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Why Don’t Dads Ever Want to Admit They’re Asleep?

So, lemme get this straight: You’re snoring, your head is tilted back and you’re unconscious, but you’re just resting your eyes? I DON’T THINK SO, OLD MAN

Welcome to The Daddy Issue, our very fatherly tip of the cap to the father figures in our lives as well as all the fatherly stuff they can’t help but do — from pretending they’re not asleep on the couch, to the dad jokes that make even Tony Soprano smile. We’ll talk to famous dads and their equally famous progeny and also deconstruct fatherly influence in each and every one of its forms. In doing so, we hope to come out the other side with a better understanding of our own — and everyone else’s — daddy issues. Read all of the stories here.

There’s nary a social occasion during which my father hasn’t fallen asleep. At the theater, while driving, heck, even at a wake — you name the event, and I guarantee you he’s snoozed through it. Except, no, sorry, he wasn’t asleep, was he? Never — he was simply “resting his eyes.”

This is, of course, a universally memed phenomenon (and yes, my dad also wakes up at 5 a.m.). But nobody has ever really explained why it happens, which begs the question: Fellas, is it weak to sleep?

Well, kind of. A recent study into the sleep-deprived masculinity trope unearthed the stereotype that, as Forbes phrased it, “real men don’t sleep.” It’s not too different from the irksome boasting of the sleep-deprived workaholic or cringe partygoer who obnoxiously brags that they’ve had “just four hours sleep,” except that men might do it to avoid feeling emasculated by the idea of being unconscious for eight hours a day. As one person on Reddit (probably jokingly) phrased it: “Sleep is for the weak. We never sleep. We rest.” In another response to my pleading r/AskMen query, someone else said feigning consciousness is “a safety thing,” as if men are constantly fighting off various forms of danger.

But what about when it comes to dads, specifically? Maybe for fathers with young kids, it really is a safety thing. “As dads, we never do sleep,” one redditor explained. “Our protective instincts get fully awakened when we have kids, and unless we’re absolutely exhausted or it’s designated bedtime, then we only half-sleep.” 

Fair enough, but moms and other guardians also lose sleep when they have kids, and yet “resting your eyes” does primarily seem to be a dad thing. (My mom, for example, just unashamedly konks out, and will inform you of such if you disturb her.) Furthermore, this doesn’t explain why my dad is actually snoring when he’s “resting his eyes,” nor why he’d choose to do it while driving. 

Another theory could be that it’s just dad’s way of avoiding his age. “Part of it is that men of a certain generation associate [unplanned naps] with being old — not without reason — and don’t want to admit to being so old that they’re losing their hearing, the ability to pay attention or are just tired all the time,” says 59-year-old father and author David, who’s increasingly being caught “resting his eyes.”

“Another part of it is that in certain cultures, it’s perceived to be rude to fall asleep while people are having a conversation around you — while you’re watching a movie together or something — and we don’t want to appear to be rude, so it’s just easier to deny it,” David continues. (I like this explanation, because it ignores the believability element of “resting your eyes,” which nobody buys, particularly if you awaken with a startle.)

The third possible explanation, adds David, is that “sometimes it really is good intentions.” “You really do believe that you’re just resting your eyes,” he explains. “You don’t think that you’re on the verge of falling asleep, and yet, kaboom, you’re snoring like a foghorn.”

This latter explanation is probably the most realistic, and was also echoed in a comment under my Reddit post, in which someone differentiated between “resting their eyes” and sleeping (both of which demand dad not be disturbed as he is, to be fair, resting). “When I’m just taking a quick nap, any noise can wake me up,” the person wrote. “When I’m actually sleeping, I’m basically dead to the world. So, if you can wake me up easily, then I wasn’t sleeping.”

Still, there’s definitely an element of fragile masculinity when it comes to dads — and men in general — pretending not to be asleep. Namely, as the aforementioned study concluded, the belief that it’s emasculating to sleep — or, as the researchers phrased it, that it’s “manly” to be sleep-deprived. This view, however, is actually detrimental to men’s health (and relationships). “Men who sleep less are found to be more aggressive and violent,” continued the authors, “which can be harmful to men’s health and society at large.”

The specific trope of men “resting their eyes”, though, is likely more meme than menace. “It’s a law of physics,” wrote one redditor. “We can’t help it. As soon as we become dads, we start to do this, and once we become grandpas, it moves into overdrive.”

Well, as long as my dad’s not falling asleep into danger (or wasting an expensive theater ticket), then he can nap all he wants — all I ask is not to be lied to about it. Let’s call a spade a spade, dad — you’re asleep!