One of the first true casualties of fatherhood are many of the friendships you once had. It’s sad, but that’s how it goes. Chad R. McDonald, a 49-year-old dad from New York City and a work-from-home-dad of a 6-year-old, found that having a son and moving around a lot made old friends fall by the wayside. When he and his family finally settled down, he knew he needed to find a new social group. It wasn’t easy. But here’s how he did it.
My son, Liam, is on the spectrum for autism. He’s highly functioning, but the first couple of years, my wife and I were pretty much just dealing with that and making sure that he was getting the help that he needs. We caught it early enough and we got him the help that he needs just so he’ll be okay. He’ll have a typical childhood and he’ll go to typical schools. He’s just super, super, super active.
So, like most other dads, or most other parents, really, once I had a child I sort of said goodbye to a lot of the friends that I used to know and hang out with. If they don’t have kids, and you do, you just don’t see them anymore. Every once in a while, that’s it, but it’s not the same. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s just the way it goes. But I’m very gregarious. I need social interaction. It’s helpful, as well, to have activities and interests that you pursue outside the family, you know? It’s important for my wife and me.
It took a few tries to get a new group of friends. I think this is also fairly typical of most parents, because we had to move around a lot. I think a lot of people do. Liam is 6, and we’re finally in a place where we’re going to be for a while. But it took us three tries to find that place. When you’re moving around, and you’re a parent, it’s really tough to maintain solid friendships. You can keep in touch with your friends online, but seeing them in person is a lot tougher. You need to have people who are local to you and that sometimes means you gotta get out there and meet them.
Welcome to “How I Stay Sane,” a weekly column in which real dads talk about the things they do to stay grounded. It’s easy to feel strung out as a parent, but the dads we feature recognize that unless they regularly take care of themselves, the parenting part of their lives will get a lot harder. The benefits of having that one “thing” are enormous.
Once it was established that this was where we were going to stay, and this was where Liam’s school was going to be, I began to look for friends. I looked at Liam’s friends and their parents. I thought, Let’s see if I can make friends with some of these guys.
Because I’m a giant nerd and I wear a lot of superhero and Star Wars clothes, things like that, it was really easy to make connections with other people I saw wearing comic book or superhero clothes. You start to talking with them. It’s almost like a romantic thing, like: “Hey, you want to go see a superhero movie sometime?” In fact, we’re all seeing Spiderman this week. But sometimes we do barbecues. We’ve been talking about starting a Dungeons and Dragons group.
So, the group of friends I have now, I basically found them through my nerdy interests. Jose wore a Batman shirt to school one time so I wanted to talk to him about that. Another friend wore a Darth Vader shirt — that was my opening. I’ve only had these friends for about a year or a year and a half. But it’s nice to have text messages that aren’t just from my wife or my work. And, you know, it’s just nice to have a social life again. That’s something that I really missed. It helps settle me down and keep me focused and, I think, balanced in my marriage and my parenthood.
Having interests outside of my marriage and being a parent is healthy. I think if you’re just focused on nothing but the family all the time, every single day, every hour, without talking to anyone else, you’d probably go mad. For the same reason that if you only focused on your job every single day all the time and nothing else, you would be insane. So, it’s nice to have friends, especially when those friends share my interests.
I feel more balanced with my friends. I feel happier in that regard — in that I don’t feel I’m just one thing anymore, like, I was just a dad. I was just the dad that worked at home and that was it. And not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love my son, I love my wife, I love being a dad. But I really enjoy just hanging out with the guys. Even just grabbing a quick beer. When you grow up, you realize they didn’t tell you this part. There are things you think about, things you considered important when you were growing up. Like, I thought quicksand was going to be a much bigger problem than it turned out to be. It’s that sort of thing. I didn’t expect there to ever be a problem with making friends. But when you grow up, everyone tightens up ship. So I feel super lucky.