First there was the movie Hackers, which was awesome because the internet was just a baby and Angelina Jolie’s character was named Acid Burn. Then there was the website Lifehacker, which launched in 2005 and was also awesome because the tips were actually useful. Then there was Tim Ferriss calling passive income a hack. Then there were a frankly disturbing number of highly questionable diet hacks. Then someone roped in fathers and “Dad Hacks” became a shitty, undeniable, ubiquitous thing.
Dad hacks have been a thing now for, let’s say, about seven years. And now is as good a time as any to shut the fuck up about them. I say this with all due respect to, for instance, the totally awesome dad who used a fan to inflate a pillowcase or the father who used a vacuum to make a ponytail for his daughter’s hair. Well, kinda. Using a fan to inflate a pillowcase is cool. Using a vacuum cleaner to make a ponytail is some silly ass nonsense. It’s like bringing a cannon to a gun fight–impractical, unnecessary, and definitely a pain in the ass. The solution to the problem is too clever by half–more of a means to a gif than a means to an end. That end is, it seems, praise from the internet. (We’re pulling from our own archives here so Dad Hack #1 probably should be this: When throwing stones in glass houses, look out for the shards.)
Dad hacks fall into two categories: reasonable advice and highly unreasonable advice on time-saving. The former category, would include, for instance, GQ‘s out there advice to throw away old toys. And, sure, that’s sage. It’s also not a hack. It’s just living your fucking life with at least a modicum of aptitude. What’s risible, in general, about hacks is that they are shortcuts and that piece of advice, though actionable, does not represent a strategic workaround. Like so many other s0-called hacks, it’s dangerously close to, “When counting two rows of ten widgets, multiply two by ten, as opposed to counting all the way up to twenty.” Again, yup. Do that. Throwing away old toys? Do that as well. It’s not a cheat. It’s how people avoid becoming hoarders.
As for the other category, time-saving hacks, those tend to at least promote shortcuts. For instance, the video of a man holding a ball attached to a fishing rod as his son swings at it does feature a guy who has figured out a way to do less “work.” But why? To what end? Does this dude really hate throwing a ball so much he had to figure out a way to avoid it? It seems to me the defining factor of this form of dad hack is that it somehow allows the father to be more sedentary and less involved. In other words, it represents a work around, but mostly in service of avoiding doing fun stuff with a kid. It is a dad hack in the sense that it helps fathers avoid doing the the stuff that makes being a dad fun. Helping your daughter with her ponytail? Fun! Swinging your kid? Great! The goal should be to prolong that interaction, not abbreviate it.
The overall problem here isn’t the core idea of hacks. Being empowered to make decisions about how one uses one’s time is great. But dad hacks seem largely to exist in praise of crappy decisions. And the logical endgame here is ugly. It’s dad using a glove full of bean bags to simulate a human hand on a sleeping child. It is, very literally, dad finding a way to leave the room (presumably to grab a beer).
There’s a broader social cost as well. Dad hacks reinforce the insidious idea that fathers are inept, selfish caretakers. Some definitely are, but most aren’t. Unfortunately, that active majority is hard to turn into a meme. The dad throwing BP for his son is just another dad. The internet doesn’t go for that. The internet wants individualism–even if its expressed by the creative drive to fit into a rusty old archetype.
So, for the love of God, stop talking about fucking dad hacks. (We will as well.) If something makes your life easier, it’s knowledge. If you invent something to make your life easier, it’s an invention. If you do a cool art project, it’s a cool art project. If you take an hour trying to fix your daughters hair, it’s a memory. If you drink a beer, that’s cool too, but do it on your own time.