You’re hanging with guys who wear suits to pool parties when their wives forget to pack their Vineyard Vines trunks. You’re partying with 2,000 guys who just discovered the solid-colored pocket square.
The dad-bro, from Urban Dictionary:
Common activities include: gym workouts with his son and friends, boating, mainstream sports, watching pay-per-view mixed martial arts, pool parties, chilling at the beach, attending major sporting events with his son, friends and their girlfriends.
That’s all good fun, so obviously dad-bros are not boring. It’s just that they have their limitations and, as you’ll find out soon, worries. Let’s get to the former first.
I ran into my friend at a penthouse cocktail party at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. The kind of apartment the Rat Pack probably thought would be hovering above Vegas in some kind of spaceship by the year 2015. It’s not. But it is built high enough to allow its occupants to stare down at the rest of the city’s neon nature with superiority, and that’s all you need.
It’s the kind of cocktail party you go to at SALT, the biggest hedge-fund conference.
Between shaken martinis and charcuterie, my friend, a Wall Streeter himself, of course, told me a solid dad-bro story. He said that a bunch of guys had been at the strip club the night before, probably Spearmint Rhino, because that’s where the ballers go.
One in the group, my friend said, fell asleep at the club. SALT, after all, is an exhausting four days of meetings all day and parties all night, in the name of networking. If you’re not careful, if you don’t pace yourself, you let the Vegas take you, and you’re down for the count on day two, as the subject of this anecdote clearly was.
So our subject’s friends, noting that he wasn’t enjoying the strip-club experience as he should, decided to buy him a lap dance. But the warmth of a nearby body pulsing to whatever EDM revulsion was likely playing couldn’t wake the sleeping hedge-fund suit. He was out, SALT’d, perhaps incurably.
For the past seven years, each May, Wall Street’s hedge-fund community heads to Vegas to meet, listen to leaders, gossip, party, and learn. This year, the SkyBridge Alternatives Conference, or SALT, played host to Sir Richard Branson, former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Gen. David Petraeus, Michael J. Fox, OneRepublic (which gave a private concert), and about 2,000 dad-bros and dad-bros-to-be.
These dad-bros are guys who went crazy at the OneRepublic concert once they realized they’d heard the band’s music on commercials or in the car when they take their kids to camp. Dad-bros have great jobs and hobbies and quite wisely take opportunities away from their families to do what dad-bros do — drink Scotch, play blackjack, and bop their heads to bad EDM at clubs that they can later brag to their kids about getting into.
Dad-bros, after all, are still quite cool.
At SALT, these dad-bros talk about what dad-bros talk about — everything they’re scared of. Forget the night. That is what the day is for.
A nice, bright luncheon
The Bellagio, where the conference is held, is filled with sunlit rooms and restaurants once you escape the darkness of the casino floor. On the first day, Morgan Stanley held a private luncheon at the hotel. Attendees were treated with wine, cod, beef, asparagus, a beautiful view of the Bellagio fountain, and a lovely chat about everything they should fear.
- There was Putin and China and Iran.
- The possibility of another market crash — one in which stocks and bonds would join hands and jump into hell together.
- And there was Hillary. In fact, 2016 in general. Wall Street doesn’t seem to know what to make of her. It’s just clear they want her to stay close to her husband and away from Elizabeth Warren.
At the end of a talk like this, attendees will walk up to speakers and ask two questions: How worried should I be? And when? More than anything, dad-bros hate uncertainty. Remember that.
They hate it so much that they were waiting outside the SALT greenroom for Condoleezza Rice to come out, holding baseballs for her to sign. She made them feel certain at her off-the-record talk with former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (who signed a baseball, by the way), and these guys like people who make them feel certain.
Now, this kind of talk isn’t meant to work attendees up into a frenzy. It’s meant to help dad-bros manage risk — risk to their families and their businesses, their houses in the Hamptons and their kids’ private schools — things the financial crisis threatened to disrupt. Destruction, at least their kind, was so close they could taste it, and they all remember the taste.
