Shirtless at 40: 5 reasons dads dread being topless

This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Rocco, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 3-year-old daughter Viva, who spends way less time on the pec-deck at LA Fitness than her dad does.

Summertime with a kid means going to the beach. You can’t really avoid it. You WANT to avoid it – avoid the filthy sand and the filthy water and the poisonous sun and the difficult parking and the dangerous lake and the strangers’ children, but you simple can’t – not when you live along a giant coast and want to be a loving parent.

But going to the beach also means taking off your shirt in public … and you’re getting on in years.

Moms discuss this issue all the time. After all, societal expectations for women’s bodies and the ravages of childbirth are well-documented. In Mom Land, each half decade and each new child means an extra ruffle or sarong. This phenomenon has been less well-documented in Dad World, but is nonetheless true. Given that the word “abs” and typically “love handles” and “chest” appear at least once every month on every men’s magazine, there’s evidence that we’re concerned about how we look, particularly in the torso section.

Now, no one is stopping you from wearing a shirt to the beach, and beach shirt technology has really moved forward with the advent of the “swim shirt” or “rashguard” or whatever you want to call it, but a spandex shirt can only help so much. Unless you’re wearing a full wetsuit, covering up your top portion tends to give off that “fat kid at the pool” vibe.

So, this summer, with my daughter’s newfound love of the water and sand, and now that she’s old enough to bring to the beach and too old to keep back from the beach, I’ve decided I have to bite the bullet and raise the curtain on “the gun show.” So, just what is so scary about being shirtless at 40?

The wasteland at the waistband

Don’t believe the manufactured trend articles about “the Dad Bod.” Leonardo Di Caprio is a famous millionaire whose swim trunk pockets are stuffed with boutique quality cocaine – he can look sloppy and still land supermodels. No one wants to see the rest of us with a paunch hanging over our shorts.

The body shapes that are the hardest to get are always the ones which are most desirable. Since NOT looking like a beardless Santa is the hardest thing to achieve as we age, of course the world wants us to have a six-pack. Dads just want to DRINK a six pack – about three times a day, which is counterproductive.

Body hair

Hats off to anyone whose resting body hair state is naturally attractive. I for one seem to have random patches of hair landscaping my torso. In the 21st century, very few people want to look like Burt Reynolds in “Cosmo” – we’re humans, not forest creatures, but you don’t really want to look like an Oscar statuette, either. And if you do need to shave off the random tufts adorning your body – what setting do you use? And do you stand over a tarp and then shake if off in the yard? It’s all very complicated.


We’re all aware these days that the sun is our enemy, and yet we still aesthetically value a tan. Tans just look better, and make those acres of flabby contours look less profound without ever stepping foot in the gym. But what dad can “lay out” like a co-ed prepping for Spring Break? And surely we aren’t going to get into a cancer booth and lie around like a hot dog in a White Hen warming carousel. And spray tan? Fantastic if you want to look like a carrot or a Congressional Majority Leader.

Everybody wants have a tan, but no one wants to tan.

Other weird skin stuff

Four decades of poor choices in the sun, combined with the body’s inclination towards the grave, have left you with an unfortunate patina. Freckles, bumps spots, scars and various red and brown things you really should get checked out. Look at your kid’s skin – a blemish-free masterpiece of human engineering – now look at yourself (really look, don’t just superimpose yourself at 26 over what’s really in the mirror) – to paraphrase Elvis, “We can’t go on together, with suspicious moles.”

Man boobs

Whomever invented this term needs to be thrown to the sharks. In the back of my head I feel like, if there was no catchy term for this unfortunate physical phenomenon, people would think about it a lot less. But here’s this pithy, catchy, funny little phrase, “Man Boobs,” that perfectly sums up the look that manifests, as gravity and entropy turn your youthful pectorals into something more feminine, and as all those sessions of eating your feelings at Portillo’s makes your beefcake much more fatty.

Every guy aspires to having a chest that looks like a pair of meaty throw pillows, and the ladies can’t even pretend they don’t find a solid chest attractive. Pity most of us dads are always one estrogen-laden serving of tofu away from a B cup.

Put together those five factors, and you have a paralyzing fear of the beach. Sure, our legs look terrible, too, but we don’t care – that’s why we always skip leg day.

It seems like most action heroes are middle-aged these days: Hugh Jackman, Robert Downey, Jr., Ben Affleck – but those guys are shirtless FOR A LIVING, and have a team of professionals getting them shredded. The amount of time I spend at the gym just to look good “for my age” means I’m generally an absent father and husband. If I took the time I need to get really cut up, I’d end up living in my car.

Going to the beach is stressful for a dad, and not just because you’re worried about sand in your cell phone and nacho cheese burns on your thighs from the snack bar.

Luckily for us, summer in Chicago is only about 10 minutes long … “Bears Weather” (and Bears sweatshirt weather) is just around the corner.

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