There comes a time in every guy’s life when he turns around and realizes that the friends he once had are no longer in his life. Weekly happy hours or Saturday bike rides turn into once a month, then once-every-couple-of-month-events. Soon, get-togethers are rare. Sure, you may see your buddies at the occasional wedding or random “hey I’m in town, can you hang?” pass-through, but it’s not the same. The friendships you had are gone and, now that you’ve settled into a career and have a family, new ones are incredibly difficult to forge, let alone maintain. Time is a big issue, of course. But it also has to do with the fact that, well, as a large body of sociological evidence proves, men are terrible at making friends.
Some men, however, buck the trend. They actively think of ways to maintain a strong social life. They maintain relationships with friends who have kids and don’t have kids. They purposefully construct a life that allows them to have both friends and a family. One of those dads is Steve Gera. Steve is a father to a two-year-old, a husband, an Iraq veteran, and CEO of the sports and technology firm Gains Group which works with pro sports teams across the world. Despite his heavy schedule, Steve maintains a robust social life, seeing various friends about two times a week.
So, how does he do it? While he swears that he doesn’t have it all figured out, Steve says that time management, good communication, and flexibility are key. Here’s his advice on maintaining friendships through early fatherhood — and beyond.
I think a lot of parents, when they have kids, batten down the hatches. Since having kids, we’ve actually tried to be more outgoing than we were before — to set an example for our daughter. My wife and I try to actually be more outgoing and more social now that we have a daughter. We want a daughter who is self-confident, who feels comfortable in any situation, who feels like she can ask for things and that she can put herself out in the world. If she doesn’t see us demonstrating that, she’ll never learn to do it herself. So we make sure to make time for friends. This requires a lot of scheduling and a lot of communication, but we make it happen.
Early on, we were making all of our decisions based on something that we believed our daughter has to get right away, and there was no wiggle room whatsoever. Right before our daughter’s first birthday, it became clear that we needed a change. We were out with some friends. It was 7:30 or 8 o’clock, and all of the sudden it was coming up towards bedtime. Very quickly, we started to freak out. One of the people at this dinner was one of my friends from Spain, who tend to be more relaxed about parenting. He said: ‘Relax. It’s no big deal. Your child is still going to grow up to be a great kid, your kid is going to grow up to be perfectly healthy and perfectly fine. You’re getting her to bed 25 minutes later than what you would like. She’s going to be okay.’ From that moment on, we had this realization that we have rules, and things that we want to live by, but it’s okay for us to break them.
We still do what’s best for our daughter. I can’t stress this enough: We don’t keep our daughter out until midnight and go crazy or anything like that. But if we, all of the sudden, started to freak out and get stressed out about her being with us with our friends or getting a little bit past her naptime or whatever it was, we would stress our friends out. But worse than that, is that my daughter would get stressed out. She would get upset. The whole secret to being a good parent is just to be engaged, right? It’s about engaging with her in the most productive and positive way possible even if you get her to naptime just a little bit late.
We make sure that at least half of our social engagements are kid-focused. We’re at that age where a lot of our friends have kids, as well. We try to create reasons for us to get together. We go to the zoo, we try to create communal, family activities where we can invite multiple friends. It’s so easy as a parent to put the blinders on, where every single week is just the same week that you’re just trying to get through.
As for our friends who don’t have kids? We still make time for them. Sometimes we bring our daughter along, but sometimes we don’t. I had to become okay with having my daughter at a restaurant, for me to sit there with my friends while they’re drinking. But, if my wife and I are together, one of us will have a beer and the other one won’t. We include our kid with us when we can and when it’s appropriate, but we try not to be too concerned about it. We also alleviate the tension with our childless friends and make them a part of our daughter’s life as well and figure out other ways to engage with our friends outside of family.
It all comes down to time management and teamwork. I’ve started to shift away from scheduling business dinners or friend dinners and made them lunches, or happy hours. It’s honestly become a game of time management. I don’t understand why parents all of the sudden adopt a completely brand new personality, or tempo to their lives. For me, it’s just about time management.
A big part of my business is actually just having a vast network of friends. Sports is a very relationship-based business. Because of that, I just have to have conversations with my wife where we look at an entire month on the calendar. We’ll say: “Okay, this week I’ll be traveling. This week I have friends in town. I’ll need to do x, y and z.” She’ll tell me the same thing. We’ll lay it all out on the calendar and then we compromise: ‘Those nights are free if you need to be going out late at night and I got our daughter and the same thing for myself.” It’s honestly about sitting down and doing the hard task of actually having the conversations of planning it out.
We just take each day as it comes — but it’s always a planned out day. I don’t have it all figured out. Parenting is just a non-stop game of chess: With yourself, with your daughter, or with anyone else in your life. I guess that’s why I say it’s not rocket science. It’s hard work, being a friend, a father, a husband, and just trying to do all of those things as best you can on a week to week, month to month, year to year basis. I don’t want to oversimplify it, but that’s how we approach it.