Whether you’re a new dad, or a dad starting out the new year, it’s time to think about yourself. Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween before the New Year were all about the kids. But they’re over. Now you’ve got a few quiet months with hopefully no yard work and some time to actually relax.

Do you have somewhere to do that?

Every dad needs a special place they can retreat to and unwind from the stress of work and parenting. Lately though, I’m seeing a lack of respect for dad. There’s even a new show on one of the DIY channels that mocks Mancaves in favor of family rooms.

That’s just preposterous.

Dads, we need our own place. We need a Dad Cave. A place we can call our own, where we can do our own thing, but still be close enough by to help out when needed.

What makes the best dadcave? A basement. It’s soundproofed, is easier to heat and cool due to it’s semi-subterranean nature, and is fairly storm resistant- so all the cool crap you jam into it for your fatherly entertainment is sure to stay safe and sound.

Oh sure, you could opt for a Fortress of Solitude- an unattached garage- to spend your time in. It worked for Superman, right? Alas, while garages boast lots of cool tools and a sheltered place to work on the car, mower, etc., they lack the creature comforts of a basement. And a bathroom. And let’s face it, in winter, you don’t want to have to trudge even 20 feet out in the snow to go sit on the throne.

What about a den or library? These above ground retreats may have worked well for the Atomic Dad of the 1950s and 60s, but being above ground, it’s easier access for the missus and pretty much guarantees frequent inspections, calls for cleaning and maybe even decorating from her. Best to sequester yourself below the surface where wives fear to tread.

But the best argument for a basement retreat? Batman has one.

Seriously, who is cooler than Batman? He’s a billionaire playboy, with a batload of awesome gadgets, cars, motorcycles, boat and planes. He’s a dad- albeit a single, adoptive one. He fights crime with no super powers. And unlike some armored, high tech playboys, he’s not a drunk. Batman rules. Clearly, he is the coolest dad ever. Just ask Robin.

So now that you’ve seen the light and are ready to get rid of some of those boxes of crap the wife will never use again, go claim a corner of the basement and start tricking out your very own dadcave. As you plan, keep a few things in mind:

BIGGER ISN’T BETTER. My pal recently built a new house and engineered this ginormous basement. I know he married a daughter of the Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe, and has several dozen family over every weekend- thereby necessitating a large family room- but this works against him on those rare occasions it’s just him and his own horde of wife and kids.

You can’t get any private time in a vast cavern. A smaller space is easier to regulate temperature and doesn’t invite people to come in and rain on your underground parade. You don’t have a batmobile, -boat, -plane or a crime fighting lab, so you don’t really need all that square footage. Just something big enough for a pool table, a dry bar and four or five of your closest pals to gather around the big screen TV.

IF THEY CAN REACH IT, IT WILL BREAK. Now that you have your own special room, you’re likely tempted to start stocking it with all the cool crap your wife made you box up and put in the attic. Like old trophies, Matchbox cars, or your childhood GI Joes. Bear in mind though that your neanderkids will come into the dadcave- especially when you’re not home. If they can reach any of your prized possessions, they will touch, and more than likely, break them. Keep the valuable stuff up high.

IF IT CAN BE STAINED, IT WILL BE. Whether it’s your kids, or your buddies after a few beers, there will be spills in the dadcave. If you don’t mind stains, go ahead and put in white carpet and get a comfy cloth recliner. If you want to not have to spend more time and effort than a shop vac requires to operate, go for leather furniture and dark carpets or tiled floors. I prefer the dark, indoor/outdoor carpet, as it helps absorb sound when the kids won’t shut up while I’m watching TV.

CREATURES WANT COMFORT. If you get your way, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the dadcave. So you want to be comfortable. Archie Bunker, Al Bundy, Homer Simpson- they all understood the need for somewhere comfortable to sit. Even if the power goes out, squirrels gnaw through the cable lines or a low flying plane knocks out your satellite, you’ve still got somewhere to sit. Preferably a recliner, so you can sleep there too. I also recommend a blanket and small pillow within arm’s reach in case you just decide to take an extended winter’s nap.

THE ELECTRONIC WINDOW SEES ALL. Captain Kirk didn’t sit in front of a window on the Enterprise. Batman doesn’t read telegrams from around Gotham. You need a TV to stay in touch with, or retreat from, the world. Preferably one connected to cable or satellite, the internet and a gaming system of some kind. Before you pump a lot of money into a TV big enough to serve as a dining room table, bear in mind you also need surround sound (to drown out the wife and kids) and a DVD or Bluray for those cable/satellite outage periods. And you don’t need a humongous TV. Sit a little closer to that 42″ TV and it looks bigger.

