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Dads Unite

Since I moved to Brooklyn from Manhattan, I’ve felt a little isolated. Most of my (pre-marriage) friends live in “the city” (A term that I use, but I’ll get letters from all of my Brooklyn friends — especially my wife.) I have many, many Brooklyn friends, but with work, life, and a baby, somehow it’s an effort to pick up the phone or go out the door. People have been really great at coming out to see us, and we’re making new friends with kids the same age, but it’s still weird to go from the hectic, hundred-people-a-day world of the UN School to just Ronan and I. Of course, that’s weird in a good way; I love just having one thing to focus on, but the transition is strange. Thankfully I had nine months of just being alone to think about things, and dealt with a lot of issues over parenting, careers, life, work, happiness, sadness, and many other complex emotions before Ronan came.

Now I’m ready to see more people. I’ve called some friends, and Ronan and I have made some trips into Manhattan and some trips around Brooklyn. I joined a new Dads group, and Terry and I joined a new Moms group. Generally it’s been very positive. We haven’t been going to the Moms group as much since Terry went back to work, because I’m chickenshit. The three or four times we first met the group, there were Moms and Dads because of the meetings being on the weekend. The few times we went to the weekday meetings, there weren’t many Dads. The E-mail group started referring to the “Moms Meetings” and I lost the will to go. I’m sure if I went, everybody would be cool with it; I just have problems being the only Dad when the boobs come out and everybody breastfeeds. (Okay, they ALL don’t breastfeed at the same time. We can all debate this and I will lose, but it comes down to me being uncomfortable being the only guy in the park with a group of women who feel comfortable whipping it out. And I know not all of them feel comfortable feeding in public. And Terry has breastfed Ronan at the park.) So, yes, I’m being hypocritical. I know I’m wrong, there’s nothing wrong with breastfeeding, and more power to them, but if I’m the only guy, I worry that somebody’s going to point at me like they did in the movie Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. If I knew that another one or two Dads were coming, I’d be okay with going. But I don’t know. Yes, I know that’s an irrational fear, but we live in an irrational world. I’d be completely fine with some events being designated just for Moms, but I don’t know which ones are for Moms and which ones are for everyone. So I patiently wait for a weekend event with the Dads invited. (Hint to any April 2007 moms out there still reading!)

According to this New York Times Article, Park Slope women are quite comfortable with breastfeeding. I’ve eaten at Two Boots many times, and I can’t remember anyone breastfeeding a baby while simultaneously using 29 tables, but perhaps I go there after most children are asleep. Even the author, who is a woman, and was also breastfeeding, was a little amazed at the comfort level.

Park Slopers either think the article’s funny or they think it’s perpetuating horrible stereotypes about our neighborhood. (My favorite joke — “The People’s Republic of Park Slope.”) One of the great things about Park Slope is that it can be so many things to so many people. It’s a small town neighborhood to some, a great part of the center of the world to others; it’s a trendy, night oriented, young adult magnet, and also a kid-friendly, family-oriented suburb. It’s a center of liberal democratic power; it also can have some pretty traditional ideals about raising a family.

What amazes me is that even in liberal, cutting-edge kid raising Park Slope, the author of the NY Times article and the Moms’ Group (ahem, Moms and Dad’s Group) left out the Dads. Park Slope must have the highest concentration of engaged, active fathers in the United States. They are everywhere, and they are strapped to children of all ages. (Okay, not teenagers, but I know some parents who are rethinking that.) I don’t think you can talk about parenting in Park Slope without talking about the Dads. Sure, there are many fathers here who don’t care a whit about parenting, and there are involved Dads in Central Park, but the Brooklyn density is so much higher according to my scientific count of looking out for every baby-encumbered Dad I can find on 7th Avenue.

So it’s sort of surprising that it’s taken me this long to go to a Dad’s group meeting. One reason is inertia; if Ronan pukes on me, it’s likely that I won’t go because I’ve just cleaned the house and I’m done in. I missed one meeting because of taking the GREs. Part of the reason is that the Dads approached organizing this in a very male fashion (“Why should we meet when our wives haven’t gone back to work yet?” “Where do you want to meet?” I dunno, where do you want to meet?”) And part of this is that, all evidence to the contrary, I’m kinda shy. I have that whole love me/hate me thing where I’m my usual sarcastic self, and some people think it’s warm and funny and some people think I’m the Anti-Christ of rudeness, and the more nervous I am, the closer to Satan my tongue becomes. So it took three months or so to get Ronan and I to a meeting.

Ronan, who Ryan says is already practicing his “Blue Steel” look, seemed to feign indifference to the whole affair. But I had a really good time. I was struck by how gentle and caring everyone was with their babies, and they talked about many of the same issues that the Mom’s Group does without embarassment (bottle vs. breastfeeding, sleeping through the night, how to put on a Bjorn, etc.) They were really comfortable with being a Dad, and they really like it. Most had given up career time to be a Dad; some worked part-time. All obviously felt that being a Dad was a worthwhile thing to do. I don't think I annoyed anyone too much. They had met a few times before so I was asking lots of questions that they all already knew, like how old the babies were, who was still working, etc. but they were really nice and answered them all again. 

Between feeding Ronan and getting to know people, I didn’t even order anything from the Tea Lounge, so it was a cheap afternoon as well. (Sorry, Tea Lounge, catch ya next time.)

Because I was facing the sitting room, while most of the Dads were facing the bar, I could see people’s reactions as it dawned on them that there was a group of ten men all holding babies. Some people confirmed we weren’t waiting on line for snacks. But most got it, and smiled approvingly at the gaggle of Dads and their babies. Everyone was nice enough to ignore the sudden wave of crying that swept through the group (The babies, not the Dads.)

It made me think about my stepgrandfather. On my side of the family, Ronan has lots of cousins once or twice removed. When they were young, before my stepgrandfather died, he used to watch their Dads take care of the kids. He would complain bitterly about how my female cousins weren't doing enough for their families in a totally sexist way. There was a little tension between the cousins and my stepgrandfather. My cousins were too busy helping with the holiday meal to notice him while their husbands took care of and played with their children. I could see in his face that he recognized that he had lost something with his biological children, that he was realizing that he had lost something in himself. I don’t think stepgrandfather ever got on the floor and played with his young children. Some sixty years later, when it was too late, all he had to show for his traditional, Leave-it-to-Beaver approach was jealousy. I was profoundly struck by how sad the fathers and children playing together always made him. He tried not to show it, of course, and most family members didn’t notice. But I did. Sorrow is all I felt for him; he didn’t annoy me anymore. Seeing a man — who prided himself on never showing tears — once shed a single tear when the fathers and children of our family played together made me feel really sorry for him. I also wanted to emulate my cousins — and their husbands — as a parent. He saw me watching him, as he wiped the tear from his eye, and he looked at me for just a moment. “Please don’t say anything,” his eyes seemed to say. I didn’t.

I’m still hanging out with my Manhattan friends, but I’m glad to find some kindred spirits, who are experiencing the same things as I am. I think it’s really great that a buncha men can hang out in a tea lounge with their children and nobody thinks it’s strange.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 14, 2007 3:19 AM.

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