Jonathan Seidler is an Australian author, father and nu-metal apologist. You may have read his memoir, caught his compelling live performance at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival, or noticed his distinct eyebrows on the street. He has some interesting things to say about music, fatherhood, Aussie culture, mental health and the social gymnastics of group chats. This is ‘Winging It’, his column for Esquire.
A peculiar thing has been happening to me lately, and it’s something none of the shit books on fatherhood people gifted me when they found out I was expecting ever explicitly mentioned. It’s an unnerving and unpredictable development, and for the first time since I realised that nappies don’t always hold everything in, I’ve found myself feeling almost entirely out of my depth. You heard it here first: I’ve started to accrue legitimate New Dad Friends.
This particular format of friendship making would not be so strange if you were my wife, or pretty much any woman that’s recently had a child in a metropolitan area. Upon delivering our baby, she was ushered into a ready-made social group of Mums, somehow so well optimised that all of their children were born within weeks of each other. Each March now results in an avalanche of birthdays, but outside of that, my partner had a robust support network for the tough, frustrating and often routinely boring first year of being a parent. The group chat for these women goes off all day and all night. They try to catch up at least twice a week on purpose.
As a result of this mum-to-mum socialisation, I met quite a few of the husbands, some of whom have become mates. But the New Dad Friends I’m talking about weren’t handed to me on the proverbial silver platter that is the Mums of 2022 Summer Babies In This Particular Catchment Area. These are the guys you spot from across the bar with indistinguishable remnants of pulped food on their shirts, unofficial card-carrying members of the bleary-eyed fatherhood club.
Like me, they wear jeans that were fashionable when they still went out at night and band T-shirts that aren’t yet relevant again.
In my experience, these dads are on the lookout for company, for a distraction – as is standard in almost all new fathers – but they’ll never openly phrase it that way. Instead they’ll make a benign comment regarding another wailing kid, some overpriced baby gadget that they’ve also (reticently) become an owner of, a particular New Balance colourway… whatever opens the door to this, an actual chat with another guy who is also evidently a new father with next to no fucking idea of how to do it.
I love my New Dad Friends almost as much as my old friends who are also dads because we chose one another. Research shows men are more likely to lose the friends they already have as they get older, and so it is a bounteous blessing to pick up fresh blood at a time in which we are perhaps the least confident we have ever been. In the last six months, I have added a screenwriter, psychologist and a former Labor staffer to my coterie of dads. If not for our awkwardly bumping prams or tantrum-throwing toddlers, we may never have met.
My Dad died ten years ago, so I don’t have the chance to ask him if he made any other New Dad Friends when I was a young warthog, but somehow I doubt it. For a start, he worked brutal hours in his surgery, leaving early and stopping in late at nursing homes and spending his entire weekend ferrying us around to various sports or music events or else futilely trying to tame our wild back garden. Our school friends’ parents and my Mum provided him with an ample supply of additional acquaintances beyond his uni mates. Most of the men I’ve met in this period spend at least one day a week at home with their baby, which was practically unheard of when I arrived in the late 1980s.
Most importantly, these New Dad Friends are guys I’ve met almost exclusively during a unique moment, when our own sense of self-interest has been eclipsed by the more primal needs to care for our partners and kids. The showmanship and weirdness that often arrives with men meeting strangers for the first time dissolves when you’re comparing notes on sleep, or trying to figure out if hot chips can viably count as both lunch and dinner. That’s a unique place for male relationships to grow from, and arguably one that we can take real learnings from.
This week, long after our partners have dissected it endlessly in the group chats they joined as soon as they left the maternity ward, a New Dad Friend and I will be seeing Barbie together. It’s the sort of thing you’d never suggest to someone you’ve only hung out with sporadically over a year, but as you’ve probably figured out, this is a different type of someone.
We’ll probably still both sneak beers in, though. Some old tropes never change.
Jonathan Seidler is an Esquire columnist and the author of It’s A Shame About Ray (Allen & Unwin).
Like all proper columns, this one will be back next week. You can read all of Jonno’s columns for Esquire here.