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Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.
I belong to a great “mommy group,” and all our husbands get along great, too. They all say they want to get together more often, but they never get organized. Dads need days and nights out, too! If the moms try to pick a day for them, they resent it. How can we help them get their acts together so they can get the breaks, fun and support they say they want and need?
Just Trying to Help, Honey!
Dear Just Trying,
I’m kind of divided here. On one hand, I totally get where you’re coming from, which is a place of compassion. You can see that the dads in your life need some hang time, but that they are too inhibited to make this happen for themselves. So you want to help. It’s a lovely, generous impulse.
On the other hand, they are grown men. If they can’t “get their acts together,” and if they resent your efforts to set up hang times, why push it? Isn’t it enough of a hassle to set up playdates for your kids?
The truth is, men — at least the ones I know — are much more reluctant than women are to congregate in groups for the express purpose of socializing. There are a million reasons for this, starting with the fact that men are socialized to be competitive and to avoid deep emotional discourse. We tend to need the fig leaf of a big sports event on TV or a poker night or some such competitive endeavor to hang out.
In my own experience, men tend to associate planning an outing with other men — or, worse, grabbing lunch with another man outside the context of work — just for fun, just to talk, as somehow verboten, a violation of some unspoken macho code. For better or worse (and mostly, it’s worse), we just don’t think about sharing our experiences in the way women do. Think about it: when’s the last time a man told you excitedly about his plan to go shopping with his buddies?
...they are grown men. If they can’t 'get their acts together,' and if they resent your efforts to set up hang times, why push it? Isn’t it enough of a hassle to set up playdates for your kids?
Or consider the codes of fraternities. These are groups of young men, many away from their families for the first time, who seek out other young men with whom to live and socialize. But in order to allow themselves this pleasure, they often have to undergo an absurd hazing ritual, in which they “prove their manhood” by getting abducted and taken out to some field and paddled on the bare butt, all while courting alcohol poisoning. Can you say homoerotic anxiety?
To circle back a bit, this is why so many men play and watch and discuss sports. It purchases them the right to spend time with other men without the risk of appearing too drawn to other men, or having to be too emotional around them. (My new book happens to be all about this stuff.)
One other thing to consider is that unmarried men often associate hanging out with the pursuit of women, or the swapping of boasts/complaints about them. For us married dudes, that’s not so much of an option.
And then there’s the plain truth that men are kind of... socially disorganized. Again, working off my own experience, about the best I could do for years when it came to “organizing” my social life was remembering where the bong was.
All that being said, you’re definitely on to something. Married guys may be more reluctant than their spouses to seek it out, but most would benefit immensely from a stronger sense of community, from the chance to get together with dudes who are struggling with the same issues and anxieties they are. This is the reason that groups such as this exist.
My hunch (and hope) is that the dads in your life, including your hubby, will eventually recognize this need as important and take action on their own. That’s what happened in my case. While my wife and Melody, our next-door neighbor, became friends almost immediately, it took me and Sean (her husband) a bit longer. But we eventually realized that we had a lot that we needed to talk about, and we now make it a point to get together every few weeks, to watch some dopey game and, more importantly, to discuss our lives. It’s not as direct as our wives, but we get there.
So my advice would be not to push things too hard, which might be misread as controlling or condescending. Instead, you might try asking your man about planning a night in which you guys can hang out with a smaller group, or even a single couple. Let the guys form a stronger bond, which I suspect will lead them to connect in a more organic way, one that doesn’t feel like an adjunct to the mommy’s group.
My wife has been great about recognizing my need to connect to other dads, and she actively encourages me to go on “man dates” (yes, that’s what we call them). But she does this mostly by providing me the time to make a plan myself, not whipping out a calendar.
Okay folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.
Steve Almond is the author of the forthcoming book Against Football.
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