In just a few short weeks, all being well, I’ll be the proud owner of a tiny dependent who’ll live in my house and rely on me to keep him alive. Me, for God’s sake. He clearly hasn’t met me before, because that isn’t a deal that any sensible acquaintance of mine would ever willingly accept. The whole prospect is, to put it frankly, terrifying.
If there was room, I’d list all of my worries for you. But, to save everyone a lot of time, I’ll stick to the basics. I’m worried about providing for him. I’m worried about setting a good example. I’m worried about how I’m going to hold him. It’s only just occurred to me that I’ve never actually held a newborn baby before, you see. The first one I’ll have to handle will be my own, which seems ridiculous. Surely I should have a few practice runs with kids whom I’m not directly related to, just in case it turns out that I can’t stop dropping them all over the place.
But the one thing I’m not worried about is how sexy I’ll be. This isn’t because I involuntarily exude a force field of unstoppable sexiness at all times – quite the opposite, in fact – but because I’ll be the father of a newborn baby. And I wasn’t aware that new dads were supposed to be sexy. Tired? Yes. Unshaven? Yes. Constantly wiping foul-smelling things from miniature versions of intimate body parts? Yes. But sexy? Absolutely not.
Turns out I was wrong. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the hot dad has become quite the thing to be. It’s something we’re meant to aspire to. We are supposed to be like the scores of dads who’ve delighted millions by singing Let It Go from Frozen with their daughters. The Dilfs of Disneyland has become a hugely popular Instagram account, devoted to supplying its followers with a steady stream of bequiffed, semi-bearded, Wayfarer-wearing hunks happily leading their delighted toddlers around the Magic Kingdom. And then there’s King Dilf himself, David Beckham, eternally smouldering next to his beautiful wife and beaming children, daring us to be even a tenth as perfect as he is.
None of which sounds particularly appealing, mainly because Dilf is such an impossibly ugly word. It’s the male equivalent of Milf, but with even less of that word’s linguistic appeal. Say it all in one go and it sounds like a hideous portmanteau of “disappointment” and “filth”. Spell it out letter by letter and it sounds like it should be the name of a third-rate, cut-price sofa warehouse on an industrial estate in the Thames Valley.
But that doesn’t matter. The standard has been set. If you’re going to sire a child, the public gaze won’t let you get away with looking anything less than fully incredible while you raise it. Once upon a time, a dad was lucky if he managed to warm your heart. Now he’s required to set your genitals alight, too.
This means that my already insurmountable to-do list has got that little bit longer. Not only do I have to learn how to clip a BabyBjörn baby carrier together, I’m expected to gauge the safest level of swagger that I can successfully deploy while I’m wearing it. Not only should I remain alert for nasty-looking rashes, but I should also know which sunglasses will make me look coolest while I’m rushing my son to hospital in a panic to get his rashes examined. Will my biceps look big enough when I lift my son out of his pram?
If you ask me, this is probably just bad timing on my part. Aside from a brief moment in the mid-1980s, when every teenage girl’s bedroom was adorned with a black and white Athena poster of a topless male model tenderly cradling an infant, nobody has ever really cared one way or the other about whether or not dads were sexy.
Broadly speaking, your sex appeal used to drop off a cliff the instant you became a dad. And rightly so. There’s nothing even remotely sexy about the sight of a bloke flaccidly staggering around a supermarket wearily attempting to reason with a bad-tempered three-year-old who won’t stop knocking multipacks of Monster Munch off the shelves. And that lack of sexiness used to be fine. This guy wasn’t a teenager any more. He was a man with responsibilities. If looking like a waterlogged corpse was the price he had to pay in order to raise his kids properly, then that was probably an acceptable trade-off.
Now everything has changed. There’s a website called Daily Dose of Dilf, which is committed to posting a new photo of an older gentleman every day. There’s another, equally self-explanatory website called Only Hot Dads. Buzzfeed recently published a list entitled 21 Thoughts You Have When Your Friend’s Dad Is Hot (entry number nine: “I wonder if he’d let me do a little dance for him. Ya know, something simple”).
