In 2005, a dozen or so guys in their 20s made the fateful decision to spend a long weekend at the Jersey shore, watching the opening rounds of the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament, drinking heroic amounts of alcohol and, during brief windows of sobriety, attempting to engage in physical activities like basketball or Wiffle ball.
If you asked any one of us during that first weekend if we thought the March Madness shore trip would be one of the most important traditions in our lives nearly a decade and a half later, you probably would be hard-pressed to find even one dude who would have confidently answered in the affirmative.
But now, more than ten years later, we’re here. We just completed our fourteenth consecutive March Madness trip to the dirty, deserted Jersey shore town of Sea Isle, an island that’s as empty as Chernobyl during its off-season months.
When we started our ”Man Weekend” tradition, a nickname that began as a bad joke but somehow managed to stick, not one of us was even married. Now, there are only two guys in the group without kids — and even their days without progeny are numbered.
Besides the obvious differences — we’re older, fatter and balder; we smell worse; we generally can’t get through a pick-up basketball game without at least one major injury (from badly broken fingers to torn Achilles and ACLs) — our reasons for heading down the shore have changed significantly. The value of having these two or three nights away from our children that we can depend on every year cannot be overstated. As much as we all love our kids, sometimes we just need to get far, far away from them.
For all the talk of desperately needing a break, there’s plenty of boozy conversation about the kids and the adorable things they said or did.
That’s not to say we don’t miss the little humans while we’re away. For one thing, there’s all the hungover Facetime calls you witness (“Look, the daddies are having their own playdate today.”). For all the talk of desperately needing a break, there’s plenty of boozy conversation about the kids and the adorable things they said or did. There are details that essentially tell the same story: a group of dads who love their kids so much they can’t even go a single weekend without talking about the little bastards.
But make no mistake. March Madness Man Weekend is an escape for every guy who attends, a much-needed break from the constant daily responsibilities of our jobs, our marriages, our kids or all three. The weekend didn’t start as an escape, though. It began in our early 20s without any spouses or families back then. Our entire lives were an escape from responsibility back then. In the beginning, Man Weekend was simply a fun thing to do — one of the many, fun things we could afford to do with our ample free time.
For the first few years, we went down simply because we had a place — a parent would offer up their beach house. When that free place was no longer available, we decided Man Weekend was important enough to pay for, so we started renting a house. And sometime between 2005 and now, I’m not exactly sure when, the getaway has become a hallowed tradition for us.
The tradition angle of this whole thing is invaluable in helping some of us keep this thing going year after year after year. When life gets a little too crazy and one of our wives, possibly even a pregnant one, suggests that maybe, just maybe we shouldn’t go to “Man Weekend” this year, the sanctity of the weekend allows us to say, “But honey, it’s a tradition. I can’t not go.”
The value of having these two or three nights away from our children that we can depend on every year cannot be overstated. As much as we all love our kids, sometimes we just need to get far, far away from them.
Traditions are powerful. After all, I’m sure there are a healthy number of us who believe seven days is a little long for shiva but take part out of love and respect for the tradition. In a lot of ways, our pilgrimage to the Jersey Shore each March is like that. Regardless of how much the time away impacts our day-to- day lives, we can’t break from tradition.
For all the change that’s taken place between the first weekend and the one that just past, so much has remained the same. I think that’s a big part of the appeal. On any given Man Weekend, we could walk into the house, a place harboring anywhere between a dozen to 25 dudes and smelling worse than the most overfilled diaper pail of the foulest baby in our group, and see the same thing: A crowded L-shaped sofa with a bunch of dudes, beers in hand, staring intently at multiple screens projecting the tournament; a few guys off to the side playing Mega Man or some other undisputed classic on a vintage Nintendo system; a half dozen people huddling around a dining room table in the midst of a tournament style Texas Hold ’Em game; and a couple drunks hovering around the beer fridge engaged in a serious, important conversation neither would remember the next day. Any time a new arrival climbs the stairs and enters the living room for the first time, the entire place screams out the guy’s name out in unison and immediately returns to they’re doing.
It’s not the most exciting tradition, but it’s perfect for us — and it shows no signs of slowing down. I can easily see us doing this 10, 15 or even 20 years from now. When we’re done, and the hangovers clear, we head back to our families more engaged than ever.