The Cliché of the Hapless Dad - And Why It Needs To Die - MOTHEROFSNOT Guest post

The cliché of the hapless dad is everywhere. Turn on your TV and you’ll see ad after ad featuring a domestic product that’s so easy to use ‘even a dad could figure it out’. Wait, what? Even a dad? Aren’t dads the men running million dollar corporations? Aren't the dads the ones running entire countries? Aren’t the dads earning a living every day as engineers and brain surgeons and special unit bomb diffusers? But somehow we keep seeing this cliché of the useless dad, flummoxed at the concept of changing a nappy. It remains and repeats, or should I say, is regurgitated. And frankly, it gives us all a bad taste in our mouths.

I call fake news on this hapless dad cliche, and here are 5 reasons why it needs to go ahead and die...
There are a lot of men. Studies show maybe even up to 50% of humans may be men these days. It’s true, I did the research. It just doesn’t make sense to assume all men are this bumbling figure that advertising agencies rely on so much.

1. There’s a old saying that goes ‘you become your words’. What does it say about what we think of men when we allow this cliché to persist? When we allow it to represent a ‘normal’ dad?
This redundant stereotype needs to go ahead and shrivel up, so we can give some air time to all those other men. You know, the ones getting on with the job of raising their children. Otherwise known as parents! There’s actually quite a few of them!

2. When we say ‘even a dad can manage it’ what we’re saying is that Mom is clearly in charge.
By process of elimination, what job position does that leave for dads? Mom’s Assistant! Second in command. Definitely not running the show. That hapless dad cliché literally tells men it’s ok to aim lower. Don’t even try because you’re just not qualified to be the boss anyway.

Becoming a parent is daunting to say the least (or face-meltingly terrifying to be a little more accurate). But when we constantly hammer home the message that men just aren’t really up to the job, some potentially talented dads start to believe it. 
We need to send that cliché to go sleep with the fishes, because there are no ‘natural experts’. Everyone can (and is expected to) step up to the plate. We all learn by doing and damnit there’s a lot of work to do!

3. On the flip side, this cliché means the partner of a hapless dad automatically HAS to be in charge. They instinctively have to pick up the slack, and enjoy every minute of it too, right?
With about 17 million women worldwide suffering from postpartum depression every year, there’s more than a few moms who aren’t well enough to be in charge. There are also mums with glittering careers who would love baby-daddy to stay home. And in homes where both parents are bringing home a paycheck, there’s really no room for a parent who doesn’t know how to wield a wet-wipe.
As long as the trope of the useless dad persists, it tells everyone that it’s ok for the dad to expect a free pass on the important stuff in parenting. The cliché needs to go sit on a shit because it reinforces the assigning of roles and duties based on genitals. And frankly, that’s kind of dodgy criteria!

4. It’s 2019 apparently, and people are starting to get to grips with the fact that gender is a social construct. This trope of the hapless dad harks back to a time when families were (supposedly) made up of men and women. These days though, families and people come in all shapes and sizes. Two Moms. Two dads. Trans-parents, non-binary parents and all the wild and wonderful types of families in-between.

Pitching men and women against each other as the two binary opposite parents, excludes all these other fantastic types of families. And you know what? That’s just not cool. Having a penis does not disqualify you from knowing which way up to hold a baby. Having a vagina does not magically give you the inside track on it either.

This cliché needs to get in the bin because we’re living in a world when people are freer than ever to be their authentic selves. Redundant gender stereotypes forcing people into boxes? They’re just not invited to lunch anymore.

5. I’ve met men. Quite a few, And the ones I know well, my husband, my dad, my brothers, my male friends, they’re all fantastic, nappy changing, other-shoe-locating, tantrum-managing kinds of dads. Otherwise known as parents.

Maybe the kind of useless dad image was more common back in the olde days, but in the 21st century, moms are working outside the home and dads are working inside it too. This useless dad trope needs to go ahead and get hit by an articulated-lorry because to be perfectly honest, it just doesn’t represent dads these days.

It may still be true that the primary carer tends to be the mother. And when she works outside the home apparently she still does the lion’s share of the housework too. So we still have a long way to go in terms of true equality in that sense.

A great place to start though, is the sacrificial killing of this hapless dad cliché. From now on, let’s focus on representing real men, good men from the real world… and make way for some truly worthy role models for the future fathers of the world.


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