If you ever played The Sims, you might understand—even on an intuitive level—that your environment can shape your happiness. You may think you want to live in a house or apartment that looks super modern, with very cool color tones, a gigantic TV in the living room and no artwork on the walls because minimalism is nicer than having a homey home.
But your body and your brain see it differently. Subconsciously, your body might not respond to wall colors that aren't warm, to the sensory overload of too much visual stimulation, to not having nice plants around or photos of loved ones in view. Your surroundings really do matter and they do affect your mood, whether you know it or not.
I'm in the middle of an ongoing, multi-year quest to improve my living space. Room by room, I've been repainting, getting flooring installed, removing clutter (often a losing battle as new things arrive and accumulate), and thinking more about the space that I want to live in.
As a dad, I have to cede a lot of space. The living room is a room I share with my daughters, who spend a lot of time there watching TV shows that I would have never expected them to get into (Modern Family, For All Mankind, Manifest). The dining room table is less for family dinners and more for board games and my older daughter's school books and studying.
The home office, the room that I reserved as my own work space in lieu of giving my two daughters separate bedrooms, is shared too. We have two desks in there and sometimes when I'm in Zoom meetings, the people I'm talking to comment on the gigantic Frozen poster on the wall behind me (hey, it's from Mondo, I like it) and ask if I'm a fan of Elsa.
Right now, apart from my bedroom, there's not really a leisure space I can call my own, the spot that has come to be known in the culture as the Man Cave. We have a shed outside the house that we slowly, over three years, turned into a livable room with floors and paint and furniture. As my daughters use that room less and less and as they slowly creep toward the day when they'll head off to college (fingers crossed), I've wondered what I might do with that space to make it my own.
I've been thinking that I want a Dad Cave, not a Man Cave. I want that room to reflect that being a parent is important to me and that I don't want to go there to escape that identity, a purpose that Man Caves seem to serve. As I plan for the future where I take over this space, here's some rules I've come up with.
A Dad Cave should be a sanctuary from noise and clutter: I don't want to escape being a dad, but sometimes I do want to escape my daughters, who might be arguing about who borrowed the other person's hairbrush without asking (loudly), or who might be making such a mess of the house, that I want to escape to a pristine space that hasn't been affected by used towels and old homework assignments.
A Dad Cave should be healthy: Maybe there's some light exercise equipment in there like an off-brand Peloton and a mini fridge stocked with coconut waters and mini salads. OK, maybe there's a secret drawer filled with Flamin' Hot Cheetos behind the salads. There's beer, but only for when visitors come over. Drinking alone in the Dad Cave is frowned upon (by me, in the mirror).
A Dad Cave should reflect my personality: The art on the walls, the books and knick knacks on the shelves, the colors of the walls and tone of the flooring should be all about me. When my kids enter the Dad Cave, it should feel like Dad. It should smell like Dad. But not in a gross way. If I pass away suddenly, my daughters should be able to enter this room and remember what dad was like and be surrounded by things he liked, like horror novels from the '80s and a window that faces a nice tree.
A Dad Cave shouldn't be saturated in tech: There's a TV to relax with, but no game consoles, no tablets, no robot toys and expensive gadgets. The cave has mood lighting, but it's unobtrusive and voice-controlled.
A Dad Cave needs a lie-down spot: Either a Murphy bed or a rollaway cot or just a comfy couch because sometimes, Dad just needs a good nap before going back into the world.
A Dad Cave should hold good memories: The room has a lot of framed pictures of my loved ones. It has the autograph I got from Giancarlo Esposito and the baseball I bought at the World Series game I went to. There are pictures of when my kids were born. Good times.
Right now, this Dad Cave only exists in my mind, but just thinking about it makes me want to get started creating a space like that to enjoy.