It might be too soon to do this, but I feel I need to talk shit about other dads right now and how hard it is to make friends with other fathers. The purpose of my blog is to give dads insight into the challenges of being a dad and, unfortunately, other dads (who are supposed to be our comrades) can be a bit of a challenge at times. While there is a new race of fathers out there these days who are breaking out of the box of established norms and gender roles in parenting, there are still a lot of dads who own up to the cliche of dipshit dads. When I want to be able to prove to women and the world in general that dads are underrated and deserve more recognition for good parenting, I find that there are plenty of fathers who tip the scales back towards the Fred Flintstone model of fatherhood so that we progressive dads can’t get anywhere in changing cultural stereotypes.
If you were to read books or other material related to giving advice to dads, one constant mantra in such works is the counsel to new dads or established fathers to seek out other dads with whom to bond and share support with. In theory, this is a great idea! In practice, however, it’s easier said than done. I will admit to you that I’ve been a dad for over 6 years now and I have only one friend who is a dad but his son is my age, so I can’t really rely on him for any current advice on how to parent in these modern times. It’s not like I don’t want fathers for friends, but I just can’t seem to click with most of them or otherwise I don’t want to.
Case in point. Because of my wife’s work schedule, the fact that we only have one car, and my son’s speech delay keeps him from being able to take the bus I have to walk him to school. The school is close (only about one third of a mile) and I always go with a stroller because my other son (the 2 year old) just can’t make the trip with his short legs. I know that my kids and I are a constant fixture among the neighborhood, as we walk no matter the weather. A couple of weeks ago I was walking my oldest son home from school and I heard a young boy crying outside his house only a couple of blocks from ours. The boy was on his front step just bawling and after I realized there was no adult nearby I quickly crossed the street to see what was wrong.
When I asked what was up, he told me someone at school had stolen his keys and he was locked out. I offered to let him use my cellphone to call his parents but he said he didn’t know their numbers. I asked what time he expected his parents to come home and he said his dad should be there around 4 something, and at that moment it was a quarter till 4. I offered to walk him back to school to see if the school had his dad’s number, but he said his dad would be mad if he came home and he wasn’t there. Given the circumstances I offered to stay with him until his dad got home.
While we waited we talked about a lot of things. The boy was in the 4th grade at my son’s school and coincidentally his little brother was in the same kindergarten class as my son. His brother stayed at the school in an after school program but for some reason he wasn’t in the same program and would go home by himself. Since my son was talking a lot to the boy (who was looking confused because he wasn’t understanding very much) I let him know that my son had a speech delay and that’s why it was hard to understand him. I also talked to the boy about the importance of knowing his parents phone numbers by memory and that (at our house) we had a key in a secret hiding spot in our backyard in case we were ever locked out and that he should talk to his dad about doing this too.
In the middle of our talk, a minivan pulled up to the curb, it was a mother from a couple of houses down who was on her way to pick up her kids from the school. She said she had heard the boy crying too, and wanted to know the situation. I filled her in while my son kept the boy busy with a string of incoherent words. I could tell she didn’t think highly of the parenting of this child: letting him walk home by himself at his age. I just smiled (thinking back to the time when I was in 2nd grade and my brother was in 4th and we would walk 2 miles from our catholic school in Baltimore, only to have to wait 2 more hours at home for our mother to return from work) and I assured her that I would make sure he was okay.
Finally, at 4:30 the boy’s father drove up in his jacked up truck. Even though a strange man with two young children were standing in his driveway talking to his son, he ignored us and asked his son what was going on. The boy admitted to losing his keys, to which the father just said his name like a curse in exasperation. He then barely glanced at me and said, “thank you sir” and entered his house with his son without another word to me. I proceeded to walk home with my sons with a chip on my shoulder. My oldest son was dancing all the way back praising us for helping the boy. I loved to see how well he took the situation but I was sorely disappointed in how it played out.
I tried to be fair and thought to put myself in that dad’s shoes. I realized he might have been embarrassed about how this might have made him look as a parent. Maybe he was tired and had a bad day at work? There could have been a whole host of things that kept him from acting like a decent human being but it still didn’t change the facts. How could he not have introduced himself and then asked me my name? How could he not have asked me what was going on and what I was doing there? How could he have not shook my hand like a man and looked me square in the eye when he thanked me for waiting with his son for most of an hour until he came home? Not only did this guy fail in some pretty basic codes of conduct with me, he also failed his kid too.
My son is in kindergarten and with his speech delay I can’t even get him to pronounce his first name correctly let alone his last name. I can’t teach my son his phone number or address either, but you can be sure that if I had a 4th grader who spoke perfectly well he would know a whole slew of phone numbers in case of emergencies. If I were to let my son walk home from school by himself, I would also have shit worked out in case something as common as lost keys became an issue! I wonder if this guy even realizes or cares that I ran interference with a concerned mom who might have wanted to report the incident to the school, police, or child protective services.
Needless to say, I will not be asking this guy if we can be friends. It would have been great to have someone in my neighborhood who’s kids go to my son’s school to be friends with, but I really have to pass. Unfortunately, I know that he’s not going to be losing any sleep over this. I’m used to other dads not wanting to start a bromance with me. About a year ago, one of my neighbors (who is a dad of 2) asked me to have a beer. I had to decline because I don’t drink. I developed a really bad relationship with alcohol in the Navy and after a couple of ugly drunken instances of mine a few years ago, which were witnessed by my oldest son, I swore off drinking because I don’t want my son to see me like that. It’s not like I have the time or established intimacy to explain all of this to my neighbor, but I knew from the look in his eye when I declined the beer that I had missed my chance at being brodies.
So, I don’t drink beer, I don’t watch sports, and I take being a dad very seriously. Hence, I don’t have many guy friends to hang out with. I’m not completely metro-sexual though. I love to play video games. I can build a house without blueprints. While I don’t watch sports, I have no problem getting off my ass and playing sports. What I realize though, is that I don’t have anything related to how men relax. Men like to drink together to decompress and I don’t. Men want to sit around watching other guys play a game on TV that has no intrinsic value. I would rather build a fence or help fix something around the house, but most men consider that kind of stuff as work or a chore and not as a relaxing past time. I would find it nice to talk to other guys about what scares me about being a dad and what I think is great about it too, but a lot of dads just don’t want to talk about that stuff. I guess they think it’s too touchy feely or that it would reveal their vulnerability to another man and they don’t feel safe doing that.
In any case, when I hear women complaining about how men suck, I just kind of grin and bear it. I mean, how can I argue it in all cases. When I read books about fatherhood or see similar advice in articles about how dads should really make friends with other dads, I just roll my eyes at the naivety of the idea, at least as it concerns a father like me. When I hear about this new generation of stay at home dads being a growing minority, I think that they have the ‘minority’ part right. I just hope they having the ‘growing’ part right too. And I hope it grows the fuck up real soon.