by Jim Coulson
Dad la Soul
If you only ever watched sitcoms from the 1970s, you would not only be disappointed by the lack of oranges and browns in 21st century home decor, but you would also have a very particular view of dads.
You know the sort – straight home from work, slouched in an armchair, pipe on the go, paper in hand, ignoring the kids and demanding his dinner on the table from the wife. Of course, sitcoms shouldn’t really be our yardstick for historical accuracy, but this is a stereotype of dads that, in some minds, still sticks.
Dads are still edged out of parenting in the eyes of society. Whether it is the range of food that has been ‘approved by mums,’ as if that gives it some higher authority than anything dads would give the green light to, the advert for cream cheese that shows incompetant fathers unable to keep track of their own babies or poor old Daddy Pig from Peppa Pig who seems incapable of performing even the most basic of domestic functions. So often popular culture falls back on the idea that fathers are useless in the home and only fit to be the breadwinner.
You see it in comments from strangers to dads out with their children, congratulating them for “giving mum a day off,” or those Facebook videos entitled ‘when dad is left alone with the kids’ followed by tedious, sub-You’ve Been Framed-standard footage of children falling over.
Just consider the idea that dads shouldn’t be left alone with their own kids. Just think about what that message says to others about the status of dads.
Of course, this isn’t the reality with most dads. You will probably know a whole host of dads who are interested, engaged and fully involved with their children. So why doesn’t this factor into our thinking more often? Why do we still advertise ‘mum and baby groups’ when they are actually open to anyone with an infant? Why do some establishments still only have changing tables in the ladies’ toilets? Why are men still eyed with suspicion when they hang out by a park on a Saturday morning, as if they couldn’t possibly be there with their own children?
There are around six million dads in the UK with dependent children, according to the Office of National Statistics, and research by Dad la Soul found that 73% of them admitted to being lonely. In addition, 76.2% say they felt left out of family life. With 96 men under the age of 45 lost to suicide every week, it is time we addressed these issues. It is time to talk.
Talking is not something men traditionally do. Well, talking about mental health, that is. Because the real damage of these ‘hilarious’ silly dad characters you see everywhere is that they compound the prejudices that society already has. Men are seen as having no emotional depth; they are told to be strong, to not be emotional, to hold in their feelings, to be stoic, to not complain. But that is not healthy.
Dads need to be seen as equal partners, they need to be respected as parents, they need places to meet other dads and talk about feelings, not football. Well, okay, feelings and football, if they wish.
Facebook video makers, advertising executives and television producers have a duty to represent fatherhood as it is, not how it was in the 1970s. Although, those browns and oranges are surely due a comeback.
Do it for dads. Do it for the good of families. Do it for Daddy Pig.
Dad la Soul battles social isolation using play, music, craft and the arts, with playdates for dads and their children in Worthing, Chichester and online.
Find out more at www.dadlasoul.com