Monday, August 17, 2009

Reelin' in with Friends

Last Saturday night, I did something I haven't done in a long time: I went to a concert. A couple of my old friends from Charlotte, Patrick and Chris, drove down with their families early in the day and crashed at our place. It was a packed house. Six adults and seven kids made sure that the weekend was anything but quiet or boring.

We had a blast! The wives caught up with one another, sipped wine, and exchanged mommy stories. In between beers, the guys talked about the upcoming football season, pushed kids on the swings, and played a rousing game of boccie ball. Trust me, nothing says fun and excitement quite like three beer-drinking dads throwing rock-hard spheres in a yard full of frantic children. Fortunately, there were no concussions, although it was fun watching Chris chase his four-year-old around the swing set while yelling, "Let go of Daddy's balls!" After grilling out and downing a few hot dogs, the guys and I headed off to catch Steely Dan. Meanwhile, our angelic wives stayed behind to look after the kids.

I've never been a huge Steely Dan fan. But I like their music and was up for anything that would get me out of the house on a Saturday night, especially if it meant hanging with two of my best friends. Plus, Steely Dan puts on a pretty mellow show. At age forty with three kids, that's the only kind of concert I want. There was a time when I went to concerts to yell, scream, and be an obnoxious jerk, but now I reserve such behavior for little league soccer games ("That's a trip ref!"). All I want is a relatively comfortable place to sit, talk with friends, and listen to some good music.

We arrived about a half-hour before the show. After parking the car and hiking a good quarter of a mile in flip-flops, we made it to the ticket window. Patrick approached the window first and asked for three of the cheapest seats available. "The cheapest thing I have left is $70 each," the young man replied. For a moment, the three of us just stared at one another. Seventy bucks is steep for a concert. Heck, that's at least three trips to Monkey Joe's including the overpriced pizza. Ever resourceful, we asked if we could get in for $35 a pop if we just saw Steely and left Dan for another time. The ticket guy said, "No," all the while giving us a they don't pay me enough to put up with idiots like you glare. So much for thinking outside the box.

Fortunately, the seats were decent. We sat back, popped some long-necks, and settled in for the show. It was great. The band played most of their best: "Reelin' In the Years," "Hey Nineteen," and so on. I was disappointed that they didn't play "Rikki Don't Lose that Number," but after thirty-five years, I guess they figured that if she hadn't lost it by now they didn't need to keep reminding her.

In addition to the band, the evening also featured the standard really drunk girl sitting next to you that comes with almost any concert package. At the beginning of the evening she seemed extremely nice. An attractive young blonde out on a date with her boyfriend. The two of them struck up a conversation with the three of us over, of all things, garlic. Don't ask me how a night out to hear Steely Dan results in an impromptu garlic conversation. All I can tell you is, once you have kids, your brain falls into a state where any subject can arise at anytime. Nothing is off limits. We could have just as easily ended up discussing circumcision or the Jesuit priesthood. Regardless, garlic turned out to be a great ice-breaker (if only I had known this during my single days: "Hey Beautiful, what's a nice girl like you doing eating garlic in a place like this?")

In less than an hour, however, this "friendly young lady" digressed into an intoxicated mess. When she wasn't talking Patrick's ear off in unintelligible slurs and babbling, she was yelling "Woooooo! Steely' Dan!" and dancing like a girl in search of her long-lost pole. At one point, Patrick leaned over in the middle of a guitar solo and asked me to kill him. I told him that I thought it was adorable that he had managed to make a new friend.

Fortunately, we and our marriages survived the drunk girl debacle. Other than that one low point, it was an awesome evening and weekend. As dads, our lives are hectic. Work, family, and daily life can make it hard to get time with friends. Relationships can drift or get lost all together in a sea of well-intentioned but unfulfilled pledges to get together. But we need times like the evening I spent with Chris and Patrick. We need other guys in our lives that we can talk with, kid around with, fend off drunken concert goers alongside of , or just catch a ballgame together. Sometimes Patrick, Chris, and I will talk about deep stuff. We'll share concerns or challenges we face as dads. We don't just tell each other what we want to hear, we tell each other what we need to hear (even when it's unpleasant or means realizing we're the one who needs to apologize instead of our wife). Most of the time, we just enjoy hanging out and joking around. Serious or laid back, such times are always therapeutic.

So, dads, make time for the guys. Certainly, the needs of our wives and children come first. But getting some good guy time keeps life fun, reminds you you're not the only one fighting the daddy battles, and helps you be what you need to be for your family. Provided you're hanging out with the right kind of men--men who love their families as much as you love yours--guy time is often the place you find just the encouragement and boost you need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and return home a stronger and better man. My only suggestion: avoid the drunken pole dancer at all costs. Trust me, Steely Dan or boccie ball is a whole lot easier to explain when you get home.

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