De­cod­ing ‘Daddy’: Chang­ing im­ages of dads in pop cul­ture

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - TIMES TRENDS - Bon­nie Wertheim

Af­ter the “dad bod” de­ba­cle of 2015 and the so-called “dad style” that has been adopted by all genders in re­cent years, it seems we’ve reached peak “daddy.”

A re­cent “Satur­day Night Live” skit sig­nalled that the word, used af­fec­tion­ately by chil­dren, and lust­fully by gay men and straight women, had achieved a spe­cific sig­nif­i­cance in the cul­tural main­stream: “Any guy can be a fa­ther, but it takes a hot, mid­dle-aged guy with a big job to be a daddy,” Kate McKin­non and Matt Da­mon said in uni­son, as the hosts of a com­pe­ti­tion called the West­min­ster Daddy Show.

You might have no­ticed an uptick in ag­ing heart­throbs of the ’90s and early 2000s ap­pear­ing in pro­gramms mar­keted to young view­ers — and re­ceiv­ing out­size at­ten­tion for their (mostly sup­port­ing) roles. Con­sider Luke Perry in “Riverdale,” John Cor­bett in the Net­flix rom-com “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Be­fore,” John Cho in “Search­ing,” Ster­ling K Brown in “Black Pan­ther” and “This Is Us,” and Jude Law as Al­bus Dum­ble­dore (or shall I say “Dum­bledaddy”?) in the lat­est “Fan­tas­tic Beasts” film. In prac­tice, age is not al­ways a defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic. A daddy might be any man with gray­ing hair, or a beefy ac­tion-movie hero (Dwayne “the Rock” John­son, for ex­am­ple, who also hap­pens to be a fa­ther).

While on the in­ter­net “dad” is most of­ten used to ex­press de­vo­tion to a cul­tural fa­ther fig­ure, in the same way that “mom” emerged as a term of rev­er­ence for fem­i­nist pa­tron saints, “daddy” has tended some­what prob­lem­at­i­cally to­ward the sex­ual. Barack Obama is “dad.” Bill Mur­ray is “dad.” Idris Elba, Peo­ple mag­a­zine’s Sex­i­est Man Alive, is “daddy.” Mak­ing the jump from “dad” to “daddy” can be as sim­ple as a few mi­nor lifestyle ad­just­ments. On Net­flix’s pop­u­lar “Queer Eye” re­boot, the Fab Five turned its schlubby “he­roes” into dad­dies — or, at least, more date­able ver­sions of them­selves — by groom­ing their beards and show­ing them how to make sim­ple meals.

That nar­ra­tive, of male self-in­ter­ro­ga­tion and self-im­prove­ment, aligns with a broader pa­ter­nal re­vi­sion­ism that has per­me­ated vis­ual me­dia in re­cent years. In the age of “dad­ver­tis­ing,” fa­ther-ac­tors are, com­pe­tent, present, pre­sentable, even mythic par­ents, and equal if not more hard­work­ing part­ners. Those de­pic­tions are aligned with the op­ti­mistic, egal­i­tar­ian stan­dards the new­est gen­er­a­tion of fa­thers has set for them­selves.

Ac­cord­ingly, dads and dad­dies have be­come mo­tifs of the ev­er­grow­ing re­tail cat­e­gory that is merch. The cot­ton base­ball cap, of­ten used to ex­press fan­dom, has been chris­tened the “dad hat,” just as tapered light-wash denim is con­sid­ered the quin­tes­sen­tial “dad jean.” There are $360 “dad” sweat­shirts, dad hats in­scribed with the word “daddy,” a video game whose ob­jec­tive is for dads to date each other … you name it.

Rachel Antonoff, a fash­ion de­signer in New York, re­called a T-shirt from her fall 2017 col­lec­tion in­scribed with “daddy” in a Bar­bie-like script. It struck a chord with cus­tomers, who are pri­mar­ily women. But, she said, “there were other peo­ple who were like, ‘I’m a dad,’ or ‘my friend just had a baby.’” Which is to say: It’s 2018, and be­ing a daddy is for ev­ery­one.

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