"When people with children become overscheduled, they don’t shortchange their children, they shortchange their friendships."
That's a quote from an article I'm going to link to in just a second. It's written by an almost-40 dad. Here's more:
"Beginning in the 1980s, Schwartz says, study after study started showing that those who were more socially isolated were much more likely to die during a given period than their socially connected neighbors, even after you corrected for age, gender, and lifestyle choices like exercising and eating right. Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke and the progression of Alzheimer’s. One study found that it can be as much of a long-term risk factor as smoking."
I think I had just read The Blue Zones (a SUPER fascinating book) when I read this article, so I wasn't totally surprised. I was, however, distressed. Not for me. For my husband. Because [cis-gender straight] males in middle age are prime loneliness candidates, even when they love the bejeezus out of their families and have great colleagues.
Here's another quote. Same article.
"When you have a gap in your schedule, you feel bad running off with the fellas and leaving your partner alone to look for the shoes. And the guys I’d like to spend time with are all locked in the exact same bind as me. Planning anything takes great initiative, and if you have to take initiative every time you see someone, it’s easy to just let it disappear."
So. That planning thing. For the past 4 or 5 years, I've been using every birthday and Father's Day as an opportunity to gather some dads with kids near our kiddo's age to hang out with my husband. This year was a Father's Day + Master's Degree combo so it was a Big Deal trip to meet his California best friend "in the middle" to hang out in St. Louis for a few days.
For a while in the middle of those 4 or 5 years, I felt weird about this. I thought: "My husband does plenty of planning at work, and he knows someone Everywhere We Go. Why can't he plan his own damn friend time? I've got plenty of my own planning to do over here."
I even talked to my therapist about it. I wanted to see if I was being an enabler or--oh sweet mercy--some sort of doormat. Apparently, an important thing in a partnership is for each partner to use his or her strengths to give the other partner a boost. Oh. Right. And apparently, once or twice a year does not qualify as enabling. Got it.
"Researchers have noticed a trend in photographs taken of people interacting. When female friends are talking to each other, they do it face to face. But guys stand side by side, looking out at the world together."
Okay, that one was just for fun. Because I bet you can picture it. (Again, with cis-gender straight men.)
Here's the other one I really want to talk about:
“'Wednesday night,' Ozzy explained, was a pact he and his buddies had made many years before, a standing order that on Wednesday nights, if they were in town, they would get together and do something, anything."
And this part is my Father's Day tribute to my husband. After reading this article, he did what the writer suggested. He stole Ozzy's idea and created a Third Thursday for his Durham dad friends-of-kids-at-similar-ages. A standing invitation. Show up when you can. Some months, one dad appears. Some months, it's ten.
I'm proud of the dad of our family for many things--the kind of presence he offers our daughter, gutting it out for four years to get his Master's degree while carrying a full-time teaching load, the fact that he's in there making breakfast so I can have writing time right now.
But the thing I'm most touched by this year is actually Third Thursday. I can see that it was a vulnerable thing to put out there. I'm proud that he keeps showing up for it, that our dad friends do, too. Because I'd kind of like to keep them all around for awhile.
I love you, and you are not alone--even if you are a middle-aged dad.