Photo: Reijo Rüster/Social Insurance Agency

It’s probably one of Sweden’s most beloved propaganda images: the Social Insurance Agency’s poster featuring weightlifter Lennart ”Hoa-Hoa” Dahlgren gently lifting a baby.

Sweden was the first in the world with a gender-neutral parental insurance.* That is, paid parental leave that wasn’t just available to mothers. However, in the year it was introduced, 1974, only 0.5% of parental leave was taken by men. By 1978, that number had crept up to 4.5%. Hence the push in the form of this inspirational image.

As a side note, it wasn’t Hoa-Hoa’s own baby. And he himself never took any parental leave. (However, the baby did, when it became a father.*)

If you’re Swedish, you’ve probably seen this picture many times before. But did you know that there’s also a film version of the campaign? I didn’t either, until @ingridamalia tipped me off!

It hasn’t aged as well as the poster.

Source: The Swedish Film Archive

The film starts with Hoa-Hoa strutting in a gigantic, square fur coat. Then he makes some kind of roided up raid on a preschool. Bellowing, he rushes into a room full of children and attacks them. They scream and overwhelm him. Hit him on the head with a stick that breaks. He contorts his face in grimaces. They scream with laughter. Finally, he throws a kid (probably not his either) over his shoulder and struts back home.

So this is supposedly how he picks up from preschool – every day. A tired toddler parent. 😅

It’s a gender cliché to portray fathers, or male preschool teachers, as playful uncle types. But it would be anachronistic to expect modern gender awareness from a campaign film from 1978. And remember: in 1978, only 4.5% of parental days were taken by men. So few even knew what a father on parental leave looked like.

That’s probably what makes the poster so timeless. That it’s so tender. Quiet. Soft. That it feels like a warm, fuzzy embrace.

1. Gender Equal Parental Leave Use in Sweden: The Success of the Reserved Months by Ann-Zofie Duvander and Sofie Cedstrand in Successful Public Policy in the Nordic: Cases, Lessons, Challenges, Oxford University Press, 2022
2. The Baby Has Had Its Own Baby, Anna Asker, SvD, 2005