Swiftie dads show the power of positive masculinity

The glittery dads at the Eras tour are there for their kids, and there's a reason fathers love Miss Americana

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published June 28, 2024 12:04PM (EDT)

Fans gather around the stadium prior to the concert of American singer and songwriter Taylor Swift as part of her 'Eras Tour', at Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, on May 24, 2024. (ANDRE DIAS NOBRE/AFP via Getty Images)
Fans gather around the stadium prior to the concert of American singer and songwriter Taylor Swift as part of her 'Eras Tour', at Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, on May 24, 2024. (ANDRE DIAS NOBRE/AFP via Getty Images)

It was still early in the day when the men with glitter in their copper beards started appearing on the streets. They had rhinestone cowboy hats on their heads. And they wore t-shirts that read “It’s me. Hi. I’m the dad. It’s me,” and “Spending a lot of money at the moment.” My family and I were in Cardiff for Taylor Swift’s Eras tour, and the Celtic dads were out in force and ready for it. We’d just come to see Taylor. We left with a newfound appreciation of the power of positive masculinity.

I had long been aware of the existence of Swiftie dads — I live with one, after all — but had regarded them as more of the “singing along to ‘Shake It Off’ in the car” variety than the boa-clad men I witnessed strolling up and down the high street that bright June Tuesday. Yet there they were, enthusiastically bonding not just with their families but with each other, sharing a brotherhood in friendship bracelet-laden arms. And we experienced it firsthand when we bumped into an old friend of my spouse, his wife and young daughters in tow, wearing a shirt that read, “Dad (Taylor’s Version).”

Our modern epidemic of loneliness is significantly more dire in men, who today have roughly only half as many friends as they did a generation ago. That isolation can have a significant impact on their mental and physical health and lifespan. They also spend about half as much time with their children as mothers do — and, according to one Pew Research Center poll, the majority of them say that it’s not enough. But as Prince William himself could tell you — Taylor might be able to help you out there on a couple of fronts.

It’s not about spending money or going to concerts, although that stuff can be fun. Instead, it’s about the emotional power of fandom, within families and between friends — even if that fandom happens to skew bejeweled.

"The t-shirt is to signal to other dads, 'Hey bro, I see you.'"

Ben Valenta, coauthor (with David Sikorjak) of 2022’s  "Fans Have More Friends," has some advice for the haters. He tells me that “We dismiss Taylor Swift or our daughters’ interest in Taylor Swift as girly or a waste of time to our detriment. It’s an opportunity to connect and deepen our engagement with each other.” And when I describe the scene last week in Cardiff to him, he says, “What you were seeing is fandom in action. There are various layers of interaction happening. The dad is there with his daughters; that's the primary purpose. But the reason to wear the t-shirt is to signal to other dads, ‘Hey bro, I see you,’ and create opportunity for additional social interaction.” 

And also, to enjoy some really good music. Joseph Romm, a Senior Research Fellow at the Penn Center for Science, Sustainability and the Media (PCSSM) — and a man who has some solid suggestions for Taylor about what she can do about climate change — acknowledges that he first got into Taylor thanks to now teenaged daughter. But they’re going to see the tour in Toronto because they both appreciate her artistry, and the conversations her songs spark. 

“The first real introduction I had to Taylor in a big way was ‘Shake It Off,’” he recalls. “My daughter was seven. I've always been interested in the best storytellers, so there was a lot of bonding over music and storytelling. We saw the [“Eras Tour”] movie together, and we have endless debates about exactly what the songs mean, because, Taylor, as you know, likes to be cryptic. We have fun getting into arguments about ‘But Daddy I Love Him.’ Is the final chorus really about Travis?” he asks, adding, “I have very firm beliefs on that song.”

"There's a reason why your daughter is connecting with Taylor, and it's worth figuring out why."

