I was taught that growing up happens in stages. Get a job. Get a girl. Have a family. Preferably in that order, if we’re talking about my mother. I assumed each stage would happen in a gradual manner, which it did (mostly). My son arrived kicking and screaming (there was nothing gradual about that). I can’t remember much about the first few months. It’s all a blur between late nights, early mornings and the grief of dropping to one income. Looking back now, I was changing more than just nappies, I was changing as a person.
The biggest change I noticed was the onslaught of the ‘dad jokes’ I started telling – to everyone. I was delivering lame, obvious, gushy stories that should only be told by parents at their child’s 21st birthday. In person or on Facebook, no one was safe from my warm, fuzzy anecdotes. When I was hanging with my mates, I would finish every story about my son with the phrase, “I suppose you had to be there”. Therein lay the problem, I soon figured out. Adjusting to being a father meant now accepting that most times, my mates weren’t going to be there anymore. My world had become as small as the 4.9 pound baby my wife had given birth to.
For the first six months of fatherhood my friendships changed a lot. I wasn’t going out that much, which eventually meant I wasn’t getting invited to go out anymore. At first this was okay – my testosterone fix was easily administered through a Steven Seagal movie. But there is only so much swaddling a man can do before he starts to implode.
So how did I balance many of my old friendships with my new family? Routine. Routine was my new god at home and I extended this into my friendships. I joined social sporting teams that happened on the same night every week. This meant my wife knew when to expect me home late. I would also (try) to book in birthdays, BBQs and other sporting excursions way in advance. Yes, spontaneity suffered a quick death in my life but I figured that was a sacrifice worth making.
The other thing I did was connect with other couples who had children. As the wives compared birthing stories, I would compare baby poo stories with the males in the house. That’s right! I had a legitimate reason to introduce toilet humour into my adult life again. It was awesome. However, when the only prerequisite for friendship is having kids the same age, new friendships can feel like a potluck dinner. As horrible as it sounds, I always felt like I was compromising the type of people I wanted to chill with just so my son could have a good time.
One of the best decisions my wife and I made was to enrol our son into daycare. Kids need kids to grow. Straight away we saw him flourish with the other children as he learned how to share, play nice and convince everyone he was the ‘captain’. This took a lot of pressure off me to make friends with people who had kids – my son was now getting lots of interaction with people his own age.
Almost five years on, I’m still hanging out for my closest friends to have children. I feel like this will solve a few problems. First, it will make my friends realise I haven’t just been ignoring them for the last five years. Hopefully they will realise that having children automatically demotes the majority of your friends to the ‘occasional’ category in life. Second, there are no potluck friendships with my closest mates. I know what they think, why they think it and I like that. Until then, my son will continue to be spoiled rotten by the myriad of adults who he is around and I’ll continue putting on my five-year-old brain and playing dinosaurs with him.