It was August 30, 2019, and a 57-year-old American man was sat all alone in a fast food joint in Georgia. It must have been a sad sight for anyone who happened to see him there on that day, with no one else across the table with whom he could converse. The man ordered some ice cream and stopped to take a selfie from the booth he had selected. Little did he know that the picture he took of himself and the heartbreaking message he wrote alongside it on Instagram would bring him considerable national attention.
The restaurant in question was the Forsyth County branch of the ubiquitous ice cream and fast food giant Dairy Queen. The man sat in solitude on that late summer’s day was a guy named Brandt Barber. He resides in the suburbs outside Georgia’s state capital and largest city, Atlanta.
Barber works as a senior account executive for ASG Technologies, a company which provides IT solutions for its clients. He has been employed by ASG since September 2016. Before that, the computer specialist was the Southern Region Sales Manager for multinational software company LRS for over seven years.
From June 2005 to June 2007, Barber worked as Vice President of Sales for Mobius Professional Services. In his two years in that role he almost doubled the company’s services revenue from $5,500,000 to $10,000,000 annually. He first joined Mobius in May 2001 as Director of Sales, a role he also fulfilled at eSystems Group from 1999 to 2001.
Much of Barber’s career in the 1990s was spent working as an account manager. He took on that role in a number of companies, including Image Information Inc., Servantis, CheckFree and eSystems. Barber was educated at the University of West Georgia, where he spent five years working towards a BA in Mass Communications from 1980 to 1985.
Evidently, Barber harbors a deep love for the sport of lacrosse. For five years he served as President of the West Forsyth Youth Lacrosse Club, initiating a program for the young people in that area to be able to take up the sport. His sterling volunteer work saw the program grow from a beginning of 50 children in 2008 to over 300 of both sexes. Barber also served as President of the West Forsyth High School Boys Lacrosse Booster Club.
Through his volunteer work, Barber has displayed an aptitude for working with young people, so it may come as no surprise that he is the proud father of three strapping young men. The eldest of his sons is 21-year-old Brooks, closely followed by his 19-year-old twin brothers Luke and Bryce. The doting dad is very close to his boys, as those reading this will soon discover.
Indeed, the closeness between the father and his sons is epitomized by a certain thing they have done together for some time. As the devoted dad explained on his then little-followed Instagram account in August 2019, over the past seven or so years, he and his three sons had created something of a family tradition. When Barber began to nostalgically share posts on the photo-sharing platform about this long-running ritual, it would rapidly – and wholly unexpectedly – catapult him to internet fame.
Before he became one of the internet’s most beloved dads though, Barber had a very serene online existence. His Instagram account – which at that point in time had a measly 23 followers – was a generally private affair, and the father-of-three had shared a total of nine photos, including the first one of him and Bryce enjoying Pebble Beach on August 27, 2018. Almost exactly a year to that day though, his life would change forever.
Barber had no idea of what was to come at this point. In 2018, he was just another 50-something poppa trying to get to grips with this Insta thing. Nonetheless, his sense of humor often shone through on the captions to the images he shared. “Hanging with Bryce at Pebble Beach for Monterey Car Week,” he wrote. “Sunday at the Cocurse (sic) de Elegance. I was the only redneck there I can promise you”, he joked.
The next image uploaded further illustrated Barber’s brand of warped humor. In a photograph of Bryce next to a fancy sports car at Monterey Car Week, he quipped: “Told my son I would buy him this Pagani, but that he and his brothers couldn’t go to college and mom and I would have to sell our house and liquidate. Nah, probably not a good idea.”
Barber would not upload again for several months, but on November 28, 2018 he shared a trio of posts. The first was a photo of him with Bryce at a college football game between the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech. The second featured the now-57-year-old father with his two youngest boys and his girlfriend. In that photo, one of the twins is holding up a photograph of the absent elder brother Brooks. “Bunch of Dawgs minus the one real Dawg,” Barber wrote beside it.
Brooks was the subject of his dad’s next two nostalgic posts, which appeared on December 2, 2018. They featured the eldest son at about two years of age, attending a University of Georgia picture day with his pops. Barber reveals how he initiated Brooks by dropping by the Varsity to get him a chili dog. “People thought I was nuts, we never told [his] mom about that,” he joked.
The last post Barber would make before he would unwittingly become something of an internet hero was on April 20, 2019. The photo featured Bryce and Luke with their dad at an annual college football game. “G-day 2019 in Athens with two of my boys. Life is good!!,” he captioned it. Yet after his next three Instagram posts on August 30, his life would never be the same again.
