I have played this 9-second video 16 times, and I think yes, second gentleman Doug Emhoff is absolutely, rightly telling me to wear a mask to do my part in closing down the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a sadly necessary message: Check out NBC reporter Sam Brock’s video of the maskless shoppers and staff he found in a Naples, Florida supermarket.
And then, hmmm, there’s second gentleman Doug Emhoff’s uncompromising yet gentle eye contact, his genially butch monotone, and the way he just snaps that sleek black mask on at the end—well, it’s like Alan Ladd has just ridden into town as Shane again. This PSA is also a slice of fully clothed, totally innocent, daddy porn. The question is no longer how will America process having its first second gentleman, but how did it ever do without one, and of the strong, pluralism-celebrating kind Emhoff represents in the role? Welcome to the era of “Daddy Doug,” or “First Dad.”
Doug Emhoff is a central part of the heartening and also depressing jolt of the last fortnight. To see Joe and Jill Biden, and Kamala Harris and Emhoff actually out and about doing things, and representing the country at services, and just behaving normally should not feel like a relief—but it does when compared to the utterly lacking example of Donald and Melania Trump, and near absence of Mike and Karen Pence, when it came to occupying public spaces, coupled with that trepidation of what would happen when Trump would have to appear statesmanlike. It may have been excellent for ratings, but not so much for the nation’s mental health.
Suddenly, whatever your politics, there are four people who understand the practical and symbolic terrain of their roles—and do not drag along partisan politics when attending to the most public-facing aspects of what they do. One realizes how low the bar was set for Trump; how one smoothly delivered speech was a cause for some commentators’ congratulation—“it’s a change of tone!”—when really that is what presidents should be able to do at the very least. The Bidens and the Harris-Emhoffs know how to do the basics with aplomb.
“Daddy Doug” is a central part of this early sense of refreshment, as his fans in the #DougHive have fiercely embraced. He’s a professional, so the suit jacket is on, but laid-back California dad means that suit jacket comes with T-shirt and zip-up skinny fleece or under-jacket.
“Do it for your friends, do it for your family, do it for your country. Wear a mask,” he commands in the “Mask Up America” PSA. This is excellent advice, but said by a genial silver fox like Emhoff it also comes with a secondary frisson. He’s not a natural with a teleprompter, and so his unblinking gaze comes across as the best kind of unintentional lens flirtation.
And truly, as seen most recently when at the swearing-in of Pete Buttigieg—with husband Chasten—as transportation secretary, Emhoff and Harris quite simply have the best fitted black masks in town. If Zorro was around during coronavirus, this is what he would wear. Look at Daddy Doug place it around his ears at the end of the PSA, sleekly encasing his features; it’s like a cowboy snugly lassoing a steed.
“Doug and Kamala together are like almost vomit-inducingly cute and coupley. I’m like, When is this going to wear off?” Cole Emhoff, Doug’s son, told The New York Times in an entertaining interview alongside Ella, his sister/fashion icon/IMG model, last month. “It’s so insane. It’s like the honeymoon phase forever. Like, the rest of the world gets to see it on social media, but we live that,” Ella added.
The children painted a picture of a dad and mom and stepmom working in a very effective, loving triple-tandem. “My favorite thing is if you scroll back through Doug’s Instagram, you can see the progression from quintessential ‘Dad’ with, like, 10 followers—like, a selfie shot right under his face—to having hundreds of thousands of followers and legitimately being good at it,” said Cole.
He’s right. Emhoff has only been in his post a few weeks, but he is assuming the mantle with ease. His Twitter feed suggests a person with both authority and an instinct to learn and encourage others to learn with him, particularly around the history of what his role actually is. He is, as commentators have noted, recasting a role that was traditionally female, but he is doing more than that. He is showing how defunct that thinking was in the first place. He is showing what supportive, intelligent partners can do regardless of gender.
Emhoff is clearly, very visibly motivated by a lovely-to-watch love and admiration for his wife; he also aspires to public service himself. Like Jill Biden and Chasten Buttigieg (and yes, Karen Pence at an explicitly anti-LGBTQ school), Emhoff teaches, alongside his attorney job.
Teaching is a job that forces you day in, day out, to meet a set of very different young minds exactly at the place where each of them resides. The skill of teaching—done right—is often quantified as grades achieved and children motivated to learn, but the greater skill of a good teacher is a multi-leveled empathy to see people, in teachers’ case very young people, as indelibly individual. You can see Doug Emhoff connecting with very different people with ease.
We can’t yet know what Emhoff may do wrong as second gentleman; it will likely happen, or be perceived and leaped on as such by his wife’s political opponents. But at the moment, he’s supplying Americans with some unalloyed pleasure: handsome, eloquent, and clearly utterly in love with his wife, he’s having the time of his life. Whatever your age, gender, or sexuality, you can find Daddy Doug kind of sexy, or just a regular guy. You can listen along to Daddy Doug. You can smile at his clearly relished journey of Second Gentleman discovery. He’s easy with it all.
As Cole told The New York Times, “I think of all people, Doug was like randomly born” for his new role. Perhaps, if Emhoff ever needs a campaign slogan, it can be “Daddy Doug’s Got This.”