Josiah Gogarty

How middle-class is your dad?

How middle-class is your dad?
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Not all Facebook groups are forums for insurrection, anti-vaccine propaganda and rude remarks about Bill Gates. Some are just places where people talk about their dads. ‘Middle Class “Your Dad” Talk’ is a group where some 23,000 members share observations and witticisms that all follow the same format: ‘your dad is extremely specific about how the dishwasher is loaded’; ‘your dad judges others’ success by how big their kitchen island is’; ‘your dad was building up the courage to confront the postman about leaving the garden gate open until he saw he had a tattoo on his arm’. Mums are generally left alone.

The group was set up in December 2015 by Ned Kemp, a 29-year-old who works in criminal law in Bristol. For the first four years he wrote the vast majority of posts, and by last January membership had plateaued at 2,000. But during the first lockdown in March, there was a mass exodus of twentysomethings from boxy flats to their parents’ houses. Middle-class dads and their children were thrown together again; those children needed somewhere to vent about it. Thousands joined Kemp’s group, which now has nearly 2,000 posts a month.

The posts all refer to a host of different ‘middle-class dads’. Everyone seems to have a slightly different idea of what middle--class means. But three distinct varieties emerge. One is the metropolitan centrist, who makes his own chutney, learns conversational French on Rosetta Stone, hands out Green and Black’s chocolate at Halloween, and reckons that ‘the wrong Miliband got in’ back in 2010.

Another is what Kemp says he originally had in mind: the ‘Volvo estate-driving, gilet-wearing, Aga-loving, functioning alcoholic who hasn’t put the heating on since the Great Frost of 1709’. This dad wishes you a happy birthday on LinkedIn, and owns a British Airways Executive Club-branded wooden cheeseboard. In April, the day after the anniversary of Margaret Thatcher’s death, a defining homage to him was posted: ‘Last night your dad, as he does every year, had a glass of his favourite single malt out on the patio. One for him, and one for the Iron Lady.’

The final dad type isn’t really middle-class at all, but is a by-product of the David Cameron philosophy of using the term as a stretchy euphemism for posh, or at the very least, upper-middle-class. Tatler---haunting socialites cheerily proclaim that ‘your dad’s only form of communication is paperwork for your trust fund’, and ‘your dad insists his jawline is due to a boarding school rugby accident and not a recessive Hapsburg gene’.

‘Middle Class “Your Dad” Talk’ is at its most revealing when members start arguing. It’s usually about Brexit. If someone says that ‘your dad declared himself “politically homeless” following the demise of Change UK’, then another will retort that ‘your dad is preparing to celebrate “independence day” and has a union flag at the ready’. Your dad, according to this socially schizophrenic community, has both an EU flag and a pro-Brexit slogan on his Facebook profile picture — a neat reflection of how the middle class went to war with itself over the referendum. Not that everyone’s an ideologue. Perhaps your dad, like many others, ‘voted Leave “to get our fish and sovereignty back” but still goes to Val d’Isère every year’.

One of the most heated debates about what makes a dad ‘middle-class’ is on the subject of shooting. In November someone took issue with one of the many posts about ‘your dad’s’ love of shooting. ‘I dunno where you’re from if this is considered middle--class,’ they said. ‘It’s fine to be posh if you are posh, but it just makes for some pretty unrelatable content for us middle/lower-middle-class types.’ Cue a heated debate about the sport’s precise social position. Five years and thousands of posts in, it is clearly a divisive subject in the group. Eventually there was an intervention from one of the moderators: ‘We don’t like to dictate what activities your dad can partake in. Some middle-class dads might enjoy country pursuits; others are perhaps more suburban in their lifestyles.’

What the group forces members to do is reflect on their dad’s — and their own — position in society. Kemp doesn’t consider himself middle-class at all. His actual dad drives a recycling lorry, while Kemp himself is covered in tattoos and likes watching football with a Lidl lager. Neither of Kemp’s parents went to university. He says the group has become an unexpected ‘anthropological lesson’ for him, revealing a multitude of rival metropolitan and home county sects across Britain. But the posts he enjoys most are the ones that transcend the more anxious subdivisions of class: ‘Your dad asks for your passport back for safekeeping between customs and the airport gate. You’re 24.’