Did you hear about the three holes in the ground?
Well, well, well.
I was harshly accused by my kids of telling a dad joke. I don’t remember what the quip was, but I am sure it was stupid. Still, this accusation really stung because my kids are well past the age of feeling embarrassed by my innocuous responses to sincere questions.
They have lived with me long enough to expect humorless humor. My stupid remarks are now like comfort food for them, although they will never admit it.
Whatever dad jokes I tell are probably born from word plays in my childhood that at the time I considered to be funny. Did you get a haircut? No I got them all cut. What time is it when an elephant sits on a fence? Time to get a new fence. Bartender, call me a cab. Ok, you’re a cab.
But now when my kids, who are home from college, politely ask me to make them a hamburger and I reply by saying “Poof! You’re a hamburger”, I am just relenting to another obnoxious dad joke, even though it is more of a reflexive response than a serious attempt at humor. Punch lines from bygone days are just drilled into my head, crammed alongside the lyrics to Gilligan’s Island and axioms like, Trix Are for Kids.
I am sure you have a few of your own.
If I were in an intense conversation with someone of a certain age and sensibility and I said something like, Surely you can’t be serious?, I would not be annoyed if they replied, “I am. And don’t call me Shirley.” And surely I would never accuse that person of committing a dad joke. I would recognize the conspiratorial chuckle born of anyone who ever saw the movie Airplane.
So I don’t think it is fair to condemn me to dad joke purgatory just because it is me who repeats the joke.
When my older son was little I gave him a book of really bad one liners. This act was not a rite of passage or my subtle way of preparing him one day for fatherhood.
No, I gave him the book because he was at an age where he thought that dumb jokes and bad puns were actually funny.
The subtle difference was that when he told these jokes they were funny. When I told them they were just stupid, and reflective of my being a well-meaning simpleton.
To this day if I make a remark about a hurried doctor having no patients, a joke straight out of his book, I can guarantee that he will accuse me of telling a dad joke. Yet secretly, and somewhat proudly, I know that he will use it with his own kids someday.
One day it is Humor 101. The next it is a dad joke. And so it goes.
As a dad I also considered it important to introduce my kids to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. My two sons loved it. My daughter, who by gender will never be accused of telling dad jokes, liked it too, although at the time she thought it was pretty stupid.
And by all objective measures, she is right, the movie is really stupid. But as most men and boys understand, being stupid is what makes it so funny. And so with a wink and a smile we anticipate an entirely appropriate follow up to the question: What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
In contrast, mom jokes are a little more subtle and thought provoking. Whenever my family watched a movie or a TV show that contained a dramatic fight sequence or an epic Hollywood battle scene, my mom sardonically quipped, “another party we missed.” Over time it became sort of a dark humor anthem trotted out in the face of large scale chaos.
I don’t repeat the line so much now for fear it could be considered insensitive. But under the right circumstances, it still draws a chuckle. Even from my kids.
And my dad? He explained the three holes in the ground.
These days I don’t think kids tell jokes all that much. Instead they share Internet memes which, with words over images, incorporate a visual prompt to humor. In the future these will become dad memes.
I guess you could say dumb jokes today are well-memeing. Get it? Well-meaning?
And this is precisely why my kids still roll their eyes and tell me: Dad, the village just called. They are looking for you.
But what they don’t realize is that they have used that line so many times now that it is just a future child short of being repurposed as a dad joke.
Like hamburgers on the grill, I have prepared them well.