What do Dads want?
I know the answer, and I'm here to tell you.
The people have been clamoring.
They’ve been coming up to me—tears in their eyes, many of them—and they’ve been begging me to speak out. Begging for my wisdom, my guidance, my comforting voice.
The people are troubled, you see, and they want answers.
They need answers.
They want to know what Dads want.
It’s not the easiest question to answer, mind you. Dads are mysterious creatures; strange, unknowable beasts, lumbering among us, muttering “where’s the dang remote”. They come in countless different forms, and have just as many dreams.
But the people, they know that I know.
Why me, you ask?
Well, I run a very Dad-friendly publication here at The Action Cookbook Newsletter.
It’s not just for Dads, not by any stretch of the imagination—I’d like to think the ACBN is friendly to everyone—but I happen to be a middle-age-approaching father of young children, and I often write about things that might be of particular interest to other people in that same cohort. I write about cooking and eating, cocktails and drinking, but I also often share my own experiences as a parent.
I even briefly considered calling The ACBN a “daddy blog”, but I have been advised that I would need to work out more for that label to be appropriate.
I’m a Dad. I know Dads. Some of my best friends are Dads, whether by the technical definition or a looser, spiritual one.1 I do know what Dads want, and that’s important, what with Father’s Day a little over a week away.
Are you struggling for what to get the Dad in your life? Fret not.
I’m from the Internet, and I’m here to help.
1) Dads want everyone else out of the kitchen
I love to cook. My own Dad loves to cook. Heck, most of the Dads I know love to cook. For this breed of Dad, there’s nothing better than making a big, complicated meal on a Sunday afternoon. Here’s a few of my favorite products from my own kitchen:
A 0.375” thick slab of solid steel, this is the most indestructible thing in my kitchen and one of the most invaluable things, too—when preheated in a hot oven, it can deliver a perfectly-crisp-and-brown pizza crust in around five minutes. It’s great for baking bread, and can also go on the grill or stovetop as a griddle for smashburgers.
One type of pizza isn’t enough, and if you want to make the thick, crispy-cheese-edged Motor City style of pizza (and you should), you’ll need the proper pan. It’s a nice, durable pan that I also use for lasagna, Pastitsio and cinnamon rolls.
(Not at the same time.) (Unless… ) (No. Not at the same time.)
This is a use-it-multiple-times-a-week item in my household; I bake a lot of things on sheet pans, and those sheet pans are almost always lined with these mats. They’re easy to clean and perfect for broiling salmon or one-pan dinners.
Sometimes, a Dad’s gotta let off some steam by pounding out a schnitzel; this nice, heavy tool is what I use when I make the world-famous Kentuckiana Hot Loin.
He’s heard about spatchcocking, and all his buddies are already doing it. He’s feeling left out. Get him some bone scissors so he can join the party.
This isn’t so much a gift for the Dad, it’s a gift for whoever would typically have to drive him to the urgent care because he decided to use the mandoline slicer again.
2) Dads want you to turn off the lights when you leave the room
Did you see our electric bill last month? Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know!
3) Dads want to stand next to a grill and watch food cook
It’s too crowded in the kitchen, anyways.
It’s much more peaceful out here, standing by the grill, yelling at the dogs and suspiciously eyeing the neighbors. Father’s Day falls at the height of grilling season, and that means it’s a great time to up Dad’s gear.
I recommend this tool all the time, and that’s because it’s both exceptionally handy and way more affordable than other brands of instant-read thermometer. Sure, you could rely on old-fashioned rules of thumb for doneness, but you’ll probably end up with overcooked (or undercooked) meat. With this? I get it perfect every time.
I just got one of these this season, and it’s quickly become my favorite grill tool. Sure, it’s just a flipper, but it’s hefty. You could fight off a bear with this thing. You really want to be out there grilling with a flimsy flipper now that I’ve planted the risk of bear attacks in your mind? Better safe than sorry, I say.
Is it strictly necessary to have a butane blow torch at your disposal? No, not really. Do I cackle like an idiot every time I light it up? You bet I do! It just feels dangerous, but in that good way that Dads love, like wielding a chainsaw or lighting illegal fireworks. It’s good for searing steaks, browning cheese and even lighting charcoal.
I make a big batch of my favorite spice rub, Magic Dust, a couple times a year. When I do, I buzz it down to a fine powder using this $20 spice grinder. I am not allowed to use the coffee grinder for this purpose. Actually, this was the coffee grinder until I did that. Now we have a nicer coffee grinder that I am not allowed to touch.
The pride of Youngstown, Ohio, Danny Catullo butchers some of the finest meats you can get your hands on, and he’ll mail-order ship anywhere in the country. I’ve given these boxes as gifts several times, and also bought them for myself when I panic-filled my freezer in 2020. (The dry ice they came packaged in made for great family entertainment at the time.)
