Why Is ‘Dad’ Always A Synonym For Being Uncool? A Short Investigation

Every advert with a dad in it shows the dad getting something wrong.

It’s unfair to say fathers get a bad rap. Being a dad is definitely easier than being a mum – and a lot of dads are rubbish. But sticking the word ‘dad’ before something is pretty much sticking the word ‘shit’ before it, which does seem a bit unfair. “Dad jeans” is just another way of saying “awful, really really terrible jeans, the worst jeans in the world”, isn’t it?

Every advert with a dad in it shows the dad getting something wrong. Sitcom dads are generally some combination of incompetent, out of shape, alcoholic, lascivious or childish. Occasionally a dad on a show will be nice, vaguely competent or a bit sexy, but they’ll never be cool. Dads just aren’t.

I had a head start in this, as I was a massive dork decades before becoming a father, but I am seriously, seriously uncool now. I’m out of every loops there is, I go to bed at 10 o’clock and I frequently look like I got dressed in the dark, due to sometimes getting dressed in the dark. I have a really tiny Swiss army knife on my keys. It has a biro on it. It’s tragic.

nadia_bormotova via Getty Images

There’s an element of “I don’t have to impress anybody” about dad-lameness that’s to be celebrated – so much of life is taken up by competing with others, there’s something quite positive about saying: “I don’t care about trends or vanity anymore, I’m too tired.” Although maybe this, too, is the patriarchy at work. “I don’t have to impress anybody” is one thing. “I don’t have to impress anybody because I’m the boss” is another, god damn it.

Still, are we clinging on to old ideas of dads? Do a lot of the dad stereotypes apply to the generation before ours – men who were in their twenties and thirties in the 1980s, rather than fathers with young kids today. Or are certain kinds of paternal dorkiness forever relevant? We take a look at seven stereotypes.

Dad Jeans

What are they? Horrifying bootcut denim monstrosities that Simon Cowell (who only became a dad in 2014) has lived in for a few decades now, best paired with some dad trainers or a really nasty pair of sheux. Often stonewashed, or accented with some baffling bits of fake erosion.

Verdict: I wouldn’t even know where to buy these. You only see them on sale in the kind of shops that sell baseball caps with loads of bits of metal on. Dad jeans aren’t really a thing. You know what is, though? Dad ass crack. Every father I know (and I am a particular culprit) has his bum crack on show way more than intended, due to fatherhood involving a lot more bending down and crouching than their previously childless lifestyle. People see my crack more than they see my face. It’s a sorry state of affairs.

Dad Trainers

What? £80 Nikes bought and worn with no thought whatsoever given to the trousers they’re paired with. As demonstrated beautifully/horrifically by Jerry Seinfeld in all 180 episodes of Seinfeld. (He didn’t have children at the time.)

Verdict: Dad sneakers, as they’re called in the States, are officially cool at the moment, spotted on people like Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid. They’re not really spotted on dads, though – maybe it’s the ubiquity of Converse, maybe it’s part of a general society-wide move towards dressing more casually, or maybe now they’re cool we can’t afford them, but dad trainers feel less and less of a thing.

nadia_bormotova via Getty Images

Dad Jokes

What? The best type of joke in the world – a gag, usually wordplay-based, that induces massive groans along with really reluctant laughter. The Tim Vine, Milton Jones kind of one-liner – “Black Beauty? There’s a dark horse” – that you wince at while laughing against your will. I love them.

Verdict: Oh, off the charts. Parenthood gives you full licence to make every pun you can think of. Earlier in life, you might have been able to see a mushroom without saying: “I’m quite full, I don’t have mushroom for that”, but once you’ve bred it feels obligatory. Children like silly jokes, and making kids laugh is one of the best things about being a parent, so why not fling yourself into it wholeheartedly? The only way this is an unfair stereotype is that women are just as capable as men of being cheerfully, aggressively unfunny.

Dad Dancing

What? Overexcited, rhythmless movements made at weddings and parties by out-of-shape men strutting their clumsy stuff.

Verdict: This may once have been a thing, but in my experience, dads on a night off just end up getting extraordinarily drunk and passing the hell out long before dancing is anywhere near the agenda. Or, maybe some of them make it to that stage, and it’s just me that’s unconscious in the corner under a pile of jackets, reeking of cider and sleeping off a rough few months. Either way, I’ve never seen it in the wild.

Dad Rock

What? Drivetime-esque guitar-led rock: Dire Straits, Genesis, The Who, Aerosmith, Meat Loaf, stuff that shows up on compilations of “manthems” beloved of people who read car magazines and like things because Jeremy Clarkson likes them. Power ballads, but not the good power ballads.

Verdict: A banger is a banger and belongs to everyone. That said, Now That’s What I Call Dad Rock makes no sense – it’s about a third 70s drivetime, a third millennial pop-punk anthems and a third early-Noughties landfill indie. You can’t go from Deep Purple to Avril Lavigne to goddamn Scouting For Girls, it’s absurd. The dad rock stereotype is a full generation out of date – that’s granddad rock now. I sing bowdlerised versions of Blink-182 to my daughter, which is exactly as lame as a dad in 1999 singing Meat Loaf.

nadia_bormotova via Getty Images

Dad Bod

What? A slighty podgy “big dude” build, where a muscular body is accompanied by a beer belly and an all-over fat laminate. It’s not about being fat, but about having priorities beyond the gym and living a life rather than spending it in front of the mirror trying to get ripped.

Verdict: The three men regularly cited when this phrase was popularised – Seth Rogen, Jason Segel and Leonardo DiCaprio – are all childless. They’re not dads, just a bit doughier than your typical Hollywood leading man. (There’s no “mum bod” reclamation, of course – dad bod is a completely unfair double standard that justified Hollywood pairing up schlubby-looking men with supermodels.) To be honest, most of the dads I know are in better shape now than before kids. Even I’ve lost weight – fewer pub visits combined with sleeplessness and financial worries have really made those pounds drop off.

Dad Porn

What? Someone mentioned this to me and it sounded like a thing, alongside brewing magazines and really nice sheds and model railways and stuff.

Verdict: I googled it and regret doing so. I’ve cleared my browser history and I don’t think it’s what I thought it was, but am I on a register now?