Friday, April 7, 2017

Overcoming Dad-Solation, One Sketch at a Time

In a little less than twenty-four hours, the lights will dim, the curtains will rise, and a bunch of full-grown men with school-aged children will don various costumes, caveman outfits, star wars regalia, and women’s dresses to take the stage for an hour-and-a-half long sketch comedy show.

It’s known around these parts simply as Dad’s Night. And it’s become something of a tradition at our local elementary school.

Frankly, it is awesome.

Weird; but awesome.

A lot of ink has been spilt recently about the plight of middle-aged dads in America. This is not always a group that warrants the most public empathy. But everyone has their struggle.

For many dads it includes the trouble we face balancing work and parenting and friendships. The last of this series is often the one that loses out. That’s because, in the modern hierarchy, it’s the least important. We need our jobs, for sure. And our families matter more than anything. So our friends become expendable.

Five dad's in dresses.
It's for the children.
Nobody tells you this before you have kids, but many men who are dads have few actual friends.

We don’t choose to disregard our friendships, necessarily. It just happens. Between jumping on conference calls, attending soccer practices, and needing to sleep every damn day, our time for friends simply disappears.

An article in the Boston Globe by Billy Baker summed this subject up well when he wrote: “When people with children become overscheduled, they don’t shortchange their children, they shortchange their friendships.”

It’s true. Parenting can cause a distinct kind of loneliness. Even if you truly love and enjoy the company of your spouse, you can still be lonely together. I’ve written about this subject before (here and here), though not as eloquently as Mr. Baker.

And yet, we also know that friends are important.

The reality is that we are social beings. We like being around other people. We need friends and friend groups. Without them, the trials and challenges of life and parenting can wear on us, mentally and physically.

Women face similar challenges as men, no doubt. But if you’ve ever watched the group of parents picking up kids at an after school event, you’ll notice that the moms talk like they know each other well, and the dads all just nod and move on.

I so related to Billy Baker’s article that I dropped him a note. As a one-time columnist, I know how rarely people who agree with you send such notes. Mostly, it’s the people who hate your guts because of the opinions you’ve shared that write. So I wrote Billy, and he wrote back.

I won’t share what he wrote, because I was never that kind of columnist. But he was impressed by the bond created through a sketch comedy show at an elementary school.

And it is kind of profound when you think about it.

Because here’s the other interesting thing about this subject: It’s not only dads who struggle with their relationships with dads. Schools struggle with that relationship, too.

Involving fathers in the education of kids benefits everyone. Yet, it is elusive. The same stresses that pull dads from friends, also pull them away from the daily educational routine. That’s not to say it’s true of all dads, by any means. There are many dads who serve as the primary parent, or who truly share daily parenting responsibilities.

I used to be one of them when I worked at home and did most of the pickups and drop-offs. Since I returned to the office, my wife does that more often.

But even when I was the front-line parent – taking kids to dance class after school and attending all the in-school events I could – I felt the dearth of dads. And, it was lonesome.

For me, all that changed when I joined the group of dads who do this once-a-year sketch comedy show.

And, to be sure, it’s not just one show. We hold writers meetings starting in the fall. We practice through the winter. We have dress rehearsals in the spring. Then the intensity of the actual performance – especially for a group of dads who don't do that sort of thing typically – creates a unique bond.

We do all of this for the kids, of course. The running gag being that our involvement with Dad’s Night often pulls us away from home more than not, and likely drives our wives crazy.

But it is time well spent. Our kids see and enjoy the fruits of our work. We certainly fill that critical friend void. And we connect with our kids' school in ways that we usually don't.

Now, everywhere I go in town I see dads I know. We laugh and joke and no longer just nod hellos at each other. It has changed my world.

I’m in my third year of Dad’s Night. And in less than twenty-four hours, the lights will dim, the curtains will rise, and my friends and I will don costumes, outfits, and dresses for a sketch comedy show for our kids.

Every school should do something like this.

It is awesome.

Weird; but awesome.

Here's other articles you may enjoy: Learning Lessons from a Little Boy, One Smiling Moment -- The Truth Behind an Okay Photo, and To the Lost Little Girl in DC: Watching You Find Your Mom Made My Day.


Anonymous said...

Maybe someone would like to go! Is it open to the public? Where and when is it and how much does it cost? Enquiring minds want to know!

Cort Ruddy said...

It was free, at Wellwood. But it has already happened. Check it out next year!