– Netmums survey reveals growing alarm at TV depiction of fathers.

– Characters like Daddy Pig and Homer Simpson give dads a bad name.

– But good dads exist – and are essential to their children’s development.

Father’s Day is approaching. A time to celebrate the huge contribution made to family life by the nation’s dads.

A special moment of the year to say thanks for all the sacrifices made, for the hard work, for the long hours of parenthood freely given but rarely acknowledged. An opportunity to salute the simple, quiet nobility of being a father. 

Or to put it another way. To run the dad-flag up the dad-pole in the kingdom of dad-dom. Somebody’s got to do it! 

For somehow, in both big and small ways, in unwitting behaviours that corrode society, fathers and fatherhood have become a laughing stock.

In a new study, parents have criticised what is being labelled as Homer Simpson Syndrome; the endless casual contempt shown to fathers depicted on television programmes and in advertising, particularly in the messages and entertainment aimed at children.

A Netmums survey released this week revealed growing dissatisfaction and alarm at the way fathers are routinely portrayed as bungling fools and worse. 

The report singled out Peppa Pig’s unshaven, overweight and hopeless father, Daddy Pig; bad role model Fred Flintstone of the Bedrock community; and of course perennial loser Homer Simpson as particularly damaging to children’s perception of fatherhood.

One can see their point. Daddy Pig is called fat by his daughter. He cannot read without his glasses and cannot map read at all. Idiot! On a trip to the supermarket, he defies perfect, health-conscious Mummy Pig by sneaking a chocolate cake into the trolley. Oink, oink!

When Daddy takes them to his office, the kids are not impressed by his job. There are even moments when Peppa seems to favour her little brother George over her daddy. 

Meanwhile, The Flintstones’ Fred Flintstone deludes himself that it is he, not wife Wilma, who is king of the family cave. He loses his temper easily, loves lounging around the cave in his underpants and has a gambling problem.

Homer Simpson. Where do we start?  Homer has many failings, but is generally depicted as a dad who has the brainpower of a gnat. He also eats too many doughnuts, drinks too many beers and is generally a bad influence on his kids.

Yes, of course it is only meant as fun, with scriptwriters wringing out every last laugh from a juicy comic stereotype – but millions and millions of children watch and absorb these calamity dad-escapades without having the sophistication or the ability to contextualise these imaginary adventures. And not everyone can see the joke.

An overwhelming 93 per cent of mums and dads who took part in the Netmums poll said that the way fathers appear on television, as well as in books and on adverts, bears no relation to their real-life contribution to family life.

More than half agreed society was becoming ‘more appreciative of how important a dad’s role is’ and that fathers are ‘much closer to their kids than in the past’. 

Nine in ten dads said they felt they were working harder than their own fathers to be a good parent. Two-thirds said they were proud to work harder to support their family and a similar proportion are ‘happier and more settled’ than before they had children.

Despite all their efforts, however, dads have to sit back and watch themselves being endlessly lampooned on television as not much more than lazy sperm donors. Half of them complained that too many families on television were either shown with feckless fathers – or with no father figures in sight at all. 

The insidious message that men are witless and pointless, mere playthings to be stamped on by the entire family is broadcast over and over again.

This seems not only unfair, but quite extraordinary. At a time when there is a real need for strong, male role models, fathers are undermined to such an extent that they are often regarded as amusing appendages of no real use to the family. Perhaps even as a luxury – or a hindrance – that mum can do without. 

Is this just a harmless jest? Or a form of discrimination and on-screen bullying that mothers would not accept – not for one minute! – if it was routinely applied to them.

To be fair, at least Daddy Pig, Fred Flintstone and Homer have some virtues. Despite their faults, they are all loving fathers and faithful husbands. 

They all have jobs, too. And whether at the architect’s office, the Slate Rock And Gravel Company or the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, they are family providers who – literally in one case – bring home the bacon. They might be a few rashers short every week, but they are trying their best. 

Yet their ineptitude is unrelenting. At home it is always the mother figure – long-suffering Mummy Pig, Wilma or Marge – who gallop to the rescue to fix everything he messes up. The more this image takes hold, the more the role of the father in the family unit is marginalised and the more hurtful this will be to society. 

For academic studies repeatedly show that children with involved fathers do far better at school, have a much lower chance of getting involved in crime and have better mental health. 

So shouldn’t we be celebrating and encouraging what dads do, instead of mocking them as useless twits who can’t change a nappy, mop a floor or unload the dishwasher without causing a tsunami of chaos? 

Useless dads are not confined to the simple storylines of children’s television, either.

Telly adverts must shoulder their share of the blame. We’re all familiar with the annual Christmas advertising campaigns – the ones from Boots in particular – that depict mothers as the only members of the family who are competent and organised enough to arrange the festivities, right down to the Sellotape and the stuffing.  

Few adverts show fathers in charge of the home front, keeping calm and carrying on. Sometimes it gets too much. 

Last year, a group of fathers in America forced Huggies to withdraw a campaign for their disposable nappies. The dads were outraged at being depicted as ‘clueless’ or too busy watching football to check their babies. It was the dads, not the nappies, who were being put on trial.

There is no escape from the bad dad. Television sit-coms on both sides of the Atlantic are stuffed with men behaving badly.

In My Family, one of the longest running series on the BBC, grumpy, hapless Ben (Robert Lindsay) was bossed about by his wife (Zoe Wanamaker), regularly fleeced for money by his kids and always outfoxed in his perennial bid to relax on the sofa at home. 

Outnumbered shows dad Pete outsmarted by his three kids, while Shameless father-of-six Frank Gallagher is an ex-convict unemployed alcoholic prone to drunken rants.

Modern Family’s Phil Dunphy is always leading his family straight towards the jaws of calamity (‘What’s the plan, Phil?’) while shows such as Malcolm In The Middle and Everybody Loves Raymond also feature dads of spectacular incompetence. 

Meanwhile, who is the doofus under the roofus of Downton Abbey? Need you ask. 

Adrift amongst a family of strong, powerful and scheming woman, it is daffy Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) who is hapless enough to have lost the family fortune, snogged the maid in a cupboard and is unable to put a jacket on or brush the dandruff off his shoulders without help.

All is not fair with dads on the family front. The point is, many of the jokes aimed at fathers would be banned if they were aimed at women, ethnic minorities or religious groups. 

It seems hardly just; particularly as so many dads are devoted, hardworking and would do anything for their families. 

Back in the Fifties, fathers were always the authority figure, the head of the tribe. In comparison, today’s dads are demonised and sidelined just too much – yes, even you, Homer Simpson. 

And particularly on Father’s Day, their day of days, can they expect to be properly honoured instead of being treated as an under-appreciated resource in the family, rather like a hat stand in the hallway during summer? 

Yes they can. Because industry statistics show that it is mothers who usually purchase gifts and cards on behalf of the children. D’oh!


By Jan Moir

Source: Daily Mail – http://goo.gl/iCO7b