Thursday, January 06, 2011


Whether you're a new dad, or a dad starting out the new year, it's time to think about yourself. Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween before the New Year were all about the kids. But they're over. Now you've got a few quiet months with hopefully no yard work and some time to actually relax.

Do you have somewhere to do that?

Every dad needs a special place they can retreat to and unwind from the stress of work and parenting. Lately though, I'm seeing a lack of respect for dad. There's even a new show on one of the DIY channels that mocks Mancaves in favor of family rooms.

That's just preposterous.

Dads, we need our own place. We need a Dad Cave. A place we can call our own, do our own thing, but still be close enough by to help out when needed.

What makes the best dadcave? A basement. It's soundproofed, is easier to heat and cool due to it's semi-subterranean nature, and is fairly storm resistant- so all the cool crap you jam into it for your fatherly entertainment is sure to stay safe and sound.

Oh sure, you could opt for a Fortress of Solitude- an unattached garage- to spend your time in. It worked for Superman, right? Alas, while garages boast lots of cool tools and a sheltered place to work on the car, mower, etc., they lack the creature comforts of a basement. And a bathroom. And let's face it, in winter, you don't want to have to trudge even 20 feet out in the snow to go sit on the throne.

What about a den or library? These above ground retreats may have worked well for the Atomic Dad of the 1950s and 60s, but being above ground, it's easier access for the missus and pretty much guarantees frequent inspections, calls for cleaning and maybe even decorating from her. Best to sequester yourself below the surface where wives fear to tread.

But the best argument for a basement retreat? Batman has one.

Seriously, who is cooler than Batman? He's a billionaire playboy, with a batload of awesome gadgets, cars, motorcycles, boat and planes. He's a dad- albeit a single, adoptive one. He fights crime with no super powers. And unlike some armored, high tech playboys, he's not a drunk. Batman rules. Clearly, he is the coolest dad ever. Just ask Robin.

So now that you've seen the light and are ready to get rid of some of those boxes of crap the wife will never use again, claim a corner of the basement and start tricking out your very own dadcave. As you plan, keep a few things in mind:

BIGGER ISN'T BETTER. My pal recently built a new house and engineered this ginormous basement. I know he married a daughter of the Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe, and has several dozen family over every weekend- thereby necessitating a large family room- but this works against him on those rare occasions it's just him and his own horde of wife and kids.

You can't get any private time in a vast cavern. A smaller space is easier to regulate temperature and doesn't invite people to come in and rain on your underground parade. You don't have a batmobile, -boat, -plane or a crime fighting lab, so you don't really need all that square footage. Just something big enough for a pool table, a dry bar and four or five of your closest pals to gather around the big screen TV.

IF THEY CAN REACH IT, IT WILL BREAK. Now that you have your own special room, you're likely tempted to start stocking it with all the cool crap your wife made you box up and put in the attic. Like old trophies, matchbox cars, or your childhood GI Joes. Bear in mind though that your neanderkids will come into the dadcave- especially when you're not home. If they can reach any of your prized possessions, they will touch, and more than likely, break them. Keep the valuable stuff up high.

IF IT CAN BE STAINED, IT WILL BE. Whether it's your kids, or your buddies after a few beers, there will be spills in the dadcave. If you don't mind stains, go ahead and put in white carpet and get a comfy cloth recliner. If you want to not have to spend more time and effort than a shop vac requires to operate, go for leather furniture and dark carpets or tiled floors. I prefer the dark, indoor/outdoor carpet, as it helps absorb sound when the kids won't shut up while I'm watching TV.

CREATURES WANT COMFORT. If you get your way, you're going to be spending a lot of time in the dadcave. So you want to be comfortable. Archie Bunker, Al Bundy, Homer Simpson- they all understood the need for somewhere comfortable to sit. Even if the power goes out, squirrels gnaw through the cable lines or a low flying plane knocks out your satellite, you've still got somewhere to sit. Preferably a recliner, so you can sleep there too. I also recommend a blanket and small pillow within arm's reach in case you just decide to take an extended winter's nap.

THE ELECTRONIC WINDOW SEES ALL. Captain Kirk didn't sit in front of a window on the Enterprise. Batman doesn't read telegrams from around Gotham. You need a TV to stay in touch with, or retreat from, the world. Preferably one connected to cable or satellite, the internet and a gaming system of some kind. Before you pump a lot of money into a TV big enough to serve as a dining room table, bear in mind you also need surround sound (to drown out the wife and kids) and a DVD or Bluray for those cable/satellite outage periods. And you don't need a humongous TV. Sit a little closer to that 42" TV and it looks bigger.

A DAD TRAVELS ON HIS STOMACH. Why walk up the stairs to get food when you could have a micro kitchen next to the TV? A simple dry bar with microwave, dorm refrigerator and even a George Foreman grill allows you to maintain a stockpile of food and drinks within arm's reach. And forget putting in a sink. That means plumbing, and plumbing means leaks. Paper plates and plastic cups and utensils work fine at picnics and will do just as well in your basement. Trust me- the first time you can grill burgers while watching the big game, you'll never want to go outside again.

SHELVES ARE MADE OF WOOD. All that cool electronics and creature comforts are going to get expensive. So you need to save where you can. Sure, sure, you could go buy some fancy book cases made of intricately-bent wire and tube steel, but really, why bother? Just run down to the local home-supply store and buy a minivan-full of 1x8s and some wood screws. Throw in a drill and saw, and in no time you'll have custom-fitted shelves for little to no expense. They may not look as nice as the wife's coordinated living room suite, but once you stack all your trinkets, movies and games on them, they'll look just fine.

CAVES ARE DARK FOR A REASON. If you were performing surgeries, or constructing intricate electronic components, lots of light might be helpful in the dadcave. But you're going to be sitting back, relaxing and watching the boob tube. It makes its own light. Don't go overboard with track lighting and reading lights and all that girly nonsense. Throw in a couple of lights with the switch near your recliner (or install a remote control) and you're gold. All you need to be able to see is where you put the remotes.

THEY'RE CALLED "OUTHOUSES" FOR A REASON. Yes, it might seem like a good idea to have one of Thomas Crapper's flushing toilets nearby, but is it really? Do want to do your business, then have to sit in the smell of it while watching TV? Far better to leave the dadcave, go upstairs and do your dirty deeds elsewhere. And imagine if you have the guys over. Do you really want to smell what you fed them? Keep the bathroom as far from the dadcave as possible. Preferably on another floor. Plus, then your wife will clean it.

TWO CAVES ARE BETTER THAN ONE. Once your dadcave is finished, it will be the coolest damn place in your home- at least to you and the neanderkids. Are you really ready to share and watch your manly retreat turn into a romper room littered with Barbie shoes and lego bricks? The best way to keep the dadcave yours is to build an adjoining playroom. Kids aren't so demanding, either. They don't need surround sound, and don't appreciate picture quality. Outfitting them with an older or smaller TV will often do the trick. Throw in your old Playstation 2 as combination DVD player/gaming system, and they're set. Put up a couple of dry erase boards on the walls, and the kids can do cave art to their hearts' content. But best of all, give the kids permission to make the playroom as messy as they want. Then when they leave their toys in the dadcave, you can fling them over to the playroom and the kids will never notice.


There you have it. The basics of good dadcave design. You can add more, or fancy it up if you must, but these are the minimum enhancements for an enjoyable winter hibernation.

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