Twelve Writers Share Their Dads' Strangest Email and Text Habits

Dad
Jason Katzenstein/Newsweek

Dads! They're great—and when they send you an email or text, it's like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs. Everything is ostensibly in its right place, but something's a little off.

We polled 12 writers for their strangest and funniest tales of dads using digital communication (Facebook included). Happy Father's Day. Go text your dad some emojis.

ADAM ROTSTEIN, comedian and contributor to College Humor

"My dad was born in Israel but has worked my whole life as an IT consultant at what I imagine is one of those awful corporate complexes in central New Jersey (I've never visited). He is a veteran of American office culture and probably uses the expression 'hump day' with his colleagues. It's all very professional. Sometimes we talk about intimate, familial matters via email and he still signs them 'Regards, Moshe' (and it's not his work email signature). It's ridiculously impersonal and probably reflexive in nature. His greetings are completely streamlined. I pay them no regard."

DEBBY HERBENICK, professor, sex advice columnist and author of The Coregasm Workout

"My dad was an early adopter, and in college in the mid- to late 1990s, I was one of the few people who had a parent so active on email. His emails were frequent (several a day), long (several hundred words each), written in mostly all caps with occasional lowercase, and he told fantastic stories of his childhood, adolescence and peak moments of his life. He signed them with various self-given monikers, like TAO ('The Ancient One') and 'BLT' (an inside joke).

Also, before most news websites had anything very sophisticated online, and while home from college, I was embarrassed to learn my dad was a frequent faxer of the local news station, Channel 7 in Miami. The thing about faxes, as opposed to email, is that the original paper you faxed over is still in evidence and, unless you threw it away, available for everyone to see. His fax was in the room I stayed in when I came home, and I was mortified to see what a fax troll he was (though of course we didn't call it trolling back then). As far as I could tell, he faxed them pretty much daily ('Hey 7!') to correct their grammar or comment on their coverage of then-first lady Hillary Clinton, Janet Reno or others in power. Some of the Channel 7 staff seemed to egg him on, faxing him back with pointed but funny comments of their own; fortunately, nowhere did I see a cease and desist.

My dad passed away before the world of Facebook, Twitter and iPhones, and I can only imagine what these tools would have been like in his clever but trollish hands."

DOUG MAIN, reporter for Newsweek

"My dad is the Hemingway of emails. Not because he sounds like a famous novelist. But because the sentences are as terse and concise as possible. Like this. It's partially because he checks his email only once every couple of weeks. So I get replies from him weeks or even a month later. He's an old-school doctor who prefers face time to FaceTime. But mainly because he types with one finger, hunting and pecking. Also, commas rarely make an appearance. Whenever he writes more than a paragraph, I know it's very important, and I certainly appreciate the time it must have taken."

MARA WILSON, writer, former child star, creator of the show What Are You Afraid Of? and author of forthcoming book of personal essays

"My dad once texted me, 'Hi Marathon, did you get the package I sent you?' I wrote back, 'Sure did, thanks, Dadthon!'"

KATHERINE COHEN, Staff writer for Afropop

"I'm not totally sure why my dad decided to make a Facebook account, since he doesn't really like the Internet or most people. I only found out that he had one because Facebook kept suggesting that I friend this completely featureless David Cohen, who had no friends and no information on his profile. I mentioned it to my dad as a joke because I didn't really think it was him; he told me that it was, but I shouldn't friend him because 'nothing much goes on there.' Apparently, at some point, he created an account with no information other than his name, then immediately forgot his password and gave up. My mom sent him a friend request and she's still kind of mad he left her hanging. He periodically gets email notifications that someone he knows has friended him. It makes him anxious for a while, but he doesn't ever do anything about it.

You might also be interested in knowing that my dad once got an email saying he had won a million euros and actually called the phone number in the email 'just to check if it might be real.' He talked to some dude in Belgium who was mostly surprised that anyone had responded and made a sort of half-assed attempt to get my dad's credit card information, at which point my dad realized that he was not going to win any money and hung up."

