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On Becoming Uncool

“I used to be ‘with it’, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m ‘with’ isn’t ‘it.’ And what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me. It will happen to you!”

--Grandpa Simpson, to Homer

Upon my graduation from college approximately a hundred years ago, I charted a course familiar to many others of my generation: for as long as possible, I would avoid putting my degree to any use whatsoever, and just see where this mad world took me. This plan (if we’re being extremely charitable with what actually constitutes “a plan”) led me to the Florida Panhandle, a region known for white-sand beaches, MTV Spring Break, and countless guys named “Bubba.” Here, I would bartend and get a luminous suntan, often simultaneously. It would either be wonderful, or I would die young. There could be no in-between.

And, for a while, it really was wonderful. During that first Spring Break, while I was making thousands of dollars in tips and subsisting wholly on cigarettes and Red Bull, the patrons I was serving were essentially my peers. I mocked their tribal armband tattoos and popped collars, sure, but the mockery was borne more of bemusement than hostility.

But gradually, after several return trips to sling Spring Break drinks, the shine wore off. It became a chore to play nice with younger people whose company I might have enjoyed only a few years prior, or to feign any interest in whatever the newest bands/trends/memes were, or to hear youngspeak like “ratchet” or “on fleek” without rolling my eyes through the back of my head. The gulf in age between myself and the college kids I was serving had become too large to ignore.

Except that it hadn’t. What had actually occurred, and which is all too common for people like me clinging to halcyon days of youth, was the first visit of a reality that we all experience at one point or another: the things I thought were cool weren’t cool anymore, and maybe I wasn’t cool anymore either.

The evidence was damning. Music I liked had been usurped on the charts by something I barely recognized; rappers all had face tattoos, and Prince and Tom Petty were dead. Superhero movies—no thanks—were the only films that anyone cared about. Even the hairstyle I’d successfully perfected over the previous decade put me firmly among the “olds,” and I couldn’t find bootcut jeans to save my life. So, if the moment had passed for all the things I loved, had my own moment passed as well?

As it turns out, this harsh reality was only preparing me for what is the coolest uncool thing a guy my age can do: I became a dad. And in this, I found that what I feared was the end of my best years was actually the beginning of even better ones.

So now, I’ve lunged headfirst into this new eden of being uncool, and it’s, well, pretty cool. Is it conventionally hip to wear a sling with a baby strapped to your chest? Probably not, but it’s so aggressively lame that it’s almost its own brand of contrarian cool, like wearing socks with sandals or raising the roof, which I may also do eventually. Is it cool to sing “Baby Shark” in grocery aisles, or create acoustic versions of all things Disney? Of course it isn’t, but it makes my baby smile, which is very cool.

I may be less by-definition “cool” than I’ve ever been or will ever be again, but I’m not sure I need to be cool anymore. My kid doesn’t need a cool dad as much as he needs a good one. And if I somehow become “cool” in the service of doing the right by him and my wife, all the better.

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