Sad dads are the hot new trend in tragic masculinity—starting in Hollywood, and coming soon to a vape store or sculpture studio near you. The sad dad is just like the dad bod, but even sadder, which makes it a fitting fad for 2017. While the dad bod—a term used to describe the flabby physiques of dudes who don’t work out regularly—said “don’t try so hard,” the sad dad says “why try at all?” He can be found chain-smoking outside of his ex’s place while he waits to pick up the kids, taking up one to five new hobbies, and not starring in an upcoming major motion picture. The three lightly-lined faces of this melancholy movement are Brad “Constantly listening to Bon Iver” Pitt, Ben “Shtupped the nanny” Affleck, and Tobey “Partying with Sofia Richie at 1Oak” Maguire.
But how can we distinguish the sad dad from his Hollywood cohorts, the washed-up former A-Lister and the unhappily married actor? These recent divorcés demonstrate their unique tribal affiliation via the telltale vape, and sport an aura of sadness that’s deeply at odds with their annual income. They’re handsome, semi-employed, and clearly not OK. They either party hard or have sworn off alcohol and drugs altogether. They’ve lived on this earth for four or five decades, but their own facial hair is still a mystery to them. They’ve probably played a superhero in a big-budget movie franchise. And despite having been married for more than a decade, their ex-wives seem just fine without them. Here’s a shortcut: if you’re a member of the Pussy Posse and AARP, you’re probably a sad dad.
Mirror mirror on the wall (of a rented bachelor pad), who’s the saddest dad of them all? This month, Brad Pitt took the lead with a downright sorrowful GQ cover story. On a sadness scale from poetry you wrote in middle school to a literal funeral, Pitt’s new tell-all is a solid nine, as the former Mr. Angelina Jolie recalls his descent from all-American heartthrob to emotional divorcé. In one particularly evocative passage, GQ correspondent Michael Paterniti asks Pitt “what gives him the most comfort these days”—which, if you feel the need to ask, is already a red flag. The actor responds, “I get up every morning and I make a fire. When I go to bed, I make a fire, just because—it makes me feel life.” In response to a later query on finding joy, Pitt explains, “It’s an elusive thing. It's been a more painful week than normal—just certain things have come up—but I see joy out the window, and I can see the silhouette of palms and an expression on one of my kids' faces, a parting smile, or finding some, you know, moment of bliss with the clay.” It bears mentioning that later in his rhapsody on joy, Pitt philosophizes, “It’s the laughter of the African mother in my experience—it's got to come from the blues, to get R&B.” Yikes!
The GQ profile balances painfully hilarious quotes like these—I repeat, “moments of bliss with the clay”—with substantive tidbits about Pitt’s new, lonely life. Like your ex, Pitt has “been listening to a lot of Frank Ocean.” He just started therapy, which makes sense, since he admits that he’s “become absolutely tired of myself.” He also opens up about his substance abuse, explaining, “I can't remember a day since I got out of college when I wasn't boozing or had a spliff, or something. Something. And you realize that a lot of it is, um—cigarettes, you know, pacifiers. And I'm running from feelings. I'm really, really happy to be done with all of that. I mean I stopped everything except boozing when I started my family. But even this last year, you know—things I wasn't dealing with. I was boozing too much. It's just become a problem. And I'm really happy it's been half a year now, which is bittersweet, but I've got my feelings in my fingertips again.”
These days, Pitt’s cocktail of choice is “cranberry juice and fizzy water.” Of course, the actor’s former vices are familiar to anyone who closely followed the details of his fairly recent divorce. Back in September, news leaked that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, the perfect Hollywood couple, were officially splitting up. The inciting incident was an alleged confrontation between Pitt and his son Maddox, which took place on a private jet and triggered an investigation by the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services. Inevitable rumors began to spread that Pitt had anger management issues, and that his predilection for alcohol and pot made him an irresponsible and unfit parent. Pitt sought joint physical custody of the kids, and Jolie pushed back, offering Pitt monitored visitation “until he gets his shit together.” A Jolie source even went so far as to describe the custody battle as “War of the Roses redux.”
Luckily for the Pitt-Jolie’s brood of six, tensions appear to have died down a bit. Describing the current situation with his kids, Pitt admits, “I was really on my back and chained to a system when Child Services was called,” adding, “After that, we’ve been able to work together to sort this out. We're both doing our best.” AKA, don’t expect a dramatic court scene anytime soon.
The GQ profile pairs Pitt’s confessions with photos of the gaunt 53-year-old, posing against the landscape of three different national parks. The photos, shot by Ryan McGinley, are haunting, strange, and spectacular. Brad Pitt folds into the fetal position at White Sands, stares down at his feet in the Carlsbad Caverns, and contemplates his own smallness in the Everglades. It’s like an all-American choose your own adventure picture book, except the adventure is learning how to feel again.
Brad Pitt has certainly padded his sad dad CV, with credentials spanning from this GQ profile to a March Daily Mail article headlined “Brad Pitt hides out in art studio bolthole listening to break-up ballads while Angelina Jolie travels the world with the kids” (a canonical text in the sad dad oeuvre). But while Pitt’s dejection photoshoot certainly works in his favor, he’s up against some stiff competition. Let’s not forget Ben Affleck, a man so sad there’s a meme about it.
Affleck’s unique advantages include a multi-year, slow-motion divorce—very tortured, very sad—a stint in rehab, and a scandalous affair with the nanny (the incredibly lazy A-Lister’s infidelity of choice). Despite having ostensibly cheated on his wife, Jennifer Garner, Affleck still has the audacity to constantly look tortured and traumatized. Of course, appearing blindsided and bereft when your own poor decision-making finally bites you in the ass is textbook sad dad. Affleck gets extra points for his beer belly, but earns a demerit for his insistence on old-school cigarettes over the infinitely sadder vape pen.
The underdog in this race to the bottom is Tobey Maguire. Maguire, who is arguably the least famous of the trio, starts at a disadvantage. Still, he exhibits some key sad dad qualifications, like trying to rebound by partying with 18-year-olds and having an ex-wife who appears to be happy and loving life. Bringing up the rear are a handful of almost eligible, recently single male celebs. They include Calvin Harris (sad, but not a dad) Johnny Depp (more bad than sad) and Chris Martin (not sad enough). At the end of the day, anyone can go through a bad breakup or an old-fashioned mid-life crisis. But if you’re not partying with Leonardo DiCaprio, vaping multiple times a day, or expressing your long-stifled emotions through the medium of clay, it’s time to step up your sad dad game.