The “Bad Dad Jokes” sign that stands proudly in front of Tom and Ann Schruben’s Maryland home has become a neighborhood destination in recent months.
The jokes Tom scribbles each morning are supposed to be bad — and they are — but people love them anyway, which is why there is a steady stream of people ambling or driving by the family’s Kensington home on any given day.
Example: A rabbit, a priest and a minister walk into a bar. The bartender looks at them and says, “Is this a typo?”
Tom started posting the jokes as a way to jump-start his mood soon after coronavirus stay-home orders came about. He had been getting a little grumpy as a self-employed worker in the environmental conservation field. It was the suggestion of his wife, who pointed out that he loves all things corny.
His jokes — which he often selects with daughter Darcy, 11 — became a hit. After The Washington Post ran an article about them, the Schrubens began noticing a lot more foot traffic in front of their home and started hearing from people around the country. Everyone had a joke to share.
A favorite of Tom’s: If two vegans get into an argument, is it still considered a beef?
Tom, 62, was flooded with new jokes and happy about all the goodwill in an otherwise uncertain time. He wanted to pay it forward.
So he decided to look for the worst-of-the-worst dad joke. He’s holding a Father’s Day contest for bad dad jokes, with entries costing a suggested donation of at least $5. He plans to send all money he collects to Martha’s Table, a District of Columbia-based nonprofit that supports children and families.
Jokes are being accepted until Saturday, and the winner will have the honor of seeing the joke shared on Tom’s sign for Father’s Day. Tom says he’ll read each joke and drop all entries into a mixing bowl, then will pick the winner at random. Jokes can be submitted on Tom’s Facebook or Instagram or a box in front of his home.
His rules state: “While we love original humor — the BAD DAD JOKES genre is rooted in sharing the collected wisdom of the ages — so stealing a great joke is expected but attribute if you can. Of course kids are welcome to send me their jokes as there’s no age limit for Bad Dad Jokes! And no worries if not a DAD as we welcome ‘FAUX PAS’ too.”
He added that his daughters and their spouses are not eligible to win, but his granddaughter, who is 3, “can do whatever she wants!”
Tom said that he, like generations of dads before him, has wholeheartedly embraced the bad dad joke.
“Why dads?” he asked. “There’s always been a tradition of dads embarrassing their children.”
Young kids are drawn to the sign, Tom said, as he sometimes hears children who are about 5 or 6 stopping by and carefully sounding out the words. One mother told him she counted the sign as part of her daughter’s school-required 15 minutes of daily reading. And Darcy once ran outside to comfort a youngster who arrived at the sign on his bike ahead of his big brother but was crying because he didn’t know how to read yet.
The candy brand Laffy Taffy got wind of the sign and sent the Schrubens 60 pounds of sweets, each piece with a signature printed joke.
But after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis police custody, and the country erupted in protests, Tom didn’t feel comfortable using his well-read sign only to be frivolous. So he posted a few puns that he thought gave a nod to protesters:
What kind of tea is the hardest? Reality.
What’s the biggest room in the world? Room for improvement.
“I don’t want to ignore what’s going on in society,” he said.
Tom said he has been touched by the many emails he has received from afar in recent weeks, and said they often start with, “My dad used to tell this joke …”
“I love that I have gotten people to remember happy times with their dads,” he said.
One email he received was particularly meaningful. It was from the neurologist who treated his daughter Alana, who died in 2009. She was Darcy’s twin.
“While treatment was never successful, having a young doctor that cared meant the world to us,” Tom said.
The death of Alana, and also a son who died of medical problems several years earlier, is what prompts the Schrubens to look for things that bring joy to them and others.
After losing two of their six children, they vowed: “We will find happiness again,” Ann said.
To that end, early each morning, Tom sends the day’s joke to a group text with his daughters and sons-in-law.
“I try not to let on how much a thumbs-up emoji means to me,” he said. “And a ‘ha-ha’ means the day’s going to be great.”