I’ve been working out for a couple of months, with a consistency and determination I haven’t shown in many moons. I’ve also been trying to eat better, or at least not eat such enormous portions of things. My problem has never been snacking or eating much junk food. For the most part, I eat what you might call “good food,” it’s just that I have no real sense of proportion when I do. You know the saying “live every moment like it’s your last”? That’s what I do, except exclusively for meals.
By the end of last year, I was feeling truly horrible about my appearance and general well being. Stress plus lack of exercise conspired to make feel like absolute garbage. Making changes to my lifestyle was difficult, but I accepted that I’d reached an age where taking care of yourself means something different than it did when I was younger. Now that means, “eat salad for lunch every day” whereas ten years ago that meant “guess I won’t have that ninth taco.”
I’ve been pleased with the results thus far. My general energy levels and ability to not eat like a monster are much improved. As for my appearance, I think I look marginally better. But I also realize that there is a rigid ceiling to what I can achieve, appearance-wise. I could go on the Insanity regimen and I would still look like a Dad.
For the rest of my days I will look like someone whose every spoken word is greeted with a vigorous rolling of the eyes. That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. After all, I am a dad and I like to think I’m as good at that as anything else I do. And maybe I’m finally growing into what I am. I’ve never known quite what to do with this thing that stumbles around below my brain, and every time I thought I might have half a clue, genetics have intervened.
I also have this odd condition I like to call anachronistic dysmorphia, wherein I can see pictures of myself from five years ago and think I look okay but can’t be happy with what I see in the mirror. “Why did I think I looked like crap then? I looked fine! But today, Jesus, I look like a bridge troll.”
In other words, the bar for what I expect from myself in the Looks Department is very low. And maybe looking Dad-Like is what I was meant to be all along. I should be okay with that. I would be okay with that, I think, if I didn’t live in New York City. Because there is a class of parent found in NYC that makes me feel powerfully inferior. I look like a normal dad, but I feel at times that I live in a city full of Style Dads.
We’ve all heard of the Park Slope stroller brigades, parents whose main worries in life are which private school will send their brood on the fast track to Harvard/Stanford/Hollywood. As opposed to parents in my tax bracket, whose concerns run closer to the lines of “how will I clothe my child this month?”
When we think of these archetypes, it’s the High Octane Moms who get the bulk of the attention, and in many cases the lion’s share of the scorn. However, we hear very little about their male counterparts, who–to me, at least–are far worse. These are the Style Dads.
You will see the Style Dads if you find yourself at a museum way too early on a Saturday or Sunday for some kids’ event there, some arts and crafts thing, I don’t even know, but you go because if you don’t get your kid out of the house by 9 am s/he will MURDER you with whining. So you drag yourself to this thing where earnest tattooed 19 year olds show your kid how to make a collage with pieces of old National Geographics. And as you can barely stand up, mainlining coffee to stave off sleep deprivation-induced hallucinations, you will inevitably be confronted with a Style Dad.
The Style Dad will look perfect. He will be impeccably dressed, wearing a scarf that costs more than you spent on clothes all of last year. He will wear a scarf regardless of the weather or the season, because Style Dads can get away with things like that. He’ll look like he just stepped out of one of those high-end fashion magazine ads where everyone dresses like The Great Gatsby for some reason. He has an oppressive air of self-assuredness, tinged with the slightest sense of irony.
And he’ll look so goddamn young! He’ll look like he just threw his mortar-and-pestle in the air, not a single line on his perfect, beaming face, though in all likelihood he is even older than you, because Style Dads don’t breed young. Style Dads spend their 20s backpacking across the Kashmir or transcribing a dying phonetic tribal language or running a food co-op in the Deep South and just living. And now that he’s ready to settle down, he’s found a sylph half his age in which to incubate his spawn.
Style Dad still looks this good because not a single worry–parenting related or otherwise–has ever disturbed his virgin brow. He has never had a vein throb on the side of his head as he slow-burned, “For the love of all that is holy, STOP DOING THAT!” Nor has he ever told his kid we are going home right now because your behavior is unacceptable, because to a Style Dad, nothing his kid does is unacceptable. Life’s just a big ol’ game!
A Style Dad’s kid is named Satchel or Haakon or Aeschylus and he’s the Style Dad’s buddy. Style Dad lets Mom be the enforcer, agitating at the PTA meetings for an organic garden on the school’s roof or demanding a full third grade LGBT studies department. Meanwhile, Style Dad and his lil’ slugger have a grand ol’ time together! You know they do because when you see the Style Dad’s kid acting like a preschool sociopath at these museum events, taking other kids’ supplies and pouring Elmer’s glue on the floor, Style Dad thinks it’s such a hoot! Style Dad might say, “Whoah there, pal!” as his child brains another kid with a tape dispenser, but he’ll say it with a chuckle because this whole parenting thing is just such a blast!
Later, you’ll see Style Dad at brunch with his kid at a obscenely expensive restaurant a normal person wouldn’t dream of taking a small child, but Style Dad’s kid is special! He deserves the finest things in life! Style Dad orders his buddy a plate of $17 truffle fries, which he dumps on the floor before menacing other patrons with a fork. Meanwhile, Style Dad picks at a beet salad and texts other Style Dads from his iPhone (the iPhone 7, the one you won’t be able to get for another 12 years, because Style Dad knows people) about how he’s out with his kid and oh, you’re out with little Frampton and Harrison and Van-Morrison too? Let’s all pat ourselves on the back for being outside the house with our children and talk about how great it is we gave up our sustainable farm in the hills of Guatemala to just be real for a while, guys. Maybe we’ll meet up later at some pub with a wooden interior and let our kids terrorize the bartender with the soda gun!
Then, if you’re lucky, you’ll see Style Dad and his charge at playground. Style Dad will laugh heartily as Patrice or Solace or Kilimanjaro marches up the twisty slide in muddy sneakers and punches a three-year-old in the ribs. Style Dad will mildly reprove young Steppenwolf about this act of violence, then buy him a gelato for being a good sport about the whole thing.
If you don’t live in New York City, it’s possible you’ve never run across the Style Dads. Or perhaps you’ve saved your contempt for the vocal, aggressive mommy bloggers and similar types who get very angry about school lunches lacking arugula. But trust me, the Style Dads are out there in droves and they are so much worse. I suppose a cynical type (like me) might say some Supermom types use mommy-hood to catapult themselves into grotesque parody of celebrity and power-tripping. Still, as misaligned and Machiavellian as their motives might be, I’d never say these kind of moms didn’t care about their kids.
The Style Dad, on the other hand, sees his kid as an accessory to his amazing life, and looks like he’s never had a worry flit across his internal radar, ever. And as far as I’m concerned, you should always hate someone who looks that good at 9 am on a Saturday.