A DAD TRAVELS ON HIS STOMACH. Why walk up the stairs to get food when you could have a micro kitchen next to the TV? A simple dry bar with microwave, dorm refrigerator and even a George Foreman grill allows you to maintain a stockpile of food and drinks within arm’s reach. And forget putting in a sink. That means plumbing, and plumbing means leaks. Paper plates and plastic cups and utensils work fine at picnics and will do just as well in your basement. Trust me- the first time you can grill burgers while watching the big game, you’ll never want to go outside again.

SHELVES ARE MADE OF WOOD. All that cool electronics and creature comforts are going to get expensive. So you need to save where you can. Sure, sure, you could go buy some fancy book cases made of intricately-bent wire and tube steel, but really, why bother? Just run down to the local home-supply store and buy a minivan-full of 1x8s and some wood screws. Throw in a drill and saw, and in no time you’ll have custom-fitted shelves for little to no expense. They may not look as nice as the wife’s coordinated living room suite, but once you stack all your trinkets, movies and games on them, they’ll look just fine.

CAVES ARE DARK FOR A REASON. If you were performing surgeries, or constructing intricate electronic components, lots of light might be helpful in the dadcave. But you’re going to be sitting back, relaxing and watching the boob tube. It makes its own light. Don’t go overboard with track lighting and reading lights and all that girly nonsense. Throw in a couple of lights with the switch near your recliner (or install a remote control) and you’re gold. All you need to be able to see is where you put the remotes.

THEY’RE CALLED “OUTHOUSES” FOR A REASON. Yes, it might seem like a good idea to have one of Thomas Crapper’s flushing toilets nearby, but is it really? Do want to do your business, then have to sit in the smell of it while watching TV? Far better to leave the dadcave, go upstairs and do your dirty deeds elsewhere. And imagine if you have the guys over. Do you really want to smell what you fed them? Keep the bathroom as far from the dadcave as possible. Preferably on another floor- where your wife will clean it.

TWO CAVES ARE BETTER THAN ONE. Once your dadcave is finished, it will be the coolest damn place in your home- at least to you and the neanderkids. Are you really ready to share and watch your manly retreat turn into a romper room littered with Barbie shoes and lego bricks? The best way to keep the dadcave yours is to build an adjoining playroom. Kids aren’t so demanding, either. They don’t need surround sound, and don’t appreciate picture quality. Outfitting them with an older or smaller TV will often do the trick. Throw in your old Playstation 2 as combination DVD player/gaming system. Put up a couple of dry erase boards on the walls, and the kids can do cave art to their hearts’ content. But best of all, give the kids permission to make the playroom as messy as they want. Then when they leave their toys in the dadcave, you can fling them over to the playroom and the kids will never notice.

There you have it. The basics of good dadcave design. You can add more, or fancy it up if you must, but these are the minimum enhancements for an enjoyable winter hibernation.

6 thoughts on “TO THE DAD-CAVE, LET’S GO!

  1. So I turn on the computer and hubby left his Facebook open… and I see this…

    Frankly I am not humored at all. Being a stay at home breast feeding mom I would love an escape. My husband has the music room in the basement and even his job. I have no place to call my own. Not even my bed. I share everything even my body with the kids. Frankly, there needs to be a place where the Mommy can escape for 30 minutes when the “Man” gets home. Is it really THAT hard to show an interest in your kids? I have all too many friends whose husbands take this hands off approach with the kids, and those kids really could careless what their Dad’s think.

    Maybe you ought to write your article about making a Man cave into a family quiet space for everyone to get away. Perhaps like we are doing you could turn that man cave into a playroom so Mom can stop steping on Matchbox cars and legos in her bare feet? That is what we are doing. And it is indeed a good place being that the basement has no windows to throw those toys through when you are trying to not scream profane words in front of your impressionable 4 year old.

    I only hope men who read this dont think you honestly deserve more than your wives… Maybe you ought to take on your wife’s day before deciding you need YOUR space.

  2. Dear Unhumorous Mom,

    Back before baby made three, the wife and I purchased our home with very, very strict ground rules: above ground was hers, below ground was mine. She could throw out as many doillies and potpourri baskets as she pleased, above ground. But below ground? In the hard concrete and utlity light domain of spiders and cobwebs? That was to be all mine.

