My son and I were discussing this one over supper tonight. We have of course noticed how hard it is to get through an advert break without seeing fathers represented as incompetent buffoons. That they can't load a washing machine or sew a button goes without saying. They also have a distressing tendency to dip their tie in the cheese sauce, break windows when showing off their football skills in the garden, embarrass their children by disco-dancing, etc. And while they boast vaingloriously about their prowess we find that their omnicompetent wives are simply getting on with it, quietly and efficiently - but above all smugly, with perhaps just the odd heavenward glance indicative of amused exasperation. Can these paunchy poltroons really be related to the square-jawed wielders of Gillette razors with whom they share the ad breaks, and from whose necks women dangle like so many ribbons from a maypole?
Okay, most of the products being advertised are bought by women, I guess, which might explain much of the above. But such dads are legion in family sitcoms, too, from My Family to The Simpsons. What I really want to know, and couldn't answer tonight, is - when did this particular version of fatherhood first gain widespread currency? Is it since World War II, say? I couldn't think of any earlier examples. Authoritarian fathers, absent fathers, emotionally unavailable or violent fathers - yes, of course. Fathers might even be ineffectual in various different ways, for example finding it hard to keep down a job - but could this particular combination of buffoon and braggart be a modern invention?