Fathers Count

Guest blogger and PPBB Community Member Eryk Woods shares with us his feelings on being a father and being marginalized by marketers and the media. Fathers and male mentors play a huge role in the lives of children but too often we see their contributions mocked or altogether forgotten. Today, we look at how marketing to parents needs to be more inclusive….and how that will shift perceptions of both motherhood and fatherhood for our kids. 

It’s mid November and my Christmas shopping has been done for a while now.  My almost seven-year-old is getting a couple of science sets and a computer of his very own. His main presents are hidden away in my closet but I’d still like to fill out the tree with a couple of ancillary gifts, so every now and then I’ll jump on Amazon to see if anything catches my eye.  That’s when I stumbled upon their holiday toy list.

Where is Amazon's lists of Dad-selected toys?

Where is Amazon’s lists of Dad-selected toys?

 

The list was divided into categories: Active Playtime, Wood & Recycled, STEM, etc.  But it was the category titled, “Mom Picks 2014” that made my heart sink.  I’m a dad.

Where is the “Dad Picks 2014” category? Of course, it’s not there, and sadly, I’m not surprised in the least.

This is the way dads are systematically excluded from parenthood, and retailers are a prime culprit. Try this: type www.amazon.com/mom into your browser.  You’ll find yourself at a page titled Amazon Mom, where you can get great deals on diapers, formula, baby shampoo, strollers, and all kinds of products for babies and kids.  There are categories here too: For Baby, For Kids, For Parents, and For Mom.  This last category is interesting, containing things like pregnancy books and diapers bags, things no dad will ever need, right?  Why would a dad ever need to know anything about pregnancy and childbirth?  That’s mom’s job!  I’ll be out in the waiting room passing out cigars.

Note that there’s no category “for dad,” even though Amazon’s own billing for Amazon Mom says, “Amazon Mom is open to anyone, whether you’re a mom, dad, grandparent or caretaker.”  THEN WHY IS IT CALLED AMAZON MOM?! Wouldn’t “Amazon Parents” work just as well?

Yes, yes, I know all the excuses by now and have heard them many times before.  “It’s just a clever name for marketing purposes.”  Or, “They’re just playing to their target demographic.”  Or, “Well moms still do most of the shopping these days.”  And sadly, those excuses are often true.  Stereotypes exist for a reason, but they’re nonetheless harmful.

I have been what you could call a “father’s rights activist” since the day I found out I was going to be a dad.  I distinctly remember shopping for a car seat, and reeling at the Graco box with the words, “Ask moms who know” printed on the side.  I remember feeling overwhelmed by my sudden awakening to just how anti-dad the world of parenting really was.  The word “mom” was plastered all over everything in the baby aisle.  I instantly noticed how absent dads were from cereal, diaper and laundry commercials.  Parenting magazine’s slogan, printed on the front of every issue, was, “What really matters to moms” and featured articles very much intended for women.

"Mom-tested” toy lists are obviously not new.

“Mom-tested” toy lists are obviously not new.

 

It all felt so disheartening.  I obviously didn’t belong in this world of parenting, and it would have been easy for me to “take the hint” and leave it all up to my wife, but no matter how frustrating it was, it was not going to stop me from being the dad I knew I could be, the dad that my absentee dad was not.

If there’s a silver lining to growing up without a father, it’s that he wasn’t there to teach me the wrong way to be a dad.  The kind of dad who passes the baby off to mom when there’s a diaper that needs changing.  The kind of dad who tells his friends that he can’t go for drinks tonight because he has to “babysit” his own kids.  The kind of dad who only sees his son’s Christmas gifts on Christmas morning when they’re unwrapped, because mom did all the shopping and wrapping and filled out the card, “From mom and dad.”

I have the confidence and convictions to be faced with a category called “Mom Picks 2014” and click on it anyway because I know that’s just marketing slang for “top trending toys.”  But how many dads out there will use this as an excuse to pass the job off to mom?  How many dads will see this and allow it to reinforce their existing beliefs that the shopping and the diaper changes and the doctor’s appointments and the parent-teacher conferences are not his job? None of that benefits moms, dads, or most importantly, children. 

