I believe it was Henry David Thoreau who once said:
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
I remember hearing this line in high school English class and not really understaning it. And for most of my life, actually, I wondered who this Thoreau guy was and why his pond was so important…until I became a father. And, more specifically, a stay-at-home father. Now I think I get it.
I have experienced it as I sat in a park watching my 2-year-old daughter Maddie play, me the lone guy amidst a gaggle of moms, all chatting and laughing, occasionally throwing a casual glance over to the strange man in their midst, and me playing on my iPhone or reading the newspaper or catching my daughter at the bottom of the slide.
I have experienced it in the shopping mall men’s bathroom, where Maddie sits precariously on a plastic fold-down changing table while I frantically try to change her diaper before someone comes waltzing in with their carefree whistle and we are forced to exchange an awkward moment.
I have experienced it in the supermarket as I wheel Maddie down the aisles, rolling by mom after mom after mom, all politely smiling at her, unless they’re with their own kids, in which case it is often a quick nod in our direction acknowledging our presence, and then back to business. I see another dad once in awhile and our eyes lock for a mili-second before we move on, but in that brief moment there is a vast transfer of data which all boils down to the confirmed realization that, yes!, I am not alone in the world! There are others like me…
I have experienced it in numerous dance, music, gymnastics, art, swimming, and soccer classes. We are all one, chanting or moving around or creating advanced macrame, and yet I feel like the odd one out. I feel the maternal stares, hear the female whispers, I, the lone male in the group. What are my intentions?, they seem to ask. Are you friend or foe? I shrug and nod and smile along and help my daughter as best I can. And then it happens again, I spy another dad who sees me at the same time, and it is all we can do to contain ourselves and not rush across the room and embrace (in a manly way, of course). So we slowly converge, we talk, we laugh, we proudly watch our kids cavort, we exchange business cards, then we’re off to comfort and console our child after some crisis. Soon it is time to go.
I have felt this quiet desperation now time and again. You could call it isolation as well. To fight it I have joined Dad groups like East Bay Dads, gone on hikes with the Grateful Dads, become a regular reader of blogs like Rebel Dad and Woodge and Daddy Factory and The Poop. All in an attempt to stay connected to my KIND – that rare but growing breed known as a Stay-At-Home Dad. Long live the revolution.