Many dads have to be doing something else before we feel ready to start talking to each other about our kids. A jog, a card game, a yard project, a round of golf, or any number of other “guy” activities can serve as safe places for us to jump in, or at least stick our toes in to test the water. For others of us, a more formal, organized setting dedicated specifically to talking about raising daughters works best.
Whenever I mention dad groups, there’s at least one guy in the audience who rolls his eyes or makes a wisecrack. Men’s groups have a bad reputation with many men; they’re considered weird, bizarre, creepy, or just plain ridiculous. There are probably men’s groups that are all of those things, but that doesn’t mean that every men’s group is. It doesn’t mean that we can’t start up dad groups with our own rules; and it’s also no excuse for staying silent about our fathering.
A big part of the problem is that there simply aren’t enough men’s or dad groups out there. The smaller the number of groups, the smaller the variety, and thus the fewer chances for a dad to find a group in which he’ll feel comfortable. Somebody must be responsible for this shortage, and that somebody is me and you. It looks like we’ve been too afraid to take the risks and do the work to get what we need from one another.
I think we haven’t formed or sustained groups because we’re afraid. It takes courage to admit we don’t know everything and to ask other fathers for help. It takes leadership to keep the conversation going even when other fathers say they are too busy to participate.
A few years ago, I was part of a loosely organized book group made up of a half dozen men who I didn’t know all that well. There was a business consultant, a naturalist/teacher, a psychiatrist, a city planner, and a man who manages his wife’s chiropractic office.
We discussed novels, a collection of environmental essays, a memoir about sailing to Greenland, and even a volume of poetry. These all struck me as pretty safe topics and, while no one revealed any deep, dark secrets, we really enjoyed each other’s company. When it was my turn to pick a book, I tried to push the envelope a bit by picking Will Glennon’s The Collected Wisdom of Fathers, my favorite fathering book.
I thought the conversation got off to a slow start. It seemed as if there was more off-the-topic small talk than usual, and a couple of the guys didn’t seem as enthusiastic about the book as I am. We only talked about our kids a little, and only after prodding each other with plenty of questions.
When the group broke up for the evening, I was disappointed, for I’d hoped we might be ready to use our fathering experience to jump into a deeper level of conversation. I didn’t feel as if that hope had been fulfilled.
The next day, however, I got a phone call and two e-mails from the guys thanking me for the topic and saying it was the best meeting we’d had yet. They were excited and stimulated by a conversation that I had considered halting and uncertain. They’ve mentioned several times since how much they enjoyed the discussion. And I learned something important.
When sitting down to talk fathering with another dad, I have to set aside my expectations. What I think is irrelevant might be central for him; a conversation I find stumbling and disjointed might be the first time he’s ever spoken to another father about being a dad—and those words might amount to great eloquence for him. It turns out that our book group’s halting discussion of fathering had laid a foundation for more interesting and personal talk down the road. It’s slow going, but it’s progress.
Joe Kelly is the best-selling author of Dads and Daughters: How to Inspire, Understand, and Support Your Daughter, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Being a New Dad and 4 other fathering books. He is also Co-Founder of New Moon Girls.
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