After my first, in Washington, DC, back in 2012, I was determined to get more involved with the organization and double-down my work on getting my own local dad group in the Lehigh Valley, PA area, where I lived at the time, off of the ground. I did that, and then shortly after, I helped the NAHDN redesign their website. Last year at the convention in Denver I was elected to the Board of Directors.
So you could say that when it comes to the NAHDN and the At-Home Dad Convention, I’m a big believer in what we’re doing.
I’ve written about it before, and (poorly) tried to put into words just how much this event means to me. I’m not sure I can do better than what I always seem to say about the convention: “Going to this is the single best thing I have ever done when it comes to really thriving in the role of ‘stay-at-home dad’.”
Which brings us to 2014, and the 19th Annual At-Home Dad Convention, which took place again in Denver this year. I’ve been looking forward to it all year, and was really excited to find out that Huggies once again stepped up as the title sponsor, continuing their quest to make right what went wrong so long ago now.
Things felt a little bit different this year, to be honest. I don’t mean that in a bad way, at all, just that after a few years the meaning of the Convention — and my duties there — have changed. Instead of being the wide-eye’d newbie who is just so, so grateful to have found his tribe after a couple of years of isolation, I am part of the team making it happen and helping the newbies get comfortable. Instead of sheepishly introducing myself and then being so excited to make so many great friends, I get the amazing opportunity to reunite with these guys who are like brothers to me… AND I get to make new friends. Instead of just being there, or speaking on a panel as a guest, I’m the guy crouched at the side of the room hoping that the opening video and closing slideshow that he made both work from a technical aspect and also mean something to the guys present. I’m one of the many guys standing back and looking at how far we’ve come in such a short time, and getting a little bit misty eyed.
The great thing about the convention though is that after three years I keep coming back feeling the same way: refreshed, renewed, appreciated, more appreciative, and a downright better parent. I always learn something new.
Here are a few lessons I learned this year:
I’ve never been much of a “sports guy” at all. Others are, and that’s totally cool. But it has always bothered me a bit when the idea gets floated out there that guys value sports over most other things. Sports metaphors make up 90% (I just made up that number, but stick with me here) of everything aimed at men, especially dads.
So, last year at the Dad’s Night Out before the Convention, I was a honestly little bit tickled when several dozen guys took over a swanky bowling alley and didn’t actually bowl, because they were having way too much of a good time hanging out with friends old and new.
Then this year at the Dad’s Night Out, over 80 dads (more than even attended the Convention itself last year) converged on the Rooftop at Coor’s Field to… ignore a baseball game. Well, mostly. That 9th inning rally was pretty sweet. But the rest of the time, relaxing and connecting with this huge, diverse, amazing group of guys in an incredibly cool place was way more important than watching sports.
The New York Times sent a columnist and a photographer to the convention, which in and of itself is pretty huge for us JUST in terms of getting word out about the fact that an At-Home Dad Convention actually exists. At one point the photographer from the New York Times wanted to get all 100 or so of us to gather together for a group shot, and someone suggested we all do “The Routly,” my goofy thumbs-up-excited-smile pose. I don’t know if it’s going to make the cut when their story about the convention sees print, but if it does, it will look sort of like this completely separate time that all 100+ of us did this simultaneously (note: not my idea!)…
Crazy. Just when you think my life can’t get more surreal.
But the thing with the media last week that struck me the most wasn’t the NYT being present, it was actually an article in the Denver Post about the Convention that appeared that Saturday morning. The day before, the author spent several hours at the Convention, including time at my table, and he had some great conversations with myself and a lot of great dads about why they were there. In all, I thought his piece was fantastic (after all, I am quoted!) and we really appreciated him coming and talking about what we are doing.
That said, there was one line in his piece that was really a head-scratcher, when at one point he describes the Convention saying “Beards, T-shirts and beer bellies abounded.”
Now, this actually got a laugh out of me — even though my beard wouldn’t qualify by Portland-standards, and my belly owes more to food carts than to beer — and I’m not suggesting he meant to be insulting. None of us were particularly offended, that I know of. But… it is curious to think about whether a similar line would have gotten past the editors of the Denver Post, if he was reporting on an event where moms were getting together to (at least in part) discuss how they had been maligned because of their gender, and had said something similar, like “Ponytails, yoga pants, and muffin-tops abounded.”
Language is a funny thing, but clearly when it comes to reporting on dads the media is still dealing with a few blind spots.
Saturday’s keynote speaker, author Barbara Coloroso, has to have been one of the best keynote speakers I have heard in my three years of attending this particular convention. It was obvious right from the start that she really got where we were coming from as at-home dads, and with the right blend of humor and insight she unloaded a litany of incredible advice about raising kids who think for and respect themselves, about how to give them agency in their own lives. It was also really interesting to hear from a parenting expert whose husband was a stay-at-home dad to their children, way back before it became a “thing.” As a result her understanding of the struggles we face as primary caregiver dads, as well as how our competence and capability in the role is completely normal, was really unique and much appreciated.
I wish I’d taken better notes. Check out any one of her books though (particularly “Kids Are Worth It”) and you won’t be disappointed.
Ms. Coloroso’s address also contained one of the most compelling moments of the whole weekend when it came to recognizing why we need events like these, when she asked everyone in the room who had ever been on the receiving-end of negative or insensitive comments about their role as a stay-at-home dad.
Almost every hand in the room went up.
I arrived in Denver knowing I’d probably have some late nights, but figuring that these were going to be a few days where in addition to everything else I was going to be blessed with the chance at a lot more sleep than I get at home. I had visions of sleeping in (at least a little) followed by a leisurely, luxurious — and uninterrupted — hot shower and breakfast at my own pace.
As it turns out, that was not in the cards. To put it mildly. But it was worth every lost minute of sleep to get to sit and talk with these amazing guys about being a dad, life, loss, death, depression, faith, travelling with world with kids, building community, food carts, beer, finding your passion, and when to stop editing yourself and just hit “publish.” Yes, even until 2 or 3am, when I had a Board Meeting first thing in the morning.
This was probably hammered home the most through what was likely one of the best discussions ever held at the At-Home Dad Convention, which was a panel-discussion with the wives of three local Denver stay-at-home dads.
Their insight, honesty, charm, and humor was incredible, as they shared and answered questions about everything from how they deal with it when others malign their husband’s role as primary caregiver, to why they they send him to the Convention every year, was fabulous. They reminded me so much of my wife. When it was over they got a standing ovation, and I was left with a deep longing to go hug my wife and thank her for her undying support. I know that there were a lot of guys there who felt the same way, just as much as there were guys there who left knowing that they needed to have some serious conversations when they got home with their partners about how they could be supporting one another better.
I write on here so often about the stupid things that people say to me as a stay-at-home dad, but not often about the pressures that my wife feels as both primary breadwinner and mom. But I could not do what I do without her, and her support. I know she values me, and what I do not just for the kids but for her as well.
Parenting is a partnership, and I am exceptionally thankful to have such an amazing partner to do life with.
To cap off the Convention, I was asked to put together the traditional slideshow made up of photos sent in by attending dads, of the people who make doing what they do worth it.
For the next two years, the At-Home Dad Convention will be taking place in Raleigh, NC.
Dates have not been set yet — typically the Convention is in early-mid October — but I know I will be there. If you’re a dad who is his kid’s primary caregiver, I would really encourage you to start making plans now to attend. And if you’re the partner to a dad who is primary caregiver to your kids, tell him about the Convention and do everything to can to support him being able to come. He’ll be a better dad and partner for it.