The Face of Fatherhood

We have seen an incredible wave of progressive movements aimed at challenging conventional roles and ideas in recent history. From what constitutes “beauty” and “gender” to what constitutes “bullying” and even what “presidential” means.

Those discussions are certainly beneficial to the ambiguous and distant collective we call “society” but they are essential to we the individuals who comprise that society.

And so too, I’ve taken notice of another, not so vociferous, movement that is creeping its way into the zeitgeist: the roles individuals play within a given family structure and fatherhood in particular.

It’s been somewhat refreshing to see commercials feature fathers in rolls that don’t depict them as sofa-riding oafs. A favorite of mine is the “Glass Full of Smiles” spot from Minute Maid that shows a dad and his daughter enjoying a refreshing glass of juice as she draws with her crayons. It’s pretty adorable with its ”to the fridge!” ending.

There have been a few others peppered into the mix but they seldom earn the attention or praise that similar advertising campaigns earn when they feature people of color when children with special needs are shown in Sunday circulars. When fathers or husbands are depicted as uninvolved or clueless, these ads fail to receive the same level of ire and criticism as those that attempt to embrace diversity but fail miserably leaving us to wonder who would actually sign off on such ads.

Now, before we get too deep, I really want to take a moment and be clear. There’s no direct or literal correlation being made between fatherhood or husbandry and centuries of mistreatment, persecution, slavery, civil rights abuses, and other such atrocities upon humanity.
This is simply an observation I’m making about current trends in marketing and advertising and how I believe they both reflect and shape our collective attitudes and biases.

I bring gender, physical, and racial/ethnic diversity into the topic to simply discuss how mass marketing has begun an unprecedented shift away from the white wife/husband with two kids in a suburban home aesthetic and towards an image that attempts to be more indicative of ALL our realities.
It wasn’t that long ago that the world was turned on its head by Sammy Davis Jr. kissing Archie Bunker. Now we find ourselves with TV shows featuring people of color, homosexuals, children with cerebral palsy.

So then, has the time not come to also include the roles each individual plays within a marriage? Should we not examine further what fatherhood looks like and then attempt to both reflect and encourage the positive aspects of it?

I’m a child of baby boomers, a Gen Xer as they say. I grew up with the latch-key kids, though I was not one myself. I grew up with a strong mother and father where she stayed at home managing the operations of our household and my father worked just as hard outside the home to fund those operations. Neither was emotionally unavailable. Neither ever too busy to play or talk or anything else. I had it good.

Being of my generation I also grew up bombarded with messages about deadbeat dads and how many children there are without a strong male role model…about how many African American children grew up with only their moms because their fathers were in prison.

TV dads like Steven Keaton (Family Ties) or Jason Seaver (Growing Pains) gave way to Homer Simpson, Al Bundy, and so forth.

Mothers are typically depicted as the ones who have to come and clean up the mess left in the wake of these bumbling fathers. Mothers are the problem-solvers, the multi-taskers, the heroes.

And rightly so. I’m a big fan of mothers. Some of the people I most admire are women who are, all at once, mothers, business owners, educators, artists, students, musicians, and so much more. Mother is indeed the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children. But where does that leave fathers?

Are mothers always the blessed angels and fathers always the couch potatoes?

Certainly not.

I know many a mother for whose children my heart aches. These children will never know the intimate love felt between a child and both their parents.

I know many a mother whose children sit in soiled diapers, hungry (for food and for attention) while mom flips through the TV channels yelling “stop touching that”.

And so too do I know many a father who come home weary from a long day but still anxious to embrace their children and give piggyback rides. Count me among them.

So too, do I know many a father who wake up for the late night bottle feedings, the nightmares, and the “hey I just want to play even though it’s 2 am” moments that come with babies. Count me among them.

Acknowledging one does not have to come at the expense of the other. We can celebrate the sanctity of motherhood without dismissing the fact that dads are pretty neat too. We can also talk about the challenges that arise from those parents who struggle with or refuse to embrace their sacred and privileged responsibilities without painting such a wide brush that it smears the ones that do.

I joke among my friends that I am the most handsome housewife they’ll ever meet. (Haha It’s probably not true, I’m not that handsome but the joke plays well.)

I do “husband/guy stuff” like making sure the cars get in for service (I’m not so much of a “real” man that I can do it myself haha). I assemble toys and furniture (like the crib my soon-to-be-three-year-old never used). I lug stuff around…at least as much as my twice-operated-on back will allow.

But, I also do the laundry, careful to ensure darks with darks/whites with whites as well as the proper amounts of detergent, softener, and dryer sheets.

I clean toilets and polish fixtures. I dust and mop and vacuum every week. (Vacuums…a favorite topic of mine. I could write volumes so don’t get me started haha)

I do the shopping…some would say I’ve become a bit “extreme” in my coupon strategies.

If there’s a dish yo I’ll clean it…or at least put it in the dishwasher.

Balance the checkbook, pay the bills, stay on top of maintenance schedules for things around the house like those darn vacuums (yes folks, you do have to clean and vacuum your vacuums) HVAC components, the yard, trees, etc…all that stuff. Some of it is “man/husband” stuff but a lot of it is traditionally thought of as “mom/wife” stuff.

the whole world in my hands – Photograph by Ashley Newman Photography

More than anything however, the one thing that I am most proud, passionate, and unyielding about, is the relationship I have and want to continue building with my son.

I dote on him. I love shopping for his clothes. I massage him with baby lotion. (I love the smell of baby lotion and cologne) I enjoy dancing with him and turning myself into the most ridiculous sack of humanity ever just to get a giggle out of him. Bath time is party time.

