A band of brothers

When I was growing up, my brothers and I roamed around our neighborhood like a pack of feral dogs. Our main activities involved climbing, chasing, or dismantling anything in our path. Every day was a competition or a quest, and it usually ended with a skinned knee or a bloody nose. From what I can tell, boys today aren't much different.

Girls are another story. Society makes sure they get praise and admiration for every kind or loving gesture they make. They receive dolls and baby carriages for their birthdays, and posters of kittens for their rooms. If anyone had given me a baby carriage, I would have strapped in one of my brothers and pushed it down a hill.

So it's no surprise, when parenthood finally comes, that men and women have vastly different experiences. A new mom is a first-round draft pick in her first pro game. The pressure is on, and expectations are high, but this is what she's trained for all her life.

For a new dad, it's like they put a helmet on a beer vendor and shoved him onto the field.

Women come to parenting with a sense of purpose and belonging. There's a sisterhood that welcomes them with open arms. The next time you're near a playground, take a look at the parents. There's usually a group of moms sitting on a bench, sipping lattes and chatting about preschools, or breast pumps. But off to the side there's always one dad leaning against the swing set by himself. When I was a young father, that was me.

Once my kids were born, little by little, my life turned inward. There were still plenty of people around, but everything revolved around my family. Old friends drifted away, and the few new friends I made were connections through the kids. Strangely, almost none of them were men.

Being around guys was something I'd always taken for granted. I grew up with three brothers in a neighborhood full of boys. By the time I finished college, I'd played on dozens of sports teams, none of them co-ed. And along the way, most of my mentors and teachers were men.

But now my life revolved around women. My wife and my daughters were the center of my world. I worked out on a treadmill while the baby napped, instead of on a soccer team. My office was filled with female staff. I was a lonely blue island in a vast ocean of pink.

One day, I mentioned this to my friend Dave, and it turned out he was having the exact same problem. We decided to do something about it. What we needed was the company of men.

We went to a local pub and hammered out the criteria for membership in our new club. It should be a small, but very committed group of guys. They should have the breadth of knowledge to talk about anything: the Dalai Lama … disposable diapers … the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. A sense of humor was mandatory – but also a willingness to get serious, when the situation required. After several pints of deliberation, we whittled down our list of candidates to just two: Richard and Bob. When we called them up, they signed on immediately. Our Dads' Group was born.

The four of us have been getting together for a decade now. Usually we don't do anything fancy. Every month or two, we meet at one of our houses, polish off a few beers and a few slabs of meat, and talk and laugh until Richard falls asleep on the couch. But over the years, we've been through a lot together.

We've watched our kids struggle, and grow, and take off on their own. We've seen our marriages tremble, and tilt, and sometimes fall. We've limped along through artificial joints, borrowed kidneys, and broken hearts. But the one thing we never had to do was face any of it alone. That's made all the difference.

Sometimes fathers feel like lone wolves, but really, we're meant to be a pack. That's how human beings are built. Parenting, and life in general, are hard enough. We don't have to take them on alone.

So this goes out to my band of Seattle brothers: Dave, Richard, and Bob. You guys have made me a better father, a better man, and a better human being. Thanks for always having my back. I hope you know I've got yours.