No one wants to die, and if we can avoid it by forcing kids to call us “Nona” instead of “grandma” or “Pretty Dancer” instead of “Aunt Aimée,” we will certainly try. Now even men are attempting to escape the specter of aging via linguistics, firmly insisting to their toddlers, “‘Dad’ is my father. Call me ‘Papa.’”
According to anecdotal evidence in a piece on the Daily Beast, today’s modern urban hipster families are full of Mamas and Papas, while Mom and Dad creak their way towards the grave in suburbia. They point out that the “papa” moniker peaked in popularity in the 1870s, eventually replaced by “dad” a hundred years later. There’s nothing hipsters love more than resurrecting traditions without their context and assigning new meaning, as a series of interviews with all these papas show:
“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.”
But it’s not just Brooklyn. These pouty papas are all over:
Justin Underwood, a 34-year-old IT professional in Virginia and father to a 3-year-old daughter named Afton Love, refers to himself as a “feminist papa bear” and thinks the “dad” sobriquet is “very bland and drab,” he said. “There’s no excitement to it, and I feel like the word papa nowadays has so many meanings. We live in an age when fathers are more in touch with their feminine sides and are all right with playing dress-up and putting on makeup with their daughters.”
Underwood also thinks “dad” is antiquated, whereas “papa” is an “open-minded, liberal term,” he said, “like a dad with a twist.”
Open-minded? Liberal? My grandfather, whom we all called “Papa,” once told me that anyone who claims to have an “open-mind” is saying their brain is a sewer catching garbage. That’s a real Papa—a hard, patriarchal, Fox News-loving maniac, god rest his soul. He definitely never played dress-up with his daughters, though he did like to tell them what was wrong with Democrats.
Like many hipster signifiers, the New Papa is a status symbol, in addition to a break from tradition. Crocker writes that when your child screams for Papa to give them more animal crackers it’s a “cultural status marker and codified identity label—a way of signaling your hip, progressive values to other in-the-know parents.”
In that case, make other parents call you Papa and save your kids from sounding like twee victorian shut-ins trapped in an attic. This has been another episode of Daddy Discourse.