then don’t father’s day cards better reflect the contemporary realities of modern parenthood?
2018 Volkswagen Tiguan Advert
Sadly, when we look to broader culture, brands, and popular entertainment for modern dad inspiration we find mostly either distant disciplinarian types like Succession’s Logan Roy, or hapless Homer Simpson style figures of comedy. It is clear that, in culture at large, fatherhood is in desperate need of a rebrand, and to break out from the tired, dated or lazy tropes (referring here to culture, not the Dad’s themselves!).
Luckily, there are signs of new currents of cultural nuance that are starting to acknowledge the changing context of modern fatherhood. While he is still somewhat hapless, Motherland’s Kevin, has been quietly waging a one man mission against many of the tropes of comedy dad-dom as he juggles post-school pick up politics, an isolated role as a stay at home dad, a failing marriage, and a sense of genuinely compassionate and engaged paternal care.
Similarly, in Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s novel Fleishmann is in Trouble, Toby Fleishmann (played by Jesse Eisenberg in the TV adaptation), is a somewhat reluctant and avoidant father figure who navigates becoming the core care provider during his wife’s breakdown and unearths a more emotionally invested side in the process.
Beyond entertainment, we are also seeing a shift in the representation of Dads in advertising. The recent Cadbury’s Dairy Milk campaign, challenges expectations by presenting an initially gruff looking masculine figure, who through the simple act of gifting a bar of Cadbury dairy milk is revealed to be a caring modern father.
Cadbury, Dairy Milk
The podcasting and social media spaces are also flooding with discussion and representations of the softer side of dad, a space of both competence and compassion, that is a long way away from real ale binges and golfing weekends.
In the above examples, some of the key signifiers of classic ‘dad-ness’ (e.g. jeans, check shirts, and tool belts) are updated, and softened. The workwear roots of these garments are downplayed, and they are juxtaposed with imagery of soft toys, and moments of caring support, more closely reflecting the realities of contemporary fathers.
In this way, we can see the ongoing cultural negotiation and reconciliation of the historic codes of fatherhood, with a greater sense of engaged emotional care, moving dads beyond limiting stereotypes, and embracing a more diverse and compassionate image.
3 key takeouts for brands:
- There is a need to move beyond the worn-out stereotypes of Dad-ness, with the current fall back imagery communicating outdated and disparaging messages about the role of modern fathers.
- Modern dad’s need to be shown to be both emotionally engaged (challenging the stereotype of the distant disciplinarian), and competent (challenging the stereotype of the hapless figure of comedy).
- Brands looking to communicate meaningfully need to take the time to review the cultural landscape, and understand the changing values of their consumers, and avoid representing them as narrow stereotypes. Thorough cultural understanding offers brands an opportunity to connect more meaningfully with consumers.
Mark Lemon, Associate Director