When I came to France, I couldn’t bring my American friends with me unfortunately, so I had to make ones from scratch, which isn’t easy considering the language issue, the cultural barriers, and the fact that I’m over 40. Because honestly, who’s really making friends at 40 anyway?
I also didn’t want to be the guy always depending on his wife for a social life, which ultimately happened anyway. Don’t get me wrong. My wife’s friends are great. Hell, I hang out with them more than she does, but they were hers first, and if we ever separated, I’m sure they’d take her side.
For that reason, I decided to get my own friends, but the problem was that on top of being a lonely immigrant, I’m a dad as well, so quickly my choices in friends were limited. Single people don’t really have the same agenda, and people without kids don’t have the same hours. And for a long time I was depressed.
“Maybe I’m just not cool in French,” I wondered.
“Maybe my kids made me boring.”
“Maybe I’ve moved into a new part of my life, the one where having friends isn’t as important.”
What I didn’t realize is that the solution to all of this was staring me in the face every morning at 8:30 when I dropped my kids off at school. Not with my son’s loser five-year-old classmates, who I’d tried in vain to win over with Batman drawings and bad jokes about vomit, but with the fathers sitting next to me; fathers I realized were just like me – tired and bored and sharing my same loneliness. Like me, they too had been castrated by fatherhood, caught up in the meat grinder of school and work and obligation. Some were older, some were younger, but one thing we all had in common was we were dads, dads who’d soon become dad friends.
Think of your kids basically as real estate brokers hired to find you a friend. And since you assume your kid has good taste, you assume his classmate friend (the other broker) is cool as well, and since the friend is cool, you assume the Dad (the apartment) is also. There are exceptions, but we’ll get to that later.
Dad friends are made at school, but they’re nourished outside of it, starting at the café post kid drop-off, which eventually leads into birthday parties, school events, sports matches, and piano concerts. The great thing about dad friends is you meet them in a socio-economic vacuum with no preconceptions. Gone is the bourgeois comparing of job, apartment, and car.
“In fact, I can safely say I’m not really jealous of any of my dad friends. I actually chose them for that reason,” says Fred, a filmmaker.
With a dad friend, there’s no need to show off. He can see at one glance your life sucks, just like his, and because of that, you never have to explain yourself. A dad friend understands when you can’t go out or why you can’t talk right now or why you’re moody.
“My Dad friend doesn’t give me the shit that my old friends give, like ‘Dude, you used to be so much more fun. What happened?’ My Dad friend knows the deal.” says Tom from New York.
It’s true. Sometimes I’ll even call a dad friend just to tell him how harsh my wife was to me that night as if I was an adolescent complaining about parents. He’ll sympathize, and we’ll spend time gabbing on the phone late, gossiping about other dads.
“See you tomorrow at school?” I’ll whisper.
“You bet dad friend,” he assures me.
Dad friends I’ve found can magically turn the mundane into entertaining. In my BDF (Before Dad Friend) period, trips to the park or museums got boring fast. With Dad friends, there’s suddenly a different dynamic added. They have ideas of what to do. They offer adult commentary and direction apart from your own. They can help with ordering food while you find a table. And there’s nothing better than watching a dad friend scream at his own kid. “I’m not the only one,” you tell yourself.
Dad friends are convenient too. They usually live nearby, so you’re never in the metro or on the beltway going to see them, and because dad friend’s a neighbor, he’s happy to discuss what restaurant rocks in the neighborhood, which one sucks, and what happened to the good butcher who used to be on the corner. Dad friends are awesome for critiquing other parents too, and there’s nothing better than hearing a confirmation that the mother you don’t like is just as big a bitch as you think she is.
What makes a dad friendship grow so fast is the time you pass together is often improvised. You don’t have to organize three-hour dinners once every four months to catch up. In fact, it’s quite normal to meet a dad friend after school and hang out together without planning anything. You can ring his buzzer if you’re on the same street; invite him over for an improvised joint. You can drop off your kid if you’re in a jam. Anything’s doable and not “impolite” with a dad friend, and while your kids play, you and dad friend can play too.
