Not long ago, I was sitting around a campfire with my buddy, having a few beers, just watching the sun go down.
I started talking about something that had happened the day before when my three year old daughter had kind of freaked out a bit. (Okay, a lot.) She had been on a field trip with her preschool class at a fire department when some of the firemen began to play the bagpipes.
It was a sound she found anything but soothing, let’s put it that way. She fell to the ground and cried and generally raised a bit of hell until she had to be escorted away from the action.
I brought it up mostly because I was trying to explain to my friend, who is also a dad, just how kids often end up reacting unexpectedly to the damnedest things.
He took a sip of his sweaty beer and smiled a sly one.
“That’s nothing,” he countered. “My oldest used to whack his head against the wall repeatedly whenever they sang ‘Happy Birthday’ in his classroom.”
Immediately, I was awash in a feeling of natural fraternity. And I was super thankful, too, because so often I go long periods of time without talking to anyone else except my wife about being a parent and all of the bizarre challenges that pop up every five minutes when you are responsible for a small child.
I guess that I’m going out on a bit of a limb here when I say that it seems like having ‘dad friends’ is a more recent topic of conversation, at least here on the internet, than the subject of moms having a group of other moms to commiserate with over raising some kids. It almost would almost seem that having other like-minded folks to laugh with and share with, people going through the same life experiences as a parent, was something that has been a real pillar of being a mother for quite a while now.
But, for dads, the idea never quite caught on as much.
I guess it makes sense in a way. Men are notoriously less wiling to share their thoughts, at least with other dudes.
And when they do get a good conversation rumbling, it’s more often than not about one form of escapism or another. Sports, music, the glory days, even work stuff often seem to take precedent over broaching the subject of what’s it really like being a father; the ins and outs and the ups and downs of the mysterious art of parenthood.
Now before I go much further, I suppose I should throw in here the fact that I’ve never been much of a big “friend” guy anyway. For most of my adult life I have maintained a steady stream of what I would call pretty good acquaintances, but the amount of real tried-and-true friends that I felt really close to, well, you could pretty much count them off on a unicorn’s head.
I’m not sure why that is.
To investigate that stuff would probably take us way more time than you want to spend with me today, so it’s best left to the wild winds.
But the fact is, I have always been something of a perfectly-contented loner, walking up and down city streets on my own, spending way more time and money watching indie flicks in art house theaters than most guys, or depositing large checks of my freedom into banks along a river, searching for trout for long days at a time, all by my happy self.
There’s nothing really wrong with that either. I understand. And to a large degree, I remain that way to this day.
But I realized something the other day around my buddy’s fire. The mere re-directing of our conversation down a parenting path, which occurred just as casually and as naturally as could be, was actually something I found a lot of solace in. Sure, I talk to my wife all of the time about our kids and how we’re raising and dealing with them and that is a huge part of being able to find my way through the parental wilderness.
Yet, there’s this driving need for me to move outside that zone, I think; to confide or laugh with someone who isn’t exactly all up in your everyday life, you know?
I mean, it’s really pretty damn comforting to know that you’re actually not the only guy who struggles with being a father sometimes, huh? With just a few sentences my friend was able to relieve me of a fairly hefty monkey that I’d been hauling around on my back for a while.
I’d been wondering a lot lately whether I was doing things wrong?
I’d been hard on myself, pointing out every little crazy thing my kids might do and then trying to process it the only way I was really used to, or even comfortable with, for a long time now.
On my own.
Chatting with someone else who also had some funny vignettes to share about his kids reminded me that there are at least some things in this world that we shouldn’t try and figure out in our own heads all the time. And parenting, or more specifically, being a dad, is definitely one of them.
The more I thought about it, the better I felt about it too. Talking face-to-face with another real live beer-drinking sunset-gazing father of kids is something I deserve, I told myself! Hell, it’s something we both deserve. It isn’t easy, you know, devoting so much of your entire life to such serious work.
Moms seemed to have figures all that out long ago. But guys like me, well, once again…I’m late to the game.
But the great thing is: it’s NOT too late. I have almost two decades of serious hands-on fathering to do and the thought of trying to figure that all out on my own, without ever laughing at someone else’s stories or considering someone else’s tips and wisdom, it’s almost unthinkable now that I am actually thinking about it.
So, yeah. To answer my own question here, I am pretty sure that as a dad maybe the greatest gift I could ever give myself (besides a 55inch Sony Bravia LCD flatscreen TV or a 2013 Skeeter bass boat) is the opportunity, at least now and then, to sit around with another dad or two, crack open a couple of cold ones, and talk about some of the stuff we rarely ever talk about. The stuff that only another dad will ever be able to relate to and laugh at.
The kid stuff.
The father stuff.
The important stuff that we can actually find an easy way to say to one another and then actually hold on to, for a long time to come.
So, who wants to bring some pale ales over to my garage and talk about the similarities between one-year-old boys and rabid coyotes?
You can also find Serge on his personal blog, Thunder Pie.
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