He fascinates me. It has been a marvel to watch the way he has evolved from a tiny infant into a real person with a voice and a personality all his own. I love peeking around a corner to watch and listen as he talks in different voices for each dinosaur and dump truck as they carry on discussions about any given topic. His creativity is astounding and gives me boundless pride.

I am a father the way my father was before me. I don’t know any other way to do it, nor do I care to learn honestly.

While mothers are typically seen as the nurturing, kind-hearted, and doting of the two parents fathers, well…we have to teach our children to be strong and tough because the world is a dangerous and merciless place. I believe I can accomplish the latter by embodying the former.

I can’t be “that” dad who rules the house with an iron fist from a recliner. Why would I want to be? I don’t want to be the kind of father who sets demands and defines punishments instead of expectations and rationales. The latter can almost entirely erase the need for the former.

Now, I say that, not to tell anyone what kind of dad or parent they should be but to point out that the role I play is hardly the one that many of my peers, and perhaps many of you reading this, have come to understand a father to be. It is certainly not the kind of father I generally see depicted on television….other than the bumbling part. I am perhaps one of the clumsiest people you will ever meet. I fell through the ceiling once. I’m certain I’d fall through the floor if it were possible.

I’ve never, ever, assembled a piece of furniture without having to disassemble it at least once because I did something backwards.

So, anyway, haha…to my original point: why are these depictions of men not criticized for being unproductive and unhealthy? Why are men not more effectively and positively represented in mass media?

I think a great deal of that has to do with who the ads are targeted towards.

Men and fathers are still not the primary audience for commercials promoting baby diapers or other products. We aren’t the ones that marketing departments think about when they are putting together a campaign for household cleaners, laundry detergent, vacuum cleaners, and whatnot.

Watch the commercials. In many respects they would fit as nicely into a break from Leave it to Beaver as they do now.  They are typically Caucasian women (though as mentioned an increasing number of women of color) and often with a baby on their hip or playing nearby. These ladies pull the laundry out and smell the wonder that is spring air or lavender romance or whatever silly name they’ve attached to a product. They wear heels while vacuuming.

Now these commercials are often criticized as being unrelatable and unrealistic and for sure, they absolutely are.

I don’t wear heels when I vacuum. I wear sneakers or Dr. Martens, cargo shorts, and a toddler on my shoulders. I don’t smell the laundry because I don’t have time. I have a dozen other loads of laundry to get through, a roast in the oven, Alexa telling me my son’s chicken nuggets are ready, and oh my god why is the dog barking?!

And yet, just a quick glance through the personal products section of any given store provides a horrible insight into what companies think of men.

Action Blast! Adventure Advanced! EXTREME DRY!

Wait, what…Dark Temptation?! I’m not sure what’s going on there.

Again we see these notions of men being aggressive and dominant reaffirmed in something so simple as soap and personal hygiene products. I don’t want to smell extreme. The only adventures I go on involve coupons and fighting through hoards of crazed shoppers to get my detergent deal where I spend 50 cents per jug when regular price is 6.99….talk about EXTREME!

Through all this I began using Instagram.

I had an account but it lay fallow for year. When I founded a small promotions and record label (Cathedral Records) I began using my account a bit more to share photos of the studio, of artists I was helping to promote, of instruments, etc.

Then I started sharing photos of the food I cook. (I’m a passionate home chef). And of course, like any proud dad, the baby pics started to elbow their way in. Using Instagram and Facebook gave us a way to easily give my family and few friends the opportunity to sort of tag along as my son and I went through our days together. I’d never used a hashtag on Instagram but I had come up with one that I began slapping on my photos after seeing so many tags about motherhood: #FaceOfFatherhood.

The Face of Fatherhood isn’t always cute and giggly. haha

I thought it had a nice ring to it and summed up what I thought these photos of our adventures together were “saying”…if they were saying anything at all.

As the weeks and months and passed I began getting comments from friends and colleagues about how close my son and I are. How it’s so special to see a man so attached to his son. How it’s so obvious that he and I share a special bond.  I started to look at these selfies with different eyes and I began to realize that these photos were saying something. They were depicting something special.

Thus, I switched my Instagram to “public” and began using it more often. I was curious about this whole hashtag thing so I started adding different ones and all of the sudden I was greeted by an entire world of men modeling healthy, positive, and relatable images of what it is to be a father.

Stereotypes are being challenged with every “heart” and each one leads to another.

I’ve seen men of color, most often portrayed as these incarcerated dead beat dads, braiding their daughters’ hair and cuddling with their kids reading a book.

I’ve seen strong, well-built guys that would otherwise seem like some “dumb-jock” painting his adorable daughter’s tiny toe nails.

I’ve seen out-of-shape “every-guys” grinning like the proverbial cheshire cat as they toss their toddlers in the air.

One of my favorites is a gentleman with a big burly bearded chef who hunts and prepares these gorgeous meals. He has a gang of daughters who he photographs even more often than his meals and he can’t stop gushing over them. This big bad woodsmen just melts when his children are around.

Indeed the face of fatherhood takes many forms.

It is reassuring to see so many men sharing their experiences, their devotion, and their love. Something so simple as a selfie can say so much.

We are here and if no one else will tell our story, we will tell it ourselves. And if many won’t listen, it doesn’t matter, because our children are listening and they will tell their children, and eventually it will be The Story.

Keep it up dads. Our work is the only work that matters.

Until next time,

Be Well and Kind…and give your kids an extra tight hug today.

 

Jason

 

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