Originally published in The Atlantic

The latest season of Netflix’s animated comedy Big Mouth explores the mysterious world of father figures, and emerges with a revelation. The middle schooler Nick’s dad, Elliot Birch, has been harboring a secret: He used to be a fearsome competitor in the macho martial art of “Scottish nipple twisting.” Elliot is a sweetie pie, a family man who takes the concept of being a lover-not-a-fighter to the extreme. He’s a vocal feminist who kisses his male friends on the mouth and moisturizes as liberally as he praises his wife. So what gives? Elliot explains to Nick that he only ever engaged in the martial art to earn his own hypermasculine father’s approval. Eventually, Elliot left that life behind. “I vowed to myself that I’d be the exact opposite kind of father,” he explains to Nick. “You mean like a soft daddy?” Nick asks. “The softest, and the daddiest,” Elliot says.

This story originally appeared in The Atlantic, November 2022. To read the full story, click here.

© Adrienne Matei 2017