Chris Gethard Talks With Lonely Dads. Somehow, We All Feel Better Now
The comedian sat down with his wildest friends to talk about their transition to fatherhood. Turns out they’re all less fun than they used to be — and that’s alright with them (sort of).
You used to be fun — or at least more fun than you are now. You have a kid. It’s beautiful. Congratulations! Oh, also, the sad truth: you are, at minimum, 20 percent less fun. You no longer sleep. You ramble about a baby now, whether the listener cares or not. You have to stay home more often, be sober more often, and get up early more often. None of these things are fun, nor are they things fun people do.
For me, this really sucks because I was never particularly fun. I once dated a girl for eight years, and one of the reasons I broke up with her was she kept going to weddings and not bringing me as a date. It happened four times. She preferred to fly solo. Most people want a wedding date by their side, especially if it’s someone they’ve been with for close to a decade. Not my ex. She knew I was going to be a stick in the mud, a master of awkward conversations, someone who cramped her style at parties. It hurt my feelings, but also, I get it. I needed to be with someone who was into me at my worst as much as they were at my best, but I could not argue that I would probably not pick me as a wedding date either.
So for me to be even less fun all of a sudden? Woof.
Of course being a new dad is a lonely thing — fun people don’t want to hang around with you as much anymore, and you will have to radically redefine your idea of what a “fun thing” entails.
Five years ago, I hosted a hipster television show, I put out a critically praised stand-up special on HBO, and I ran around Brooklyn late into the night with my friends.
These days? I obsess over lawn care. I research winter fertilizers and organic compost application techniques. I listen to Disney movie soundtracks with my son and have dance parties in my kitchen. Most sad of all, I volunteer to drive an ambulance on Tuesday nights in my small New Jersey town. (I wish this was born out of my burning desire to help others. I am just so bored.)
I was always a little bit lame. I am so much lamer now. This topic came up in most of my conversations in some form or another. I’d like to now shine a spotlight on the experiences and opinions of some of my friends who were always the most fun. The ones who kept the party going. The ones who lead the drunken sing-alongs. The ones who created momentum that led to legendary nights. I wondered how they were doing as dads now. And it turns out, it’s not just me. Even my most fun friends are a lot less fun.
Friend #1: Dave Szarejko
Married to Melanie, father of Ollie and June. There was a bar near Penn Station that I used to go to with Dave where he was so beloved by the staff, they would let him get behind the bar to make drinks.
Dave: I remember my life before kids. It was New York City, going to bars, shutting them down. Now, I drive a minivan. I just feel like a very, very different person. My priorities are so, so different. I talk differently too.
The other night, I was in an Uber coming home. I had drank a little bit. I just did the normal, “All right, thanks. Drive safe.”
The guy's like, “All right, goodnight.”
I said, “Goodnight, sleep tight.”
I said “sleep tight” to my Uber driver. I told a grown man at work to sleep tight. I don't know what that means when I say that to my kids. I don't know what “sleep tight” even means. Even in context, it's a weird phrase. To say it to a stranger, I immediately was just like, “What the fuck is going on with my brain? Is this just how I say goodnight to people?”
It's just muscle memory because every single day, I say goodnight to two kids, and I tell them to sleep tight, whatever the hell that means, and I can't turn that off.
Chris: How does it make you feel? When you have those moments where it hits you: “Oh, I've changed in a way that's lamer than I used to be.”
Dave: [laughs] I didn't have a long way to go. I didn't have much coolness to give up, and whatever I had is for sure gone now. Yes, I don't know. There is an aspect of it that's a little bit of relief, where the idea of what's cool to me has changed dramatically. I see kids going out to bars, and I meet my friends at bars, and I'm like, “This just isn't me anymore, so I don't have to try to fit in with these cool kids because this is not my genre of cool anymore.”
Now, I think it's cool when I see parents at the playground getting really into a game with their kids and pretending that they're all dinosaurs. I see that, and I'm like, “That dad is committing to being a dinosaur right now, and that's cool.” That kind of cool, I can compete with. I think.
Friend #2: Keith Haskel
Husband of Bethany, father of three. Seriously, this dude used to party in every corner of Brooklyn at all hours of the night. I witnessed it personally — he had an impressive stamina for partying.
Chris: You once got a job and quit almost immediately and told your bosses, “These hours are more intense than you said they were going to be, and I party every day.” We don't party every day anymore.
