I started staying at home in 2008 and was terrified. We had just moved from Chicago, where I had lived for 33 years — to upstate New York, away from family, friends, babysitters I knew and trusted, and away from a community I loved. I had to reset everything about my life.
I had resigned after being a teacher in public schools for 10 years and was giving all of that up to stay at home with our kids, who at the time were three and 21 months old. My first week was rough as my son broke his collarbone in a city where I was unfamiliar with where the hospital was and couldn’t get a hold of my wife or her parents who lived in the area for help. I felt a little lost. I questioned if I really could do this.
A few weeks later, once I go the lay of the land, I sought out other dads like me. I kept seeing the same moms at the gym and at pickup for their kids. The Y Mommies accepted me as a parent but I still was looking for guys to share my experience with.
At church, my wife and I met a couple who had kids of similar ages. What do you do for a living? they said to which I replied “I am a stay at home dad.” Dreading the response, he said, “No kidding! So am I.” What resulted was a friendship between me, him and his brother-in-law, also a stay at home dad. We regularly met on Fridays which we donned “Dads and Subs.” One guy would bring the Wegmans’ sandwiches and the kids would have an instant playgroup while we got to talk to one another about our week.
In August 2011, my wife received an offer to relocate again, this time to Philadelphia, and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity. This was the first city, however, where we knew no one and the first city that we couldn’t rely on family to bail us out of a jam with the kids.
I looked for dads groups when we got settled but kept coming up empty. There were plenty of groups for stay-at-home moms of little ones, but nothing for dads. I even tried to join a mom’s group but was quickly rejected because “they didn’t feel comfortable with a man there.” I was on an island with really no where to turn until I found The National At Home Dad Network’s Convention page.
I made plans to go to dad network ‘s 2012 convention in Washington, D.C., while my wife worked out a schedule with my in-laws to come while I was gone and watch the kids. I piled into the car BY MYSELF and drove to D.C. I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t sure what to wear. Funny as that sounds, my wife had conditioned me to think of dress code for every event and I hoped that my superhero T-shirt and jeans were sufficient. Thank goodness, I didn’t take the President’s Reception as serious as it sounded. (FYI, what you wear with your kids on a day-to-day basis will fit right in.)
It turns out that these guys were just like me. They were from all over, staying home with their kids because it was what was best for their family and trying to be the best dads they could be. We listened to people who had written books on parenting, a psychologist studying the rise of male caregivers in our society, and a person who had a website devoted to helping male military spouses who were at home.
In break-out sessions, we had honest discussions without judgement. We could share and be heard while dads helped other dads. Panels discussed popular issues with other men just like me. Guys talked about isolation and everything from discipline to diapers and bottles to breastfeeding. It was here that I first became inspired to start my own dads group, which eventually became the Philly Dads Group.
Being around your peers in any field will give you that sense of self worth. You see that you aren’t the only one dealing with a kid who won’t eat or how your teenage daughter won’t talk to you. I never laughed so much in my life and, at its end, I cried. In fact, I always do cry at the end even though I know it is coming. I didn’t want this feeling of acceptance to end. I found my people all in one place, no longer scattered but uniformly united by fatherhood.
The men of the NAHDN were there to help when I needed it most and they lifted me higher than I could have imagined. The shared moments with them socially and the sessions on parenting were just what I needed. When I went back home my wife saw a change in me. I was dedicated and rejuvenated ready to be back with my kids and be the best dad I could be.
I was even inspired after the convention to really pursue my blog and after a year of participating in my first convention, I became the blog editor for the At-Home Dad Network’s website. All the guys in the organization are volunteers, working toward the betterment and acceptance of stay-at-home dads everywhere. These guys became my friends online and in real life. I just felt comfortable around them and I could be myself.
If you are an at-home dad on the fence about going to the convention, I say take a chance. You never know where it will lead. The National At-Home Dad Network saved me, and it can save you too.
Editor’s Note: A version of this post first appeared on DadNCharge. Also, scholarships are available for dads without the means to attend the 2014 convention. You can apply or have someone nominate you to help you get there.