Recently I was looking at the Playgroups Victoria website (as you do) and came across a local At Home Fathers’ Playgroup. I was disappointed to discover it is the kids that play and the fathers have to talk to each other… but I signed up anyway.
I haven’t been yet, because Tilly has had hand, foot and mouth (luckily, the vet said we wouldn’t need to have her put her down), but I will post a blog about it when we do. I’m looking forward to meeting men who are not only able to commit to attending a regular structured event, but are even able to organise one.
By contrast, most of the men I know seem to struggle to commit to pretty much anything – let alone anything regular. And why is this so? Well, I’m sure that the character of our brains, rampant individualism, strict religious upbringings, and Twitter-induced FOMO or fear of missing out (on something better) (see here) all play a role. And I am the first to admit a familiarity with the feelings of fear, claustrophobia, and post-traumatic stress that these factors produce in me when faced with any kind of long term commitment. This may make this aversion to commitment understandable, but it doesn’t mean that it is good for us (or anyone else, for that matter).
It is the FOMO that concerns me most. It is terrifying how mercenary it can make us. We all seem to be evolving slowly into those people you talk to at parties who spend most of the conversation looking over your shoulder for someone more interesting or attractive to talk to. Big cities, smart phones and social networking seem to conspire to create the permanent psychological ‘party’ atmosphere, and, in my experience, very few of us have what it takes to be fully present to one person or conversation in such an atmosphere.
The tragic irony though, is that the few people who are able to do this, who are able to give you their complete attention in a sea of noise and neon, are by far and away the most attractive people at any party. Those who are able to cultivate and manifest stillness, focus, presence and contentment in a culture such as ours are rare, but utterly compelling. I don’t claim to be a person like this, but I’m trying.
By way of illustration, I have two friends, G and H, and the three of us have been catching up for dinner for over ten years now. It hasn’t always been regular, and there have been long periods when, for various reasons (like H living in the OS for a few years), it hasn’t happened. But we have always come back to it. Currently, we have a pretty consistent monthly pattern going (monthly being the new weekly), and it is one of the highlights of my month.
At the beginning though, I wasn’t sure about it. The three of us are, it has to be admitted, an unlikely combination (in the interests of maintaining the illusion of anonymity, I won’t elaborate on why). Luckily for them though, I tend to stick with things (if you combine just the right amounts of cowardice, apathy and guilt you get a very powerful adhesive), and over time these ‘very unlikely’ friends slowly transformed themselves into two of the most buoyant logs in my existential raft, if you get my meaning (not sure I do). To put it another way, they’re like the two legs of a pair of jeans that when you first bought it had to be pulled out of your bumcrack so often that you looked like Rafael Nadal on serve, but which over time comes to feels like a second skin.
The moral of the story, folks (if it isn’t obvious by now) is that you need to wear your friends in, and that, of course, takes time (and the judicious use of a lingerie bag if they are delicate). *
Now that so few of us belong to clubs, religious communities or street gangs… it is interesting to reflect on how regularly we see any particular person outside of those we work or live with, and what the effect of that irregular contact has on intimacy?
I sometimes wonder if I am too hard on men? If I look for and only see the negatives? Probably. Resentment-fueled negative overgeneralisations are an occupational hazard for old cat-herders like myself. I mean, it’s not like I want us all to be sheep. It just feels like the pendulum has swung too far to the cat end of the cat-sheep continuum, and it is time for it two start swinging back a little.
Hopefully, the At Home Fathers’ Playgroup will restore my faith in my own sex. Perhaps I’ll find the sheepcats I’m looking for there. I’ll let you know.
Let me leave you with a moment from The United States of Tara. For those not familiar with the show, Tara is a wife and mother, living in the suburbs of Kansas City, who happens to have a multiple personality disorder. My favourite character is her gay son Marshall. In a recent episode, his boyfriend points out that there are only about ten gay teenagers in their part of town, and asks Marshall is he thinks the two of them are really be in love, or whether they only together because of the mathematics of their situation?’ and Marshall says ‘I don’t see those things as mutually exclusive.’ This, to my mind, makes Marshall ‘one of the most attractive people at the party’. The ability to commit to, and believe in the rightness of, one choice and one context in the presence of a million others (most of which appear more attractive by virtue of being virtual) is something we all need to cultivate.
* The idea of friends who can only be washed in lingerie bags, led me to think through all my closest friends and wonder to myself what the washing instructions would be for each of them. In the process, I realise that over the years I have divested myself of pretty much all my ‘dryclean only’ friends. And a good thing too! High maintenance and occasional wear – who needs the aggravation?