My Hayes Village

By Jarrod Shappell

I watch them from a distance. Every morning there are three or four of them sipping cappuccinos in the shade of Linden Alley. I can’t hear exactly what they are saying but they all tell stories, nod in agreement and laugh. Then after a few minutes and a goodbye handshake, they peek inside the stroller, throw the trendy diaper bag over their shoulder and head to Patricia’s Green. I’ve always wanted to be a part of this Hayes Valley Dads Club, but until recently I couldn’t pay the price of admission.

In October when my wife and I found out that we were expecting our first child, I immediately thought of this fatherly cohort. I could use some help because I admittedly do not know what it means to be a dad. How does one father in a city that has more dogs than children? How does one invest for a child’s future in a city with the highest rental prices in the country? What does it look like to raise a child in a city still navigating racism, violence, and gender equality? When I consider these questions about my forthcoming fatherhood, my reaction is more terror than joy some days. Which is why, as they say, I need a village.

If it truly does take a village to raise a child, then I am grateful that Hayes Valley is my village and that my villagers drink single origin espressos, attend yoga regularly, and appreciate locally-sourced produce.

A 30-minute walk around our “village” excites me. I think about the possibility of teaching my son what it means to care for the earth at one of our neighborhood gardens. I think about him sliding down a Hayes Valley Playground slide into my arms. I think about connecting with other parents at Seesaw as Sabrina Gabel leads the children in one of her many classes. And let’s be honest, how great is it that the Suppenkuche Beirgarten allows strollers?

I cannot imagine starting a family without these public places and the inevitable relationships that will form there. A recent New York Times article said that studio apartments and suburban fences are “chipping away at our humanity.” Tract homes are not the enemy but the growing opinion that collaboration and dependence are signs of weakness is a giant worth slaying. In a dense neighborhood like our own there is a tremendous opportunity to rely on each other to develop the families that our statistically childless city needs.

At one point the expectations of fatherhood were lower than Congress’s approval rating. But there is now a group of dads (and moms) who want to work together to create families they are proud of. If you are looking to join us, we’ll be in Linden Alley sharing tips on how to get into the best preschools.