Have you ever experienced something that was so good, you start to feel a little trepidatious about doing it again, worried that nothing could ever live up to its performance a second time?
I have to be honest, that was my feeling as I arrived in Denver for the 18th Annual At-Home Dads Convention, put on by the National At-Home Dad Network (NAHDN). Last year was such a meaningful experience for me, I didn’t know how I could possibly expect this year to quite reach such a height.
I don’t mean to imply that I didn’t think it would be a great weekend. I am now heavily involved with the NAHDN, serving on the board of directors and overseeing their new website, and in general a big cheerleader for what they do, including their yearly convention. I have several friends who are actively involved or would be there, some of whom I would be getting to meet in person for the first time, while others I would be getting the rare opportunity to spend some time with again.
So yeah, I knew I would have a good time.
What I didn’t expect was that the weekend would surpass what had come before…
I don’t think I would do the weekend justice to give a play-by-play of the whole thing, but here are a few highlights for me.
It’s a tradition that the night before the Convention starts, some local dads group host a “Dad’s Night Out” — basically just a chance for anyone who has already arrived in town to get together and have some fun. This year it was at a Lucky Strike bowling alley. I believe it was the best attended Dad’s Night Out they have ever had. We took over a large lounge area, and immediately the conversations began. In fact, I’m pretty sure that we were all having such a good time just hanging out that no one bothered to do any bowling!
A fantastic way to kick off the Convention, and it set the tone for the whole weekend.
Last year I showed up only vaguely knowing a handful of the guys, mostly via social media, and no one I had ever met in person before. Well… okay, in the interest of full disclosure, I HAD been sitting a few feet away from Lance Somerfeld from the NYC Dads Group when we were both in the audience for the Martha Show. Anyhow, everyone was great, but it took a bit for surprisingly shy me to to start to get comfortable chatting with people I didn’t know.
This year, showed up already friends with many of the attendees, and with many more who I was eager to hang out with in person. But by a few hours into the weekend I was having deep, personal conversations with not just the guys I knew but also men who were complete strangers moments before. We had conversations about parenting and fatherhood, sure, but also about everything from marriage to faith, from depression to regional variations on tacos, from politics to the finale of Breaking Bad. We were cracking each other up, toasting our families over drinks, marveling at the odd Denver nightlife, and generally just enjoying being together.
Whoever tries to tell you that guys aren’t social is lying to you.
This past year I was appointed as a temporary Board Member of the NAHDN, as I was overseeing the building and launch of their new website. But, now that Convention time had come, it was time to earn my seat the old fashioned way and get elected. I was one of six fine gentlemen running for only three available seats, and frankly, all six of us would have been great assets to the team.
I may or may not have used my 2 minute election speech to threaten to activate the Kill Switch on the website if I wasn’t elected.
Long story short, I was honored to be one of the three elected, and I am excited to officially begin my three-year term on the Board. I thank the voting members for their faith in me and I promise not to let you down.
No word of a lie, I had a shower every single day I was gone, and at no time did anyone interrupt me or tear up the room like a rabid monkey while I was distracted.
It was glorious.
As has become a tradition, Convention attendees are encouraged to send in photos of their families in the weeks prior to heading to Denver, and the official Convention wraps up with them combined into a musical slideshow presentation. Both years this has been a particularly moving part of the weekend. I’m not entirely sure what it is about it, seeing all of these smiling, adorable faces of kids I do not know.
But across the room guys well up as they see a very vivid reminder of who it is we do what we do FOR: our families. We’re reminded of the precious kids who we are simultaneously so, so glad to get a break from caring for, and miss more than anything in the world. We’re reminded of the supportive spouses back home who recognize the importance of an actively involved dad and who want us to be our best.
I came home from Denver a better dad. I was refreshed and recharged, certainly — a few days off from one’s daily grind will do that. But I was also inspired to be better. More patient. More understanding. Better equipped (the speakers were all incredible, covering everything from men’s mental health, to mindfulness techniques, to children’s literacy, to parenting without regrets).
Perhaps most importantly, I came home better connected. Not in a way that means I now have a few more Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but in a way that reminds me that what I do every day is a shared experience, as a parent who is trying his best, failing as often as I succeed, learning as I go, and dedicated to getting better every day.
If you’re a dad who feels the same way — whether you are a full-time “at-home dad” or not — I’d encourage you to consider how to get to Denver next year. And in the meantime, find a local group of dads to connect with, and you won’t regret it.