All the other dads in the neighborhood are holding bottles of Sam Adams and talking. Most of the dads wear leather sandals but some wear canvas shoes without socks. One popular costume: polo shirts and khaki shorts. Another: pocket tee and khaki shorts. They are tall, these dads, and each of their foreheads has a different kind of hairline, most receding. If you could somehow make a flip book of the hairlines of these dads, the fluttering pages would look like waves lapping a shore.
Most of the dads are in business. The next-door-neighbor dad is in manufacturing and the across-the-street dad is in insurance yet they share the same consulting firm. Commonalities abound. They share anecdotes about subordinates, expense accounts, quarterly reports. Their jargon is irreverent and jocular and they take none of what they say very seriously, which makes them amenable to all the other dads. For example, the Welsh dad who married an American is able to stand in the half-circle of business dads and nod and now and then slip a knowing phrase into the conversation, even though he is not a business dad but a nonprofit dad. It is unclear exactly what the Welsh dad does; he rides a bicycle every morning to the train station and commutes from there to the capitol. He has five children, each of them twiggy and morose and strangely beautiful. Sometimes you can see him on the second floor of his house, where he has pushed a desk up to the window and where he writes every night with a pen, probably a fountain pen, probably one he owned in Wales before his American wife met him while traveling between college and grad school.
Then there are the hedonist dads, those who bypass the cooler of beer and go inside to ask for, say, Johnny Walker red label or scotch with ice. They share a marijuana vape pen away from the children, which they would have done more guiltily a few years ago but now, in this new age of legal pot, do instead with polite discretion, since all the square dads have children running around somewhere. They ask themselves, these dads: the children see us drink, so why may they not see us do this? They are educated dads, too, so they know the answer to this question, and the answer has to do with that old Puritan impulse and the social norms and customs of the middle class and the whole hypocritical incestuous orgy of capitalism and politics.
Sometimes a dad breaks away from his group and wanders to the grill for another hot dog or a plate of chips and finds, looking back, that each cluster of dads seems to be doing fine without him, as are the moms, as are the kids. This solitary dad is not an athletic dad training for a marathon or a real estate dad discussing the renovation of what will become a rental home or a hipster dad trying to connect his iPhone to the Bluetooth speakers so he can play a deep cut for everyone. He’s not a volunteer dad or town select board dad or vintage car dad, and he wonders what kind of dad he is. He thinks the question should have more to do with his children, who are at this moment in various basements and attics and backyards in the neighborhood. Maybe his daughter is with another dad’s son, and they are kissing behind a garage. Maybe his son is riding his bike too fast down a nearby street, cursing casually with the sons of other dads. He thinks of the sons and daughters whose lives are open, so many paths branching out ahead of them, and so many dads with paths closed behind them. You can tell this dad is thinking something like this, and the thought probably fills him with a sad sense of his own wisdom, even though this thought has occurred, of course, to every dad.