IT IS A TRUTH UNIVERSALLY acknowledged that a middle-aged guy in possession of a wife and one or more spirited children must be in want of a Man Date. By “Man Date,” I am referring to a specific ritual, governed by specific rules, and intended to prevent the guy in question from descending into an abiding psychosis.
Rule One: Requests for a Man Date are to be honored within 48 hours.
It is understood among my peer group that fatherhood and husbandry are cyclical enterprises. And that there comes a time in all of our, uh, cycles when we simply cannot hear another passive-aggressive non-complaint from our wives or more tantrums from our precious offspring, and must flee our homes to be in the presence of a fellow dude who wants nothing from us beyond, perhaps, a spare onion ring.
Rule Two: The activities of a Man Date shall involve absolutely no cultural, emotional, or nutritional enrichment.
The raison d’etre of the Man Date is essentially regressive in nature. It is a chance for us men to shed the burdens of adulthood and return, all too briefly, to the realm of idiotic adolescent pleasures. My own preference is a bar with several televisions blaring pointless sports contests and a menu whose offerings are at least 50 percent deep-fried.
My friends feel the same way. Unlike our wives, who instantly fall into intense, wine-aided discussions of their parenting and/or marital frustrations, we menfolk are not so interested in talking about our feelings. For us, compelling topics include “Are the Red Sox going to stink forever?” and “They’re steak tips, dude. Of course you order them medium-rare.”
Rule Three: What happens on a Man Date stays on a Man Date.
This is crucial to the integrity of the experience. For at home, we exist in a state of what I suppose I must call benign surveillance. We are either forbidden, or implicitly discouraged, from engaging in certain activities. Such as stuffing our gullets with foods known to raise our cholesterol levels, or drinking to excess, or (God forbid) smoking cigarettes, or expressing our natural admiration for the pulchritude of women to whom we are not wed.
I am not suggesting that any of these things happen on my own Man Dates. I am simply noting that I have heard about stuff like this happening on other Man Dates, and nobody ever rats anybody out.
Rule Four: The duration of a Man Date shall be determined solely by the participants.
As unlikely as this might seem to an outside observer — who would just see a few bleary-eyed schmucks in a bar arguing over steak tips — the central purpose of the Man Date is actually spiritual regeneration.
And spiritual regeneration (as any guru will tell you) can’t be rushed. It might take three hours, or five. And hell, if the game goes into overtime, it might take six and a half. The point is that each of us returns home renewed and expanded.
And, no, it’s not just beer bloat.
Rule Five: The Man Date shall be accepted as a marital aid.
That probably came out wrong, but I think you get the point. It’s not easy for the modern man to adapt to his role as mature listener and sensitive father. There is, within all of us, the need for some kind of release valve.
And this is why my wife, in her wisdom, has become a leading advocate of Man Dates. When she senses my (admittedly limited) store of empathy running low, she will drop subtle hints. “What are Sean and Michael up to tonight?” she’ll say. Or “How about if you left the house immediately?”
At which point, returning to Rule One, I will put out the call for a Man Date and wait, not exactly patiently, by the phone.Steve Almond’s new story collection is God Bless America. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.