My latest essay at The Good Men Project
As stupid as fantasy football and playing cards may sound, the distractions men create to get together and hang out plays a vital role in mental and emotional well being.
As we get older and time gets scarce it’s hard for men to justify the hobbies of their youth. The three-hour football game our fathers indulged in over our home team has now spread into an 11-hour fantasy football orgy spread over three days that even the most patient spouse has trouble understanding.
Fantasy football is awesome and it’s stupid and it’s not the only game we play.
We spend five hours golfing 18 holes with our in-laws or our peers or our buddies, and that is understandable, but spouses can’t help to wonder why it becomes an all-day affair.
Why don’t you just come home after golf and help me out?
Because the 19th hole is the best part, baby!
We don’t make a good argument why it’s the best part, or why fantasy is important, or why a periodic card game matters. Often we’re not aware of it. I’m going to go make shit of my friends. I’m going to make the best dick jokes. I’m going to drink beer, use tobacco, fart and bullshit. It’s important, dear.
Most of men’s group activities sound like nothing more than a reprisal of college days of dissipation and irresponsibility. The list of things I like to do with my buddies (not just the two of my inner circle but the other buddies I might see once a year), include playing cards, playing football fantasy or otherwise, playing video games, playing golf—it all involves playing something or watching someone else play something. And beer.
But it is the act of getting together not the activity that matters.
I’m going to go make shit of my friends. I’m going to make the best dick jokes. I’m going to drink beer, use tobacco, fart and bullshit. It’s important, dear.
It’s what enables us to connect. I speak for my group of friends but I think it’s pretty typical. For a man to say to another man let’s get together and talk without it being the payout for a lost bet is unsettling.
“What are we gonna do?”
It happens but such a serious tone implies some dire necessity. The same impetus can be resolved by “Wanna get a beer and watch the game?”
I don’t know if it’s a gender thing and I don’t really care as to what the reasons are. The more feminine group interactions feature a more intimate theme, like a recipe club or wine club; considering the intimate nature of how these things are shared, the centerpiece of the meet up is not the distraction but the discussion. Women are more likely to create intimate, inward looking social encounters while men behave more like a penis and seek outward distractions. There are exceptions to every gender generalization, I know, but women’s group time is perceived to be more meaningful and important.
Men’s group activities are not. Seemingly.
Last month I had two meet ups with different friends in two weeks—I know, more social interaction than in a typical year. One was a promotional opportunity for a bunch of dad bloggers whom I’d known only by the one-dimensional square of their avatar or the wide-ranging wit of their comments and posts. The opportunity to meet a virtual group in reality (I learned what IRL means) was one I didn’t want to miss.
But the premise was absurd.
TOMY International toy company was on a nationwide tour in a video-gaming truck to promote its latest innovation, Battroborg, a miniaturized version of remote controlled robot-fighting game. A group of guys in a parking huddled around two guys furiously shaking the controllers in their hands, all over a two-foot game arena studded by 3-inch robot boxers, looked like a giant circle jerk.
Inside the truck trailer was a wall of couches opposite a wall of flat screen TVs hooked up to PS2 and all the other gaming systems. (Yes, it can be rented.) I never got into gaming and this night was no different, but I liked hanging around.
When we lived in the city and I was a stay-at-home dad with a toddler and a newborn, I would meet up with 4 to 8 dads every Thursday as part of Chicago Dads meet up group. The strangers that would become my friends shared more in common with me than some of my oldest friends because we were parents of kids the same age and we lived nearby. The weekly two-hour meet up satisfied some of that parental loneliness and longing for adult interaction. The weekly play date was much more popular than the monthly dads meet up night at a bar.
It was the play, with our kids and with other dads, that was theraputic; men are much more likely to talk when they have the option of talking, not the expectation. The expectation is work; the option is a choice.
More insightful was our fantasy football draft around Labor Day. Five of the ten teams are guys from high school; three are from college. Some fantasy leagues are all high school friends that have been around for decades. I would argue the vast majority share some social significance beyond the game itself.
Though I may talk to these guys online via failed attempts at a get together, I am guaranteed that I will see them at the fantasy football draft, which has become only a two-hour commitment. Half of these guys, whom I love, I see only once a year.
Of the eight guys that showed up it was revealed that three were in the midst of divorce or a major breakup of a long-term relationship. Fifteen years in one case. More than half the guys in our league had been divorced; one was in marriage counseling; two others had never been married. The only link to this rash of divorce was that we were all in this stupid fantasy football league.
This is not causation, not matter how seductive the reductive.
The point is had we not gotten together to talk about PPR stats and the philosophy of offensive coordinators, we never would have shared these more meaningful and painful facts of our lives. Not one of us, had we found out about the other guy’s plight, would’ve been taken seriously if we called up and said, hey wanna talk. That’s what the core group of two guys is for. But to be able to share the experience and the pain with that broader ring of friends makes it feel a whole lot less isolating.
Hearing people talk about similar experiences, or reading about other people with similar experiences, is nothing compared to sharing it with the people you have chosen to be part of your life.
Men like me and my friends aren’t likely to talk about the things that weigh on us because it’s painful and the whole reason we get together is to have fun and create a distraction from that which pains us. It is in this context, appreciating the simple pleasure of being around other guys over some mindless distraction and the esteem we award the wittiest shit givers, that we get perspective, that whatever else is unraveling in our personal lives isn’t as bad because, on the life-death continuum, everything is a choice of diversion and engagement.
Spending time with friends, no matter how moronic the theme, no matter how callow it may seem compared to women’s, cannot be discounted. It is not the activity but the act and it is a vital part of feeling balanced with all the other distractions of work, marriage and parenting.
Unfortunately, as we get older and our ties are strained by geography, consequence, and commitments, it’s harder and harder to justify those interactions. We hear the guilt and self-doubt and look at all those other things we could and should be getting done with our five hours. Then a year passes, maybe ten, and the only thing you hear about old friends is what you’ve missed.