Clearly, this is not a prime example of a father. On the contrary, he appears to be the family disappointment.
I’ve seen this image before in history books, and I’d always assumed it was an American piece of propaganda. It is in fact British.
Designed in 1915 by the print artist Savile Lumley and mass produced by the British Parliamentary Recruitment Committee, it was intended to encourage men to enlist. Before conscription became law in 1916, the British government relied primarily on propaganda like this to up recruitment numbers.
One can imagine the scene. Presumably the girl has just learned about the Great War in school. Intrigued by the stories her teacher tells and the pictures she sees in her schoolbook, she innocently inquires, “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?” in the way that children do, having no prior reason to believe that her father ISN’T in fact the great hero of World War I.
I think the poster captures the awkward moment between her question and his answer—the moment he realizes he has nothing to say.
It certainly inspires a sense of patriotic guilt and tugs at the emotions. No dad wants to be THAT dad.
Interestingly enough, though, the poster turns out to be based on a real-life THAT dad. The idea for the poster was actually that of a printer, Arthur Gunn, who reportedly imagined himself as the father in question. His son, Paul, later revealed the poster’s beginnings:
“One night my father came home very worried about the war situation and discussed with my mother whether he should volunteer. He happened to come in to where I was asleep and quite casually said to my mother, If I don’t join the forces whatever will I say to Paul if he turns round to me and says, What did you do in the Great War, Daddy? He suddenly turned round to my mother and said that would make a marvelous slogan for a recruiting poster. He shot off to see one of his pet artists, Savile Lumley, had a sketch drawn straight away, based on the theme projected about five years hence, although by the time it had taken shape the questioner had become one of my sisters.” –Paul Gunn
Gunn soon after joined the Westminster Volunteers to ensure he wouldn’t remain THAT dad.