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Are Dad Jokes Dying?

One father explains why he keeps telling cringy jokes to an unappreciative audience

Dad and son sitting with text reading, "What do you call a Jedi in denial?, Obi-Wan cannot be"
The Arrow/Shutterstock

After we had finished shoveling dirt onto my father’s casket, my siblings and I all took quarters out of our pockets and threw them into his grave. We hadn’t talked about this beforehand. We just all showed up with quarters to honor our dad.

Throughout my father’s life, there wasn’t a busboy, deli cashier, valet parker or orthodontic patient who hadn’t seen his disappearing-quarter sleight-of-hand trick. So many ears had quarters pulled from behind them.

Yes, we were often embarrassed by his bits, but we couldn’t stop him from doing them. Gags made him happy.

“You took the words right out of my mouth,” he often told us, “which is very unsanitary.”

“Hey, those new glasses give you spex appeal.”

Every time we asked, “how do you feel, Dad?”—even into his Alzheimer’s phase—his answer was always, “With my hands.”

To us, it felt endless. Until, well, he died. We added “Maker of Smiles” to his gravestone, which wasn’t just about his life’s work as an orthodontist.

My dad and his lifetime of bits are often on my mind because I feel like I’ve picked up his flag of corniness, and I’m compelled to wave it in my kids’ faces. When they were little, I got giggles with “got yer nose” bits. But as they’ve grown, it’s getting harder to make them smile.

In the good old days of a pre-phone, pre-earbuds, pre-iPad car ride, I could drive by a cemetery and proudly ask the back seat detainees, “Did you guys hear about this place?” And then, after a brief pause, announce, “People are dying to get in there.” 

During their younger years, they’d loudly protest and groan with exaggerated disgust. As preteens, they’d roll their eyes at me and then turn back to their phones. But as teens, they don’t even look up anymore. They nod like they’re listening, but I can tell they haven’t heard a word. They’re in their own worlds now, even when I’m right next to them.

It can be depressing, playing to such a tough room, but I haven’t given up on dad jokes. When they come home from school and bound upstairs, I’ll still ask them why I’m suspicious of stairs. Answer: They’re always up to something. I do it because dad jokes have value. In those awkward silences in which the distance between you and your child seems insurmountable, a dad joke can bridge the gap. I always recoiled at my dad’s one-liners, but they were also the scaffolding of our relationship.

I wish I had been more appreciative of my dad’s jokes or told him how much they meant to me. But maybe he already knew. Maybe he’d done the same thing with his father, cringing at his terrible puns and then turning around and unleashing those same silly lines on me.

So I keep telling my stupid jokes, whether those little bastards like it or not. My kids don’t have to get my humor now. But they’ll get it someday.

Who knows, maybe after I pass on, my kids will toss a book of groaners into my grave and then go have a nice nosh, where they’ll embarrass the hell out of their kids.

Follow Article Topics: Family-&-Fatherhood