I thought after my daughter was born I'd for sure be one of those men who developed a dad bod. But parenthood had a completely different effect on me and it made me realize why that dad bod narrative is a problem.
man showing off pants that are too large
Credit: Michelle Gibson//Getty Images

When my wife and I arrived at the hospital the morning she went into labor, I weighed anywhere between 210 and 215 pounds, depending on the day. When we left two days later with our beautiful daughter, B, I'd dropped a few pounds. After making it through the first week, I found myself at 200. By the time I went off paternity leave, I'd shed about 20 pounds and sized out of most of my jeans.

This likely reads as a brag, but it’s more an expression of genuine surprise, especially in a time when dad bod is so popular. The term went mainstream in 2015 when Mackenzie Pearson wrote about it in a piece for the Odyssey, describing this example of male physique as "a nice balance between a beer gut and working out." It stuck. Regular guys like me could have dad bods, as could celebrities like Vince Vaughn and Leonardo DiCaprio. Stealth muscles, firm but well-disguised by generous layers of flab, became a fad, and not always for the better—Aquaman himself, Jason Momoa, was shamed for having what people claimed was a dad bod. So what does dad bod even mean? The pressure was enough to make a regular guy like me feel bad about his physique, too.

I assumed, based on media-driven dad bod narratives, that I'd pack a bit more on my frame after B showed up. Truthfully, those narratives made me think about what my body might look like in the months after my baby entered the world more than I’d like to admit. Would I have the dad bod people were cracking jokes about? Yet fatherhood had a curious effect on me—and for the most part, it wasn't even intentional.

When B came home, I occupied myself with tasks great and small around the house, especially when I was on my four-week paternity leave: Laundry, meal prep, putting together the furniture for the nursery that we didn’t get to do on account of B making her debut several weeks ahead of her due date, spot cleaning the house, running up and down the stairs to fetch diapers, clothes, bottles, pacifiers, and other baby-related sundries, painting, and even gardening. I also focused a lot of time getting to know my daughter, who developed opinions on everything from meals to naptime to snuggles with astonishing speed.

Paternity also meant something more than the parental responsibilities and the privileges that come with it. It did encourage me to seize control over an aspect of my life that I've wrestled with since my 20s. Being healthy for my personal gratification is one thing. Being healthy for my daughter is another entirely. I want to be strong for her, to keep up with the demands of childrearing, and, eventually, the demands of an energetic toddler. More importantly, I want to be around for her for as long as I possibly can, and I knew that meant living a healthier lifestyle. So, I started eating better, filling my diet with fruit and veggies instead of vending machine trash and stray sweets I couldn't resist when well-meaning but unhelpful coworkers plopped them on the communal kitchen.

I managed to avoid having a dad bod but here's a caveat: As every baby is different, so too is every parenthood experience. My wife and I are fortunate. Both sets of grandparents live within 15 minutes of our home, and both sets of siblings, too. We had support from the outset of B's delivery, which not everyone does. B also has a cheery constitution, which made nurturing her a breeze compared to stories we've heard from other new parents. Bottom line: I had help facilitating the shift in my health I'd hoped to make before B's birth, and a strong, capable, encouraging wife to face the stresses of parenting alongside me (a boon for me, as I'm a basket case under stress).

If you do go the route of the dad bod, there's no shame—not as long as you're doing right by your health, for your sake and your child's. Most of all, remember this: The best favor you can do for yourself is to forget about dad bod entirely, lest you be distracted from fatherhood itself. The invention of dad bod as an ideal will, for better or for worse, lead you down the road to thinking about your body more than being in the moment. Remember: Being a dad is a total joy, no matter your clothing size. So enjoy yourself!