One of the greatest fears I had pre-fatherhood was that having a kid would kill my independence, that I wouldn’t be able to go out with my wife, or see a movie, or hang with a buddy, or meet new friends. Sure, Felix has changed things, no doubt, but I turned out to be wrong on all counts. Especially making new friends. If anything, being a dad has broadened my friend circle.
This wasn’t the case in the beginning. I spent about the first six months or so of my life as a stay-at-home dad mostly alone with my baby boy. I tried classes, but found them full of moms and nannies, many of whom knew one another and stayed with the clique, while the rest just weren’t that friendly, especially to a lone dad. Outside, on long walks pushing my napping son in his stroller, I received plenty of kindly glances but made no connections.
I struggled during these months. There was so much to figure out already, adjusting to parenthood and my new role, and I had few sounding boards to turn to for support. (I was the first of my close male friends to become a father.) Don’t get me wrong — my son could be pleasant company — but spending eight hours a day alone with him for five days a week was isolating, to say the least. (I knew things were bad when I started talking back to the hosts on NPR.)
Things got easier when Felix started to walk. At a cafe one morning I met a dad who took his daughter to the park a few days a week. “You should come too!” he said, though I’m sure he didn’t make eye-contact when he said it. You know how guys can be, making new friends. Shy. Territorial.
But my wife was there too, and she encouraged me after he left. “He seems nice,” she said. “You need to make some daddy friends.”
So one day Felix and I, both a little bashful, toddled over to the tree where this guy liked to hang with his daughter. The other dad and I hit it off, finding connections beyond the kids — music, technology, silly comedies that we both enjoyed — though of course we talked tots too. What do you do when yours pulls this kind of crazy move? How long and involved is your kid’s bedtime routine?
This experience, combined with Felix’s newfound interest in playgrounds, made it easier to make friends. With Felix holding my fingers, he’d waddle around the play-structures cooing and babbling, and when he plopped his diaper-plush butt down to check out something that captured his interest, I peppered nearby parents with a simple repertoire of questions. How old is your kid? What’s his/her name? And then, the key to whether or not we’d be friends: This parenting thing is crazy, right?
By the end of the summer, I met a few dads that I really hit it off with, and we organized a play group as the weather turned colder. We weren’t exclusive to dads — I’ve always had close women friends, and I have good mommy friends too — but dads who stay-at-home with their kids for any amount of time, as all of the dads in the playgroup did, share a lot of common ground. Me and my dad buddies talked about our child’s development, along with discipline, school, and diapering, but we also discussed the role we each played in our marriage, and how we struggled to keep our relationships healthy with the challenge of childrearing, and how we managed to balance, or not balance, work and childcare, because I don’t think I’ve ever met a dad who didn’t have some passion or occupation he wanted to pursue, or was trying to pursue, simultaneous to being with his kids. Advice would be shared, worries revealed, lots of beer and coffee ingested (depending on the time of day), and maybe a few pats on the back exchanged.
As the years have gone by, I’ve retained many of those friendships, and they’ve become valuable relationships. In part, because my dad friends and I talk about our kids and also about our life beyond them. Have you streamed this show yet? Or read this book? Or tried this restaurant? Or heard about this bit of news? How’s this work thing going? Or what about that vacation plan? We — and this is going to sound corny, I know — help keep one another from going crazy. Part of being good dad friend, I think, is seeing one another as more than just dads.
I’d like to say again, that this isn’t specific to men, I have these kinds of friendships with women too. Any good relationship, whether you’re talking about a work friend or a parent friend, shouldn’t dwell entirely in one area of your life. There should be sharing about all sorts of subjects, and whether the result is common ground or respectful differences, as long as there’s openness, levity, and respectful seriousness, then a friendship will blossom and last.