Society’s Views of Dads

November 25th, 2006

Back before Jacob was born, I was reading The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be, 2nd ed. by Armin A. Brott and Jennifer Ash. It was a good book and I recommend it.

Towards the end, there was a section that the author clearly was passionate about, and it made me mad too.

He was talking about society’s attitudes towards dads. He started by looking at messages that are sent out in commercials. One study of commercials said that “100% of jerks singled out in male-female relationships were male. There were no exceptions. . .” That study also said that 100% of the ignorant and incompetant people in commercials were male as well.

He went on to cite some examples. Tons of slogans like “kid tested, mother approved”, “choosy moms choose Jif”, Robitussin’s “recommended by Dr. Mom”, etc. And one for Post Raisin Bran in which a father and daughter are impressed by their cereal. Dad says, “somebody must really love us. Who do you think it is?” The daughter answers, “Mommy!”

Of course, these were just some examples from commercials, but they seem to reflect a message that dads are, at best, incompetant. Brott mentions studies that show that men display the same decision-making skill and affection as parents as women do.

Brott went on to talk about some of his experiences. One time, while he was in a park playing with his children, a little girl started to fall off the top of a slide. He was right there and was able to catch her as she fell — probably saving her from, at best, a broken bone. The girl’s mother rushed over, ignored Brott, and said to the girl, “did he hurt you?”

I started to see this sort of thing all over the place even before Jacob was born. In stores, there would be tons of infant shirts, bibs, etc. saying things like “I love mommy,” rarely even one thing that mentioned daddy. Similar patterns were there for greeting cards and pretty much everything else baby-related.

I’ve noticed this even more since Jacob was born. There have been times when Terah and I are somewhere together, standing right beside each other, and someone will ask Terah all about Jacob, and totally ignore me. Even if I’m the one holding him. I’m sure people are well-intentioned; some of them that have done this are people we know well and I know they mean well. Somtimes, I don’t even notice when this is going on (though Terah does and when she mentions it later, I remember it).

Do they just expect that men don’t care? Or do they think that since Terah is working part time, and I’m working full time, that we must be “traditional” enough that I don’t care to be involved in Jacob’s life? (Though I’m not sure that the “detached & uninvolved dad” stereotype ever was true, at least from the examples I can think of) It’s hard to miss out on so many moments of Jacob’s life during the day that Terah gets to be there for. But that doesn’t mean that I’m an uninvolved or clueless dad.

Now, despite this little rant, there are quite a few people out there that have no problem including me in discussions about Jacob — relatives, friends, people at church, co-workers, etc. In fact, probably more people include me than don’t. I really appreciate that, and especially the extra effort some of them go to in order to include me. (I know how much effort it took to find baby clothes that mention dad, for instance) Terah is best at all this, making sure that I get to be part of Jacob’s life as much as I possibly can be, and I really appreciate that.

But to Wyeth (makers of Robitussin): Don’t think I haven’t noticed that Walgreens sells “Wal-Tussin”, same active ingredients as your product, and at a lower price. Dr. Dad knows how to buy generic.

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  1. armin brott

    Just wanted to thank you for the kind words about my book, The Expectant Father.
    Armin Brott


  2. Kevin Mark

    Hi John,
    you just found the next big fashion trend: baby clothes featuring dads’!

    Also, these things that you see are clearly societal gender stereotypes.

    For as long as I can count, these have been spoken as fact:
    women are the ones who have the baby
    men are the ones that work (and sometimes leave)
    Men are the ones to discipline the kids.
    Women nurture the kids

    It will take a lot to make American and other societies think differently. It was only within the last 20 years that the ‘stay-at-home’ dad was born. Still courts favor women for custody because of these stereotypes. But it takes folks like you to keep the revolution alive!


  3. Anonymous

    Very true.

    Two random questions out of curiosity. First, of the people who ask about the baby, what proportion of males to females would you guess at? Second, of the people who ignore you and only ask your wife about the baby, what proportion of males to females would you guess at? I would tend to suspect a few things leading to this result: first, that more females than males would tend to ask about the baby, and females might tend to ask a female rather than a male about the baby; second, that of the males who ask about the baby, while I suspect a higher proportion of them will include you, many of them might tend to ask a female about the baby, whether through stereotype, instinct, or prejudice.

    Also, One random useful source for baby clothes mentioning fathers or just parents generically: ThinkGeek.


    John Goerzen Reply:

    Interesting question.

    I suppose about 2/3 of the people that ask about Jacob are women.

    I think that maybe 50-60% of women don’t ask me about Jacob. Terah thinks the number is higher — more like 80%.

    It’s more difficult to estimate how many men ask me about him when we’re both there, since there aren’t that many that come up and ask questions when we’re together. I think somewhere between 10-25% of men only ask Terah about Jacob.

