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Why I'll take a 'dad bod' guy over chiseled abs

Silhouettes of parents with their children.

Silhouettes of parents with their children. Credit: iStock

When a recent blog post about college girls preferring guys with a "dad bod" went viral, lots of older women nodded their heads in agreement.

As 19-year-old Clemson University sophomore Mackenzie Pearson described it, a dad bod is a "nice balance between a beer gut and working out." When a phrase like dad bod goes viral, we think it's new, but this has long existed without having a name.

Dad bod communicates not that a guy has let himself go -- he still works out some -- but he isn't so self-focused that he must have washboard abs and sculpted biceps. There's room in his life to push a stroller, shop for groceries and share a bottle of wine at the end of the week. You know, like a friend and partner.

I can't prove this scientifically, but I believe the lure of the dad bod has grown at the same rate that our economy has required two incomes to afford a house and raise a family. Women are looking for men who are comfortable outside the traditional gender box of earning a paycheck and watching the game.

It's not just that women want men to help with housework -- that's nothing new. It's that none of us knows which role we'll play from one year to the next. I've conducted a wide-ranging survey, consisting of my three sisters and me, to reach this conclusion.

My sister Gail's husband was laid off just as they were having their first baby. So her husband raised their son for the first year of his life while retraining for a job in information technology. My sister Mary quit her job as a nurse practitioner for several years to help build her husband's website business. And Janet and I have supported our families through our mates' temporary unemployment.

Our men, out of necessity, have learned to make scratch pancakes, treat diaper rash and clip coupons. Together, we straddle the Baby Boom and Generation X, and all of us -- in-laws included -- were raised in a world where daily life was gender-specific. No more.

Would the guys with the six-pack stomachs on the cover of Men's Health be secure enough to do "women's work"? I could see Seth Rogen in that role, but Channing Tatum not so much.

Another writer, Peter Holley, fueled the dad bod craze with a confession that since relaxing his gym regimen, he's gotten more dates -- a lot more. He wrote for The Washington Post, "Chiseled abs don't put women at ease or get them to open up."

Some of the reactions to Holley's essay were vicious. They said the dad bod is an excuse for laziness. One commenter cautioned, fat guys will end up with fat girls.

Such mental narrowness would probably be suited to Manhattan's Upper East Side, according to Wednesday Martin. She spent six years observing "glamorous stay-at-home-moms" through the lens of her anthropology background. In an op-ed for The New York Times, Martin said the women "exercised themselves to a razor's edge, wore expensive and exquisite outfits to school drop-off and looked a decade younger than they were."

Their activities are mostly sex-segregated -- girls' nights out, women-only luncheons -- and many of the very successful wives earn year-end "bonuses" from their husbands for achievements like managing the home budget well or getting the kids into the right school.

Such dependency may have its rewards in $30,000 handbags, but I could never let my career molder while crossing my fingers that my marriage would last. Maybe the wives have excellent pre-nups.

In truth, the dad bod fascinates a more egalitarian, middle-class woman. Perhaps I'm making a virtue of necessity, but trading roles in my marriage has made us closer. And as I define it, that's real wealth.

Anne Michaud is the interactive editor for Newsday Opinion.


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