Dad Joke

Text: “Write if you find work” 


My dad told me that this is something his father would say to him every time he would leave the house for school in the morning, or really any time he went anywhere. He describes it as a depression era phrase, referencing how people had to leave their homes to find work in other cities, corresponding with their loved ones if they were successful. Obviously in this context, the phrase isn’t being used literally, but in a light humorous way. My dad was elementary and middle school age when he encountered this phrase, and certainly was not expected to go out and find a job to support his family. The phrase essentially served as a repeated dad joke during his childhood. 


The use of this phrase as it appeared throughout my dad’s childhood can be interpreted in a few ways. If we are looking at it through the lens of humor that relies on incongruence, the joke is relatively self explanatory. The incongruence here lies in the fact that it is not typical in modern Western society to task a young child with finding a job. There is also incongruence in using a phrase from the 20’s and 30’s over 40 years later, because the language doesn’t match the time period. The appeal behind incongruent humor is it is surprising and allows us to subvert societal norms in a risk free way. My grandfather’s use of the phrase in this context could just be a simple manifestation of this concept. Additionally though, it is important to note that the origin of the phrase in the Great Depression may hold some significance. My grandfather’s parents would have experienced the Great Depression firsthand, and I have been told they were relatively poor. My grandfather grew up in the rural midwest on a farm, and his upbringing was frugal and money conscious. These Depression anxieties likely would have been transmitted to my grandfather as a result. Jokes have historically served as an outlet for releasing anxiety, often by subverting the source of anxiety, or making light of it. It’s possible that my grandfather’s use of this phrase was to cope with and release anxieties about money and survival in a capitalist society. Turning this phrase into a joke told to a child, pokes fun at, and rejects the American capitalist belief that one should constantly be concerned with making money. It makes the idea of finding work light hearted, rather than urgent and necessary to survival.