Friday, April 24, 2009

Save the Drama for Your... Daddy?

I keep thinking I should blog about my Stay-at-Home Dads group, then don't. Then things get even more ridiculous, and I think I should really blog about my Stay-at-Home Dads group, then still don't.

When I joined, the summer before Thumper was born, I thought it would be valuable in addressing two of my biggest fears about being a SAHD. First, I was scared about making enough money to supplement my wife's income, and I thought I could read through the group's archives and get ideas from the other guys about how they had addressed the same problem. Second, I was afraid that I would feel out of place on the playgrounds, that I would make the moms nervous with my presence. And with my own shyness issues, I knew I would have a hard time reaching out by myself. I thought built-in playdates would really fill a need for me.

Well, as with most things, my anticipation was miles off from the reality. I have gleaned no great ideas on part-time supplemental income from the group, and yet I've managed so far to make a few bucks here and there (thanks, Sis!). And I haven't really felt that out of place on the playgrounds or felt ostracized because of my sex. Some moms have even gone out of their way to engage me in conversation. Many tell me how great it is that I'm doing this. And the rest Thumper charms into talking to me. So being a member of the group hasn't been what I thought it would be.

There isn't much communication or participation in the group right now. Apparently, when the group was founded, in something like 2002 or 2003 I think, playdates would regularly draw 15 or 20 dads. They took pride in hitting a playground in force. A couple of the SAHD group's long-time members have told me how it used to be when they started, with individual dads and their kids getting treated like lepers. Moms parted like the Red Sea and even pulled their kids away from the kids of the dads. By showing up in large groups, the dads had their own community, and many feel like that high visibility made it possible for guys like me now to say that I've never experienced anything like that sort of exclusion myself because they increased awareness of Dads Taking Care of Kids.

For me, it's been nice meeting a few really good guys, and it's been nice having some pleasant conversations now and again, especially now that Thumper doesn't require quite as close of supervision as he used to. He used to really want to eat playground gravel, and he used to really want to fall off of things. He's become slightly more particular about what he'll put in his mouth, and he's drastically improved his climbing skills. Now I can actually stand in the circle of dads and participate in a conversation for a few minutes at a time. But most playdates draw only 2 or 3 dads, and many draw none at all. A few have had as many as 4 or 5, but I've never seen a group of 15 or 20 of us. Often, Thumper and I are the only ones at the scheduled playdate, and we manage to get along just fine.

The dad who volunteers to set the playdate schedule has asked for feedback on how to increase attendance. The old-timers chime in with how much fun the group used to be, and how we need to get out there in force and scare the moms again. But I never see them at playdates because their kids are all in school now, and I've never met a lot of them at all. The gist of the old guard's message is that it used to be a good group, it used to be fun, they used to be great friends, but all us new guys are doing it wrong. We're using the message board incorrectly and we're not behaving like a guerrilla army of dads, hitting the parks and driving off the moms. And they still moderate the message board, ostensibly to keep things "on-topic," but mostly to do their best to drive off new members with their cranky-old-fartedness. So a brand new member will send an introductory message saying, "Hi, this is me, this is my kid, this is what we like to do and where we live. Do any of you fellas like heavy metal?" And immediately a moderator will reply telling him that music discussions are off topic, and he should have known that already since he received the Rules of Engagement when he signed up for the group. And then the new member will say, "WTF? Screw you guys, I'm going home!"

Fun, right? And then there's all the usual email group b.s., like smartasses being rude and calling it humor, touchy people taking offense, sarcasm being misunderstood, political discussions popping up and making enemies, and just general bitchiness, cattiness, nastiness, and whining.

And that's what has surprised me most, though I don't know why it should have. I've participated in LISTSERVs and other email group communication, and it almost always comes down to hurt feelings and misunderstandings and fragmentation into various cliques eventually, mostly because in written communication it's very difficult to judge a humorous tone. And before Thumper, I read parenting blogs and heard about the murky and dangerous world of Playdate Groups with all of their intrigues. But those were Moms Groups. The problems usually centered around that one power-mad super-mom, and her evil machinations. Women can be very tough on each other. But dads? We're just a bunch of dudes hanging out. What could go wrong?


suttonhoo said...

it's Texas, right? I say you and the new dads should secede from the old farts.

-- signed: full of opinions even though it's none of my business :)

Jennie said...

Hey, Full of Opinions, that's my name too!

IMHO, it doesn't matter whether it's men or women or both, everyone gets crabby and weird when they comment en masse on the interwebs.

But I'm with suttonhoo.

anniemcq said...

Glad to hear it's not just us womenfolk!

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