Dad - Picking Apart the Stereotypes

When we talk about dads and fatherhood, the words we choose sometimes lead us to a few default stereotypes. These stock images of dads, aggregated from sitcoms, movies, and traditional definitions of masculinity, certainly make it easier to describe fathers and the roles they fill. But to be so indolent with our word choices that we stick with these stereotypes is to do a disservice to dads everywhere. Being a father is like leading a small, close-knit platoon through a tangled jungle; it's a role so complex, so demanding, and, ultimately, so rewarding that to assume a few broad, preset characteristics is to misunderstand fatherhood completely.

Here at WinEveryGame, we think it's time to give dads their due - and what better opportunity to do so than Father's Day? To help you keep these stereotypes out of your own language, we've broken down a few of the most common and looked at some of the words that bring us to them. By doing so, we hope we can give pops everywhere the props they deserve for being some of the most important people in our lives.

Clueless Dad: Let's start with one of the most common - the Clueless Dad. Although his natural habitat is the family-centered sitcom, this inept parent colors many of our word choices about typical fathers. The Clueless Dad is constantly, ridiculously in over his head. Of course, it's normal for dads (and moms) to feel confused and lost about parenting. But the Clueless Dad takes this to the extreme, operating with sublime obliviousness in every interaction and relying on Mom to edify him about his mistakes. It's hard to use words like "capable" and "responsible role models" to refer to fathers when the Clueless Dad is letting his kids play living-room-tennis or catastrophically misunderstanding his daughter's first crush. Real dads, of course, are nothing like this - their real-world experiences and paternal instincts mean that they're almost always ready with wisdom and firm but loving guidance. Yes, dads sometimes make mistakes, but who doesn't? Don’t let the Clueless Dad trick you into thinking that your own father has never known what he was doing!

Disciplinarian Dad: The Disciplinarian Dad is a cliché born of parent-teenager relationships. Think of every complaint we assume teenagers have about Pop: he makes ridiculous rules; he callously doles out chores; he's unfairly stingy with his money. We create the Disciplinarian Dad by exaggerating his rules into parsimony, unrealistic expectations and uncompromising stringency. Sure, a real dad is strict sometimes, but it’s usually because he's trying to teach his kids to make smart choices and be successful and productive rather than indolent. Some of our strongest (and therefore most fun) terms are words of generalization and blame, but it's unfair to stick them to fathers when their motivations are frequently far more complex.

Goofball Dad: A cousin of the Clueless Dad, the Goofball Dad is characterized by his incredibly broad sense of humor. Serious situations? Staying on topic? Guiding his children? None of that matters to the Goofball Dad, whose top priority is to maintain his position as the fun parent. Expect the Goofball Dad to alternate between wildly irreverent, ribald jokes and wince-inducing puns. He's the guy who'll weird out your boyfriend or girlfriend with some inane anecdote, the grown man who never tires of asking his kids, nephews, and nieces to pull his finger. Thankfully, our real dads have far more dexterity than this exaggeration suggests. Real dads have enough compassion and sense to never let humor get in the way of good parenting. When a son or daughter needs reassurance, a dad can be the strong, silent hand that rests on a shoulder; and when what's needed is good humor and a smile, a dad's jokes are always welcome. When a real dad spins a pun, it's always endearing…even if it is the dumbest joke in history.

Superhero Dad: The Superhero Dad is unique in that he's not exactly a negative stereotype. Many of the words that create stereotypes are intensely unfavorable, meant to set others apart from the speaker. But sometimes the use of nothing but theatrically positive words can create an equally unhelpful image. Take the Superhero Dad, created by notions of an incredibly doughty, resolute, heavily muscled father with a flawless chin. The Superhero Dad is perfect in every way. He can fix car troubles in a jiffy. He can solve all your romantic troubles, help you learn every subject in school, do your taxes, and show you the wonders of nature in your own backyard. You have nothing to fear, because the Superhero Dad will always swoop in to succor you. Sounds great, but here's the thing: your dad's not a superhuman. He can't make your date call you back, he can't ensure you have a perfect life, and he always messes up the laundry. Expecting our fathers to be perfect is easy for us, but it puts a whole lot of pressure on them, and it ultimately leads to unjustified disappointment.

