It’s not easy being a dad these days.
Everywhere you look there are references to the “Dad Bod” or “Dad Jokes.” Watch a commercial or sitcom and dad is the idiot who can’t figure out anything, then stands there smiling sheepishly as some snot-nosed kid or smug wife shows him how to screw in a light bulb or properly spread mustard on his sandwich.
The days of “Father Knows Best” are long gone. In all the ‘50s sitcoms everyone expected Dad to be able to fix all of their problems. Often good ol’ Dad would let everyone struggle a bit, then walk in like Solomon and make everything right with a couple of sentences or the turn of a wrench. Yeah, that was probably more reverence than we dads deserve, but now it’s swung back too far the other way.
These days a dad’s slightest flaws are harped upon mercilessly. Let’s take the whole “Dad Bod” concept, for instance.
The Urban Dictionary defines “Dad Bod” as “a male body type that is best described as ‘softly round.’ It’s built upon the theory that once a man has found a mate and fathered a child, he doesn’t need to worry about maintaining a sculpted physique.”
I goes on to be a bit more insultingly specific:
“If human bodies were cuts of meat, the Dad Bod would skew more to marbled rib eye than filet mignon; or, if human bodies were sea mammals, Dad Bod would be more like a grazing manatee than a speedy dolphin. The Dad Bod is more mudslide than mountain, more soft serve than sorbet, more sad trombone than clarinet, more mashed potato than skinny fry. The Dad Bod is built for comfort.”
This explanation is particularly galling to me since my daughter has taken to calling me “beluga” all the time. I’m assuming this is more about the pudgy white whale than the fancy caviar.
So the Dad Bod is just another way of calling your father “fat.” But let’s examine how Dad got his “bod,” shall we? Perhaps there’s more behind all of this than Dad just getting lazy now that he has his “mate” and “brood.”
First, the expectation that people in general should all have washboard stomachs is one foisted upon us by Hollywood and actors like “The Rock,” those two Ryan guys and Marky Mark, all of whom must have it written into their contracts that they will be shirtless for at least half of any movie in which they appear. I personally like to think many of us dads have washboard stomachs fit for more delicate clothing. You’re not going to wash your silk nighty on some hard, scratchy Marky Mark stomach. No, you’re going to look for something a little more rounded and less likely to create damage, something that works with your fabric softener — like a “mature washboard.”
But let’s say Dad has progressed a bit beyond even that into the “Dunlop Stage” — as in his pants dun lopped over his belt! Ha,ha! (We’ll get to dad jokes next.) There are reasons wholly outside of Dad’s control this might have happened. Cynical children brought up in an age where everyone is supposed to be “ripped” until their mid-80s might point to Dad’s fondness for beer and wings as one cause of his need to buy bigger pants and more billowing shirts.
BUT, the root causes of Dad’s beer and chicken intake are probably not at all born of a lack of willpower, gluttony or alcoholism, but rather necessitated by the rigors of his day-to-day life making money for the family so it can be spent on frivolous things. While this type of self-medication might not be the healthiest way to handle simmering resentments, Dad has work to do and doesn’t have time to hang around on a therapist’s couch staring at a navel that is surrounded by a perfect six-pack.
Also, having children around — especially teenage children — means lots and lots of food Dad might not otherwise eat ends up in the house. Is Dad supposed to bond with the family eating a yogurt cup while the kids chow down on pizza? So kids, when you see Dad’s gut realize it was built through love and personal sacrifice.
The other one I keep hearing from my teenage kids is complaints about “Dad Jokes.” Let’s go back to Urban Dictionary. It defines “Dad Joke” as “an embarrassingly bad joke. Often demonstrated during wedding or 18th/21st birthday speeches.” It offers this rather lame example of a Dad Joke.
Situation: You’ve just had a haircut. “Dad Joke: What happened to you, son? Had a run-in with a lawn mower?!”
First of all, that’s a grandpa joke, so I’m not sure the example really works. But there are basic conceptual issues with the whole idea of Dad Jokes.
Dad is in a bad place when it comes to humor. If we dads told the kinds of jokes to the kids, wife and extended family that we might to our other dad friends, the definition of “Dad Joke” might be quite different. Of course, if the kids went to school and repeated those jokes, Dad would be in hot water.
Corny jokes are really about the only realm of humor left to Dad. You can’t tell dirty or profane jokes to the kids or their friends, and without any jokes you end up being a “lame dad.” The pressure is on for Dad to be clever without being embarrassing. That’s a mighty thin line.
If Dad devolves into knock-knock jokes, yes, ridicule is deserved, but a little bit of corn isn’t going to hurt anyone and it beats Dad telling your new boyfriend a hooker joke.
So this Father’s Day, cut Dad a little slack. Let him swim without making whale noises or commenting when he has that third burger. Tolerate the corny jokes knowing Dad may actually have some pretty good zingers he’s holding back so he doesn’t get a frying pan upside the head.
And for goodness’ sake, go get the guy a cold beer and say thanks for being there for you, and tell him he doesn’t remind you one bit of a grazing manatee.