Cultural trends come in waves, returning every few decades to remind us that we’re doomed to repeat history (2016 has been perhaps the best example of that). But Brooklyn has long held to its especial fondness for Ye Olde ways of life, from the artisanal food boom to the horseback commuters. Just last week, I happened into an espresso bar in Prospect Heights that sold both surf wax and hunting knives. Hate or love the gentrifying forces that caused the cultural retrograde, this is us now.
Today, that old-tyme propensity reaches new heights. The Daily Beast tells us that an increasing amount of Brooklyn dads are asking their kids to refer to them as “Papa” instead of “Dad,” attributing the trend to fathers wanting “to set themselves apart from the all-American, Leave it to Beaver dad.”
On the one hand, Brokelyn’s content mill churns in wait for moments like these. But at this point, the state of the world being what it is, any trend that splits us off from the baby boomers who voted for Trump and created the economy we’re suffering in now is a welcome one. Whereas “Dad” connotes modern-day memes of a dopey, dog-like husband who wheels the baby stroller breathlessly after his powerful woman of a wife, “Papa” evokes French romance, stories of the Old Country, and Anastasia. Hey sure, why not.
Here’s a choice excerpt from the Beast’s article:
“I just think ‘dad’ and ‘mom’ are very Saved by the Bell-ish,” said Will Grose, 36, a Brooklyn father of three boys under the age of 5: Axel, Oscar (“Ozzy”), and Balthazar (“Bo”). He estimated that half of the children in his 4-year-old son’s Williamsburg preschool call their fathers “papa.”
Another father quoted in the article “thinks ‘dad’ is antiquated, whereas “papa” is an “open-minded, liberal term, […] like a dad with a twist.”
While it may be tempting to write off the Beast’s entire story as poorly-achieved satire, it’s far more interesting to note Grose’s disdain for Saved by the Bell, arguably the most widely-recognized cultural touchstone of the 90s, enjoyed by kids who grew up in the 80s. The latter decade is also the most recent to be declared obsolete by its own generation: Ask anyone who grew up in the 80s, and they’ll tell you they hated the 80s.
Does Grose’s observation hint at the transience of the trend? Will the burgeoning work sector of the 90s-born SAHD (stay at home dad) introduce yet another foreign fatherly term into common parlance, ushering out “Papa” for Agatha Christie’s congenial “Padre?”
And what does this mean for the adjacent Dad terminology in pop culture? Will we come to refer to the lean, tattooed anatomy of these fathers not as dad bod but papa bodkin? And will “papa” go the reverse for the anti-hipster movement, yielding old-school pizzerias like Dad John’s and a return of angsty music by Dad Roach? Will future generations love it when you call them Big Dada? Only time will tell.
We just hope none of these papas go full Hemingway, because we all know how that ended.
Follow Sam (newly Ethel, feels like Sam with a twist) on Twitter: @ahoysamantha