Editor’s Note: If you’ve ever considered attending HomeDadCon, the annual fatherhood conference held by The National At-Home Dad Network, then this might help make up your mind. It was originally published here in 2014.
When I became a stay-at-home dad in 2008, I was terrified.
My wife and I had just moved from Chicago, where I had lived for 33 years, to upstate New York. I had resigned as a public school teacher after 10 years to stay in our new home and raise our kids, who at the time were 21 months old and 3. I left family, friends, babysitters I knew and trusted, and a community I loved. It meant resetting everything about my life.
The first week was rough. Our son broke his collarbone. Here I was, in a strange city where I was unfamiliar with where the hospital was and I couldn’t get a hold of my wife or her parents who lived in the area for help. I felt lost. I questioned if I really could do this.
A few weeks later, once I got the lay of the land, I sought other dads like me but without luck. I kept seeing the same moms at the gym and at pickup for their kids. Most accepted me as a parent but I still needed guys to share my experiences with.
Then, at church one day, my wife and I met a couple who had kids of similar ages.
“What do you do for a living?” the husband asked.
“I am a stay-at-home dad,” I said, dreading his response.
“No kidding!” he said. “So am I.”
What resulted was a friendship with me, him and his brother-in-law, also a stay-at-home dad. We regularly met on Fridays, which we named “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.
An at-home dad conference? Really?
In August 2011, my wife received an offer to relocate again, this time to Philadelphia. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity. This was the first city, however, where we knew no one and the first city where we couldn’t rely on family to bail us out of a jam with the kids.
I looked for dads’ groups after we got settled but kept coming up empty. I found plenty of groups for stay-at-home moms of little ones, but nothing for dads. Once, I even tried to join a moms’ group but was quickly rejected because “they didn’t feel comfortable with a man there.” I was on an island with really nowhere to turn.
Then I came across The National At-Home Dad Network’s conference, an event for stay- and work-at-home fathers who embrace parenting as their most important job. It was billed as a chance to meet other active and involved dads, learn from experts about various parenting and social issues, and take a brief respite from parenting duties.
I made plans to go to their convention in Washington, D.C., that next year. My wife and I worked out a schedule with her parents to come while I was gone and watch the kids. I piled into the car by myself and drove to D.C., not knowing what to expect.
It turns out these guys — a fraction of the tens of thousands of at-home fathers in the United States — were just like me.
Focus on being great parents, bonding
The dads came from all over. They stayed home with their kids because it was what was best for their families. They focused on trying to be the best dads they could be.
At the conference, 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 judgment. 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.
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. I didn’t want this feeling of acceptance to end. Finally, I found my people — all in one place, no longer scattered but uniformly united by fatherhood.
The shared moments with them socially and the sessions on parenting were just what I needed. When I returned 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. It inspired me to start my own dads’ group, which eventually became the Philly Dads Group.
The men I met at the dad conference and of the At-Home Dad Network, an all-volunteer organization working toward the betterment and acceptance of stay-at-home dads everywhere, helped me when I needed it most. These guys became my friends online and in real life. They lifted me higher than I could have imagined.
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.
A version of this post first appeared on DadNCharge.