This Year’s Super Bowl Ads Redefined Fatherhood And Manhood

Sure, we got the hot girl eating a burger and Kim Kardashian selfies, but these “dad ads” were what really struck a chord.

Every year around the Super Bowl, there’s a lot of talk about the teams, the snacks, the betting pools, and the halftime show. One of the biggest dialogues though, both during the game and in the days following, are the ads—the sexiest, the funniest, the most controversial. It’s one of the few days of the year that people actually sit and watch the commercials, which is why NBC is able to charge around $4.5 million for 30 seconds of airtime. Sponsors have the undivided attention of over 100 million sports fans, as well as the friends who just stopped by for the queso and beer. We’re listening.

So I was particularly struck yesterday by the fact that several companies chose to spend their astronomical airtime tugging at the heartstrings, yes with a lost puppy and a crew of Clydesdales, but also, by celebrating fatherhood.

It’s no secret that the NFL has been plagued by bad press this season, as they turned a blind eye, or tried to shrug off, domestic abuse and violence among their players. Oh, and the fact that one of the teams who actually played in the Super Bowl—and won—might have cheated in order to get there? That’s not so cool either. Professional athletes are often our heroes, role models to young kids, and idols to grown men. What kind of statement are we making if we let our heroes get away with violent, criminal, or just morally corrupt behavior?

Yep, the NFL has an image problem, and one that some sponsors, understandably, have been afraid to go anywhere near. Still others seemed to have seen an opportunity to actually speak to males in this country, sending them a positive message about what it really means to be a man.

In the Dove Men + Care “Real Strength” ad, a baby babbles “Dada,” children are leaping into their fathers’ arms, squealing as they’re swung through the air. They call to Daddy from the playground, from the swimming pool, even from the potty, and the dads come running. A teenage boy shrugs off a kiss from his dad, a woman emotionally looks into her father’s eyes on her wedding day, another woman falls into dad’s arm in tears. And those of us watching from our couches couldn’t seem to hold back the tears either. The good dads recognized themselves. Those without kids may have recognized their own fathers or the kind of dads they someday aspire to be. At the end, a simple message appears on screen: What makes a man stronger? Showing that he cares.

Along the same lines, Nissan told its own father-son tale, with an ad that played almost like a mini-film. A racecar driver is there as his wife gives birth to their baby, and we watch the special moments he shares with his son—as well as the milestones he doesn’t get to see while he’s racing. As “Cat’s in the Cradle” plays in the background, we see how the father grapples with what he’s missing at home, despite the excitement and success of his dangerous career.

And finally, there was Toyota, which gave us “My Bold Dad,” in which a father, driving with his daughter, flashes back to happy memories, an omniscient voice reminding us that being a dad is a choice—to be there for them, to show them right from wrong, to get hurt rather than to hurt. As he drops off his daughter at the airport, we realize that she’s joining the military, and watch as the father, through tears, gives her a reassuring smile to send her off. (Earlier this week, Toyota released a 3-minute clip, in which pro football players like LaVar Arrington and Kurt Warner talk about the joy and responsibility of being a dad, also explaining that it’s a choice to be present, loving, and involved.)

I’ve got to say that I’m so impressed that this is where our Super Bowl ads took us yesterday. I’m impressed that, with millions of men watching, the largest male audience of the year, sponsors felt compelled to send an uplifting, positive message. They saw a need to redefine masculinity for the American male. No, it’s not about being tough and hard and cold. It’s about being kind and loving, but also about stepping up and accepting your responsibilities. The men in these ads are the guys you want to be, if you’re not already.

When watching football, it’s a little hard to ignore the elephant in the room, the dark cloud plaguing what’s already a fairly rough sport. In the midst of that though, these sponsors are whispering, “Hey, we’re the good guys. Let’s be the good guys.”

And a great father is the real hero, who catches his kids when they fall, kisses boo-boo’s, and is their shoulder to cry on. He makes lunches and does hair, ditches work to catch a dance recital or a soccer game. He doles out life lessons, shares his pride (often more with friends than with you), and even lets you see him cry sometimes. The good ones, with their open arms and open hearts, are who are our young boys model themselves after really—it’s not the pro athletes. Nor should it be.

If these Super Bowl ads are a measure of where we’re at now, if these ads have the power to guide societal trends, then maybe we’re on the right track. Sure, we got the hot girl eating a burger and Kim Kardashian selfies, but these “dad ads” were what really struck a chord. Because finally, we’re talking about what it means to be a good man, and it’s about damn time.

Jennifer Benjamin is an LA-based freelance writer and editor with over thirteen years of experience writing for national magazines and websites like Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, SELF, Parents Magazine, The Stir and Daily Glow. More important, she’s a Mommy to identical twin boys, as well as an avid cook, a terrible housewife, and a loungewear enthusiast. Find her on Twitter @JennyBenjamin or Facebook.

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