    Now we have two kids, and I’m pushed back into half the basement, sacrificing the other half to a playroom for the kids (formerly my exercise room- and man do I miss that awesome, free mechanical gym I had to give away), a laundry room, and storage for all the damned decorations too delicate (per the missus) to put in the attic.

    You’re seriously going to begrudge me a frickin’ dadcave?

    I don’t know about your house, but in mine, I’m not allowed to decorate or leave anything manly laying out. The wife has full say on couch covers and baskets and curtains and what seasonal knick knacks I have to rotate out of storage on a regular basis.

    A place of your own? My kids LOVE the dadcave. I can’t get them to leave it. So my wife gets the whole upstairs to herself. She watches what she wants on TV. I end up having to watch 50% cartoons.

    Turn my dadcave into a family room?! it already IS a family room- I just allow squatters on a regular basis.

    If you want a place to call your own, let your husband build a better retreat. Then you can claim the leftover, empty rooms as your own. Like the kitchen. That’s a great place to start.

  3. Unhumorous Mom,
    Turn the mancave “into a family quiet space for everyone to get away”? You’re kidding me right? Doing that would negate the whole purpose. In case you’ve forgotten the dadcave exists so (you guessed it) dad can GET AWAY.

    Why don’t you tell us neanderthals why you’re really upset? The fact is you’re not mad about dad having a relaxing retreat; you’re ticked because you don’t have one. The answer, here, is not to deprive dad. Rather, you need a place and/or time of your own so you can unplug as well. It sounds like either your hubby is too thick/inconsiderate to realize that, or you haven’t been direct enough to explain to him in language he can understand that you need some “me time” too.

    BTW, I don’t think I deserve more than my wife, but I certainly deserve just as much. Furthermore, I don’t think any normal, well adjusted cave dweller, (or would-be cave dweller) reading this piece, would get the impression that he deserves more than his wife. I certainly didn’t and I find it presumptuous to the extreme that you, apparently, think that dad’s pressures and responsibilities don’t measure up to what you have to go through on a daily basis as a mom. You state, “Maybe you ought to take on your wife’s day before deciding you need YOUR space.” I say, maybe wives should take on their husband’s day before depriving him of HIS space. And dads need to make sure that mom gets the time she needs to relax as well. My experience is that when both mom and dad get time to unplug at regular intervals, everyone is much happier, including the children.

    One other thing and I’ll close. This is totally off topic, but I just want to commend you for your choice to breastfeed your children. Such a choice has become counter cultural and I know it takes a lot of “steel” to do that in a culture which pretty much frowns on it. You must be a pretty gutsy lady.

  4. Dear Dads,

    Sorry that you think I do not see a realationship as a partnership but that is what I do. Our livingroom is a color mutually decided on, art work My husband picked (not my style, but I live with it no problem, it matches the style), All of our books are comingled in our little library of the living room. There is no lace and potpourri (really people still decorate like that??). The upstairs the only room I pretty much decorated was my sons room, but again not in my style. Even my husband picked the wall colors there.

    We made our basement into a “music room” so my husband could escape and compose or play music without it being so loud and a place where he could have students. (We are both musicians). We also have a pool table in there. Now my feelings come from the fact that there are far more toys then we need and much more of a mess then we need. When the new baby came we had to reintroduce the things like the pack n play and swing and bouncer… Where do we put all the things we had to displace with that? How about the pool table that the last time we used 4 years ago… You ask a guy they say NO dont give up the pool table (fact is I play a great game of pool so its not like I never used it). Its a cheap pool table came with the house….

    Now as for claiming a dad’s job is more or equally as stressful as the moms. I never said that was not so but seriously why arent your partners (wives) hearing about that and listening to you? So a wife needs no place to getaway to unless they go shopping, or out with friends but a dad needs his own place? Make him go out… Make him see friends!

    Now Chuck! Thank you for the support on the breastfeeding. It really is an underground movement that is starting to become mainstream. In the past week Surgeon general has said it is important and hopefully it will become more in vogue.

    I will tell you I have an amazing husband and partner. Helps me with the challenges (even breast feeding is rough, yeah its natural but it has more valleys than peaks). But our life is shared, as is the house. When he has a challenge at work he calls me to discuss it. Isn’t that what being married is about?

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