explorations of mindful fatherhood


10 Questions about Starting New Friendships at 40

"I Love You, Man", my favorite comedy about budding male friendship.

“I Love You, Man”, my favorite comedy about budding male friendship.

I find that as I near 40, I have very few friends.  Years of relocation for new schools and new jobs have left me with a paltry social life outside of home.  As a kid who grew up with a very isolated dad, I don’t want my son to see his father friendless.  But, how in the world do men my age find and foster new friendships?  Here are the 10 questions/hurdles that come to mind:

1) Where the hell am I supposed to meet these people?  My days are comprised of work and home, and possibly the gas station.  I don’t want to make friends with people at the gas station.

2) How would I even initiate a male friendship?  In your 20’s, hanging out happens organically, but not when you’re older.  I’d actually have to ask someone to hang out with me, one-on-one.  If you’ve ever asked another man out for coffee or a beer, you know it can be awkward.

3) When would I find the time to hang out with anyone?  As a working stiff, I’m at work or commuting 50 hours per week.  So when I’m not working, I want to spend time with my family.  Carving out time for other people, especially new people, is tough.

4) Can a married man invite a woman into a friendship without seeming creepy?  In high school and college I had more female friends than male friends.  But now that I’m older and married, I can’t imagine asking a woman to hang out without my intentions being questioned.

5) Do dad play-dates ever work?  I know that my wife has started a few friendships with our son’s friends’ moms.  I’ve tried a few play-dates with other dads, but it’s so rare to find a kid-kid and dad-dad combination that clicks, I’ve given up on the idea.

6) How do I disentangle family friendships from personal friendships?  This is an extension of #5, but one of the easiest ways of finding friendships that don’t conflict with family time is by getting together with another family.  But, with so many players (dads, moms, and kids) it’s bound that something doesn’t click.  The relationships that have worked tend to be family friends/acquaintances and not close personal friends.

7) Do work friendships work?  Since I spend so much time at work, you’d think there might be coworkers I could be-friend.  But my work role feels quite rigid and it’s hard to imaging expanding those relationships into friendships.

8) If I dislike phone, texting, and on-line friendships, am I screwed?  I’m stuck on carving out face-to-face time, but these days, folks seem perfectly content fostering text-based or other on-line friendships.  I hate being on the phone, I’m too cheap (old?) to text, and I steer clear of using social media as my primary friendship outlet.  What am I to do?

9) Is anyone else in the same boat?  Where I live, many locals are born and raised here, and so it feels like everyone’s got established friendships.  Is anyone else looking for friendship at my age?

10) Am I bound to be friendless for the rest of my days?  After my wife finally puts me in that crooked nursing home when she moves to Florida, who’s gonna hang out with me?


Rhymes with Mouche Bag

86518493_XSOkay, so I borrowed this phrase from an Entertainment Weekly bulls eye, but it always comes to mind when I think about my neighbor.  I’ve been both lauded and lambasted for being critical of my neighbors’ landscaping habits (see some biting responses to my driveway post). But I feel the need to comment once more.

To remind some, I live next door to a line of mini-mansions, whose square footage is about four times that of my family’s tiny cape home.  So, whereas I mow my own lawn and shovel my own snow, I’m apparently the only person on the block who does.  At first, something about this crept under my skin, and my old Midwestern work-ethic shouted from the back of my brain that these people were lazy.  However, that particular voice has subsided.  I feel like I do my own thing and they do theirs.

But I’m still stuck on my immediate neighbor.  Let me set the stage with one particular story.  At a barbecue my family hosted, this neighbor noted that I had torn out some bamboo.  I told him that the bamboo (planted by the previous owner) annoyed me, because it wasn’t indigenous and kept creeping into my lawn and the forest behind my home, so I removed it.  He said, “I like bamboo. I’ve been thinking of getting some.”  The next week, while mowing my lawn, I noticed 5-6 baby bamboo trees planted between his property line and mine, on my side of the fence!  I asked him about it, and he said he remembered talking to me about bamboo, and that I had agreed he could plant some.  I reminded him that wasn’t the case, but said that so long as it was clumping bamboo, he could leave it.  I said that in the future, he needed to discuss things with me before coming onto my property.

A month later, he was there again, planting something else.  I walked out and confronted him, and he acted all confused.  Finally, we came up with a decision about shrubs, and things seem to have settled down along that property line, although there is a dispute over where his property ends and mine begins.

sarahI’ve tried to let that go.  It’s over.  But I’ve still been fixated on the guy.  Here’s the other interesting thing about him: I’ve nicknamed him Lady Winchester.  Sarah Winchester was the 19th century heiress to the Winchester gun manufacturing fortune, who owned a mansion in San Jose, CA.  Mrs. Winchester constantly built upon her house with never-ending projects.  You can tour the home today and still find unfinished rooms in mid-construction, doors that open to nowhere, and stairs that end at the ceiling.

Our neighbor is constantly adding or changing things to his landscape and his home.  Since this past June, he has ripped out a huge tree and planted a smaller one right next to it, removed all his old brown mulch to replace it with new black mulch, installed a full bathroom in their basement, put in two full generators in the back, and now has a fleet of guys reconstructing the entryway to his house.  I am not exaggerating when I report that 6 days of the week there is a construction truck, landscape vehicle, or service professional at his door, every week, for the past 6 months.  My wife will often ask when I come home, “Did you see what Lady Winchester is up to?”

