Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Changing the Narrative

Putting my resume together, going on interviews, and going back to work has made me reflect on my time with the National At-Home Dad Network.

While I hopefully participated in some part with all of our mission, which is summarized in the logo (Advocacy, Community, Education, & Support) Advocacy is where I choose to focus my energy.

Not every at-home dad thinks advocacy is something to be involved in. I believe in it. Not because what society thinks had a major impact on my daily life, but because I want to leave the world a little better for my kids.  And that means leaving society better as well.

We had some particular successes. 

On the 30th anniversary of the movie “Mr. Mom”, we ran a campaign to get the word Mr. Mom on the banned word list for that year.  And we were successful.

And when the Census Bureau came out with their report, “Who’s Minding the Kids?” and found out that the classify dads in the same category as grandparents or babysitters we started our Dad’s Don’t Babysit campaign.  It didn’t get the census to change the way they count parenting, but it was a message that resonated.

And while we certainly had a focus on at-home dads, the biggest realization was that changing the image of dads, all dads, was a step in advocating for at-home dads. And that meant fighting a narrative that was well established in society and in the media. That of the bumbling dad.  

It isn’t easy to change a narrative already ingrained in society. And unlike adding Mr. Mom to the banned word list, there is no set date to see success or failure. It is an ongoing challenge.

But the exciting thing is I got to see it change. It has changed. It isn’t gone, but that narrative is being replaced.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not claiming this was my success or the work solely of the National At-Home Dad Network. There were already dads fighting to change the image of dads. At times we were able to support other’s work. At times we were able to partner with them. And at times they supported us.

This isn’t about claiming the success, but celebrating the success. And being thankful to be able to play a role in that change. Thank you to all of those who have, and continue, to be part of changing the narrative. Thank you to those at the National At-Home Dad Network that allowed me to have a role in that advocacy.

Here are the lessons I learned along the way:


Changing an existing narrative is a big job, and you can’t do it alone.  Find allies you can support, work with, and who will support you. And think outside the box as you look for them.  Think of groups that will benefit from the changing narrative. Think of those who the narrative negatively impacts. 


You are going to get opposition. Many people have lived with the narrative for a long time and they are not eager to change.  As hard as it may be, listen to them.  Find out what it is about the narrative that appeals to them. Don’t start out on defense. People want to be heard and we often spend too much time thinking about what we are going to say next rather than hearing what the other person is saying.  If you are going to change the narrative you need to understand what it is that make people embrace it so you can create strategies to change it.


You want the narrative to change, and you want it to change now. But that isn’t how it works. It is going to take a lot of work and a lot of time. If you are in it just to make the world better for you it probably isn’t work for you. But if you want to make society better for other people, for your kids and those behind you then it is a worthwhile endeavor.  


Yes, facts matter. But when you are looking to change a narrative you need other narratives to replace it.  You need stories. Stories connect to people in a human way that facts don’t.  So gather stories.  Get good at telling those stories. Make sure those stories are supported by facts, but you still need good stories.


Especially online, people are going to get nasty. But if you get into the muck with them you aren’t going to advance your goal. I was willing to engage with anyone in a mature discussion, no matter what their opinions were, but when they start getting into name calling and such going to that level with them doesn’t help. Remember, there are other people watching/listening. It is hard to just turn away when someone starts down that road. But don’t go with them. 


At the end of the day you won’t convince everyone. That is just the way it is. No matter the facts, or how good your story some people will cling to the old narrative. You need to be OK with that. And know that sometimes it isn’t about getting people to your point of view, but moving them slightly on the spectrum. Opening their mind. 

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