Choosing to stay home with kids can be socially isolating for any parent, but some dads have a particularly hard time adjusting. Where once they had office parties and water cooler conversations, they’re now saddled with Big Bird and dirty dishes. And when once they had time to join a soccer league and exercise at the gym, now they’re too busy juggling minivan trips to various activities for their kids.
For many at-home dads, there is a sense of loneliness that comes with spending huge chunks of the day without any connection to other adults.
At-home dads choose different paths to remedy their loneliness: some tunnel into their daily chores and tasks as if their duties were going to be evaluated quarterly by management, some pursue memberships to zoos and museums to distract themselves, and others seek community and fellowship by socializing on the internet. For those living in larger metropolitan areas, there’s an easier path from the isolation… creating a tribe.
It makes sense to connect with other first dudes who are in the same situation. Moms generally don’t want to have anything to do with at-home dads for various reasons, including real or perceived sexual tension. So, many at-home dads seek out the company of their peers.
But, that’s not to say that these tribal communities of at-home dads are all peaches and sunshine. In fact, there’s a false sense of “no judgement” peacefulness that develops when at-home dads begin to organize socially. They become lured into this idea that they can be friends with everyone in the group, despite potential personality differences or political/religious preferences. Men are just as complicated as women – they can’t just cluster into a group and call it a day. But because of the limited supply of at-home dads within a given community, guys work extra hard to avoid any drama.
When I met David, we were the only at-home dads that we knew. We scheduled play dates with our kids for over a year before anyone else showed up. I enjoyed hanging out with David because we were on the same wavelength about science, atheism, and progressive politics. But, I slowly realized that, despite our common interests, David and I were not meant to be friends. We had forced ourselves into a friendship because we valued the idea of having a tribe over the idea of having a perfect friend.
This pseudo-friendship we had developed came crashing down one spring day. It was an ill-fated play date where a small group of dads and their kids planned to meet at a local attraction and then rendezvous at the nearby restaurant afterward. Sounds easy enough until you realize that playdates are more about the parents than the kids, who may vary in age, personality, and behavior.
David had a new baby in a stroller which slowed him down, and his 3 year old son was lollygagging a bit. My kids, on the other hand, were speed racers and had to be told to slow down when going through the exhibits. By the time we had made it through the exhibits, I was annoyed that David was so sluggish and he was annoyed that my family was impatient. It was a petty dispute which should have been left unspoken, but it escalated into some serious drama…
I decided that I was tired of waiting for David, so I just walked out the exit to meander over to the restaurant where we had previously agreed to meet. A couple of the other dads saw me leave and followed me out, but David didn’t see us leave the building and nobody told him we were moving on. Admittedly, it wasn’t the most thoughtful exodus, but with so many kids of differing ages, it’s nearly impossible to move the group when everyone is ready to go.
We were at the restaurant when David called my cell phone asking “Where the hell are you guys?”, and that’s when I knew that he was truly pissed. By the time that he arrived to join our party, he had worked himself into a Hulk-like level of rage. We had an argument which escalated to the point where he was giving me little shoves (while holding his baby) and suggesting that we step outside to settle the matter. Once I realized that we were disturbing nearby tables and that this was going to be a publicly embarrassing situation, I tried to reason with him not to ruin our friendship, not to destroy his participation in the at-home dad group, and most importantly, not to jeopardize the friendship that our kids had developed. I was mostly trying to stay zen and resist the urge to fight in front of my kids over something so stupid.
Thankfully, we never actually traded punches. He was asked to leave by a manager, and I was left sitting there next to another at-home dad who had just joined the group. We were truly in shock.
I wasted no time blocking David from our playgroup, unfriending him on facebook, and shutting him out from my social circle completely. I haven’t seen him since, and I don’t particularly want to see him again. Incidentally, the at-home dad who was new to the group and witnessed the whole fight became one of my best friends and later took over as the group’s organizer.
There’s a new movie out with a story line about at-home dads who call themselves the “Dude’s Group”, complete with rules about not fighting or judging each other. Well, that may be a noble goal, but it’s sometimes easier said than done.