I’ve had this discussion before, and this is the part where someone says, “But it’s his responsibility to be a good father!”  I agree, wholeheartedly!  It’s nobody’s responsibility but his own to be the father that his children deserve.  But does that mean we can’t make fatherhood more inviting?  Does that mean we can’t welcome him in and make him feel included?  Why can’t the target demographic for holiday toy list be all parents?  What is there to gain by deliberately leaving out dads?  We could argue that all the moms out there who are doing all the shopping for their kids can feel a bit of recognition for their hard work, but in truth, this exclusionism hurts mothers as well.  I heard it said that decades ago, men went to work and women raised the kids, and now men and women both go to work, and women raise the kids.  There’s a lot of truth to this.  We’re pushing hard to get women into the boardroom, but what are we doing to push men to be more involved at home and in their children’s lives?

Things are getting better.  Graco and Parenting Magazine have dropped their mom-centric slogans.  Commercials with dad competently pouring cereal and doing laundry are becoming more common.  But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that these changes happened organically.  They happened because people spoke out against the exclusion of fathers in all facets of parenting, including something as seemingly trivial as the name of a category on a holiday gift list.  Keep the momentum going!

Moms, we need your help!  You are our biggest allies in this fight.  Please, reach out to these marketing agencies and tell them that you don’t want to be pandered to at the expense of fathers.  And dads, don’t let yourself be convinced that you are anything less than half of a parenting team.  You’re not mom’s assistant and you’re certainly not a casual observer.  You are dad!  Don’t be anything less.

 

Eryk Woods is a single dad, a former Marine, and a current tech guy living in the great Northwest.

Boys Who Play With Dolls

I have never and won’t ever understand why people discourage their sons from playing with dolls, playing house, or being tender and affectionate. So many of these sons grow up to be fathers, a role where “tender and affectionate” is part of the job description.

This evening I fell asleep with my daughter while snuggling her at bedtime and woke up to the sounds of my son choking on his vomit as he tried to call my name while he was getting sick. I jumped off the top bunk, reached for my son and cleared his throat in time for him to continue throwing up all over me as I picked him up and raced him towards the bathroom. We collided with my husband who had come running from the kitchen because he heard the commotion while he was doing dishes.

I stayed with our little boy while my husband went into the bedroom to start stripping the bedding and take everything down to the washing machine. He scrubbed the mattress and carried it outside to air out. He then sat holding our son while I, and I’ll spare you the details, did damage control to the pillow, bed sheet, and stuffed animals that were hit the worst. We made a new bed for our little guy on the couch and my husband sat on the floor and stroked our son’s hair and quietly sang to him while I went upstairs to change my clothes.

I’m hugely grateful that my husband doesn’t see family life as having a male and female side. He doesn’t see dishes, laundry, and sick kids as “mom’s territory”, he sees it as “our territory”. He isn’t afraid to sing to our son and tell him he loves him and that it is okay to be sad when you throw up, especially when you throw up all over your stuffed puppy.

If a little boy were doing all of this while playing some would worry he might think he is a girl or that he might grow up to be gay. I’d argue back that there is nothing to worry about, the little boy will grow up to be a terrific father someday, should he so choose.

And I don’t see terrific fathers as anything to be scared of, do you?

In our family, being a father and uncle is celebrated.

In our family, being a father and uncle is celebrated.

Ben's 1st Bottle

If you love when your husband does this, why not let your son play at doing this?

E&L 027

This is my brother, teaching my brand new son how to be a man.

Tio Meets Ben

In my family, men show their love. That is what my son will learn about being a man.

There is some really important learning that takes place during doll play, and since all kids’ brains need to learn the same things my recommendation is to make sure the play center in your home or preschool that offers dolls, baby items, play kitchen, etc is open to all children rather than one gender.

This concept may not go over immediately in all families, and to those who feel boys playing with dolls is unnatural I want you to think about this: Being a father, if he so chooses, is the most important thing he will ever do with his life. When you allow your son to play with dolls (which is essentially family role play) you are allowing him to role play the people he values and looks up to the most in the world. One of those people is you. YOU. 

When you watch him play this way you get to see yourself through your son’s eyes. You will see what it is you model for him. And what you learn from that is how you will teach him to be a man. Allow him the space to act that out and process it, whether he is being a daddy to a doll/stuffed animal or leaping off your swing set as a super hero. Let him understand there are many ways to be a boy and man, caring for others is just one of those ways.

My kids would be missing out on so much if their father wasn't interested in being a "dad".

My kids would be missing out on so much if their father wasn’t interested in being a “dad”.