My friend and neighbor, Francesco, who is a terrific dad, (and, more importantly, a loyal blog reader!), has a semi-regular tradition of inviting his local guy friends to hang out by the fire pit in his backyard with a cooler full of beer. We’ve come to calling this brilliant innovation BEER FIRE! (and I maintain he be nominated for the MacArthur Genius Grant for this revolutionary idea)
Beer Fire usually consists of 8-10 forty-something guys, most of whom are balancing interesting and rewarding careers with the rigors of being fathers to young kids, simply getting a chance to relax, hang out, swap stories, have a few beers, and get to know each other.
Beer Fire is awesome, and I have benefitted greatly from attending- it’s relaxing; it’s fun, and I always learn a little something from everyone I talk to.
But Beer Fire could not have taken off unless Francesco first laid the groundwork. He is an incredibly personable guy, has work colleagues who live locally, is well known in our immediate neighborhood, and plays in a local soccer league. As a result, he has built a sizable social network of local dads.
This gets me to the point of the post.
Many of us are working professionals, and we understand the importance of networking to our careers. I would gather that most of us are quite good at professional networking too.
On the other hand, many fathers don’t have an extensive friendship and support network of other fathers in similar situations. This is largely due to our crazy time commitments to our careers, and to being both a good provider and a good dad. There isn’t that much time for socializing and comparing notes with other dads. Further, while society tends to support and promote “mommy groups”, there’s little cultural support behind groups of dads. Dads who are new to their neighborhoods, live in places where neighbors are not that physically close-by, who work long hours, and who commute long distances to work are at an even further disadvantage.
And the lack of social networks for fatherhood is a shame (and one of the reasons I am writing this blog). Many of us have figured out ways, large and small, to balance careers and fatherhood. But we lose opportunities to learn from each other. Similarly, we all struggle with many of the same issues. But we lose opportunities to commiserate and problem-solve.
I’d wager that if we spent just a little bit of time on a consistent basis to develop and maintain a network of local dads, we’d all be happier and better off. Obviously, we can’t walk up to random guys in the street with business cards labeled “Father of three”, but we can and should put in the work to developing our “fatherhood networks” (dibs on coining this phrase). Beer fire is great, but you have to build the network first.
And there’s ample opportunity. First off, our kids almost certainly go to school. At school, there are often events and organizations for parents to attend and/or get involved. Society is changing, so now the PTA is often only 75% women, and many men volunteer and attend school functions held at night. Many also wait with their kids for the bus in the mornings. These are great opportunities to be social and meet the other dads in your kid’s school and the local area. Further, our kids are often participating in some sport or activity. Guess what? Those other kids have dads too. I never met so many parents of 6 year-olds than when I volunteered to help out Nick’s coaches when he joined little league. Now many of these dads are my friends.
The best part about networking is that you don’t just help yourself, you establish mutually beneficial relationships. After all, we’re all in this thing together. Guess whose son joined Nick’s little league team last year? That’s right, Francesco’s, Lord Genius of the Beer Fire!
How have you networked for fatherhood? We’d all love to read your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section.