A Field Guide to Dad T-Shirts
The ACBNU Dadthropology Department investigates
Last weekend, I took my kids to a family fun-fair.
The event, hosted by our local public television station, was a blast, and my not-always-game kids were surprisingly enthusiastic about nearly all of the activities on offer—taking on science experiments, craft projects, musical demonstrations and more. It was a beautiful day, and the event was well-attended, drawing families of all kinds from all walks of life.
Mid-morning, as I stood there outside a booth, holding my kids’ overstuffed tote bags as they worked to craft river-worthy boats out of tinfoil, I looked out over the grounds. Suddenly, I noticed a single, remarkably-common thread amidst the diverse attendees.
They were all wearing graphic t-shirts.
Of course, I don’t exclude myself from this; I was wearing one of my favorite graphic tees, something I’d carefully plucked from a drawer earlier that morning for its unique combination of comfort and style.
To the untrained observer, it was simply a field of like-minded Dads shepherding youngsters between the bathroom, the snack table, and the inflatable slide. As I studied the Dads closer, though—and I must add, as I always do, that my usage of the term “Dad” is not necessarily dependent on gender or parental status, but rather a specific set of vibes—some variance began to emerge. I realized that important differences could be ascertained by studying the subtle differences in their markings.
I furthered this research over the next few weeks, gathering field data: at a farmer’s market, an elementary school welcome event, a vintage flea market. I studied the Dads, tracked and catalogued them, taking meticulous notes as I moved amidst them, undetected in my own vast array of graphic tees.
I carefully categorized my data, and now, I’m finally prepared to present my findings: a comprehensive Field Guide to Dad T-Shirts.
The Sports Dad
The Sports Dad is one of the most easily identifiable specimens; he’s wearing a t-shirt that loudly proclaims who his favorite sports team is, likely with a coordinating baseball cap. He has a room in his basement decorated with gear that reflects this affinity, and his car or truck matches, too. (It’s easy to coordinate your wardrobe when it’s all the same shade of blue.) He refers to the team as “we”, and—if it’s a professional franchise—refers to the owner as “Mr. (Owner’s Surname)”.
He is in six fantasy football leagues including at least one where he has never met any of the other participants in person, but considers them his closest friends.
The Sophisticated Sports Dad
Occasionally mistaken for the Sports Dad is this wholly-distinct specimen.
He is wearing a t-shirt for a sports team, yes, but he does not actually support that particular team; he just thought the retro-styled design was really cool. He does like sports, to be clear—he even did some sports blogging for a while—but he eventually got out of it because of there being “too much drama”.
He misses it from time to time, though, and he’s considering starting a podcast.
The Pop Culture Dad
Those movies and TV shows you’ve seen? He’s seen them too, and he’s delighted to remind you of them.
Dunder Mifflin! Luke, I Am Your Father! On Your Left!
[Chris Farley in The Chris Farley Show sketch voice] Remember that? That was awesome.
He is easily amused, but please, do not interpret any of this description as critical; quite the opposite, in fact. The Pop Culture Dad possesses a level of inner peace that you will never attain yourself. Bazinga.
The Slightly-Obscure Pop Culture Dad
He’s seen shows, too. Do you watch them? You might not watch them.
Either way, he’s not going to be overt about it; that’d be crass. Instead, he’s going to offer a sly wink and a nod, and if you happen to notice his t-shirt, one that purports to be from a restaurant that only exists in the universe of a critically-beloved cable and/or streaming drama series? Well, buddy, you two are gonna get along great.
Unless you’re wearing the shirt, too. He had it first.
The Niche Pop Culture Dad
He is wearing a t-shirt that obliquely references a joke that was made in a single episode of a podcast in 2017. There are seventeen copies of this t-shirt in existence, but each of those shirts is worn at least once a week. If two of these shirts ever appeared in the same place at the same time, it might cause a rip in the fabric of space and time, destroying the universe as we know it.
Or, worse: it might launch another podcast.
The Concert Dad
Sometimes this is straightforward: Jason Isbell played a show in town last summer, and The Concert Dad is wearing a Jason Isbell shirt. He probably saw Jason Isbell play at that show in town last summer, you can reasonably infer.
But sometimes it’s more difficult. Maybe he’s wearing a shirt from the Rolling Stones’ 1989 Steel Wheels tour. Is he old enough to have actually attended that show? [squinting] Maybe? Or did he get it at a vintage store?
If you ask him, you will have made an enemy for life.
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The Athletic Dad
He is wearing a t-shirt from his Crossfit gym. Don’t ask him about i-oop, he’s already telling you about it.
The Used-to-be-Athletic Dad
Sure, he may not look like an athlete now, but back in the day? Boy, you should’ve seen him.
(Back in the day—2008—he ran a half-marathon.)
By the time he finished the race, they only had shirts in one size left. The way he remembered it, he didn’t end up wearing the shirt much back then because it was just too big, which was a shame—it was a nice-looking shirt.
Anyways, he found it in a storage bin last year, and maybe he’d been wrong? It actually still fits great, even now.
The Beer Dad
He likes beer, and has been to a specific brewery. Maybe he works at that brewery? It’s possible he founded a brewery. The Beer Dad gets along great with the Slightly-Obscure Pop Culture Dad; they bonded after the former mentioned the New England IPA he’d named after the show on the latter’s shirt last year.
They’re thinking of working on a podcast together.
The Plain T-Shirt Dad
This man is a serial killer.
The Chaos Dad
He is wearing a campaign t-shirt from Jimmy “The Rent Is Too Damn High” McMillan’s 2010 New York gubernatorial run.
Wait, no—he’s wearing a shirt that shows solidarity with the plight of the then-yet-to-be-rescued Chilean miners.
Hold up, now—it’s a custom t-shirt he got when Google Fiber made a big splash about coming to his town and offered an online tool where you could custom-print a t-shirt with your own slogan completing the phrase “Make The Internet____”. His one-of-a-kind shirt says “Make The Internet Real (Or Else Forget About It)”, a reference to Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana’s 1999 hit “Smooth”, one that turned out prescient when Google Fiber abandoned their plans to wire his city shortly thereafter.1
Sorry, no—he’s wearing a tank top printed with an image of Hokusai’s “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa”, but with Cookie Monster’s eyes over the wave.
The Chaos Dad is the Type AB+ blood type of t-shirts; he can receive shirts from any category.
But he’s going to have to throw out or donate some of these old ones first.
C’mon, you’re not actually ever going to wear that Left Shark shirt again, are you?
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
I bet you saw some of yourself in here, so it’s confession time: what kind of T-Shirt Dad are you?
Identify yourself in the comments!
This one might not be a hypothetical.