So let’s get back to the aforementioned family tradition that sparked the Brandt Barber phenomenon. Almost every week without fail, Barber and his sons would all go together to the Forsyth County branch of Dairy Queen after their dinner to get ice cream. But the ritual didn’t stop there: provided it was available, the four of them would take a seat in the exact same booth of the restaurant each time they visited, choose identical things off the menu, and more often than not be served by the same Dairy Queen server, who Barber described as a “little old lady.” It was a long-observed custom.
Yes, as Barber wrote in his first Instagram post on the tradition, the family “never deviated from their routine” for many years. However, alongside a sweet photograph that he uploaded of the three brothers sat in the Dairy Queen together, he would go on to explain how all of a sudden the sacred family ritual would change. As it turned out, that particular photo he posted would mark the end of an era.
That’s because shortly after that photo was taken, Brooks was leaving the nest, and would be unable to make it to the once-sacrosanct family gathering at the local Dairy Queen. Yes, Barber’s eldest son was (in his father’s words) heading “to be a big college boy” by beginning his studies at the University of Georgia. The campus for the famous university – where America’s public higher education system was born – was in Athens, over 60 miles from Forsyth County. There was no way Brooks would be able to make it, however much he would like to be there.
So with Brooks out of the picture, would that bring an abrupt end to the Dairy Queen ritual? Not a chance. The remaining Barbers defiantly chose to soldier on without him and keep the family institution going. “And then there were three. DQ tradition continued but our numbers, while strong, were dwindling,” wrote Barber alongside the second picture he uploaded that day, a super snap of him and his two youngest in their beloved Forsyth County Dairy Queen.
Yes, Barber and his twins would maintain the tried-and-trusted weekly routine of sitting in the same booth, ordering the same ice cream from the same old lady that they always had done. But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and a little further down the line the threat of seismic change loomed large.“Me with Bryce and Luke at DQ. Soon they will head to college, what then?” Barber mused. He must have been blissfully unaware that the final post in his trilogy would melt hearts everywhere.
That’s because the concluding post in the series featured Barber sat in the Forsyth County Dairy Queen all on his lonesome. “And then there was one,” he wrote, alongside a close-up selfie of himself looking rather dejected and heartbroken from the usual booth. Quick, someone pass the tissues!
Alongside his tear-jerking photo, Barber explained further the true meaning of the family ritual. “[Dairy Queen] was never really the thing, spending time driving to and from and talking, listening to their music and watching all of them interact as brothers, now that was the thing,” he wrote, poignantly. “Maybe I’ll get by here every now and then and certainly when they are all home, but with them not here it’s just ice cream,” he observed.
After seeing his dad’s moving post, Brooks understandably got quite emotional, and ended up sharing screenshots of the three private posts on his personal Twitter account. “Why did my dad have to go this hard on insta and why I am crying in Nashville rn? (right now),” he tweeted to his thousands of followers. And with that, the blue touch paper was lit and Barber was on his way to viral superstardom.
Yes, Brooks’ Twitter post quickly caught fire, as people from across the globe were deeply moved by the heartwarming family tradition and his father’s unwavering dedication to his three sons. The eldest Barber boy rapidly racked up both likes and retweets for his post, and comments came flooding in. His phone must have been close to exploding.
As of November 6, 2019, Brooks’ tweet addressing his dad’s sentimental Instagram posts had received 165k retweets and a frankly astonishing 994k likes. That’s right, almost a million likes. To say the social media post had gone viral would be an entirely fair characterization.
The comments were, for the most part, in awe of the family’s touching weekly convention and Barber’s devotion to his boys. For instance, Brittany Merrill (@brittmerl) wrote in all capital letters, “MY HEART IS BROKENNNN,” appearing to sum up the feelings of many who stumbled across the post. Meanwhile, Court (@ConsciousCourty) amusingly suggested, “u all have to drop out of college” to Brooks, Bryce and Luke, for which she received many thousands of likes.
Others seemed to be jealous of the ultra-close bond that Barber enjoyed with his sons. “So this is what it’s like to have a dad? Nice,”wrote Jáy-Qué (@SticQueno), rather dejectedly. His comment elicited a host of responses, with several people in accord with his sentiments whilst others tried to comfort him. People who had stumbled upon the post were openly wishing they had a dad like Barber.
The post really seemed to bring out the emotion in the people who saw it. Jamie (@jamiecruz08) commented, “I’m crying so hard on the toilet right now,’” with a bunch of crying face emojis to further illustrate her feelings. “Lmao same,” wrote Meg Delaney (@megdelaneyy). Jas Nicole exclaimed in all capital letters, “WHY AM I CRYING HES (sic) NOT EVEN MY DAD.” Who could have believed that such a personal post could have had such a profound impact on people?
