Josh Bellish of Beaverton, Ore., hit the internet shortly after the birth of his son three years ago in search of others in a similar situation to his own — an at-home father looking for a way to combat the isolation that sometimes comes with full-time parenting.
Just three years later Bellish has become a leader in two of those groups he found online: co-organizer of our 550-member Portland (PDX) Dads Group and, as of this month, the president of the nonprofit National At-Home Dad Network.
That latest title is of significant note.
Bellish’s election a few weeks ago at the HomeDadCon 2018, the at-home dad network’s annual conference, makes him the first gay father to lead the 15-year-old organization which provides advocacy, community, education and support for families where fathers are the primary caregivers of their children.
“It’s incredible,” said Bellish, 36, a father of a son with his husband, Matt Claeys. “But what’s most incredible is that my being gay didn’t have anything to be with my being elected to the board or president. I wasn’t elected as a gay man, I was elected because people thought I was the right man to run the organization.”
Al Watts, who served as the At-Home Dad Network’s president from 2011 to 2015, backed Bellish’s assessment.
“The membership really looks at finding people with the qualifications to be a leader, and Josh has them,” Watts said. “I’ve talked to Josh extensively in the past few years about the issues we have a stay-at-home fathers and they are much the same as any other father with the exception of the gender of his partner.”
Bellish said his being a gay father has been easily accepted by members of City Dads and the At-Home Dads Network, a point he hopes to capitalize on in promoting the works of both groups.
It was a quick rise to the top for Bellish, who only attended his first HomeDadCon two years earlier. He did support work for the 2017 convention held in Portland, where he was elected to the board of directors, and did extensive planning for the most recent event in Orlando.
Those two experiences will help shape one of the platforms of his tenure: streamlining and simplifying the conference planning so “every future volunteer has a clear path to follow,” he said.
The other platform is increasing the network’s membership both in general numbers and in overall diversity in terms of race, sexual orientation and socioeconomic background — something the organization has focused on the past few years.
“It doesn’t matter whether you are straight, gay, white, black or what have you. This is the place for you,” Bellish said. “We are here for all dads, not just straight white middle class dads.”
While he underplays his own pioneering status as a gay father leading the organization, he does hope it might garner enough attention to bring to light the network’s values and mission.
“Being an at-home dad still isn’t widely accepted, so legitimizing dads as competent and caring full-time parents is still a priority,” he said. Depending on the data source, somewhere between 160,000 and 2 million of us exist in the United States – a number steadily on the rise in the past few decades as attitudes and gender roles in the workplace and the home have evolved.
In addition to being a full-time father, Bellish is a Realtor and helps run a real estate group with his husband in the Portland area.
DISCLOSURE: City Dads Group has been a longtime sponsor of the HomeDadCon and a frequent partner of the National At-Home Dad Network.