Adventures in Fatherhood: Lone Wolf Joins the Pack, Kind of

My son has insinuated himself into the social scene, proving the perfect conversation starter for his often shy daddy, who has been surprised to find that it can be fun sharing baby war stories.
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I've never been a team player. I would rather run and do yoga -- both solitary, meditative pursuits. My preferred way of watching a movie is at a matinee, alone. And I have no qualms about sidling up to the bar with a magazine for a pint or two. When it comes to parenting, my instinct has been the same.

All through the fall and winter, my first six months staying at home with my infant son, Mr. F, I called our routine "Lone Wolf and Cub" after the martial arts movies about an assassin-for-hire who roams Japan with his young son. Like them, Mr. F and I wandered the streets of Brooklyn, from the hills of Prospect Park to the sunny strip of waterfront down under the Manhattan Bridge. On rainy days, we strolled the halls of The Brooklyn Museum. We were more than happy to have even the smallest of errands to run.

On our travels we met a few parents and were invited to join a baby group. "No way," I told my wife, who urged me to consider it. "The whole thing seems so forced--you've got a baby, I've got a baby, let's be friends! We'll talk about parent crap ad nauseum. Borring."

The Lone Wolf was the consummate outsider, disdainful of bourgy urban parenting conventions. Classes for baby? Who needed 'em! Instead of Music and Me, Mr. F banged on pots and pans while Daddy blared the Pixies. How much cooler was that? And cheaper to boot.

My wife pressed the issue, but I argued that my mother never had classes and support groups when she raised me, and I turned out just fine. A little antisocial, maybe. And shy, sure. But she could've done worse.

Okay, so maybe a few of those social insecurities lurked under my reticence to join the lemmings thronging to music classes. And perhaps I worried that Mr. F and I didn't fit in, living a fairly modest lifestyle by comparison to many we meet in our neighborhood. We can only afford to live around here because we rent from my mother-in-law, who owns the brownstone. I didn't want us to be sniffed out as impostors.

Then came the dark days of February, when the winter weather clamped down hard and Lone Wolf retreated to his hole. At the time, Mr. F loved cruising around the apartment dangling from my fingertips. He hated spending time on his tummy, so had no interest in crawling. The hours blended together as we visited and revisited all his favorite spots again and again--pulling the gardening books from the shelf, stacking the pots and pans, cooing at the ceiling fan whose spinning mimicked the circles we made around the place. When my wife came home, I'd be stir-crazy and snappish, my lower back sore from hunching over, my stockpile of patience long drained.

By the time temperatures thawed, my thinking had changed. Maybe some company would be good for both me and Mr. F. Maybe, when left alone too much, the brain turns over the same thoughts until they're worn thin, seeing a loving albeit clingy baby as an albatross around the neck, a punishment of Sisyphean proportion. But how to go about making parent friends? My social anxiety reared.

I needn't have worried. Mr. F has always had a social streak--he's quick to flash his winning smile, shamelessly flirts with grownups, and enjoys waving to passersby. With the spring came his ability to stand and take tiny steps on his own and finally, just when I thought I might have to get a support brace for my lumbar, he began to crawl. Our itinerant ways were curtailed as the neighborhood playground became his favorite stomping ground.

Mr. F has insinuated himself into the social scene there, proving the perfect conversation starter for his often shy daddy, who has been surprised to find that it can be fun sharing baby war stories with veteran parents, and that often such talk opens the door to other topics. It's far from boring, though of course the antagonistic, perpetually teen aged part of me bitches that I'm becoming too conventional. What can you do?

We're still at the point where we have acquaintances, Mr. F and I, and only a couple of friends. And I see many familiar faces who I've yet to gather the courage to talk to. But I'm getting better. I'm sure next winter will have its share of cold, snowy days, but hopefully with a few friends and a play date here and there, it won't feel so long and lonely.

Though I guess if it does, there's always Music and Me class.