Not so long ago, I was hanging out in my home office, talking to Brian, a guy who had quickly become my new best friend. We were deep in conversation and, at once, I was both enjoying myself and experiencing a sobering epiphany: Ever since my daughters, Isabelle and Lorelei, were born, my social life has ceased to exist.
Sure, this happens to every parent to some degree, but it seems to me that mothers are much better than we dads at forging new friendships with other parents. And, frankly, I'm envious. When you have friends who also have kids, you have a support network that provides everything from parenting tips to sympathetic nods. You can vent to a fellow parent in a way that you can't to people who have never been, or forgotten what it's like to be, awakened at 2 a.m., and 3 a.m., and 4:14 a.m., and 4:47 a.m. -- in one night. And, mostly, when you have friends, you feel human.
The evening I hung out with Brian, I was pleasantly surprised. Here I was, breaking the mold, shaking up the system, doing something I should do more often: kicking back, bantering and bonding as we talked about our kids, our careers, and life.
Then my wife called from the kitchen, alerting me that dinner was ready. Embarrassed, I yelled back that I could eat later. She finally peered into my office, insisting that I join her and the girls at the table. Suddenly, I felt like a 12-year-old boy being told by his mom in front of the other kids to stop playing basketball and get inside the house now. "Go on," encouraged Brian, waving me off. "I work alone all the time."
Deflated, I left my computer technician, a guy whose name I had randomly pulled out of the phone book only two hours earlier. The fact that I was paying him $84 an hour to fix my computer doesn't, incidentally, take away from the fact that the man is a darn good conversationalist. Still, during my slow march to the dinner table, I realized that things were even more pathetic than I had thought.
I have no friends.
Okay, that assessment is extreme. That I have virtually no friends is more on target, or even better, that all of my friends are virtual. We communicate through hurried phone calls, voicemails, e-mails, website viewings, and forwarded jokes, but I never see anybody in person anymore. My social network, which I constructed from about age 6 into my mid-twenties, has splintered, with my friends hidden across the country like members of the witness protection program.
Now the only buddy I have, it seems, is my computer technician.
Geoff Williams is a Babytalk contributing editor and freelance writer in Loveland, Ohio. If you live in the area and have any computer problems, he can recommend someone.
Confessions of a socially-challenged dadThat is, until I run out of money and tech projects. Since that first meeting with Brian a couple months ago, I've had him to the house several times -- to install a gadget that backs up my computer files on a daily basis, to repair an old laptop of my father's, and to get rid of all the viruses in my wife's PC. Maybe it's just as well that we haven't taken our friendship to another level, where money isn't changing hands. One of his kids is a teenager, better suited to babysit my children than to play with them, and that, of course, is crucial: If you're going to remain a committed dad and form friendships, steal from the playbook of the moms and find peers with offspring the same age as your own.
In fact, I've concluded it's almost impossible for me to develop a lasting non-virtual friendship with a guy who doesn't have young kids, because he's going to have a lot more time on his hands, and that'll never work. With my job, and with the grass needing to be mowed, the car needing to be washed, and grandparents clamoring to see their grandkids, it's hard enough just finding quality time with my wife and daughters. I need to befriend a fellow dad who lives near me and who basically has an hour or two free on a Saturday morning.
I envision a guy who has at least one child whose age he counts in months, not years. I picture us talking about everything from the joys of diapering to the upcoming King Kong movie while we watch our children swish down the slides at the local park. But meeting a potential friend seems almost as difficult as it was to meet my wife when I was single. I've approached dads pushing strollers at parks and bookstores, casually trying to strike up a conversation with them. Unfortunately, they always look at me a little askew when my girls and I follow them back to their cars, still trying to chat.
There is an amicable dad two doors away from my house. He has a son close in age to Isabelle and Lorelei, and I declared it a victory when we made small talk last week in my driveway as I took out the garbage. But I couldn't get my nerve up to suggest that we take our kids to the park sometime. Besides, there wasn't time to ask -- I had to go help put the girls to bed.
Feeling like a man without options, I joined a local organization for stay-at-home dads. This would seem to be the answer to my problem, except I'm not a stay-at-home dad. I'm a work-at-home dad, and there is a difference. As I feared, I'm working during all of their weekly meetings, which turn out not to be every week. In fact, the stay-at-home dads seem to be as clueless and disorganized about socializing as I am.
Sporadically, I'll receive an e-mail from one of the members who says he'll be at the zoo with his kids at a certain time on a weekday, forcing me to have to choose between putting food on the table or improving my social life. Meanwhile, the other dads don't seem to be too eager, either. They write in saying they wish they could be there, but their excuses are always along the lines of having to mow the lawn, wash the family car, or take the kids to visit their grandparents.
But I still have hope. My new plan for finding another friend is to rely on my best friend -- my spouse, Susan. If she can continue her hot streak of socializing with her fellow mothers, maybe I can do what I think most socially-challenged dads do -- hang out with my wife's friends' husbands.