Where Have All The Father's Day Ads Gone?

When a sponsored Twitter-tweet popped into my media place this morning reporting that “only 20% of dads think they are accurately depicted in the media,” I was like, heck to the yizzle, we’re not. Dads in ads are bumblers with bellies. They routinely get outsmarted by the kids. Most seem to be afflicted with some kind of degenerative neurological condition, one that prevents them from executing even the most basic of tasks (“do not allow the pets to engage in acts of emotional congress”). I can only assume that their spouses stick around due to the enormity of their inheritances, judging by the modernist luster of the kitchens in which they commit the bulk of their dumbassery.

I, on the other hand, am a turbodad. I sweep. I launder. I whip up salmonella-free dinners. Frankly, I’m less a dad than a finely calibrated parenting machine, one equally adept at dispensing hugs and keeping sharp gardening implements at least four inches out of reach.

That’s why, in the run-up to Father’s Day, I feel underappreciated. The marketing world tripped over itself to celebrate mothers a few short weeks ago - yet I do all sorts of quote-unquote “mom stuff” and nobody gives me a pre-holiday tap on the shoulder. Where are my corporate-stamped hashtags? Where’s #ThanksDad? Where’s #DadYouAreGoodAtGroceryShopping or #CarpoolDad?MoreLikeCarCOOLDad!? Why, I’m so aggrieved that I’m going to kick it modern-hippie-style and start lobbing techno-bombs. That’s right: I’m going to create an online petition. Power to the (dad) people! We shall overcoooommmme soooooooomeedaaaaaaaay! 

It ain’t right, and it stinks, and it ain’t right. So as I bravely embrace my newfound dadctivism, here are a pair of Father’s Day brand videos that embrace an alternate reality, one in which the banalities of everyday existence don’t intrude on gauzy, feel-good stereotypes of dad/child relationships or wink-wink Hollywood depictions thereof. 

Dove Men+Care’s “Real Dad Moments” video confuses minimal fatherly responsiveness with extraordinary heroics in the face of impossible situations, like transit poop. In the clip, we’re treated to sun-kissed images of dads and children playing in the pool and sharing a private moment at a wedding; we see kids calling on their dads when their shirts won’t stretch over their heads and when their cars die on the side of the road. Smiles are smiled. Embraces are embraced.

The problem is that these aren’t real dad moments as much as they are idealized ones, the sort long since co-opted by marketers and filmmakers and anyone else who sees us for the softies that we are. I’m still new at this parenting thing, but the “real” moments - the ones that forge more of a connection than a lazy afternoon spent fishin’ and gabbin’ ‘round the ol’ swimmin’ hole - are the small ones: the sly glances exchanged after dad white-lies Junior’s way out of a play date with an unliked schoolchum, or the grin-affirmed recognition of ingenuity when dad averts a footwear crisis using only his wits and duct tape.

By that definition, the sole real dad moment in “Real Dad Moments” is the two-second sequence in which dad slathers Junior with suntan lotion, a process about as straightforward as wrestling a squirrel into a form-fitting wetsuit. That’s real. Everything else in the clip is lovely and awwwwww!-inducing, but trite and reductive. 

Still, it’s a smarter and less lazy tactic than the one happened upon by Made Man, a site whose “Gentlemen Welcome” tag may well have been pinched from a down-market strip club. To honor dads, the site has assembled a handful of “Dads of Our Lives” videos in which fictional sons - the kids from “Breaking Bad,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Home Improvement” - salute their fictional dads. The please-please-please-launch-us-into-viral-orbit-otherwise-they’re-gonna-break-our-knees twist: the site has enlisted the actors who portrayed the sons to deliver the tributes. Thus the Doubtfire kid talks about confusion, the Bad boy talks about breakfast-delivery, etc. 

That’s all. There’s no real punchline or ingenuity, just a weak attempt to piggyback on much-loved fictions. I don’t know if these clips are designed to bolster the Made Man brand or to sell the tchotchkes advertised on the “For Fathers” page of the site. All I know is that any campaign which attempts to play the pathos of “Breaking Bad” for cheap giggles doesn’t deserve a whit of attention, much less breakfast in bed or the other usual Father’s Day spoils. It’s the viral-bait equivalent of a “World’s Best Dad” coffee mug purchased at Walgreens on Sunday morning at 11:30 a.m.

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