To make matters even worse, Ryan Gosling has become a dad. How on Earth are the rest of us supposed to compete with that? This is a man who can’t so much as sneeze without unleashing an avalanche of tweets and gifs from his army of lusty admirers. The internet will probably dissolve with industrial quantities of concentrated oestrogen if he’s ever actually photographed with the poor thing. E! Online has already published a list of reasons why he will be The Best Dad Ever. In the face of coverage like this, it’s hard for regular, non-sexy dads not to feel slightly inadequate.
Admittedly, mums have had to deal with this sort of nonsense for decades. If they don’t shed their pregnancy weight as quickly as Kim Kardashian, they’re ugly. If they do, they’re neglectful. They’re tutted at if they breastfeed. They’re tutted at if they don’t. They’re bad mothers for returning to work after giving birth, and they’re capitulating to the will of the patriarchy if they stay at home. Whatever they do, new mothers will get it in the neck from some idiot who prizes rigid ideology over personal choice.
In fact, we men probably should have seen this coming. So much attention has been paid to women’s bumps, post-baby diets and school-gate glamour, it was only a matter of time before the spotlight fell on us. Hopefully it’ll stay there for a while, because the only place left to go from here is on to the babies themselves, and I’m not sure I’m ready to read a report about how my little boy managed to pour his curves into an ironic Superman babygrow just yet.
Anyway, I’m not David Beckham. That’s fine. I’ve made my peace with that. I’m never going to be a hot dad. If the Dilfs of Disneyland account has taught me anything, it’s that the hot dad aesthetic is already set in stone. To qualify for inclusion, I’d need to have a hipster quiff (or, failing that, a large collection of baseball caps), an entirely hairless torso, a fondness for vests, at least one sleeve tattoo, an unwavering dedication to physical fitness and, it seems, a fairly sizable delusion that I’m the lead singer of Maroon 5.
Then again, maybe I’ll end up dodging the bullet entirely. The definition of a hot dad is evolving at terrific speed. Michael Fassbender hasn’t so much as fathered a single child, but that hasn’t stopped a wide swath of the internet from labelling him a prime Dilf. Similarly, a quick scan of Twitter reveals that Kevin Spacey is a Dilf, Leonardo DiCaprio is a Dilf, and – in case you don’t already feel a million years old – Justin Bieberand two-fifths of One Direction are Dilfs. So long as you’re not a bumfluffed 12-year-old, it would seem that anyone can qualify. Children aren’t mandatory.
That works for me, because it means I’ll be able to ignore all these nonsense expectations and just get on with raising my son. After all, being a dad should be its own reward. Whether or not I look sexy in the process is nobody’s concern.
That said, I’ve already planned our first five holidays as a family. We are going to Disneyland. I’ll wear my best vest, my son can wear something adorable, we’ll stand in the most flattering light, and my wife… actually, that doesn’t matter. She won’t be in any of the photos, anyway. That’s another hot dad rule.
How to be a cool dad: hard-won lessons from a father of two
Don’t try Your children have the monopoly on cool. Your sole purpose is to give them cash and lifts. And, from time to time, when no one is looking, love and support. Any feeble effort you make towards looking cool – wearing a “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” T-shirt or winning the Nobel prize – will be seen as valueless, embarrassing or attention seeking. Even if you were to accidentally do something to impress your children, you wouldn’t know about it because they won’t tell you.
Don’t be too friendly with their friends Joining in their conversations with “How are things at university?” or “Is that club on Canal Street still open. We used to get really trashed there,” is just creepy and try-hard.
Don’t go on about how wild you were Even if you did have quite an interesting life – shooting smack with Lou Reed or overthrowing Central American dictators – don’t mention it. Better to let them imagine your former life. In most cases their fictional version of you will be much cooler than anything you actually did.
If in doubt, be irritating For some, this comes as second nature, but others will need to work on it. Don’t stop having a go at them for leaving wet towels on the floor or not bothering to tell you where they are. Better still, pretend you have a life in which they are only walk-on characters. This won’t actually make you any more or less cool in their eyes, but it will give you a sense that your existence isn’t entirely pointless.
If your child ever does say ‘That’s cool’… You will know it’s the end. You are now so far down the food chain that you can be safely patronised. “You went to the cinema to see Mr Turner. That’s cool.” Sound familiar?