But why I am writing about my seemingly crazy neighbor on a fatherhood blog?  Because there’s something about his erratic and presumptive manner that makes me feel protective.  It makes sense why the land boundary pursuit would set my daddy-dog hackles on end at the sight of an odd man lurking at the edges of my property.  However, his work on his house seems to disturb me as well.   When I think about it rationally, I say to myself that it’s his house and his money and he can do what he’d like.  However, this rational approach doesn’t seem to quell the uneasiness I feel about the whole thing.  I think it’s because his erratic house work makes me wonder if he’s stable. And his boldness to plant things on my property makes me think he doesn’t care much about the privacy or preferences of others. Combined, these two qualities make me concerned that my family lives so close to someone who could be rather unstable, and that protective gene in my daddy-DNA fires up whenever I see another construction truck on the block.

Speaking of unstable, let’s we write a few more words about the historic Lady Winchester, since her story has helped me as I grapple with my not-so-neighborly feelings.  Mrs. Sarah Winchester believed that she and her family were haunted by spirits.  A medium informed Mrs. Winchester that the spirits were victims of the Winchester gun legacy: Native Americans, Civil War casualties, and others killed by her family’s guns.  She was told that if she moved West and constructed a home for the spirits, she would be safe and no harm would come to her.  Therefore, Mrs. Winchester perpetually worked on her home to quell the spirits of the Winchester family victims.  She constantly built additions, tore out and re-constructed rooms, and added odd projects with no seeming purpose.  All of this was done to quell her demons and keep her family guilt at bay.

When I think about my own Lady Winchester with this back-story in mind, it quells some of my own loathing and suspiciousness.  To constantly change one’s house (whether one is haunted by ethereal spirits or not), is certainly indicative of some deep dissatisfaction.  I’ve always believed that home is the one place in the world where we should be able to let our guard down.  The place where we feel that everything is settled; where everything is all right.  To find fault with your home time and again, and to disrupt your family’s daily life and routine for constant projects must be a sign of some deep uneasiness; a sign that things never feel quite right.  My neighbor must be looking for some answer, some deeper satisfaction that will make him feel like everything is right again.  Obviously he doesn’t believe that things are good enough at home.  Perhaps he thinks things need to get better or bigger or fancier.   Whatever he’s looking for, perhaps he thinks that some particular project will make him feel like his life is right again and that he can relax and put his guard down.

My neighbor likely has his own demons to appease, and at times it helps me take this compassionate approach.  I’ll still stand my guard, since I can’t turn off that protective family gene.  But eventually, I hope my neighbor finds some solace and isn’t tormented for the rest of his days, like old Sarah Winchester.


Back from the Dead (and Everything’s Changed)

paranorman_tv4_1080_20120802193814I’d like to see a zombie movie in which the living dead are cognizant of the world around them, and are stunned by just how much the world they’ve woken to has changed.  ParaNorman took that spin on things when its zombie Puritans run screaming from Main Street at the sight of TVs and neon lights.  I’d imagine these culture-shocked zombies might be so taken aback by what they see, they lose their appetites.  The best analogy I can conjure up is returning to your favorite restaurant after a long vacation, only to realize that they’ve changed the decor and the waitstaff so much that you’re too distracted to eat.

That’s what the last month of summer felt like to me.  So much was changing in a short span of time, that I was too distracted to write it down.  I’d like to say I took a planned break from blogging so that I could jump back into the fray in September, recharged.  But this wasn’t the case.  In fact, I even had several ideas for posts swarm inside my brain-case now and again, but none of them got me to sit down in front of the computer and tap them out.  In fact, one blog idea that kept returning to me time and again was my reaction to watching my son cast a fishing rod this summer.  I think that image floored me.  Now, in retrospect, I can see that the thought of him being such a big kid, and entering the second grade, swept my writing legs out from under me. Here’s what happened.

My wife’s family was spending a couple of weeks in Cape Cod, and were gracious enough to invite us to stay with them for part of that time. Our work schedules are a little crazy, so we went up one weekend, and my wife and I came back home mid-week to go back to work, leaving our son with his cousins, aunt, uncle, and grandparents.  I was away from everyone the longest, and when I returned to the Cape that Friday, my son raved about being taught by his grandfather how to fish.  He was dying to show me, and we all headed down to the water that day.  Now, these weren’t the piddly little poles that I grew up fishing with in the Midwest, but the big sea-faring poles, with the exposed reel that you have to manipulate with your fingers when you cast.  Definitely not child’s play.  After being baited up, my son held the base of the pole between his legs, set up the reel, pulled the line taught with his finger, hauled back, and released a perfect cast out into the water.

It doesn’t sound like much.  Just a 7 year-old casting a fishing pole.  But I was floored.  He executed the maneuver with grace and ease, and without a single reminder or tip from an adult.  I kept cheering loudly (like a bad fisherman) for him to “Do it again! Do it again!”  I couldn’t believe that this kid, who just a few years ago was learning to walk, was now handling his own on a dock with a seven foot long fishing pole.

That’s the image that stopped me cold.  The image that prevented me from writing a single word.  Perhaps not the image itself, but what it signified.  My son had grown.  Grown quicker than I expected, and now we were about to head into another year of work and school.  Not only had he grown, but he was old enough to be away from his parents, in another state, on vacation.  He was getting so big.

Another thing that stopped me in my tracks was that he was now learning things, out there in the world, that had nothing to do with his parents.  That sounds weird, as though I expect everything he knows to be taught by us, which certainly isn’t the case.  Of course he has to learn things out there in the world beyond us.  I think it was the fact that most everything he’s learned, from academics, to sports, to arts, were all facilitated by his mom or me.  We helped him get to school or find a class or camp.  In the case of fishing, he had been on his own in the world, decided he wanted to learn to fish, convinced his grandfather to teach him, and practiced on his own.  What the hell!  He’s no baby anymore.

And so I’m back to writing it all down, twisted up inside by the mixture of pride and anguish that comes with parenthood.  I hope to stay put and keep up my appetite for writing, in spite of (or maybe because of) how much my world is changing.