Needing the company of men

The other night, I met up with a group of guys for a beer at Henry Public. Our connection is all having 10th graders in the same school. Depending on your point of view, it was either a chance or an excuse to suck down a cold one and get a little man time. I’ve come to believe in the importance of dad-bonding, but it’s hard to put a finger on its exact meaning.

Some form of this group has been getting together every six months or so for the past few years. A mass e-mail goes out and 10 to 20 of us show up. We’re a pretty tame bunch. When we met at The Brazen Head, a drinking establishment on Atlantic Avenue that attracts a crowd of twenty-somethings from the courts and Downtown, us older men were gently ridiculed for our total lack of dart playing skills and failure to remember any of the rules. Some younger fellows found our ridiculous display entertaining and eventually gave us pointers.

During our couple of hours sipping beers, we really did talk parent stuff. Curfew was a big topic and the parties our kids go to with increasing frequency. While all our teenagers seem to be nearly comatose in the mornings, proverbial fingers wagged at me for still rolling my 15 year old out of bed when her two alarms fail to do the job; the other dads felt strongly 10th graders should fend for themselves on school mornings and face the consequences.

I found my companions share the same fears. What are the kids getting into? How do we keep them safe? How do we let them take risks when it feels like we bear the consequences? Perhaps the heaviest question was unspoken: Do you worry as much as I do?

We also expressed joy in our children, their accomplishments and our wonder at the young adults these once little kids have become.

Of course some of us spoke sports, particularly the Knicks (new hope?), Nets (new stadium?) and Giants (both) but more we chatted about the sports our kids play. Why did that travel team switch to the Manhattan league from Long Island? Isn’t it amazing how many teams practice on the Red Hook fields now? Which team’s gymnasts have the fewest injuries? How will the school do in basketball this year?

It was really nice, pleasant, fun and unusual. The opportunity to hang with some guys, or even meet one dude for a beer, has become a rare occurrence. I’m certain it’s our kids’ fault. One of my last childless friends was dependable, able to get together at a local bar on short notice. A baby joined his family and he disappeared, always home by seven, not a single evening out in a year.

It’s difficult to keep up friendships with the fellas. We’re best when doing something, going to a game, on a hike, moving furniture. I end up including the kids in these things. Another dad and I dragged our kids to Philadelphia to see a Women’s World Cup game in 2003. A college buddy and I took our kids camping each June until we couldn’t fit the trip into our families’ busy schedules.

Male bonding feels almost extinct, jettisoned from our busy, cluttered lives as dads and husbands. I miss it.

I like the reality check I get from other men, that it’s normal to be so totally frustrated with my teenager’s inability to plan ahead or clean her room or any of the hundred other feelings I run into each day as a parent.

I like hearing other guys’ experiences, their failures and successes. I learn from those with older kids, who’ve gone through their daughter’s first boyfriends without resorting to security cameras or violence, who’ve managed to navigate the complicated path leading a child out the door to college and beyond.

There is an ease with these dads, a comfort. In the company of mothers I feel pressure to hide my confusion and struggles to be a good parent. With these guys I’m free to show my befuddlement and shock at the constantly changing chaos a teenager brings into my life.

I’m late getting home to walk the dog and put out the garbage, to force my 15-year-old to turn out her light (although I’m sure she keeps texting in the dark). I’m already looking forward to the next guys’ night out and my six months of anticipation.

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