“God, everybody here wins at dadcore.” My friend Brett was messaging me from a fancy resort in the Caribbean, where he was on a scuba diving trip. I used to go diving with him, though typically in much less glamorous places. “We’re talking XL T-shirts tucked into cargos with Keens.” I felt a pang of jealousy and fear. I could have been there, with him, making fun of the olds. Instead I was at home taking care of an 8-month-old baby. My future terrified me. I was a dad, and from what I could tell, dads didn’t have fun.
Of course, intellectually I had been prepared for that change since my wife and I first decided to start trying for kids. But there’s no real way to understand how challenging it can be until it happens. Having a child means putting others first in a way that many men have never had to do before. It means that when I’m not helping out around the house or taking care of my child, I’m depriving my partner of precious moments when she doesn’t have to be ceaselessly monitoring a human slug that can’t live without constant attention.
Fast-forward 10 months to a typical Saturday: I make huckleberry pancakes for breakfast and take my now-toddler out to do some exploring. After a hike full of waterfalls and gorgeous views, we head to Home Depot to pick up some supplies, and still make it back to the house for lunch.
While I was out dadding it up, my friends were texting me about sleeping in till noon, going to yoga classes and meeting up for brunch — all the things I used to do. But hearing about everything I was missing didn’t fill me with envy, or with dread of my future. I had found a way to become comfortable with who I was now, and it meant embracing my deepest fear: Dadcore.
Dadcore started as a fashion meme, a variation on normcore — a troll clothing trend New York magazine defined as dressing “normal” as a way to opt out of trends. (Normcore was, as many people understood it, similar to dressing like your dad; the two ideas gained notice at around the same time, though dadcore may have been floating around even earlier.) Dadcore’s hallmark is shamefully dated, comfortable clothing — it’s what your own un-hip dad wears, and it’s one of the reasons why his existence so embarrassed you in high school. Dadcore is the uniform of giving up. It sits alongside dad bod (a brief but widely discussed internet moment from 2015) and Dad Magazine (dating back to mid-2013, and continuing today) in the internet’s ongoing obsession with all things dad — which comes, perhaps not coincidentally, right as many millennials are first trying that new identity on for size, and finding just how incompatible fatherhood is with the lifestyles we’ve previously pursued.
For me, dadcore became far more than a look: It was my future, my lifestyle. While my childless friends met up at night and went out, I went to bed, only to wake up to strings of text messages from the night before (many of them sent hours after I had gone to sleep). One set of my friends would be out shopping, another would be at happy hour — and I’d be at home, preparing to bleach my bathroom ceiling. When I turned down invitations to go out for margaritas on the grounds that I was eating takeout and watching a movie with my wife, my friends were merciless. “Michael, stop being so dadcore.”
At my most stressed-out moments of being a father, these messages were painful reminders of all the casual decision-making, last-minute planning and endless brunches I had given up. How could I maintain my sanity against this onslaught of FOMO mementos? These people didn’t even have pets to worry about, much less an infant.
Things boiled over one afternoon when I was sitting at home attempting to work while my wife spent time with visiting family. I was being bombarded by work emails, my daughter was demanding attention and I couldn’t focus on anything. In a fit of pique I hurled my iPhone across the room, damaging both it and our bookcase. My rage evaporated, leaving me deflated and embarrassed. Feeling so angry and out of control while my child sat on my lap was something I never wanted to experience again.
The only way for me to get past it was to be honest with myself and figure out what really mattered. I had to embrace who I was, my responsibilities to my family and how totally different my life was now — without losing my individual identity. Dadcore, with all its associated baggage, provided me with a way to do this. Though I had once only used the term disparagingly in messages with my friends — a textual eye-roll at all of the un-fun choices I had to make — I soon found myself using it as an unironic shorthand for almost everything about my life.
Dadcore was spending all weekend painting a bedroom or fixing a toilet instead of hitting up bars. Dadcore also meant going grocery shopping with my daughter, or showing her how to pick vegetables from our garden. I started to associate dadcore with the best parts of being a dad. I filled my Instagram with photos of the two of us exploring the city or just going about our daily routine. Those things that made me afraid of dadcore before became a source of strength.
While my friends and I weren’t spending a lot of time together in person, our casual text banter helped me become more comfortable with seeking out even more ways to live my best dadcore life. By giving what I was doing a label — however shameful that label’s origin — I gained control over it. And my friends happily embraced this new usage along with me.
Over time, I stopped feeling so envious when my friends sent me updates about social gatherings I couldn’t possibly take part in. I stopped feeling embarrassed when they called out my dadcore activities, because usually I was the first one to identify those activities as such. It started to feel like we were all in this together — all just living our lives, each fun and valuable in different ways. Of course this was the case all along, but I had to take ownership of my dadcore life before I could really feel comfortable with it.
So comfortable, in fact, that these days, I’m doubling down on my fatherly duties. My second daughter is due in two months. Instead of being apprehensive, or nervous, I’m excited. I can’t wait to introduce her to dadcore.
Michael Richardson is cofounder and senior director of product at Urban Airship. He lives in Portland, Ore. with his wife, Susan, and their daughter, Blair.