I happened upon the National At Home Dad Network Convention by chance. I had been feeling alone after moving to a city where I didn’t know anyone craving contact from other stay at home dads like myself. The hard part was finding them. I thought to myself that surely there must be some sort of database I could tap into or maybe I could ask Cerebro to locate them for me. I needed something, anything that would help me connect with other dads.

Searching for “stay at home dads in my area” brought up a single Google result that changed my life for the better. “Hey honey! I found a group called the National At Home Dad Network, and they have a convention, for stay at home dads!” “Where is it?” she yelled back from the living room. “Washington, DC!” I exclaimed.  “You should definitely go!”  So, I made arrangements with my wife who called in her mom for reinforcements. I was headed to a hotel where I could sleep on my own and no one would wake me up before 6 a.m. I was going to eat a meal without cutting up someone else’s first and I wouldn’t have to make any beds.  Most of all, I was excited and to be honest, nervous, about meeting other stay at home dads.

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I paid my registration fee donating to a memorial scholarship I knew nothing about and packed a bag. My donation qualified me for the President’s reception on the last night. I asked my wife what I should wear to it and she said “Sport coat and tie, definitely”. I drove to DC with an iced coffee, blasting my radio on the station I wanted to listen to and arrived to my hotel room thoroughly confused. When I got there,  I didn’t know what to do with myself. There was no one asking me for snacks or complaining about anything. I steeled myself to just go up and talk to anyone I saw, this is why I was here.  They were easy to spot enough, sporting cargo shorts and vintage tees about Nintendo and superheroes; it seemed to be the standard uniform. All it took was a Dad’s Night Out the first night to make me realize that I’d found something special.

I quickly felt at home and the next day during presentations I marveled at the fact that the entire thing was run by an organization of stay at home dads like myself. Nothing made me realize this more than my attendance of the eventual President’s reception which was in former President Al Watt’s hotel room where guys congregated around a cooler of beer and snacks including Slim Jims from Con Agra where Al’s wife worked. I was however, the best dressed guy at the President’s reception for your information.

The National At Home Dad is a non-profit organization run completely by volunteers and while providing education, support, and advocacy for stay at home dads everywhere they not only put on an annual convention created by endless hours of legwork, meetings, and emails, they also manage to raise and provide for their children on a daily basis. No one in the organization is doing it for notoriety. There is no paycheck. When the former blog editor Shannon Carpenter asked me if I could help he said “There’s no pay, lots of hours, and almost no recognition. How does that sound to you?”  Ask anyone if they’ve heard of the NAHDN and they may be surprised that for 20 years this support has existed in real life and more recently online to the multitudes of stay at home fathers who need to connect with their peers but don’t know where to start.

The first time I attended myself, I went to a breakout session that was divided by age ranges. I was frustrated and wanted to vent about my failures as a dad and I saw this as my opportunity. Two guys started the conversation but we all finished it together. At the end of the session, I made some friends who had kids the same ages as me or had similar issues. A dad who didn’t say anything at the session came up to me later and asked me one on one what I thought about his predicament with son who wouldn’t eat.  I can tell you firsthand that hearing that you’re not the only one that can’t figure out how to potty train or that you’re having trouble connecting with your teenage daughter can be comforting when no one seems to understand what you’re going through as the primary caregiver.

Each convention is run by a committee of dads who have either been a part of convention planning before in other cities or who put in a bid to have it hosted in their own city. It’s a daunting task filled with spreadsheets and timetables, meetings with hotels and venues, and negotiation with speakers and sometimes brands who believe in the same idea, that being a part of a convention for stay at home dads is an experience unlike any other. What some might not know that often times, speakers or breakout sessions are stay at home dads themselves who have the passion or experience in a certain area that may or may not be related to parenting that they would like to share with the entire group.

20th Annual At-Home Dads Convention, 9/25/15 - 9/27/15, Raleigh, NC

One such speaker, Jeff Bogle presented last year on Kindie Music, a genre of music made for specifically with kids in mind but not the typical children’s music most people think about when they hear the term “kid’s music” He said “Presenting on kids music to a room of dads could have gone horribly wrong. I know firsthand how passionate dads are about the music they love and how negatively most, historically, perceive music for children. What a surprise then to discover guys who clearly love music but also love their kids and childhood enough to be curious about the role well made music for families could play in their lives at home with their kids. I quickly understood how engaged and caring the dads are who attend the convention, enough so that they’d be open to having their minds changed.”

Members of the National At Home Dad Network feel empowered to share their strengths. Carl Wilke, a dad of five children with varying ages and a former teacher, presented in Denver about parenting teenagers. “Many dads who attended my session commented that they were grateful to hear from a dad whose oldest child had already passed through the teenage years and come out on the other side in one piece. Several guys had kids who were just about to enter middle school or were in the throes of it and just wanted to talk; to hear from other dads that they were not alone and would make it through was helpful to them.” It’s the commonality between experiences and the presentation by members that often makes participants feel at ease. Carl also expressed his feelings about being chosen to present by saying “Being chosen as a presenter affirmed my decision to become involved in the NAHDN. It showed me that the members appreciated my years of experience as a SAHD and validated my decision to make it my career.”The great thing about empowering people to share their strengths, is that we all grow and learn from it.

Lorne Jaffe and Mike Andrews led a very powerful Men’s Mental Illness panel where they not only shared their personal experiences but provided an outlet for those dads struggling with things like depression, anxiety, and negative thoughts. Backed by a counselor who could aid to getting people the help they need, Lorne had this to say about the session  “I feel the breakout helped others a great deal. It was tense at first…no one wanting to really open up…but as Mike and I told our stories, you could feel the weight lifting from those attending the panel. There were tears, there were previously unspoken truths, and there was new-found belief among attendees that they are not alone. I think people came out of the session stronger and more willing to open up. Regardless of who leads the session, I think it should be an annual thing – that’s how powerful this breakout was in my opinion.”

The convention brings together a synergy of ideas. From parenting experts discovered and brought in by the convention committee to panels including members and their wives, the National At Home Dad Network aims to provide an experience that allows for customization for every attendee to experience it the way they decide. If you are a speaker, at home dad with a special interest on a topic that would be beneficial, or a former attendee with an idea you too can be a part of presenting at the convention. If you have an idea, submit using this link before May 20th, 2016 to be considered. Bring your talents to the convention and be a part of an event that not only supports, advocates, and educates for stay at home dads but you can be part of one that is created by the people, for the people.

20th Annual At-Home Dads Convention, 9/25/15 - 9/27/15, Raleigh, NC

20th Annual At-Home Dads Convention, 9/25/15 – 9/27/15, Raleigh, NC