06/04/2014 05:10 pm ET Updated Aug 04, 2014

Lowe's and LG's Poor Portrayal of Dads Says We Still Have a Long, Long Way to Go

As we approach Father's Day and prepare to celebrate all that dads do for their children and families, I continue to be concerned about how our culture portrays dads. Two commercials by Lowe's and LG show that our culture still has a long, long way to go in portraying dads as competent parents.

The Lowe's commercial entitled "Valspar Reserve: Video Call" was, ironically enough, brought to my attention by a Canadian group of women and moms called Leading Women for Shared Parenting. Their president, Terry Brennan, was appalled when she saw the commercial and created a petition taking Lowe's to task for its portrayal of dads that was subsequently signed by the leaders of organizations (including me) in Canada and the U.S. and presented to Lowe's.

I'm all for humor. I like to laugh, especially at myself. I've seen a lot of commercials in my nearly 15 years with NFI that have used humor to portray fathers in less than a positive light. But this Lowe's commercial is one of the worst I've seen. I don't find it humorous -- not one bit.

The commercial is for Valspar Reserve Paints. A mom away from home on a business trip video chats with the dad of her children who, at the time of the chat, is in the kitchen with his three young children. The scene at home is an unmitigated disaster. The dad makes every attempt to conceal what has happened in the absence of the mom who, clearly, is the only competent parent in the home. As the petition points out, the commercial portrays the dad as:

  • An irresponsible, untrustworthy adolescent.
  • A sneak and liar.
  • Incapable of meeting his children's most basic needs or appropriately dealing with his children's behavior.
  • A manipulator of his wife and children.

The LG commercial entitled "Just Like Magic" is not one of the worst I've seen. Nevertheless, it's typical of the portrayal of dads by consumer brands as unintelligent parents who are, at best, caring but incompetent. (The more egregious commercials, such as the Lowe's-Valspar one, portray dads as dangerous and whose children need to be rescued by competent moms.)

The commercial opens with a mom watching her teenage son in front of a refrigerator full of food. Her son has a blank stare. He's clearly not all there. She wonders whether her son thinks that if he stares long enough into the refrigerator that food will suddenly appear -- the action of, let's face it, an idiot. She confidently walks over to the refrigerator and clicks on a button that opens a hidden compartment with more food. She then wonders from where her son gets that behavior. On cue the dads appears, opens the refrigerator, and, you guessed it, stares into the abyss with the same idiotic look as his son. (And he needs a shave to boot.) It seems that from LG's perspective, "life is good" for moms and children as long as dads don't screw things up. God forbid that this mom's son will continue to grow up to resemble his dad.

What these commercials have in common, beyond the obvious, is that they reflect the double standard that too many consumer brands apply when portraying women and men as parents. (Notable exceptions include Dove Men+Care and Home Depot -- sorry Lowe's.) They attempt to empower women (the clear targets of the commercials) by demeaning men. If you're a woman reading this post, do you want or need to be empowered by this means? Do you want your children to see dads (and, if you have sons, themselves by extension) as idiots and incapable of parenting? These brands would never in their wildest dreams create commercials that attempt to empower men by demeaning women. If they did, there would be such uproar from moms and dads that they'd have to run for the hills to avoid being stoned to death. (I'm being a bit melodramatic to make a vital point.)

Also troubling is the fact that these commercials reflect a cultural confusion about what to do with dads. It's almost as if we're unwilling to completely embrace the importance of fathers because we show them as present (a good thing) but incompetent (a bad thing). We need to get over this confusion so that we don't send dads mixed messages about their importance to their children and families.

As we celebrate Father's Day, my hope is that consumer brands -- a bellwether of cultural norms and values -- will be more sensitive to how they portray dads. I have no problem with them using humor as long as it doesn't reinforce an image of dads that is inaccurate and damaging. (It's remarkable how much damage these brands can do in just 30 seconds.) I hope they'll focus not only on celebrating dads around Father's Day, but also during the entire year. As we like to say at National Fatherhood Initiative, "Every day is Father's Day when you are somebody's dad."