Parents often joke about our kids having much better social lives than we do. My daughter is involved in dance, Daisy Scouts, soccer or softball depending on the season. There are afternoons at the park, play dates, birthday parties. In the past ten days she has had sleepovers at two different houses and has two more scheduled in the next ten. Last night one of her friends slept over at ours. She’s seemingly surrounded by friends at all times.
We joke but I think that a lot of us do it somewhat enviously. Unless you are lucky enough to have friends with children of similar ages or involved in the same activities it can be almost impossible to keep in touch. New friendships are possible, small talk at kids’ practice or in the school pick up line leading to more, but the whole process is awkward and reminiscent of the pre-Tinder days of singles bars and blind dating. If somebody wants to make a quick fortune, develop an app that allows people to browse the interests of the other parents in our children’s classrooms.
We joke about it but it’s a problem. Multiple studies have shown that loneliness and lack of social interaction lead to increased instances of cardiovascular disease and stroke as well as Alzheimer’s progression. Ex Surgeon General of the United States Vivek Murphy called isolation the most prevalent preventable health issue in the country.
It seems to be worse for men, particularly middle aged dads that are determined to spend as much time with our children as we can, to dispel the myth of the happy hour father, stopping for a few pints with the boys as mom prepares dinner and helps with the homework. We aren’t playing beer league softball or golfing on the weekends, we are playing catch, having tea parties. We are at the park, watching our children play and wondering if that other dad on the opposite bench, the one who’s kid seems to really like ours, would think it was weird if we invited them over to cookout some time. We wonder but we never ask.
I’m not sure why that is. Pride perhaps? To reach out invites rejection but it’s also an admission of need. We joke about not having friends to avoid facing the truth. Nobody wants to be the one sitting at a table by themselves in the cafeteria, but even more so I think we are afraid of others seeing us that way.
There’s also a guilt factor. Besides our constant feeling of never having enough time with our children, time spent with our spouses is equally important and hard to find. It feels selfish to be sitting at a sports bar, eating wings, joking with the guys, when I know that my wife is sitting home alone, watching that same ball game on our living room television.
Its something that needs to be given higher priority. I looked at several different studies and the average seems to be that one in four men over the age of thirty five admit to having few or no social connections with one in twenty saying that they had no friends at all. These results seem backed up by a recent conversation in a Facebook Dad Bloggers group where nearly every guy that responded admitted to having at least occasional feelings of isolation, particularly among those that were stay at home dads. There were a lot of positives that came out of the conversation, several meet ups planned, but most important I think was the relief and amazement most felt upon realization that they weren’t alone in feeling this way.
I don’t go often but every now and then I will leave work on a Thursday night and stop by the Wolf Den, a live music venue at a nearby casino with free admission and an impressive variety of acts. I’ve seen ’80s rockers Ratt and Slaughter, nineties groups Soul Asylum and Fuel, blues legend Robert Cray and metal band All That Remains.
Typically I go to these shows alone, partly due to a desire to leave immediately after, the Friday morning school run never far from my mind, but also due to a lack of people to call. There are a few, some possibly reading this right now and hopefully not feeling insulted, but I don’t call. For whatever reason, I don’t make the effort. I stand alone, tapping my feet and nursing my beer.
This past Thursday was different. I’d never heard of the band playing, Tim Montana and the Shrednecks, but their bio said that they’d opened for Brantley Gilbert, ZZ Top and Kid Rock so after watching a few of their You Tube videos I headed over. They were really good, outlaw country that I’d describe as a cross between….well, Brantley Gilbert, ZZ Top and Kid Rock.
It was also different because this time I took the time to call a friend, a co worker that I thought would also enjoy their sound. It was nothing revolutionary, we’d attended each others weddings, gone to concerts, wasted endless hours of our employer’s time talking about our kids. It was noteworthy only for the effort made, his and my own, effort that was extremely easy but all too often not made.
We need to do better at making it guys. Another survey I came across said that half of all men, of all ages and backgrounds, said that they very rarely talk about deep, personal issues with their friends, a number that isn’t surprising. Also not surprising is that one in three wish that they were able to open up more but were afraid.
We’re doing great things, crushing stereotypes and changing the perception of what it means to be called dad, but somewhere among all of these sacrifices we also lost track of each other. This needs to change.