So your dad's no august superman, he's got perfectly normal senses of humor and discipline, and he's not a sitcom-ey moron…but what is he, then? It's a tricky question; trying to clump all dads together in any way risks warping our view of fatherhood. All dads are individuals with very different parenting styles, and most probably mix in traits from all these stereotypes. Whatever your dad is like, though, we can say this: he's a normal, fallible guy, but also a deep, caring human being who will always, always, always try his best for you. Dads do an unbelievable amount for us, from earning a living to support us, to teaching us to spell, to lending a kind ear whenever we're feeling down. Fathers are wells of strength and trust, and for that they deserve sublime respect and appreciation. Thanks, Dad - we always love you.

August: Did you think we were going to start this with a joke about the month of August? Well, we're going to take the high road…seems appropriate, given that august means "highly esteemed or admired." The respect implied by august is sometimes understood to be a result of maturity. Your father could be august because you trust his judgement and see him as a role model as well as just because he's so much more experienced than you. He might be especially August if you respect how well he handles late summer heat!
…So close…

Doughty: You know your dad is always ready to protect you and your family. When your dad or anyone else stands tall against a threat, exuding strength and refusing to give into fear, he's earned the term doughty. Doughtiness often involves decisive, daring actions taken without regard for one's own safety. To be doughty is to show selfless bravery and unshakeable conviction - much like your dad did when he checked your closets for monsters when you were a little kid.

Edify: One of the most rewarding parts of being a parent is the opportunity to teach your kids. Your dad definitely took advantage of this, but he didn't just impart cold facts to you. He probably also tried to instill values and a sense of wonder in you while he taught - he edified you. To edify is usually to instruct someone with the purpose of making them a more well-rounded or clear-thinking person - kind of why we just tried to dispel all those stereotypes.

Indolent: What if you don't do anything for your dad this Father's Day? No father-son fishing trip, no daddy-daughter ballgame, not even a gift card or set of golf balls - you just shrug your shoulders and go spend the day plopped on the couch. In that unfathomable case, you might be guilty of being indolent, which means "lazy, idle, or prone to avoid work." If your father has never been indolent when it comes to supporting you, make sure you're active in returning the favor!

Parsimony: Parsimony is a somewhat more complex way of saying "cheap." The word implies a sense of stinginess, a tendency to want to part with as little money or expend as few resources as possible. Parsimony is frugality to the extreme, a compulsion to save that's sometimes tinged with meanness or fear. Your father's done a lot for you throughout your life, so don't be parsimonious with your time and attention. You'll probably both enjoy spending the day together this Father's Day!

Ribald: Be careful with ribald humor - you never know who might be listening. Saying that something is ribald characterizes it as bawdy, vulgar, or possibly offensive. A joke can be ribald if it's crude or in bad taste, while a person can be ribald by telling lewd tales and acting rudely for the amusement of others. In the right time and place, ribald material can be funny and thought-provoking, but it's often inappropriate. You might think twice about using a ribald line in your Father's Day card; sentimental stuff is usually safer.

Sublime: Just like your dad, sublime is a word of many talents. Commonly, it describes something as generating awe or extreme appreciation, such as your dad's sublime softball game. It can also mean elevated and transcendent - like the deep, sublime connection between father and child - and possibly refer to things that are heavenly or divine.

Succor: "Dad, my car won't start…." "Hey Dad, do you happen to know how to put out an oven fire?" "Help me, Dad, I have no idea what to get Mom for her birthday!" There's a good chance that, when you find yourself overwhelmed or in danger, you turn to your father for stability and assistance. If so, you look to him to succor you, or to provide you with aid and relief. If he does help you (which he always does, because he's Dad), then he gives you succor, which here means the relief itself. Isn't it helpful to have a word that serves as both a noun and a verb?