Wherever men gather — on the sidelines of their kids’ games, at a Compo cookout, by the transfer station — the conversations are the same.
“How’s it goin’?”
“Good. Kids, wife, work — all good.”
Then it’s on to the next topic: the coach, the meat, the trash.
Much of the time, of course, it’s not “all good.” Far from it.
The kids are acting up. The marriage is rocky. The job is stressful.
Most men don’t talk about that stuff.
Dave Smith does.
The Madison native — a baseball player at Trinity College, and graduate of Harvard Business School — his wife Jeanne and their 2 children moved to Westport in 2008.
They’ve had 2 more since then. His career as a leadership coach has flourished.
But his side gig — a weekly blog called “Dads’ Survival Guide” — sets him apart from the stereotypical suburban father.
“It’s always been secretive that being a dad is a struggle,” Smith says.
“If it’s a secret, you feel isolated. And that can lead to drinking, substance abuse, gambling — or worse.”
“Worse” includes suicide. Several years ago, a friend took his life.
“Dads who had known him well had no idea he was struggling,” Smith says. “It broke our heart to realize he had struggled alone.”
He organized a few “dad barbecues,” to get conversations going. Then COVID hit.
“Wow! If things were not hard enough for dads before …” Smith says.
He does not downplay the difficulties facing moms. But, he says, women are more socialized to talk things out, and seek support from friends. “Men put on an act. We never admit anything is wrong.”
In the early days of the pandemic, Smith began writing. His subjects were ideas that hit home: dealing with teenagers. Dealing with money. Dealing with emotions.
He sent his stories to friends. They passed them to others. Dads are not big on writing back, he says, but occasionally he hears “Man! I’m going through the same thing!”
Smith says up front: “I don’t have the answers. I just try to put a voice to our struggles. I put it out there, that we’re all struggling with the same things. And it’s okay to talk about it.”
Simply hearing another man put words to feelings is a revelation to some men, Smith says.
His posts on marriage and parenting issues get the most response. He recently wrote about reactions when a child lies.
Kids’ emotional well-being is an important topic. So is the mental health of dads themselves.
“A lot of dads struggle with depression,” Smith says. “But there’s nowhere besides AA or rehab where you can talk about it.”
His goal is to continue to be “as open as possible. I want to put a voice to values and beliefs. Dads tend not to think about things like that.”
Dave’s “Dads’ Survival Guide” forces them to think.
So perhaps the next time one man asks another “How’s it goin’?” the answer may not be “all good.” Get ready for an answer that may be far more honest than that.
(To be added to the “Dads’ Survival Guide” distribution list, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
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