You are now entering the Dadzone…. It was a typical day in October as I waited for my colleagues to finish up their work, so we could walk to Union station together. Leaning on the counter, fleece zipped up in preparation for the crisp autumnal weather, backpack slung over one shoulder, there was nothing to indicate that a signpost life moment was about to happen. Suddenly, Carolyn pulled out her cellphone and snapped a photo of yours truly, posing in what I believed was a stance of studied casualness and middle-aged cool, staring confidently into the camera lens. However, upon arriving home and checking my Facebook, I realized that a seismic event had happened. There in my newsfeed was the picture Carolyn had taken, with the simple, yet resonant caption: Dad zone. Far from the breezy, nonchalance I had meant to convey, the photo offered an unforgiving portrait: slouched shoulders, comfort-over-style clothing, slightly glazed eyes betraying a sense of fatigue, bewilderment, and yes even fear.
And then comments began…
Terri (my manager at the time): “Oh wow!”
Jennifer (a colleague): “Rockin’ the fleece.”
Ellen (another colleague): “We’ve achieved perfect Dad”
Evan (husband of Carolyn): “Does anyone know where I left my Tom Clancy novel?”
Carolyn: “Awww man, who took the last Coors Light?"
And on it went… From that moment on, I knew that I had become a permanent resident in the DadZone, a mysterious place that is equal parts resignation and righteous, where dads such as myself would rage against the dying of the light were it not for the fact that dimmed lights are easier on the eyes and all the better for passing out on the couch. Since that transformative day, I have had time to reflect on what means to be a card-carrying DadZone member, to ask myself what is involved in joining this exclusive club. I have found that it involves a number of nonnegotiable pledges, including, but not limited to:
• A renewed passion for vinyl, a passion which you simply cannot understand why others don’t share with you. This includes circling Record Store Day on the calendar, and quarterly vinyl-centred hangouts with other dads, with the volume kept at reasonable levels, of course.
• The purchase of a video game console as a kind of middle-finger/concession to the inevitable mid-life crisis, all while bemoaning your kids burgeoning Minecraft addiction, muttering platitudes about how you never spent that much time in front a screen when you were young.
• Cringeworthy behaviour at school drop-off, where overenthusiastic waves and declarations of infinite love for your children are met with embarrassed half-waves and rolling eyes.
• Crying during movies, something that never happened pre-Dad. Pixar movies are particularly problematic in this regard.
• Spotify playlists shared with fellow dads, typically curated to a theme involving a winking concession to the aging process (90’s one-hit wonders anyone?)
• A growing affinity for the likes of Hall and Oates and Seals and Croft (is it something in the surnaming of bands?), while Steely Dan graduates from an occasional diversion to an object of rabid, almost evangelical, fandom, replete with singing along to the guitar solo in Ricky Don’t Lose That Number.
• An overzealous defence of early90s hip hop, with dismissive claims of anything produced in this century.
• Eagle-eye scoping of No Frills discounts, which involves spending a good amount of time browsing the PC Plus app before setting out for the grocery store.
• Becoming a self-proclaimed connoisseur of good coffee, insisting that your stovetop espresso maker is where the city’s best brew is to be found.
• A defiant beard, grown overcompensatingly long to make up for an increasingly theoretical jawline.
• A shaved head acting as a preemptive strike on a fast-retreating hairline.
As you can see, it is no small task living in the DadZone. Surviving and thriving here is often about basking in the bright light of nostalgia while wearing a baseball cap to protect yourself from the sun. It’s about taking satisfaction in the timely preparation of the kids lunches and in the completion of their daily Covid checklists, a pleasing affirmation that you really are doing the best you can. And of course, it is taking stock of the people who put you in the Zone in the first place: your kids. However much they might lament your dorky behaviour, or ask, as my daughter recently did, how you ever managed to find a partner, they are still the ones that get you up in the morning (and likely get you to bed at a reasonable time.) They are the ones who look to you for comfort in the midst of a bad dream. In short, they are reason why the DadZone, like the Hotel California, is a place that you can never leave. When you take stock of the laughter, the cuddles, the movie nights, and the ever-present feels, you realize that it is the best place for you to be. And as far as embarrassing photos preserved for all eternity in the land of Zuckerberg? Well, you need not worry because your kids have likely never even heard of Facebook.