Friday, May 29, 2015

Facing Fears (and Gaining Friends) In the Name of Humor

What possessed 15 dads, most of whom can’t sing a lick or dance very well beyond the occasional “sprinkler” move, to get on a stage in front a few hundred friends, family, and neighbors on a recent Spring night and generally make fools of themselves? Did I mention that some were wearing princess dresses?

So, why exactly would grown men act this way?
 
The answer’s quite simple. But the impact is kind of profound.
 
I heard about this annual school event, called “Dad's Night,” from one of the few friends I’d made over the years on my many trips to open-houses and other parental events at the local elementary school. He’d participated in Dad's Night the previous year and convinced me to attend an informational meeting last Fall to learn more.
 
What I learned: Dad's Night is an annual skit show organized, written, and performed by willing fathers whose kids go to our local public elementary school.
 
A skit show? I thought at the time. As in, on stage?
 
For the record, I really don’t like to be the center attention. It may sound weird coming from a guy who regularly puts his soul down on paper – or on transmittable digital bytes – to be broadcast to the world (at least conceivably).  But it’s true. I hate it.
 
Worst of all, I hate the thought of being on a stage in front of people. It’s just not my thing. I’m much more a behind the scenes kind of guy.
 
I'm the Elsa that looks more like Fiona 
But, they say life begins where your comfort zone ends. I read that recently. It may have been a poster with a kitten on a tree branch. Not almost falling off the tree branch; that’s a “Never Give Up” poster.  But just a kitten on a tree branch, ostensibly branching out, I guess.  Or maybe it was a guy clinging to the side of a cliff with just a few carabiners separating him from certain death.

In any event, you get the point. “Life begins where your comfort zone ends.”
 
For me, the border of my comfort zone lies somewhere between the closed curtain and the open stage.
 
Still, as I thought about our local Dad's Night, I figured I could at least help write some of the skits.
 
Besides, it’s tough for dads to meet other dads through their kid’s school. Women are far better at bridging that divide and making friends with the moms they see at pick-up and drop-off. For dads, even those like me who do a fair share of picking up and dropping off, it can be very tough. Many of us just don’t see each other often enough to gain a familiarity. Even when we do, it can be limited to head nods at the annual curriculum night, or handshakes at the school carnival.
 
Befriending other school dads has always been near impossible for me, and I imagine for many other dads. Because of it, I’ve never really looked forward to school events, filled with awkward head nods and occasional sports banter.
 
If nothing else, I figured this experiment would give me a chance to actually meet and get to know some other dads.
 
So beginning last Fall, I started attending Dad's Night planning and writing sessions every few weeks to talk about what exactly we were going to do in the Spring show.
 
It proved a nice escape from the house – I work from home, mostly, which is not as awesome as it sounds. And in the process I started to get to know this strange and funny group of guys. (Not an insult. I like strange and funny, and aspire to be both).
 
As winter crept by, the writing sessions became weekly rehearsals. At one point, in my naiveté, I’d hoped only to write. But as a rookie, I was quickly pulled fully into the production and even given lines – at least in the skit I wrote.  I ended up even volunteering – along with a few other guys -- to wear an Elsa dress for a Halloween skit and a few other scenes just to reduce my chances of getting more lines.
 
For a few months, each Sunday evening we gathered and laughed and worked out the kinks in our show. Occasionally we grabbed a beer after our meetings. Only occasionally.
 
As Spring grew closer, the nerves set in. Restful sleeps were broken by images of a Middle School auditorium filled with parents and kids that sounded like a field of crickets as my lines were delivered. I wasn’t alone in my fears, and found that several other dads shared the phobia. Some others didn’t and seemed to thrive on the thought of being up there. But most of us were scared.
 
As show night loomed closer, our weekly rehearsals became daily ones. Anxiety grew. And I got thinking: what the heck are we doing? Why are we subjecting ourselves to near certain humiliation and potential doom?
 
Then, two days before the show, it became clear. It happened when my third grader, who battles a level of shyness herself, came skipping home, proud as could be, that her dad was actually going to be in Dad's Night. She was practically a celebrity in her class because of it.
 
So, why would 15 grown men get up in front of their community to potentially make fools of themselves? The same reason we do most silly things: to make our kids laugh.
 
Show night came. And we danced. We sang. We dressed as Elsas. All in front of a packed house (it was a school auditorium, but I wanted to say that). I got most of my lines right. And there were no cricket noises – except that one joke I wrote. But otherwise, it was a success.
 
To put it mildly, we rocked it. My kids haven’t stopped laughing and talking about it yet, and it’s been a few weeks.
 
The bonus: Well, it’s as one of the other dads said, when you go through something intense and stressful with a group, it can create a unique bond.
 
By exiting my comfort zone and entertaining my kids, I also got to know this great group of strange and funny guys. Now, I’m one of them.
 
And I’m looking forward to the next school gathering, complete with a lot more head nods and sports banter.

 

 If your children's school doesn’t do something like Dads’ Night. It should.