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Building a Dads Group

How one dad made a community support group for local fathers

Richard Porter

Published on: November 28, 2023

Two dads are walking and pushing their babies in strollers

For too many years I considered myself a Michael Jordan of parenting. I played a mean game of late-night bottle warmings, epic jogging stroller runs and seasonal raincoat procurement. Slam dunk! I got this.

Until I didn’t get it anymore. It was getting me — fatigue, that is. 

The flip side of my marathon child-rearing was physical exhaustion and a never-ending to-do list that left me trembling with anxiety. There are months of my life I can’t remember because of interrupted sleep.

I wondered how other dads did it. I knew that there were plenty of mom-and-toddler story times and mom-based walking groups, but I perceived that dads in our society had been conditioned to be socially isolated breadwinners. There was no template for mutual cooperation or support among young fathers. So, was that how it was? Must we struggle alone through each week of school pick up and drop off while planning a birthday party and picking up paper towels at the store?

Then there was the lack of available childcare. And the breakdown of social institutions like churches and civic groups. Not to mention the palpable, crushing lonesomeness of pandemic parenting. 

I wanted a dad network but had no idea how to find one. So, I decided to make one.

It was an incidental decision. I needed three other guys for a basketball tournament. At that point, I hadn’t shot hoops since junior high. I wasn’t a baller, but I really wanted an excuse to work out and get involved in civic sports. For some reason, wearing athletic socks and making layups sounded great. It was different from the usual gym routine I was used to.

I set about recruiting in the neighborhood. I called upon friends of friends and pitched them my basketball vision. I added them one by one (with their consent) to a group chat. 

Believe me when I say that I talked to more than a dozen people who turned me down. For one thing, I needed players in the 35-plus category in order to qualify for the basketball tourney age bracket. It turned out that most guys had bad knees at my age, or they’d gone sedentary, or they were just too busy to commit to weekly practice. Understandable.

I worked my contacts diligently until I found commitment. This was a big deal for me. I’m a socially awkward introvert. I’m a writer who is much more at ease putting words on paper than talking to strangers. So, I cold texted. I had friends ask friends.

And, you know what? It worked.

My final roundup of dad-athletes going into the tournament included a hodgepodge network of seven men. We were two marketers, a teacher, a surveyor, a cable guy and a banker/entrepreneur. All of us lived within two miles of each other.

We committed to pickup basketball at Garfield Park every Thursday at 7:00 p.m. We played until dark, bumping vintage hip hop on the Bluetooth. Pretty soon basketball was just a pretext to hang out. Our ragtag team took on an amateur softball league-style energy: fun first, basketball was incidental. Our kids ran and climbed where we could see them while we ran plays and practiced three-pointers.

Dad group accomplished. 

We played a basketball tournament in mid-July. We lost every single game — by a lot. We were definitely the Bad News Bears of the 3-on-3 courts, yet we were fan favorites because of our heart and camaraderie. And, like the classic movie trope, the real win was the friends we made along the way.

Today we’re a Facebook chat group of nine local dads. We share tools, offer up bike trailers, coordinate play dates and share weekend barbecues. It turns out that mutual aid is out there if you reach out in good faith. At the core of the group are two of my closest friends. At age 36, I’m truly thankful for them.

I encourage you, too, to try to reach out for community support. We need not parent in silos.

Yes, I learned that parenting isn’t a Michael Jordan kind of game. There are no lone superstars. You need your Scotty Pippens and your Dennis Rodmans or you’re nothing. 

Raising children is a game of assists and strategic plays. That’s how the championship is won.

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