ED ZITRON, PR person, Inc. columnist and author of This Is How You Pitch

"My father is the most eloquent emailer of all time. He's a former management consultant and worked as a chairman in the NHS [National Health Service, in England]. I have worked with/spoken to Fortune 500 CEOs and venture capitalists that don't have the eloquence of email that he has had for his entire email life, from the very beginning back when he was sending emails through CompuServe and AOL. His grammar, wordplay and organization of text are practically flawless. This is funny, because of the way in which most people consider all adults past a certain level of 'Internet' or age to be unable to do email correctly. Every email he sends, from jokey 'Look at this funny news!' to talking about business matters, is perfectly typed. It's quite funny."

DAN ABROMOWITZ, contributor to ClickHole and The Onion

"Mine was an NPR household. Most rooms in my parents'' house have a radio, and so you could locate who was where when by following the waft of Fresh Air. Our waking hours were accompanied by the constant white noise of measured, even-toned reporting.

Since I've moved out, my dad's taken on two habits to increase this ubiquity of coverage: texting me whenever he's listening to a story of any degree of interest to me and blasting NPR out of his pocketed iPhone's speakers, like some kind of Public Radio Raheem, tucking himself in a tinny bubble of personal news. That kind of solipsism would do weird things to anyone. And so, home one weekend, I was helping my mom in the kitchen when, from somewhere in the house, he shot us both a cryptic text: 'tribute to ganfolgini.'

My dad's a cogent texter, but, as with his jokes, he has a way of sometimes assuming a shared body of knowledge which in fact he's in sole possession of. It's fun, because then you get to do Dad Forensics! Here, I quickly put a few things together: 'ganfolgini' was probably James Gandolfini, who'd just died; a 'tribute' was probably on NPR, but since there was no NPR in earshot, my dad was probably in the basement (his ancestral homeland), inviting us down to listen. Of course, each of those pieces of pertinent information were either excluded or actively obfuscated, but who really cares? There'll be plenty more NPR to fold us into down the line."

SARA MORRISON, senior writer, Boston.com

"I recently introduced my dad to the concept of emojis. He is a big fan, especially after he found out that there is an emoji of the flag of his homeland, Great Britain. When Scotland lost the vote for independence, he sent a British flag and that trumpet thing with the streamers. When he read a story about an English man who made a giant fart machine and pointed it at France, he sent a four-emoji combo of the British flag, a peach that looks a lot like a butt, a gust of fart-like wind and the French flag. He used to sign all of his texts 'Dad' or even 'Luv, Dad,' but now it's only some of them.

Also: My dad doesn't use Facebook, but he does have a Twitter account. He has been blocked by @AlGore."

DYLAN VON WAGNER, singer/songwriter for the band Imaginary People

"I recall the first email ever presented by the Wagners. I call my dad and say:

  • 'Dad, just sent you an email, did you read it?'
  • 'Why would I do that, just tell me.'
  • 'Well, that's the point, it's a message that doesn't need a phone call.'
  • 'I'm not reading that. Just tell me now.'
  • 'OK, well, I'm gonna send more emails.'
  • 'Great, there's no paper, not gonna read them.'
  • 'Well, it's a way of sending something quick without having to call.'
  • 'What's not important enough to call?'
  • 'OK, I'll stop calling.'
  • 'Great, no more calls. Just show up and tell me in person!'"

LAUREN WALKER, reporter for Newsweek

"My dad's technological know-how can be summed up like this: Whenever he forgets his Facebook password, he creates a new account. I'm friends with at least three of them. He also still uses AOL. And you know how AOL allows you to set up a maximum of five email addresses? He decided to use all of them.

When I receive the rare email from my father, it will come from any one of these five addresses—each of which contains a literal or clever reference to his name.

The email itself is also distinctly him. When it appears in my inbox there is seldom a subject, meaning the contents are always a surprise. But when I open it, THE MESSAGE IS ALWAYS IN ALL CAPS. I don't know why. But as alarming as it is, I don't bring it up because it is one of life's funny constants."

KEVIN NGUYEN, editorial director at Oyster

"My father never emails me. He just forwards me stories from The Wall Street Journal. When I worked at Amazon, he would send me any story he came across that mentioned Amazon, which was a lot of stories. About 10 months ago, I left to join a small startup. My dad still sends me articles about Amazon, which is, still, a lot of stories."

ELIJAH WOLFSON, senior editor at Newsweek

"My dad
writes emails
like he is composing a poem
despite the fact that
the majority of the time
he's just saying hi."

Twelve Writers Share Their Dads' Strangest Email and Text Habits | Culture