The "Scary Dad" Phenomenon

Illustration for article titled The "Scary Dad" Phenomenon

Malia Obama turns thirteen next month, meaning our President will officially be the father of a teenager. He doesn't seem too worried: of his girls, he says, "I have men with guns that surround them often." And thus Obama joins the ranks of the Scary Dad.


According to AFP, Obama has said, "I'm not anticipating complete mayhem for the next four or five years, but I understand teenagehood is complicated." In addition to the guys with guns, he says, "a great incentive for running for re-election is that it means they never get in the car with a boy who had a beer." Also, if Malia does get a beau, "I might invite him over to the Oval Office, ask him for his GPA, find out what his intentions are in terms of career." He added, "Malia, Sasha, if you're watching this, I'm just joking."

Even if Malia wasn't paying attention to her dad's speech, I'm betting some of her classmates were. And now they're all telling each other that any dude who takes Malia to the Spring Formal is going to end up in Gitmo. I know this, because I had a Scary Dad. Let me clarify: my dad did not and does not scare me. I was actually sort of mystified as his reputation for fearsomeness grew and grew among my male peers. Ultimately, I realized it was probably due to three major factors. First, he has a big beard. Second, he does not suffer fools gladly. Many teenage boys — indeed, many teenagers in general — are fools. And finally, there was the Axe Incident.

The Incident occurred one day when I was 15 or 16; I had a number of friends over, and my dad went out back to prune some shrubbery. To do this, he used a large pair of pruning sheers. Glimpsing him through the window, one of my more imaginative buddies exclaimed, "Holy shit! Your dad's out there with an axe!" I calmly explained that my dad did not have an axe because, duh, we lived in Los Angeles, and I assumed the subject had been laid to rest. It had not. For the remainder of high school, and indeed to this day, my friends have persisted in warning any male who was interested in me that my dad would "cut him to pieces with his axe."

Luckily, my dad has never scared off a potential suitor, though my mom indirectly did once, when I brought a boy on a first date to her lab (she's a biologist), which at the time was full of giant radioactivity-warning signs. And of course, there's something annoying about the idea that it's a dad's job to guard his daughter with guns and axes — shouldn't he be teaching her to take care of herself instead? On the other hand, there's a form of scary-dadness that's less about safeguarding your daughter's virginity (ick) and more about showing her she can have high standards. Obama obviously shouldn't be grilling thirteen-year-olds about their career plans — unless he wants to talk to a whole bunch of aspiring rock stars, video game testers, and jet pilots — but it's not so bad for him to teach Malia she deserves to be with somebody great who respects her and cares about her safety. And if the Secret Service helps him get that message across, so be it.

Obama's Next Crisis: A Teenage Daughter [AFP, via Yahoo News]


Jenna Sauers

I'll never forget the time my dad made my boyfriend spend five hours one Saturday afternoon digging a ditch on our property. I was 13. I had been hoping for a Trivial Pursuit showdown, and maybe some furtive making out. He never came over again.

I love my dad.