A day later, on September 1 as the post was picking up serious traction, Scott (@GreatScott1991) commented, “Y‘all better drop out and go meet your dad at DQ right now. I ain’t even playin’.” Many seemed to agree with his demand, with his comment picking up over 1,000 likes. Taylor (@taylorbixxle) though, wanted to fill the hole left by Barber’s sons going to college. She joked, “Where is this DQ? I’ll meet him there for ice cream haha.” The post had struck a chord with so many.
That same day, Brooks was sufficiently moved to respond to the many who had commented on his tweet that had unexpectedly blown up. “To give everyone some piece [sic] of mind, my dad and I have an incredible relationship and yes, my little brothers and I will be heading back to DQ with pops soon,” he wrote. The people were evidently soothed by the news, with the tweet garnering close to 50,000 likes.
But what about Barber? How was he coping with the fact that his sentimental, unassuming Instagram posts had quickly snowballed into something of an internet phenomenon? Well, by early September 2019 he was a man in serious demand. Not only did media outlets want to talk to him, but his Instagram account was inundated with follow requests (over two thousand of them) and messages, with him estimating he got one or the other every four seconds. “My phone battery was just dying,” the bemused father told website in the immediate aftermath of his son’s post.
The father-of-three clearly never expected or desired the significant attention he was now attracting. But being the kind-hearted man he is, Barber has endeavored to respond to the mostly young people who have written to him since he became a viral sensation. A lot of them, as he revealed to Buzzfeed in September 2019, would tell him things like “my dad wasn’t very nice” or “I didn’t have a dad.”
Though it’s unlikely he can ever respond to all of them given the number he’s received, Barber has taken this as an opportunity to lift the spirits and motivate those who’ve craved a father figure like him. “I’ve looked at this as, okay, how can I be responsible in communicating back with some of these folks and be encouraging and uplifting to them?,” he told Buzzfeed.
For the motivating part, Barber revealed to Buzzfeed that he’s attempted to assure the young people who had messaged him that they can go on to be the father figures they never had themselves. “You have a chance with your young son to change how it was, and honestly, I did,” he said. “Don’t let your circumstances define you. You find your own happiness.”
Despite Barber’s decision to write encouraging messages to those who contacted him, he has made clear he has no desire to take advantage of his newfound internet stardom. He told Buzzfeed that becoming a dad influencer was not something he was keen to pursue, even if the opportunity was there. He’ll stick to being a senior account manager at this point, thanks.
For his part, Brooks admitted to Buzzfeed that he was amazed by just how widely-read the post would become. Nonetheless, the public outpouring of affection for Barber and the family’s sweet-toothed tradition had given him a newfound sense of gratitude for his old man. “It made me love my dad even more,” he declared.
Touchingly this heart-tugging story did not end there. There was one last major twist left in the tale. When Dairy Queen caught wind of the viral post of which it had become a part, it went and did something truly special for the family who had frequented one of their restaurants for years on end.
That’s because in time for the next family visit to the Forsyth County Dairy Queen on September 26, 2019, there was a special surprise waiting for them all. Yes, the very booth in which the awesome foursome had chosen to sit for those golden years had been adorned with a special plaque. It was now officially the Barber Family Booth.
Their local Dairy Queen was clearly expecting them, as the electronic sign outside was lit up with a touching message: WELCOME HOME BARBER BROTHERS. Brooks announced to his followers – who, you will remember, were awfully keen for a Barber family Dairy Queen reunion – that they had returned to their home from home. “Well folks, we finally made it back to DQ with our Dad, only this time with our new booth,” he wrote, alongside four photographs from the special night. As Brooks’s photos showed, there were even balloons and a special cake waiting for the family, with the words ‘We Missed You Too!” written on the delicious-looking treat.
Barber took to Instagram the following day to wax lyrical about the magical evening. “This whole viral tweet experience came full circle last night when my sons came home and reps from DQ pitched us a party at the DQ where it all began,” he wrote. “We even have our family name on the booth now. God is good and I am a blessed man. As our 15 min of fame winds down it’s been fun and I’m thankful for all the kind words that have been shared with our family.”
The reaction on both Brook’s Twitter and Barber’s Instagram was overwhelmingly positive. “As a mom of four boys, this just melts my heart,” wrote Katie Walsh (katiewalsh72702). “Treasure your time with your brothers and dad,” she concluded, before leaving a heart emoji. “Amazing and heartwarming! Such a beautiful family, may good things continue to come your way!” wrote tripsare4kidz on Brandt’s Instagram post.
Reflecting on the whole saga to Buzzfeed, Barber admitted his Instagram account “was just someplace I could put a picture of a memory that meant something to me.” He never intended it to be anything else. But as legendary as the family’s weekly Dairy Queen trips have now become, Brandt was keen to stress the true purpose of the ritual. “The most valuable part of it was [spending] time with the boys,” he 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.”