Data from Gallup suggests that American men have an average of nine close friends, and that fathers with children under the age of 18 average seven. So, if you’ve just become a dad for the first time, count your best friends on both hands and eliminate two fingers. The odd thing is, you probably won’t realize which two.
Fatherhood sneaks up on your friendships. When I became a dad, the happy-hour invites stopped. The cool members of my office (think Jim, Pam, Ryan, and Oscar) started grabbing drinks at the bar down the street without asking me.
Actually, I lied. The invites didn’t immediately stop. I accepted one and brought my infant daughter along, in one of those dad slings. (I loved those things because they allowed me to monitor how alive she was just by skin contact instead of having to interrupt conversations and check a car seat for breath every 20 minutes.)
Only looking back on the experience did I realize the extent of the lying being done to my face. Everyone stared at the eyes peeking out from my sling and talked about babies. If the conversation veered, strangers approached our table and got it back on the baby track.
That’s not because anyone wanted to talk about babies, however. It was because of how inappropriate it was of me to bring one. What I’d basically done is brought my mom along to a strip club. I should have perceived the sarcasm in the Jim at my office’s voice when he proclaimed: “I wish I had a cool dad who brought me to bars.”
Being a dad rendered me not happy-hour fun anymore, I get it. But there was no way, I thought early on, it was going to cost me my real friends. Like Mike.
Mike was my go-to friend, my Glenn Quagmire from Family Guy, my Larry from Three’s Company. We spent quite a lot of Saturday-night time and beer money on one another through the years. Though he was always a great wingman when we were single, he didn’t dump me when I got serious with girlfriends, or even when I got married.
Or so I thought. When I told Mike that my wife and I were trying to conceive, he gave me that “not you too” look. That was his line in the male-bonding sand.
Mike hates kids. In fact, and I knew this but had no idea of its extent, his life is dedicated to never creating them. Here are some nuggets Mike has actually told me about kids: One, childhood is the wrong stage of life; two, children are a concession males make to females to stop them from leaving; and three, no one should have children based on what’s happening in the world right now.
I see Mike’s third point clearly, and there was probably a little truth in his second. But kids are awesome. (Or at least mine is.)
The real problem, however, was one Mike never admitted directly: how his new girlfriend reacted to the news. She wanted to know about every step in my wife’s pregnancy. She asked to be the first to babysit the kid. I could practically hear the “If someone like him can want to be a dad, then you can, too” conversations whenever they drove home from the restaurant or our house.
Eventually, Mike stopped calling, too. One finger sliced off.
I’m not innocent. I have done some real-life unfriending of my own since fatherhood began, and it continues to this day. Or at least I would like it to. Last year, my childhood buddy Brian popped back into my life after 20 years because he moved to my current hometown. Brian is divorced and his kids attend college back in our home state, where his ex lives. He constantly texts, wanting to grab drinks or dinner after work.
Brian is my second finger. I understand how geographically ripe the situation is to hang with him again. And he is a tremendously sweet guy. But having to pick up my daughter every weekday from daycare by 6 p.m. has given me more clarity about my feelings toward those who request my time for selfish reasons. And a part of me hopes that Brian is reading this right now because I don’t have the heart to speak this truth in person to him.
Yes, I am allowed to imbibe Coronas for two hours on a Wednesday, Brian. I just choose not to inconvenience my wife to do that with you. You were a great friend in our 20s, but that was 20 years ago and we barely kept in contact since. It’s not that I don’t want to sit around talking about how much better the past was than the present.
Actually, that’s exactly what it is, Brian. The present is a lot more awesome for me than it apparently is for you, and I’m sorry about that. But I actually want to go home and spend with my wife and daughter the only hours during the week that I get to see them both awake.
What I don’t want is to get divorced, like you did, due to neglecting my family. Because spending weeknights with you flirting with a waitress who would never schtup either of us anyway is not an adequate consolation prize to my current life.
Fatherhood teaches you these things. In movies and on TV, men always have these great, lifelong friends who always provide tribal wisdom and comic relief. I have someone like that, and I realize how fortunate that makes me. His name is Roy. I hope you have a Roy, too.
Roy and I have been friends since his mom was our nursery-school teacher. Since the sixth grade, whenever one of us has a personal problem, we call one another and talk it out – even if we haven’t talked for months. It continues to this day.
“You know what you should do?” Roy tells me whenever I’m really worried about something. “You should worry more, because bad things are going to happen.” (I probably should have mentioned that Roy is an incredibly sarcastic New York City comedian with a brilliantly nonchalant attitude toward life.) It’s nice. We talk. We catch up. We go back to our lives but know the other is there when we need him.
As much as we convince ourselves otherwise during an earlier part of life, friends like Mike and Brian are just situational. They’re there for you as long as the situation is there for them. Their friendship hinges on your willingness to meet them at the geographical place, and the mental place, they happen to occupy at the time.
Dads, unfortunately, are better off without fingers like that. And if becoming a dad is what it takes to come to that realization, well, I’d call that a win-win.