02/26/2013 11:46 am ET

Playdating Another Dad

Written by Neil Cohen for The Good Men Project

The conversation started innocently enough. Just two guys and their 2-year old boys hanging out at the park, getting in some last minute run-around time before the sun went down. The usual topics were covered -- our wives working hard, the old man who smokes by the slide while his granddaughter hangs from the monkey bars, the mom in the LuLulemon yoga pants (oh come on, we’re still guys), good places to see trains and planes -- and then it happens.

“So, we should, you know, plan a specific time to get together, maybe go to a different park,” he says (it’s not the first time we’ve seen each other at this park).

“Ok, that sounds like a good idea,” I reply.

“How about 6:30pm tomorrow at the park on Hopkins Avenue?” he suggests.

“Perfect -- see you there.” I reply.

And, as Alex and I walk toward our car, I realize that I have, no, I mean we have, just been asked out on a first date -- my first daddy date with a complete stranger. We didn’t even exchange cell phone numbers for fear that would signal way too much of a commitment. It was just a simple time and place, and a quick agreement that if anything happened and one of us couldn’t make it, we’d likely see each other again at this park the next night. No harm, no foul.

The first play date goes well and while neither one of us puts out, we exchange cell numbers “to make it easy to coordinate” and agree that a second date is warranted; after all, our boys had a lot of fun together (actually they didn’t even play together but whatever). I leave our play date unsure about what happens next. Do I wait a day before texting? Do I send a follow-up now saying “that was fun, thanks” or let him make the first move? The world of daddy-dating is completely new to me, after all. Before we even got home, a text arrived: “Hey, that was fun. Let’s do that again.” Victory.

Second date turns to third date turns to fourth. I invite his family over for Friday pizza and Thomas & Friends so our wives could meet. We loan him our batting tee and Big Wheel to ensure a further relationship. Conversations drift from our boys to us: Steelers vs. Giants, our mutual love of Las Vegas, our families, books we want to write, and slowly, after a series of semi-late night texts, I realize we’re becoming friends. I can’t recall the last non-work friend I’ve made. Of course, I’m only making this friend because “it’s good for our sons” but still, a friend is a friend. My wife loves it, teasing me endlessly whenever I get a text. “Is that your new boyfriend?” she asks. I know this is code for “thank God it’s not LuLuLemon yoga pants mom.”

As I think about my new “dadmance” I realize that it’s much different for dads to find play dates for our children. First, there’s the sheer numbers game. There are fewer “stay-at-home dads” than one might be led to believe. John (let’s call him John but that’s not his name) is the first stay-at-home dad I’ve seen consistently at the park. And, I’ve met many working dads at the park, but never even got close to a conversation about a play date. That’s what their partners do when they’re at work. And, while I’ve had play dates with stay-at-home moms, they’ve been close former work colleagues or moms from nursery school, but never someone who “picked me up” at the park.

When I take Alex to the park, some moms will engage in small talk, but it’s very small talk about the weather -- and I get that. Hard to explain to their husbands about the guy they met at the park (just as hard for me to explain that to my wife) and most of them already have full schedules.

Besides the numbers game, I just think it’s harder for men to engage in these types of conversations. It took John and I months of bumping into each other to get up the courage to ask. Is that how it works for moms too? I get the feeling it’s different, but perhaps my perception isn’t reality. I don’t specifically know why -- perhaps I’m just my little N of 1 and in fact it’s says more about me than about all the dads. Maybe with a trend of new dads groups forming, this will change. In the meantime, I’ll stick to my “dates” with John and his son.

Or maybe not.

I noticed early on in our young relationship that John wouldn’t text me two times in a row. If I didn’t respond, he wouldn’t text me until he got some type of communication from me. I hate that, always have, mostly because I’m terrible at getting back to people and I just don’t think it makes sense, not at 40. Just text when you want to text or have something to say. This isn’t high school.

About three weeks ago, John texted me and I texted back about getting our boys together. I didn’t hear back so I texted again -- okay, that’s me now texting twice in a row. Nothing. It’s been three weeks!! I did the last two texts.

I wonder now…did I say something wrong? Was Alex’s refusal to share his trains a bigger issue than I thought? Did John find another dad to date? Did he fear further commitment and want to see other people? What happens when we see each other at the park next? An awkward hello, a “really, I didn’t get your text” mumbled under his breath as his eyes look toward the ground. Did something happen to him? It’s not like I’d be on his list of people to tell if he suddenly moved away?

John finally responded to my latest text. He’s been studying for a board exam and asked if we can “pow wow after the exam?” I responded “sounds good, good luck on the test.” But, I’m pretty sure I’m being blown off. Whatever dude. I asked one of the moms at nursery school if she and her son wanted to meet at the park on Friday and got a “sure, let’s get the boys together.” Victory.

I can’t help but wonder what happened with my new friend. After all, he’s got our Big Wheel and batting tee and if this relationship is over, I want my stuff back.

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