- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2008

Fathers sleep a lot, and they snore loudly. When they’re awake, they like to fish or golf, but they’re comically bad at both. They drink so much beer they’re practically alcoholics, and they’re complete couch potatoes, always watching television and hogging the remote.

At least, that’s the less-than-favorable image of dads on Father’s Day greeting cards. It’s a striking contrast to the poetic praise often expressed for Mother’s Day. Many men say they are tired of the “put-down” cards and would like some affirmation for a change - and at least one greeting-card company is listening.

One father in the District who used to stay home with his children and blog about his life as an at-home father says the golf and fishing cards don’t bother him, but he doesn’t like the ones that make dads look incompetent.

“This idea that men are somehow biologically incapable of caring for their children is the sort of thing that I don’t find particularly funny,” says Brian Reid, father of two.

Not only greeting cards, but television and movies often convey the idea that dad is unreliable with every parental duty from changing a diaper to picking up the children at school, he says.

Greeting cards can be a good litmus test for the way society perceives various relationships and people. Companies want to sell cards, so they aim to hit a spark of truth, but generalizing to reach people can lead to stereotypes that get perpetuated and take on lives of their own.

In an age when about 159,000 dads stay home with their children, according to 2006 census numbers, it’s hardly accurate to say dads don’t know what they’re doing.

One Hallmark card at a Stop & Shop this season shows a cartoon depiction of “When dads pack lunches.” In the picture, some children are eating lunch together, and one says, “Looks like I got a peanut butter and salami sandwich and a can of WD-40.”

There you go: the stereotypical incompetent (and tool-obsessed) father.

Our culture, however, might be headed away from that and offering credit to both units in the parental pack. Hallmark says it is offering more positive cards this year.

“Men have told us they would like to feel a little more appreciated,” says spokeswoman Deidre Parkes. “That doesn’t mean you can’t give your dad a funny Father’s Day card, but it can be maybe complimentary humor rather than a negative card.”

Mr. Reid calls making fun of incompetent fathers “this comic idea that’s run its course.” He mentions a 2005 NBC show that bombed called “Meet Mr. Mom.” The reality series depicted how a family dealt with the mother going away when the father was left alone with the children.

Mr. Reid says it didn’t work because it wasn’t particularly funny, extraordinary or otherwise television-worthy to see dads spending time with and taking care of their children. It’s nothing new these days.

Men who have children are getting tired of the often negative media portrayal of fathers, some say.

“They’re either dumb, dangerous or disaffected,” says Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit group based in Gaithersburg.

Though absentee fatherhood is still a very large issue, the dads who are involved tend to be more committed and take a more hands-on approach than they might have experienced with their own fathers while growing up, Mr. Warren says.

Fathers increasingly want to see the value of their role reflected in the media, he says.

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