The Hobby That Helps Me Be a Better, More Connected Dad

"When I’m playing, it’s like everything has woken up on me. Even my skin feels tingly. It just wakes me up, and makes me feel better."

Welcome to “How I Stay Sane,” where real dads talk about the things they do for themselves that help them keep grounded in all the other areas of their life — especially the parenting part. It’s easy to feel strung-out as a parent, but the dads we feature all recognize that, unless they regularly take care of themselves, the parenting part of their life will get a lot harder. The benefits of having that one “thing” are enormous. For Matt Huey, 36, from Carrollton, Texas, that thing is playing the drums. It’s an act of being present (and making lots of noise.)

I started playing drums when I was a teenager, about 20 years ago. As I got older, I got away from it a little bit. Life got in the way. Going to school, getting married, having a family. All that stuff. But after having kids, things settled down a bit. I realized I had time to do stuff like that again.

And then we moved to our first house. We started going to a new church, and they had a choir, and a drum set, and I said, ‘Oh, well I play. Can I join?’ They let me. So I had to pick it back up and practice a little bit. That was about seven years ago. And boy do I love it.

It’s easier to learn now than was when I was a kid. Back then, I had to find a teacher. Now? I can just look up videos. I grew up in a small town, so even finding a teacher was hard to do. But YouTube and the internet — that stuff is right there. It’s pretty cool, and I can pick it up and learn lessons online and remember how to do fills and all that stuff. It’s so much easier than it used to be. I even branched out my skill set a bit more.

Joining the church band helped filled something that was missing. I love the drums, but I can really only do so much at home. Realizing there was a need, and that I could fill it as a musician was really exciting.

Picking up drumsticks for the first time after I had put them down for so long kind of felt like I had never put them down to begin with. The sticks were so comfortable in my hands. I couldn’t really stay on a time on a metronome, but the simple beats I remembered. My dad is a musician, too, and he taught me a few things when I was starting out. I would just go back to that. I’d just re-start the beat, and re-start the beat.

But then it started to come back. There’s this weird feeling where you finally just feel that “little thing” come back. It’s like, oh, that’s how you do it. That feeling is great. It was really neat that I had stepped away from it for so long and it only took a few minutes and then I was like, oh yeah, that’s how I did that thing. But my endurance and stamina was gone. I couldn’t play for long periods of time. I’d just get really tired. That got better over time.

Now, I play a couple times a week, when I find the time. It’s hard with work and family and other stuff. But finding that little bit of time, and letting myself get away from all of the responsibilities, it just makes me feel better. It’s almost like my brain functions a little bit better after I play around for a bit.

I think it’s the complexity the makes me feel better. I have to think. I want to be on time, I want to keep this rhythm, and then I want to play around that. If I’m keeping one beat, I can’t really think about other stuff. I just get my left hand down, my right hand down, my left foot down and my right foot down. Doing these things independently of one another, trying to remember what cymbal sounds a certain way, and which tone is coming from which direction, so I know where to throw that in and then I have to bring my arms back. There is so much complexity of it. Spending time doing that, I just come away from that just feeling better.

When I’m angry, I just always think: you’re not just making noise. That’s one thing if you had a bad day and you want to just beat the snot out of the drums. But there’s also the time where it’s like, I just had a really bad day, I can’t do anything right, but I can shut that off and just do this one little, simple thing. And it gets repetitive, too. I can play the one thing over and over, and because I have to focus on that so much, I can make it as complex or simple as I want. If the complexity gets frustrating, I can take it back to the simple thing, and that will feel better. I build it back up and down and up and down, and if I can do that, I feel a lot better.