For Romm, Swift provides a unique window into the experience of girlhood. “Taylor obviously has connected with these girls,” he says. “What she is saying clearly is resonating with girls like my daughter. That is important to understand.” He also authentically appreciates Swift’s work. “I always tell people to go to watch her NPR Tiny Desk concert, and you will see her musicianship,” he says. “You will see how she thinks about her music. And you'll get some very beautiful songs. I would say to dads, there's a reason why your daughter is connecting with Taylor, and it's worth figuring out why.”

Steve Knopper, an editor at large at Billboard, shares the sentiment. He’s been following Swift since his now 22-year-old daughter Rose was a 9-year-old fan. “When she was that age,” he recalls, “I was like, OK, my daughter is the center of the pop music universe. I'm just going to pay really close attention to what she listens to. I didn’t like all of it. But when she hit Taylor Swift — and she went through a massive Taylor Swift phase — I was like, I'm going to listen here with her. And we just listened to everything.” 

The two also saw Swift on her 2011 and 2013 tours. “I loved hanging out with Rose and experiencing that with her,” he says. “Connecting with Rose on a deeper level through music was incredibly rewarding. I remember talking about it with my ex-wife, ‘I think that Rose is lucky to have such a worthy pop star of her generation.’ Not every generation gets one of those.” He continues, “When I see stuff on social media where people around my age — men and women, but mostly men — are just determined to say she is lesser, I don't really understand that. She's not. She obviously isn't. She's great.”

A decade later, their tastes have diverged, but Knopper and his daughter’s foundation of bonding over music remains solid. “We're respectful of each other,” he says. “And it’s funny because we communicate about music in a way that's really easy. It's natural to us.” 

That’s the kind of future that tech executive Kevin Brown — the friend we ran into in Wales — hopes for. “I read once that if you want to have a good relationship with your kids, do the things that they're interested in,” he says, “and be a part of that.” He tells me, “I could have reverted to the classic, ‘I’m a dad, I'm not getting involved. This is for my wife and daughters.’ Or I could just go with it and have a blast. So I was like, great, where are the tattoos? Let's get them on. And I'm still actually trying to wash them off.”

Looking back on the trip, Brown says, “I felt incredibly lucky to be in a place in time where I could be fully present with my kids and participate. My daughters are six and nine; they'll soon be seven and 10. It was one of those moments where hopefully for them, but certainly for my wife and me, was going to be a lifetime memory.”

And when Eras ends, Ben Valenta hopes that dads continue to expand their opportunities for creating more of those special experiences. “One of the things we’ve focused on in our work in the last six months or so has been where fandom starts,” he says. “Fandom starts typically in the family. As we were going around the country spending time with families, it was very clear how gendered sports fandom was at the family level. Everyone sort of assumes that’s what the boys do.”

Now, though, he notes, “With the Swift phenomenon, you see dads thirsting for ways to connect with their daughters. I think if more people recognized that sports could be the same thing, they could utilize it in the same way. I’m all for connecting via Taylor Swift; I think that’s really positive. But I would suggest that Taylor Swift might have another tour, she might have two more tours. But the New York Yankees? They’re coming back next year and the year after that, forever. That’s the beauty of sports. If we can create that connection, we can have it forever, and it can be the tie that bonds forever.”

Those ties we form and keep forming with our kids — mine are university students, and the Taylor experience has been lifelong — happen when we meet them where they are, when we care more about what they care about than any limited gender norms. Real men can rock a boa just as well as a baseball cap. It's all a lot more enjoyable that way. And Dad might just discover some really cool stuff while making memories.

“When Rose was getting into Taylor Swift,” says Knopper, “I was trying to understand my daughter and her friends and bond with her. She’s listening to and exposing me to songs like ’15’ and ‘You Belong with Me.’ Suddenly, I'm getting these broadcasts, in the form of Taylor Swift, straight from the hearts of girls. It was a delightful phase with Rose. It lasted, I don't know, four or five years. I enjoyed every second of it. I’m sad it's over. And,” he says, “I still love Taylor Swift.”


By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Dads Eras Tour Explainer Fatherhood Masculinity Taylor Swift