Written by Andy Newman and Originally Published in The Brunei Times on July 4, 2008
Thursday morning they filed toward PS 234 on Greenwich Street one last time, the precious progeny of TriBeCa and their escorts: dads in suits with Deloitte bags over their shoulders, meticulously untucked dads, smartly tailored moms.
At 8:37, the school bell tolled three times. The children, clutching bouquets for teacher and cameras to capture the giddy-wistful faces of friends, disappeared behind the wrought-iron fence with little sailboats on it.
Most of the parents scattered. But one scruffy cluster of 40ish men appeared to be calling roll: the screenwriter, the photographer, the sculptor, the journalist-novelist, all present.
In no time they had corralled a table at their hangout of the moment, City Hall, a cavernously clubby steakhouse on Duane Street. As they settled into their seats, the screenwriter, David Bar Katz, mimed pulling down his shorts and said, "O.K., guys, now for the traditional last-day-of-school nude coffee."
The lot of the caregiver dad is often depicted as difficult and lonely — shut out by cliquish moms and nannies on the playground, financially emasculated by his breadwinner wife, generally cut off from the forces that sustain a man.
The dads of the nameless PS 234 breakfast club are different. To be sure, they differ from the average stay-at-home dad in many ways.
Their homemaking burdens are lightened by nannies and cleaning ladies. They work, though not in offices like their high-powered wives, who are executives and editors in chief and museum directors.
But the main way they seem different is that they have one another. For the last four years, since the day the fashion-consultant dad asked the lawyer-who-wants-to-be-a-writer dad out to a diner, they have been making the rounds of TriBeCas better breakfast spots, a rotating lineup of seven or eight guys, whiling away the morning hours with hash browns and wide-ranging banter that somehow seldom strays far from the locker room.
"It's like Sex and the City with coffee instead of cosmos," Katz said.
The group's self-proclaimed founder, Roark Dunn, a consultant in the fashion industry, said he was inspired by the moms he saw pairing up after morning drop-off. "I was envious," he said, "so I said to Josh, 'Why don't you and I go out?' Then Josh started bringing David and David started bringing Chris."
Some guys were slow to grasp the concept. "Josh used to ask me if I wanted to get coffee, and I was like, 'Not really'," said Karl Taro Greenfeld, the journalist-novelist. "I didn't know he was inviting me to a 'Thing'."
At first, Katz said, the wives tended toward jealousy and suspicion. "There was a lot of I wish I had time to have coffee with my friends for two hours," he said. "They were like: 'What do you guys talk about? Do you talk about us? Do you talk about sex?"'
But the dads have no compunction about taking a leisurely break from diapering and spending some of the family's hard-earned money in the process.
"All these fathers are actually really good fathers," said Katz, who recently oversaw the birth of his fourth son (and made it to breakfast with the guys 14 hours later). "We do more parenting than our type-A wives and feel were justified."
And so the wives seem to have mostly come around. "It's very nice — it feeds Josh's soul," said Amy Katz, no relation to Mr. Katz but married to Joshua Leitner, the lawyer and aspiring writer. Still, she added, "If it makes him less productive, that makes me resentful, and it has the potential to veer in that direction."
The get-togethers seem to feed the men's souls in different ways. For Katz, they fill a void that often opens up for men after they start families. "This wouldn't exist with us if there wasn't this need that in a sense is repressed," he said. "People are conditioned to feel that it's sophomoric: now that you're a grown-up, you're supposed to spend time with your family, not your friends."
Leon Falk, a film producer and professor, and at 56 the elder statesman of the group, described it as "a way to honour fatherhood in the moment that we're all engaged in our kids starting out in life together, and to blow off some steam doing it."
The collective has actually proved artistically fruitful for several members. Greenfeld is writing a novel based on the breakfast-club characters; one chapter, soon to appear in The Paris Review, swirls outward from a parenting debate, at "a steakhouse recently taken to serving breakfast," over how to deal with a child molester.
Katz has a play coming to the Public Theater in the fall, Philip Roth in Khartoum, that opens with a coffee-shop scene in which the dads bemoan the wives refusal to address their needs. "If my having an orgasm saved a whale or stopped global warming, then I'd have a decent shot," goes one of the few printable lines.
Katz stressed that the play was fictional. But he conceded that the tone of the dialogue was "about par for the course". This was certainly the case on Thursday, much of which Katz spent inviting his coffee-mates to his son's bris and defending his decision to circumcise.
Across the table, John Fortenberry, a film and television director, flinched at the thought. "If there's any screaming," he said, "I'm out the door."
The fashion-photographer dad, Guy Aroch, wondered if it might be better to leave the boy intact. "That decision can be reversed," he said. "The other decision can't."
"You don't think that with our technology you won't be able to get a better foreskin?" Katz asked.
Greenfeld elaborated. "It would be softer and more sensitive than the natural one, and cleaner. Have you seen the technology they have for supple leather gloves?"
Eventually, food arrived — piles of eggs scrambled with salmon and onions, a rasher of bacon. No one ordered the diet plate. Conversation turned briefly to summer plans — houses upstate or on the East End, children off for Europe. Manly headlines were read from The Wall Street Journal: "the Supreme Courts scuttling of the Exxon Valdez settlement." The topic of foreskin resurfaced. "Sorry Table 7!" Katz called in the direction of two suited women working on their egg-white omelettes.
Notwithstanding the potential poignancy of the moment, the last breakfast was devoid of sentiment, perhaps in homage to last year's disastrous season finale, an attempt at a guys' night out. After a steak dinner, the group repaired to the office of one of its members, who proceeded to whip out an acoustic guitar and offer up an achingly sincere rendition of "Wish You Were Here", the Pink Floyd ballad of loss and age and the cost of compromise.
"I've never seen so many people so uncomfortable in my life," Katz said.
This year, the PS 234 men's breakfast club simply dissolved for the summer, one molecule at a time.
Aroch had a photo shoot in New Jersey. Katz excused himself to buy liquor and numbing cream for little Maccabees bris. "I gotta go," he said. "Julie's gonna kill me."
As the men departed, they shook hands; they did not hug
The conversation dwindled. Dunn put down the newspaper. "Chrysler next year is going to put wireless Internet in its pickup trucks," he announced.
"Wow," Fortenberry said. And he, too, got up to go.