Dad bro, broing at the Aria pool party.A dad-bro at the Aria.
Not that you would know it from the scene at an Aria Hotel pool party. Vineyard Vines were on, loafers were out, dad-bros were dancing to Pit Bull.
Still every now and then you get little reminders — aside from the outfits — that the dad-bro radar is on.
For example, another friend of mine introduced me quickly to one of his colleagues (a younger one) and then promptly guided me away by the elbow.
“Spend 15 minutes with him, and you’ll want to take a shower,” my dad-bro host told me. Fair enough. Good looking out.
This concern for the well-being of those in their care is likely what made one Clemson student, Mackenzie Pearson, write about the dad bod with reverence. Dad-bros have dad bods, and increasingly, according to Pearson’s piece, it’s OK for young frat boys to have them too. I couldn’t agree less, but her piece went viral.
“The dad bod is a nice balance between a beer gut and working out. The dad bod says, ‘I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time.’ It’s not an overweight guy, but it isn’t one with washboard abs, either,” she wrote.
The piece prompted an immediate backlash. Time called it a “sexist atrocity” (OK, that’s a lot). Total Frat Move, a publication I can turn to only for subjects like this one, wrote that though the dad bod isn’t for everyone, it tells you that someone is keenly aware the life is short.
“A little paunch is the sign of a guy who has interests and life goals, a man with a sense of casual purpose. You want to be around people who know that a life of effort is rewarding, but keeps a keen sense that death is inevitable. The Dad Body is the physical manifestation of ‘well-adjusted,’ at least in theory,” wrote TFM.
That keen sense of death’s presence is pretty clear on Wall Street. Bond billionaire Bill Gross, 70, wrote about death in one of his recent notes to investors.
“I have a sense of an ending,” he wrote. “Death frightens me.”
There are ways to cheat death. Blackstone founder Steve Schwarzman has been on a tear putting his name on building after building, making himself immortal. He just donated $150 million to put his name on a building at his alma mater, Yale. There’s also Blackstone Tower in Chicago and the Schwarzman Building at the New York Public Library, to name two. Hopefully, Schwarzman now fears death less than someone who has simply donated a park bench to Rutgers.
SALT attendees were reminded of this fear mid-lecture. During the third day’s session, a number of star hedge-fund managers were giving out stock picks. Just as billionaire investor Leon Cooperman was clearing his throat and getting ready to dive in, there was a sound. An indescribable sound. The sound of someone stopping in midway through a loud, guttural cry.
And then there was a thud.
“Should I continue,” Cooperman asked as the crowd hushed. To SALT’s credit, the man was scooped up in no time. Anthony Scaramucci, the conference’s chairman and CEO of its host investment firm SkyBridge Capital, came out to calm the crowd and get the session back on track. Time was put back on the clock.
The session continued after 15 minutes of shock. Afterward, we heard that the man who had collapsed had had a seizure; worst yet, we heard he was young. In his 30s. Not even a dad-bro. A dad-bro-to-be. Others said he was in his late 40s or early 50s. Still scary. That could’ve been anyone.
Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.comThe pool at the Bellagio. Not exactly a raging day party.
SALT and conferences like it are meant to mitigate problems surrounding uncertainty. Those who play the markets have a keen awareness that there are major forces affecting their lives that are out of control. This has always been a strange contradiction. The Masters of the Universe, as Tom Wolfe called Wall Street in the ’80s, could be more aware of their powerlessness than the rest of us — it’s just that they only talk about it among themselves. Otherwise, how would they lead?
On the final day of the conference, the normally hot, bright Vegas sun was clouded over. Outside it was chilly and rainy, a rare occurrence. The dad-bros stayed inside, and the closing pool party wasn’t the Southampton backyard barbecue it was the year before.
Who can ever be certain how things will turn out?