The Weekly Routine That Makes Me a Calmer, More Connected Dad

It's easy to lose yourself in the whole parenting thing. This is how I stay sane.

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Welcome to “How I Stay Sane,” a weekly column where real dads talk about the things they do for themselves that help them keep grounded in all the other areas of their life. 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 John Crossman, 47, a father of two who lives in Florida, walking his dog every day and knowing when to pick up his phone and call his friends helps him realize he’s not alone, and that no problem is made better when you don’t talk about it.

I really believe that men need to feel their feelings and speak their truth. As a man, in young life, you’re sort of taught that boys don’t cry. You just push those feelings aside. I had to learn in my forties how to bring that back out.

One of those things was learning how to cry, yeah, but another huge part of it was just learning how to express my feelings. There’s a level of happiness, in life, in the Christian belief system. That we should just always be happy all the time. People would ask me how I’m doing and I’d always just say: ‘Good.’ And then there’s the other side of it, of being a man, is just being like, just suck it up, rub some dirt off and walk it off. Learning to be able to express my day was huge. Learning to say things like I had a hard day, I had an exhausting day, I had an overwhelming day, I felt hurt or lonely today. I felt sad today. Creating, whether I felt like I needed it or not, opportunities to talk to my friends, where I just say: Here’s what happened to me today. I discovered as I did it that there’s a real force to that.

But the other part of my ritual, of talking to my friends, unwinding, is the physical part. When I was a younger guy, I was all about doing super athletic stuff. Crossfit, Insanity workouts. Marathons. All that kind of stuff. I’m not against that today, per se, but I’ve found more that as I get older, that sometimes, it’s just increasing the blood flow and the oxygen and having a good, long walk at a good pace, not a crazy pace. I realized that can be better. And I think, on top of that, I’m not just taking a long walk. I’m walking my Great Dane. He needs two walks a day and it keeps me accountable, not just to moving but also because it gives me the space to call a friend.

I think time with my dog is also just good. Sometimes I walk my dog and I’m on the phone and walking my dog at the same time. I do that several times a week. I’m sure I’ll do it today. All of that just kind of helps me process all of the stress I’m feeling at the end of my day. It’s just crucial. Walking, talking, it gives me oxygen. Sometimes just talking about stuff, even if it’s nothing in particular, makes me feel better. I think, too, I had to learn the lingo. I think a lot of times men will get accused of not being transparent enough. I used to think I was really transparent. It was actually just that I did not know how to express my feelings.

Sometimes I didn’t even know what I was feeling. And then if I knew what I was feeling, I didn’t know how to express it. I had to learn that.

I have a group of friends I check in on during the week. One of the reasons that’s important, that I’m not just calling the same person, is because I can’t just lean on one human being. If I have the same person I call all the time and I’m just constantly dumping my thoughts on them, that’s not really a good friendship. The other thing that has been sort of life-giving to me, is that some people have this theory that everything has to be face to face. They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, look people in the eye, it’s always better to be face to face when you’re talking.’

But honestly, I’ve found that a lot of times in life, that sometimes, people who say that are being a bit manipulative. They want to have a face-to-face meeting because they want to sell you something. To me, the telltale sign is if I say to someone, ‘Hey, I really don’t have time for that, give me a call,’ 90 percent of the time I never hear from them again.

The guys that I’m closest to, that I’m friends with, that I lean on to talk to, I rarely see them face-to-face. But we talk all the time. Like, if I said: ‘I want to deal with my feelings but I’ll only talk to my friends face-to-face,’ that wouldn’t work. But if I say, you know what, ‘I’m going to do it when I can,’ it’s very liberating. I create my own time to unwind. For example, I have a friend I talk to on the phone at like 6:30 in the morning. He’s a schoolteacher. So a lot of times, when I drop my daughter off at high school, I’ll call him and we’ll talk. It’s just a time where he’s available and I’m available and it works.

My new thing is on Saturday and Sunday, I’ll walk with a friend. One friend on Saturday and one friend on Sunday. I’ll walk them on one of those days, we walk the dog together, and we talk about anything.

It took me years to figure out I needed this. I can remember in my church, my pastor would say that I needed to have friends my own age that I could talk to. I’d been going there for years and hearing that for years, but the problem was that when I was young and in my career, I had trouble finding contemporaries. I would want to talk about something and I couldn’t relate to people. It was all business.

Then I went through a bout of depression, and I needed counseling. I honestly had to find a way to get closer friends. I didn’t just need friends. I needed to find guys who were healthy, who could mentor me through recovering from this depression. And I found those guys. It’s funny — a lot of the dudes that I hang out with now are a lot more blue collar guys. So they have a very different life than I do. But they really care about who I am and they don’t want anything from me. It’s not about networking, it’s about friendship.

So we just talk about what we’re going through in our lives. It’s just about us meeting each other, human to human, finding time. That’s really key. But when I was younger and I was looking for this, it somehow just became competitive, and it became unhealthy, too.

The general subject of the conversations is what I’m dealing with, what I’m doing, right then and right there. And sometimes, it’s just friendship stuff. Expressing when I’m frustrated. Talking crap about a sports team. But the deeper stuff is usually relational. Talking about challenges in our marriages. Worrying about our kids. Talking that through. It’s not like we try to have conclusions to our conversations or solutions to our problem; it’s just that we know we want to talk about it, and we can.

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