Keith: I party once a month at best now, and it's not even that great when I do. I'm too tired.
Chris: How do we feel about this, Keith? Because I love my kid so much. I've been around you. You have three kids. I watch you, and I know you love them so much.
You miss that idea of being more social, going out. At the same time, how do you reconcile those feelings when your kids are the best? They're so fun, and I see you have fun with them. It's this weird line that feels taboo to talk about.
“I don't blame my kid for these feelings of loneliness. And yet, his existence seems to have sent me down a track where it's more of a reality.”
I wonder if you think about that.
Keith: No. When Bethany and I had the kids, we were like, “We're done partying.” We did all the partying we could do. When we say partying, we don't mean drugs and alcohol. It means staying up until four in the morning with your friends. It's, “We've done this enough. I get what that's like.”
At night, I don't know what to do with myself. Part of it is, we've also both moved to the suburbs where it's harder to party. That's a huge part of it. I moved to the suburbs because it's easier to have kids in the suburbs. I can't blame them. “[Like,] Oh, do I really want to drive an hour to go to the city and spend $100 on a sitter?”
To party, it gets really expensive with sitters. Do I blame the loneliness on the kids? It's clearly not all their fault. No, I don't blame the kids… but it's certainly part of the problem.
Chris: When we first got to know each other, you'd go to a concert if you had nothing else going on. You'd just find a ticket to a concert for bands you hadn't even heard before. Or you'd go to some bar with a dance floor and just dance on it. You used to do that — run around, bounce from place to place, run into people. That was your life.
Do you find that there are any behaviors that have started to replace what you used to do?
Keith: It's sleep. When you party every night, you're out at four in the morning. That story is totally true. I quit a job. I said, “I party every single night. I can't do this. I'm not doing this.”
I used to sleep until 8:00 a.m. and now I'm up at 6:00 a.m., and I've woken up three or four times every single night for the past five years, so I'm just exhausted. I didn't carry that exhaustion before.
The other night, I fell asleep at 9:00 p.m. on my bed horizontally laying ninety degrees the wrong way. Like, hardcore REM dreaming. Then I woke up at midnight and thought, “Oh, I have to run the dishwasher, or else I don't have containers for school tomorrow for the kids.” Then, “Oh, I'm up.” I was up for two hours from 2:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. Stupid shit. I'm exhausted all day.
I wouldn't say I'm depressed because it's not diagnosed, and I don't want to throw that term around. I'm just bummed out a lot because there's nothing that can replenish me. I'm so exhausted, and I can't do the things that bring me joy, and I haven't found new things that bring me joy. The kids do, they totally do. But I think that's an introvert-extrovert thing where the joy that they bring me, I think at the end of the day, doesn't bring me joy. It only brings me joy in the moment.
I love them more than anything. I'll do anything for them. It's not fulfilling enough for me. I'm still seeking something that I don't have. Also, I do think partying is seeking something that you don't have in some ways too. You love them, but maybe it's a little boring. It's boring in a good way, but it's boring. Because you love them and it's awesome, but you need more than that. Or at least I do.
Friend #3: Mike D.
Husband of Rachel, father of Ada. Throughout my entire high school and college experiences, Mike D. was the social captain of my friend group. I participated in true debauchery with this now very reasonable man.
Mike: At some point, you have to become a real grown-up. Real grown-ups are not cool. I think that's completely fine. I almost find it disturbing now when you meet up with someone that you haven't seen in a long time and they're the same person they were when they were 25 and they're still like, “Yes, I'm out every night. I'm doing…” whatever cool thing they're doing this week.
I think we're almost wired to feel some shame of not being cool anymore. That's horrible. No. What's wrong with just being a bunch of moms and dads in ill-fitting clothing, sitting around a barbecue, watching your kids? There shouldn't be any shame around that.
Excerpted from The Lonely Dad Conversations Copyright © 2023, Chris Gethard. Reproduced by permission of Scribd. All rights reserved.
Chris Gethard is a comedian, actor and author. He's the host of the Beautiful/Anonymous podcast, the former host of The Chris Gethard Show, and wrote and starred in the HBO special Career Suicide. He’s appeared in such movies as Don’t Think Twice, Ghostbusters, Anchorman 2, and The Other Guys. The Lonely Dad Conversations is available as both an eBook and audiobook.