A couple months ago I participated in my first At-Home Dad Convention. For those of you shaking your head, yes, we have a national convention. It reminded me of the very thing I had been lacking since I moved to Denver from New York City almost a year ago: community.
A little history: a few months after my son was born I took over as the at-home parent. It was a remarkably easy job, mostly consisting of diaper changes, feedings, old movies on Netflix and naps. (The old movies were for me and were "research" for a script I was... not... writing...) It was also extremely isolating. My wife stumbled upon a group of at-home fathers at the NYC Baby Expo and came home with the contact info for www.NYCDadsGroup.com and their facilitators, Lance Somerfeld and Matt Schneider. I attended my first event, a CPR training, and then began hitting meet-ups all over the city.
Turtle was less than a year old so he wasn't exactly "playing" with other kids. We, as fathers, weren't having hour-long conversations about the hazards of fatherhood. Often we were silent. We'd sit back and have coffee and enjoy the sense of community. Soon, though, we began sharing and suddenly I'm the expert in the room on cloth diapering and another guy has been through potty training with three kids and another has a bead on free events and another has remarkably insightful advice on lactation and breastfeeding. We were experts in several fields dealing with children and we were all sharing with each other, not as "dads" but as fully involved parents.
I did not experience the feeling of being "the other" in the parks in NYC. There is a constantly shifting power struggle on an NYC playground; alliances shift on a dime.
But in the exurbs of the Midwest, the dynamic of mothers and fathers on the playground is very different. Perhaps it's the difference between driving to a park a couple miles away and walking to the park a mere block from your home; seeing the same people every day versus an ever-evolving circle of acquaintances.
I missed my community.
I have been trying to create a new one, and Turtle has wonderful new friends with the most amazing, generous parents (including some NYC expats), but there was still a void. I missed hanging out with at-home dads. I'd seem them in the grocery store, but most were reticent to admit they were full-time at-home parents. There was a shame and embarrassment associated with it. While I fully embrace the role, most of these men saw it as a temporary situation they were forced into by unfortunate circumstances.
And then a wonderful blogger in Portland put me in touch with the Denver Dads. The local group is spread far and wide over an area that encompasses Ft. Collins, Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs. But the Denver Dads were hosting the 18th Annual At-Home Dads Convention. And I plugged in.
Not knowing what to expect, I was surprised to find the fathers who attended had created an incubator for ideas on parenting, an advocacy group for fathers.
And not just fathers who are primary caregivers -- all fathers.
The overall theme of the convention was "being present" as parents. Others did a better job of breaking down the convention and our wonderful presenters, Jarrod Hindeman from www.mantherapy.org, Stephanie Jelley and Lisa Duggan from www.UmoJawa.com, and Dr. Harley Rotbart, professor and vice chair of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center/Children's Hospital of Colorado.
All of the speakers at the convention gave us practical, useful tips on how to be the kind of parents we aspire to be.
But we gave them something in return: we brought them into our community.
None of them had heard of dads' groups, or really knew much about groups like the NAHDN, the NYC Dads Group and their new offshoot, City Dads, or even the dad blogging event, Dad2.0 Summit. They didn't know that there are advocacy and education groups dedicated to fatherhood.
But they do now, and they are part of our ever-growing community.
In the weeks following the convention, I found myself wearing my National At-Home Dad Network shirt in the grocery store, at the gym (any other CrossFitters with Huggies and Time To Play Magazine logos on their gear? I think not!), and I carried a handful of NAHDN business cards with me. I began approaching dads shopping with their kids in the morning and handing them cards, striking up conversations, asking about their kids and play-dates in the exurbs of Denver.