The Action Cookbook Newsletter is a reader-supported independent publication committed to bringing you great food, drink and great writing, three times a week. Free and paid subscriptions are available; if you wish to support my work, the best way to do so is by taking out a paid subscription.
4) Dads want to sit in a comfortable chair
I’m sorry, I can’t tell you where to buy this. Ideally, he’s had it since his last college apartment, or he plucked it off the curb perhaps. Maybe a discount furniture store was going out of business? A comfortable chair is like obscenity: you know it when you see it, and Dads want to enjoy some quiet time alone with it.
5) Dads want a good stiff drink at the end of a hard day
If you’ve spent any time here on The Action Cookbook Newsletter, you know cocktail-tinkering is one of my favorite pastimes. It’s fun to mix up new drinks, and a great thrill when you can say “hey, try this” to a houseguest who’s never tried a certain cocktail. Here’s a few things I love in my bar:
That crystal-clear ice that the fancy cocktail bar puts in your drink seems like it should come out of some kind of steampunk contraption, doesn’t it? It’s a lot easier than you think, thanks to this clever device that relies on “directional freezing” to deliver large, cloud-free cubes that look fantastic in an Old Fashioned.
This little guy’s practically a no-brainer to have around. Ingredients can be easily and accurately measured down to the quarter-ounce, a level of precision that’ll immediately improve Dad’s cocktail-making game.
I love trying new liqueurs, and I hate paying $30 or more for a 750mL bottle of something I may or may not like and will only use in fractional-ounce quantities even if I do. That makes this sampler kit from this Washington, DC-based craft distiller an absolute delight—it features fifteen different 50mL bottle of their unique cordials, amaros and aperitifs, many of them highly-unique products. I’ve bought this kit several times over, then bought full-size bottles of a few of the products within.
Does Dad have a bar full of bourbon, but rarely venture beyond an Old Fashioned when making cocktails? This classic orange-flavored liqueur, far subtler and smoother than any of the alternatives, can instantly liven up a bar.
Try using it to make a Handsome Idiot.
6) Dads want to remember some athletes
How old is the Dad you’re talking to? Okay, here’s what you do. Figure out what sport he likes best. (There should be some indication on his hat, sweatshirt, or car.)
Look up a player who played in that sport the year he was 15. Doesn’t even have to be a good one. Just any player.
Walk up behind him and say the player’s name.
Now you’re listening to an extended monologue about how good Chuck Knoblauch was before he got the yips, or how no one messed with Charles Oakley.
He’s probably a little confused, but he’s too happy to notice.
7) Dads want to get a couple emails a week that don’t suck
Email’s terrible, right? It’s just deliverables and bills and bad news and hot singles nearby who want to meet, and who’s got the time or energy for any of that?
I bet the Dad in your life would enjoy a gift subscription to The Action Cookbook Newsletter. In addition to fine culinary and mixological content every Friday, I write frequently on my experiences as a parent, in a way I don’t see many other men do.
Here’s a few examples of such work:
When Monkey was just a tiny baby, a friend’s mother commented to me that “the best time in your life is when your kids are young”, and that’s stuck with me for years since, because—unlike all the previous times I’d been told that I was living my best years—it’s actually proven to be true. (It sure as hell wasn’t high school.) Witnessing childhood firsthand is to be gifted the chance to live it a second time, seeing the joy and wonder and magic of the world through fresh eyes, unjaded and and unsullied by the callousness of adult thought. It is special, and it is fleeting.
Or rather, it is special because it is fleeting.
A part of me wishes that I could appear in front of my old self and tell him to relax, that it’s all going to be okay. That you don’t need to get anything perfect as a parent and that that’s good because you absolutely will not get any of it perfect. That you will spill bottles and lose pacifiers and you might even let the baby roll off the changing table the one time you let your guard down for two seconds too long. That you will stumble and you will strain and you will feel like you’re absolutely about to break, like that one morning when the baby was just a month old and I was already back to work and hadn’t slept a wink and I set my big iced coffee on the roof of the car as I was getting out and it fell and spilled and I shed delirious tears in the parking lot of my office and then still had to go inside and work. That those first months are brutal and moments like that will happen but they will fade and become funny memories sooner than you think, that it’s a slog and then suddenly the baby smiles back at you and you figure out just how to bounce them to soothe their crying and how to make them laugh and you’ll chase that feeling for the rest of your life. That watching them grow from screaming little bundles into happy toddlers to rambunctious kids to actual people who surprise and amaze you and make you laugh and love you and need you as much as you love them and need them is the greatest thing you’ll ever get the chance to do.
