A 57-year-old man from the suburbs of Atlanta has made a lot of strangers on the internet emotional over a private Instagram post he shared about his three sons.
Brandt Barber has now become a father figure to some of his new fans, who’ve messaged him about their strained or vacant relationships with their own fathers.
In late August, Brandt shared a series of photos he took over the years of himself and his sons at a local Dairy Queen in Forsyth County, Georgia. He told BuzzFeed News they developed a ritual over about seven years. They would go to the same DQ, sit in the same booth, order the same things, and oftentimes, see the same wait staff.
When his sons began to leave for college, he became sentimental and nostalgic. So he posted the photos he took over the years to his Instagram account, which had 3 other photos and was followed by 23 people at the time, he said.
“It was just someplace I could put a picture of a memory that meant something to me,” Brandt added.
His photo series first featured a photo of all his kids, including his twin 19-year-old sons Bryce and Luke, sitting together at their usual Dairy Queen spot. The next photo then excluded Brooks, when he went off to attend University of Georgia a few years ago.
“And then there were 3,” Brandt wrote. “DQ tradition continued but our numbers while strong were dwindling.”
Recently, his younger sons also left for college. Brandt posted one final photo of just himself. “And then there was 1,” he captioned. He wrote the tradition was never about ordering Blizzards, but the time spent “talking” and bonding together.
“Over time the most valuable part of it was [spending] time with the boys,” Brandt said. “I’m talking to them, they’re talking to me, we’re listening to their music, they’re talking about girlfriends...just life. It gave us time for that, which was awesome.”
He thought he’d share this special time with his close friends and followers on social media. That is, until Brooks saw it. He became overwhelmed with emotion himself, and then shared screenshots of his dad’s Instagrams to his public Twitter.
“Why did my dad have to go this hard on insta and why am I crying in Nashville rn,” he wrote. The tweet’s been retweeted over 165,000 times thus far.
Thousands of strangers expressed the same reaction to it. “I just wanted to say thank you for making me cry this early in the morning,” one person wrote in response.
Others joked for him to drop out of school so he can continue the ritual with his dad.
Many also said they wished they grew up with a dad like his and traditions like theirs.
Brooks told BuzzFeed News he’s shocked by how viral it became. He said the response has given him a new appreciation for his father. “It made me love my dad even more,” he said.
For Brandt, he said he never wanted any of this strange viral attention. He now has over 2,000 follow requests to his still-private Instagram account. At one point, he received a request or message every four seconds. “My phone battery was just dying,” he joked.
He said he’s received DMs from strangers with messages like “My dad wasn’t very nice” or “I didn’t have a dad.” He’s trying to use this opportunity to respond to as many of those messages as he can to be “encouraging.”
“I’ve looked at this as, OK, how can I be responsible in communicating back with some of these folks and be encouraging and uplifting to them,” he said.
Brandt said he’s tried to assure those he has talked to that they can grow to be the parents they were deprived of.
“You have a chance with your young son to change how it was, and honestly, I did,” said Brandt. “Don’t let your circumstances define you. You find your own happiness.”
(Unfortunately, we regret to inform you that Brandt has no ambition of becoming a dad influencer, and he said he’s not accepting most of his random Instagram follower requests.)