Everybody dies. Long before that, everybody turns into their parents. Maybe it’s a clichéd phrase, a bodily tic, or some dogmatic reasoning — “We have to be at the airport five hours early for an international flight!” — but there always comes a point at which we quietly admit to ourselves, “Holy shit, genetics are no joke.” And I humbly submit to you that no event or activity will transform you into a dad faster than shoveling snow.
To be sure, there are other “manly” outdoor chores with strong overtones of Dad Culture, either because your dad loves doing them or thinks they “builds character” when he forces you to do them instead. Raking the leaves, mowing the lawn, cleaning the gutters, and even taking out the garbage would all qualify: physical labor, in the midst of occasionally punishing elements, with tools or heavy machinery — as far as Dad Satisfaction goes, these tasks are almost as pleasurable as refusing to ask directions.
Yet clearing the driveway and sidewalk of unspoiled powder entails ultimate Dadhood. There is no substitute for this frigid ritual. What makes it such a Daddy move? For starters, it is the clearest domestic battle between man and nature. The usual caretaking of spring, summer, and autumn means getting fresh air in pleasant weather; you’ll see neighbors, smell barbecues, and possibly get a tan. When January rolls around, it’s just you versus the season — everyone else is inside by the fire with hot cocoa, enjoying a coziness that any true dad feels he must earn with his hard work.
And it is hard work, another thing dads seem keen to romanticize. Of all they are expected to accomplish around the house in a calendar year, carving a walkable path through snow drifts is most likely to give them a heart attack — an important milestone for many dads. This is a job you put your back into, damn it, unless you’ve invested in a snow blower, which guarantees even more daddish delights: Making a shitload of noise, showing off an expensive toy, and cucking your neighbor by plowing his walk without being asked. As his wife waves from the front window, you smile back with all the confidence of a man whose bald spot is hidden by a classic winter Carhartt cap.
And that’s not all. Whereas lawn-mowing and leaf-raking suggest a form of vanity — both a matter of appearance — snow-shoveling speaks to that most precious of Dad Obsessions: responsibility. In many parts of the U.S., you are in fact legally obligated to remove snow from the walkways around your property. Adherence to city ordinance would be exciting enough, since it allows you to shame the lazy non-dads who can’t be bothered to perform their civic duty, but dads are also into safety for its own sake.
When the shoveling is done, we move onto the time-honored Dad Science of tossing a bunch of salt everywhere to melt ice and prevent new snow from sticking. For a dad knows his job is never really done — and that preparedness is his greatest virtue. He can at last head back inside, sore and sweaty and sort of numb, for a cold beer or smoky Scotch, knowing he has temporarily tamed Jack Frost. There will be gray, long months ahead, but they are no match for a dad’s vigilance and dedication. Less than an inch of accumulation is all it takes for him to suit up and grab his trusty orange scooper again.
So don’t let anyone tell you that your sperm must fertilize an egg that develops into a fetus (and is later born as a living, breathing child) in order for upi to be a “dad.” If you shovel snow, no matter your gender, your fertility or family circumstance, you are an Official Dad, part of a vast Dad Corps dedicated to pedestrian access in residential areas. There may be nobler causes, and splashier ones, but none more dad than this. We salute the legion and urge them to be careful out there — dads are at special risk of hilarious slip-and-falls.