I wish I could tell him that. It wouldn’t help, though.
A few minutes later, the fire began to die down, and we got up to search the yard for more sticks suitable to throw in. I turned on my phone’s flashlight, and shined it on the grass. An idea struck me. I stood behind my son and shined the light toward the hill, casting a long, boy-shaped shadow on the grass. “Look,” I said, tilting the phone up. “You’re a giant.” He smiled widely, turned back to the hill, and bellowed a defiant scream. His little friend joined him, soon they were there, side-by-side, giants roaring at the nighttime, unafraid of anything. They were now the ones to be feared.
There’s more where those came from, and more coming all the time. What better than getting those sent straight to Dad’s email inbox?
8) Dads just want to stare at a river for a while
It could also be a lake, a reservoir, a canal, even a tidal estuary. An ocean might work too, but that’s a whole other ordeal, going to the beach and everything. Just drop him off by a river with a bench and some snacks, and let him sit there for a while and think about the meaning of life. (Or about Chuck Knoblauch getting the yips.)
9) Dads want to fall asleep reading a good book
It’s not the book’s fault. They’re really enjoying it, actually! But after a long day of reading emails and remembering guys, once he sits down in that chair with his drink, he’s only making it twenty pages into this book before falling asleep.
That’s okay. That means a good book will last for weeks, if not months.
I recommend books every Friday on The ACBN, and here’s some of the most Dad-friendly offerings:
An immensely-readable real-life story of one young man’s quest to bring a cold beer to his buddies fighting in the Vietnam War.
A wonderful read for anyone who’s ever had wanderlust, this beautifully-written book chronicles one man’s solo journey up the trail that leads from the Mexican border to Canada. (Chuck is a friend, and also writes the excellent Tabs Open newsletter.)
I’ve been a fan of Cleveland’s baseball team my whole life, but any sports fan—or fan of American history—can appreciate this story of the 1948 World Series champions, a team that came at a pivotal moment for baseball and race relations in America.
“The first time somebody tried to kill him it was an accident. The second time was deliberate. Now Paul Mulchrone finds himself on the run with nobody to turn to except a nurse who has read one-too-many crime novels and a renegade copper with a penchant for violence.”
The first book in McDonnell’s now-well-past-three-books Dublin Trilogy, this Irish crime saga is rollinckingly-funny and a real page-turner.
A lucky find gets a handful of people rich, and leads thousands more to be swindled out of their life savings and possibly even die. This could describe any number of different crazes in American history, but there’s few crazier than the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 19th century.
In 2010, wealthy art collector Forrest Fenn buried a chest of treasure somewhere in the American West, then published a cryptic poem purportedly leading to its hiding place. Over the next decade, thousands would become obsessed with finding the Fenn’s treasure, and a few even died along the way. This book is a wild retelling of this stranger-than-fiction true story.
The thinking-person’s Armageddon, this hard-sci-fi epic is one of my absolute favorite books in recent years, chronicling the worldwide reaction when an extinction-level asteroid is discovered to be on track for Earth. A heroic scientific effort is launched as society collapses. World’s-end fiction has never been so well-thought-out.
All the books I’ve recommended in the last three years of the ACBN can be found at my Bookshop.org affiliate page:
10) Dads want to walk around in a hard hat
It’s just fun. Put a hard hat on and you can walk right onto a construction site. You can just stand there and watch stuff, and occasionally nod approvingly.
This is not to be construed as legal advice.
11) Dads want to look at pictures of food and think, “I bet I could do that,” before ordering pizza again
I have a lot of cookbooks. Some of them are well-worn references that I check back with frequently; others are pristine objets d’art. I love them all. Here’s a few of the best:
The definitive guide to pizza-making. I love this book.
The latest by the America’s Test Kitchen and Serious Eats alum and titan of online food-writing, Kenji takes on wok cookery in all the detail you could possibly hope for.
I’m not much of a baker, but I love this cookbook, full of recipes that’ve become staples in our household—her cinnamon rolls are our Christmas morning tradition—and fun projects like making your own Nutter Butters or Oreos.
This is less a cookbook and more a culinary choose-your-own-adventure, listing every ingredient you can think of by its flavor affinities—it’s the perfect handbook for building new recipes, and I refer to it all the time.
There’s no site I refer to for BBQ tips more than AmazingRibs.com, and this is the print edition by that site’s founder.
12) Dads just want some G-D peace and quiet for once
Due to ongoing supply chain issues, peace and quiet is not available right now.
13) Dads don’t want to hire a professional. They can fix it.
You can never go wrong with a roll of duct tape and some WD-40.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
Some of the most Dad people I know are women without children. You know it when you see it.