A few years ago, my friend and neighbor, Francesco, started inviting dads from our neighborhood to small social gatherings at his backyard fire pit to talk and have a few beers. We now call these meet-ups “Beer Fire.”
I love Beer Fire, and see it as a possible solution for the persistent problem that we busy working dads don’t often develop networks of friends to share their experiences with. As such, my second-ever blog post extolled the virtues of Beer Fire, and a good chunk of Chapter 12 of my book, The Working Dad’s Survival Guide, describes the benefits of informal dad networks and fun social time that Beer Fire and similar gatherings can foster. From my book:
Beer Fire is awesome– it’s relaxing; it’s fun, and I always learn a little something from everyone I talk to. For example, a neighbor and I discussed how much allowance is appropriate for our kids and how many chores our kids needed to do to earn it. In another conversation, I learned about local swimming and fencing programs. I even helped a dad develop a strategy for asking his boss for more work flexibility. The beer was pretty good, too….
Part of the success of Beer Fire is that it is not a formal group. No one distributes an agenda ahead of time, and the conversations flow organically. Yes, we talk about cars, sports and women. But, because the attendees are mostly of the same age group, live locally, and have kids of around the same age, the conversation naturally gravitates to what we all share in common – our careers, our kids, and how we try to juggle it all.
Another part of Beer Fire’s success is that it is represents a “guys’ night out.” We’re not a John Birch Society, the Little Rascals’ “He-Man Woman Hater’s Club” or Al Bundy’s “No Ma’am” group (from “Married with Children”). No drum circles or hazing rituals for us. However, I think it is important that Beer Fire is a comfortable place just for guys. This allows folks to open up a little more, and to discuss family issues more readily. I think that because even today’s modern dad sometimes sees “family issues” as a primarily women’s concern, we self-censor our discussion when moms are around. “After all”, we may think to ourselves, “my wife has an even tougher juggle than me. What right to I have to complain?”
In fact, when I speak to companies, I recommend that they regularly schedule social gatherings for their working dads. I am proud to say some have done so!
However, I have a confession to make. During much of the time I’ve been promoting Beer Fire, they became less and less frequent. Working dads are busy people, and the hassle of coordinating schedules was too much for us to maintain. Beer Fire pretty much existed only in name.
Several months ago, a few widely circulating articles focused on male friendships, and how many men have a hard time making new friends and maintaining those relationships (This Boston Globe article is the best and most comprehensive of the bunch- Please open that link as a new tab, finish my post and then read that one right away). They describe an epidemic of male loneliness as busy working dads have a hard time carving out time for friendships and feel awkward asking other guys for their digits. This loneliness is linked to serious physical and mental health problems.
Francesco clearly read this article, because a few months ago, he sent an email out to me and a dozen or so local dads:
After reading this piece, and realizing, as the author realized for himself, that I’m a lonely loser with a lot of friends, I’m deciding to take action against early death.
So I’ll be hosting a recurring BeerFire™ every Wednesday, 9ish to 11ish. For the foreseeable future. You’re welcome to any and all of them, no need to RSVP. You can stay for a few hours, or 10 minutes. The point here is to find some time to talk and catch up.
So go ahead, put it on your calendars. I’ll probably send out an email once more in a month’s time, and again in the Fall.
I’ll get a fire going at 8:30, so it’s roaring by 9. Just let yourselves in through the gate to the back yard so you don’t wake up the kids and let sleeping dogs lie.
If you have a favorite drink, bring it. I have the typical collection of spirits that we can take advantage of otherwise. I may or may not have snacks – honestly, I don’t need that added pressure in my life.
First one starts this Wednesday!
You can assume that BeerFire™ will be cancelled if it’s raining. If I’m going to be out of town, I’ll send word.
Hope to see some of you in a few nights. No pressure though.
Two months later, Beer Fire is back and better than ever! Beer Fire happens every week (only one weather cancellation so far). Sometimes its just a few of us. Sometimes there’s more. But the return of Beer Fire has been successful because:
- It is a Standing Invitation. If you are around that night, you make an effort to come. If you have something else going on, that’s cool- we’ll see you next week.
- It is Cool Old-School Masculine. Beer. Fire. What’s more manly than that? John Wayne would approve. Even though most of our attendees are suburban professionals, there’s something primal about fire. Plus, I smell all smoky walking back home! Yours doesn’t have to be a beer fire- poker nights, bowling leagues, pick-up hoops will do just fine.
I am confident that Beer Fire is now sustainable and will continue every spring/summer/fall (winters can be pretty brutal where I live). I am so grateful for Francesco for bringing back Beer Fire, and making it a highlight of my week, just about every week. He’s an amazing friend, neighbor and visionary.
What do you think about Beer Fire? Have any similar experiences to share? Let’s discuss in the comments.
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