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Saturday, April 01, 2006

What does a father look like? The death of Cargo magazine has spurred a number of stories in Slate, Gawker and Poynter-Romenesko. I never read Cargo and was only dimly aware of its existence before its sudden end. Its failure raises some interesting questions about men, fashion and identity. Writing in Slate, Michael Agger notes that it is the third men's shopping magazine to fold (it was preceded by Vitals and Sync). According to Agger,
Cargo never felt like a peer, it felt more like your 'confused' friend. What's he going to look like today? The magazine veered wildly across the gay/straight divide, often in the same issue...other magazines like Details and Esquire...walk this line with more finesse."
I can't imagine a middle-class father of school-age children studying these magazines for fashion tips or spending $400 on a pair of distressed jeans. Wearing those kind of expensive fashionista garments would seem selfish, irresponsible. That's money that could have gone into your kid's 529 account. Once you have children, your identify becomes fused with your progeny. Your social status is no longer measured by how you look, but by how they look. Are they strong, healthy and attractive? Are they wearing nice clothes? Oh, your son is wearing a Little League T-shirt; why he must be a ballplayer! This contemporary social norm, the parental preoccupation with the child's appearance, may have its roots in the behavior of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. In his wonderful book The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature, UCLA evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller discusses many aspects of human courtship display. He notes
Human courtship effort is low when first assessing a sexual prospect, increases rapidly if the prospect reciprocates one's interest, peaks when the prospect is deciding whether to copulate, and declines once a long-term relationship is established."
According to evolutionary psychology, younger single men (and women) need to spend significant sums on clothing for proper courtship displays. Once you get married and have kids, the parents' resources are poured into their children to in order assure the successful transmission of their genes. So married men don't need $400 jeans. For us, Cargo was just excess baggage. Successful fathers need knowledge, patience and love. You can't buy those at a mall.

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