    With all of this, we don’t figure in people that only know one of us, or only have the opportunity to see one of us regularly (such as coworkers).


  4. Erinn

    I think this is a good thing to be mad about.

    As a woman, my issue has always been sort of different — the assumption that women are all maternal, nurturing types is what I find offensive, but it is refreshing to hear your perspective on this.

    I’m loathe to use statistics that I’m not sure about as a metric, but there does seem to be a higher percentage of men who aren’t involved in their children’s upbringing than women. Your experiences may not bear out these statistics, and it’s entirely possible (maybe likely?) that they are a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I think at a basic level, the numbers are the numbers. I will see if I can actually dig some of those up later. :)

    In any case, I have often wondered about men’s movements (or fathers’ movements) and why the ones that exist seem to … not actually try to improve men’s standing in this regard; or at least, why so few men seem to be involved.


    John Goerzen Reply:

    That’s a good point about how things can work in reverse, too.

    I wish I had my sociology textbook handy to look up some of the figures here. It is probably deep in a storage unit right now.

    There are a huge number of single-parent households out there, both in the US and Europe. The vast majority of them are single-mom households. So it is true that, overall, moms are more inolved in children’s lives than dads are. Even in two-parent households, that is probably still the case since there are still more men that work full-time than women.

    Research also shows that children benefit greatly from having two parents active in their lives. Given that we already have a problem with not enough fathers being involved, I’d have thought that people would be more excited to see dads involved, rather than sometimes more hostile and even afraid.

    As for movements to promote the role of fathers in their childrens’ lives, in the United States at least, they all seem to be intertwined with other things as well, some of which I find distasteful. For instance, there is the Promise Keepers organization, which promotes strong marriages and involved fathers. But it also promotes the idea that wives should submit to husbands, takes a stand on abortion, etc. Some others are focused on equal rights for men in custody battles after divorce — an important thing, sure, but not really related to promoting fatherhood in intact families.


  5. Brooks Robinson

    I think in Dr. Dobson’s book: “Bringing Up Boys”, he rants about this as well. Another thing, if you watch your child don’t call it “babysitting”, call it “Daddy Duty”.


    John Goerzen Reply:

    That looks like a book by James Dobson — see

    He may agree with me on this particular thing, but I don’t intend to buy his book. Among other things:

    “He believes men have the divine obligation to lead their families, and women have the divine obligation to submit to their husband’s authority” (Wikipedia)

    He also believes that homosexuality can be “cured”, that “tolerance and diversity” should be avoided, etc. He’s really wacky on any number of issues, and really ought not to have the influence he does.


  6. kirklin

    Being a pediatric nurse, my co-workders are mostly female (all actually, at this time). I often encounter the “complaining about men” sessions. My standard response is to just smile and say “Well, we you do know who raised us to be this way, don’t you?”.

    :-) :-) :-)


  7. terah

    This afternoon I saw a Jif commercial that said “Choosey moms and grandpas choose Jif”. Maybe Jif is adjusting a bit?


  8. Tiffiny Newhouse

    To many of these responses. I was intrigued, for your insight was interesting and stimulating and then you took a sharp turn.
    While I agree strongly that the media and today’s society completely inundate us with the thought the men are pigs and to be put out at night, I don’t think that because of this truth that a woman who asks a woman about your (the two of you) son is being insensitive. I think it is out of experience. We, as women, who stay at home with our children, know or rather are given to the persuasion that the woman would be more likely answer our questions. Obviously, it is a huge insult to many men for us to assume that. I apologize. Having been of a feminist spin I would have enjoyed your stand against women subjecting themselves to their husbands authority. But I also had the wrong information about what that truly means. I can honestly say it doesn’t make me a slave nor does it make him Lord and Master. It simply identifies the differences in what we bring to the table in our relationship. For instance, women are often given to fantasy while men tend to be a bit more feet planted on the ground. What better way to keep the woman from losing sense of reality than to be subject to his input. It is like a sidebar, FYI and many other methods of understanding that my being subject to my man means that his opinion of my kids, my life and the world, should and do mean more to me than that of any other.
    In refernce to your comment about James Dobson:It takes a lot of guts to not only stand for what you believe but put it out for scrutiny for the world and to live it. Dobson maybe many things but I have yet to see anyone show that he doesn’t “Practice what he preaches” an area many of us should take lesson from. My father once told me “Not everyone in life are teachers, but you can learn something from anyone”.
    It is no longer just commercials and jingles that attack the value of a dad or the place of a man but more of the programs that are popular make dad/men look like mom’s little puppet or they are spineless jellyfish. It is not okay! It takes two parent’s who have two very different approaches to raising children to come together and offer a love-based, balanced idea of rearing and the fact that most often everyone lives through it is amazing. It takes men to stand up for what they think their place is. Men have a lot to offer.
    What is it about Men having the responsibility of Headship and the women with subjection offends you so?


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