“Sometimes I wonder if my son’s not jealous,” says Rodolphe, a musician in Paris. “He’s with his friend in the room next to ours, playing quietly with his Star Wars destroyer while Dad friend and I are in the living room listening to Spotify seeing who can make the best mix.”
Life just got easier thanks to dad friend. Why go away for the weekend as a family when you can have dad friend come along with his kids as well! Your kids aren’t bored, barbecues are all of sudden done better, and eventually you find yourself wanting to go on vacation with dad friend more than your own family and definitely more than your old friends, you know the ones who you have nothing in common with anymore.
Remember though: Dad friends were strangers before both your kids met and taking a dad friend out of the closed environment you’ve only known him in can sometimes backfire. You might end up seeing dad friend in a totally different light and realize you really don’t like dad friend. Remember that dad friends, like good wine, can turn to vinegar.
Dad friend’s enemies are your enemies
“I like to think of myself as a pretty nice guy and definitely not confrontational. But in making a dad friend, all of sudden you inherit his enemies. Dads I used to say hello to or, at least, nod and smile to now ignore me or give me curt hellos when I’m with a certain dad friend,” says Adrian, a cameraman in the 10th.
Adrian brings up a good point. I’ve noticed how dads mimic their kids by forming cliques of dad friends. For that reason, it’s best to be in a clique which isn’t comprised of just you and your one dad friend.
And god forbid you decide to un-friend a dad friend. In the normal world this happens all the time, but with a dad friend you’re guaranteed to see him often afterwards, even if you don’t want to, and at that point, the dad friend you so cherished can quickly turn into the “dad nightmare” or “dad enemy,” and dad enemies suck. Sometimes you’ll be forced to switch cafes, to avoid the dad enemy or sometimes your dad enemy will move over to the clique you used to make fun of and tell them what you said about them. Sometimes dad enemies will make you suffer by not letting their son play with yours anymore, or they’ll turn their wives against you as well. You know the wife you used to think was flirting with you.
Even if you don’t break up with a dad friend, they can still have a long-term negative impact on your life. For example, I thought being a parent would help me put aside my partying and get me to spend my weekends biking at parks and going to zoos. Unfortunately with dad friends, my drinking has increased (because it’s rare to find a dad friend who doesn’t drink.) Yes, you chose Dad friend because he didn’t seem uptight like the others, but what you didn’t know was that Dad friend was drunk that morning and that’s why he seemed, well, different. And with a dad friend, every day is a possible step into debauchery.
“I had instances where it was a dad friend who bought shots at the bar, who hit on other women, who started fights and got us arrested, admits Jerome who lives near Belville. “Granted it was exciting, but it’s a bit bizarre to think meeting a parent in first grade, could end me up in the police precinct of the 19th arrondissement.”
Having dad friends also adds a lot of pressure you didn’t have before. It’s not easy mixing your dad friend who works at Danon with an old friend from university. Both became your friends out of different circumstances and each likes a different side of you, but they’ll never really like each other, and seeing two together will only make you feel schizophrenic.
Sometimes it’s not you that breaks your dad friendship up, but life on its own. Your kid might change schools or classes, or you might move, and soon, your dad friend becomes obsolete. And no, you won’t be friends with dad friend afterward, because a dad friend without the dad part is like a tiger with no claws.
The good thing about dad friends is that thanks to the Parisian baby boom, they’re in big supply, so if one turns out rotten, there will be others to take his place. And thanks to the ones I’ve made, I can safely say I have a social life now, one that doesn’t depend on my wife. She’s happy too because her mom friends are my dad friends’ wives. Maybe this is how swinging works.
You heard it here first. Dad friendships are the new bromances, relationships that have convinced me being a dad doesn’t have to be a friendless cheerless existence of parental obligation, but a fun one, where even a 40-year-old lonely immigrant can make new friends in a country far away.
And if anybody needs to be thanked it’s my kids, because they’re the ones who started all this in the first place. Unfortunately, I can’t find them right now. They ran off while my dad friend and I were getting beers.