A Turning Point In The Fatherhood Revolution

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After a tasteless ad campaign in which dads were portrayed as helpless when it comes to childcare, Huggies’ facebook page was inundated with outraged consumers. That response and subsequent revamping of the ads marked a turning point in the Fatherhood Revolution, which has been building steam over the last two decades, says Al Watts.

Dads have been the butt of a lot of jokes over the last 30 years. Al Bundy. Tim Taylor. Three Men and a Baby. Mr. Mom. Leave a baby alone with a dad and hilarity ensues.

The thing is, in 2012, dads aren’t laughing anymore.

Last month, Huggies diapers put together an ad campaign that asked consumers to: “Nominate a dad. Hand him some (Huggies) diapers and wipes and watch the fun! Tell us how it went on Facebook!” The campaign also included TV commercials that said, in part, “To prove Huggies diapers and wipes can handle anything, we put them to the toughest test imaginable: Dads, alone with their babies…”

The response on their Facebook page was immediate. And harsh.

Dads, including me, criticized Huggies for reinforcing a negative stereotype about men as incompetent and inept fathers. One dad, Chris Routly of DaddyDoctrines, started an online petition which quickly garnered over 1,200 signatures. Huggies’ initial response was that the ads were designed to “celebrate fatherhood.” I countered on a piece on The Good Men Project, “This is not how to ‘celebrate fatherhood…’ This is how you perpetuate the stereotype that dads are screw-ups and moms, or leak-proof diapers, need to save them. The only thing dads need to be saved from is ad campaigns like this.”

After two weeks, and a never-ending flood of negative responses to the ad campaign, Huggies chose to change it. The ad campaign now goes, “Have a Dad Put Huggies to the Test,” and the TV commercial explains: “To prove Huggies diapers can handle anything, we asked real dads to put them to the test with their own babies…” Now the test is the diaper, not the dad.

Some supporters of the original Huggies campaign have come out to say that our response is just political correctness run amok. The original ads were just a joke, they say. We dads should just “man up.” Or, said another way, men should just stay in their place as working stiffs and not expand the definition of masculinity.

This thinking is spectacularly unfair to both men and women. But it’s also way too late.

For about 20 years, there has been a fatherhood revolution brewing. As women became more involved in the workforce, dads became more involved with child care. According to an article in Time last year, men now average 53 minutes per day on childcare, while women average only 17 minutes more. Some would argue this happened only out of necessity, but I disagree. Many women make significant contributions to household income (35% make more than their husbands, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). This has caused men to consider options other than full-time work, options they have never had before in history. Many of these dads decreased their hours at work or, like me, quit the workforce altogether. And they did it because they wanted to, not because they had to.

The stereotype Huggies presented in its original ad campaign simply didn’t fit with this new reality. Dads and moms began to speak out about it. By overwhelming Huggies’ Facebook page and the blogosphere, they forced the company to rethink their approach and to ultimately change their ads.

It marked a turning point in the fatherhood revolution.

For the first time, an ad campaign that ridiculed fathers was altered. A major brand name acknowledged that it needed to “do a better job of communicating the campaign’s message,” which, as Erik Seidel, the VP of the Huggies Brand, explained to me, was meant to celebrate fatherhood. The public realized dads don’t appreciate the assumption that they can’t handle their babies alone.

A lot more will need to happen to complete the transformation of fathers. More dads will need to get involved with their kids. The dads that are involved will need to continue to stand up against stereotypes that no longer apply.

But we have clearly entered a new phase of the fatherhood revolution. One in which fatherhood may again be respected. One in which fathers will be seen as equal parents. One in which men are not told to “man up” and to take a joke about their perceived ineptitude, but are applauded for their efforts to encourage more men to be the dads they want to be.

The fight against the Huggies campaign was the first step in what I believe will soon be a completely new view of what it means to be a dad.

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Along with accomplished parenting author, Hogan Hilling, I am co-editing a book of stories that chronicle this fatherhood revolution. We invite you to submit your story at our website, www.dadsbehavingdadly.com.

Al Watts is a nine-year veteran at-home dad to four children ages 9, 7, 5 and 3 in Omaha, Nebraska. He is the President of Daddyshome, Inc – The National At-Home Dad Network whose mission is to provide support, education and advocacy for fathers who are the primary caregivers of their children. Al writes regularly for Momaha.com, GoodMenProject.com, and RoleReboot.org and is co-editing a book project titled “Dads Behaving Dadly: Chronicles of the Fatherhood Revolution.”

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