Here I am sitting in Parent Hell. Yes I am referring to that parental terror also known as Chuck E. Cheese. It has been a week since the second day of 18th Annual At-Home Dads Convention. Actually, I’m not sitting, I’m standing, chasing down kids left and right. Chuck E. just came out and, while the kids do their dance, before the evil version of Mickey Mouse tosses a box full of tickets in the air causing an onslaught that reminds me of an episode of The Walking Dead, in which I’m not sure if my kids will come out with a hand full of tickets or a face full of tears, I am typing this. Now this isn’t a day where we decided to take only our kids on a nice quiet weekday. This is Saturday for a birthday party. But in all fairness, the kids are having fun. They are smiling and being happy which, in spite of my disdain for the place, makes the trip worth it. It is a big difference to how my days were over one week ago.
My trip began at 3 am eastern time. I woke to my alarm and ate breakfast. Knowing I wouldn’t be eating for a while, I ate some extra calories. Little did I know it still wouldn’t be enough and would be eating again for nearly 10 hours. Everything worked out; my plane was on time and I made it on without issues, even after leaving my Fitbit on while going through security I still was in the air at a 6:50am. It was a quiet flight, after all it was really early and most people were asleep. Even the 2 people next to me. I stared out the window as we took off I noticed the sun beginning to rise, I was listening to m83 on the iPod and it had just began to play their song, “Wait.” The brilliant colors of the sun coming over the horizon was the most amazing sight I have ever seen (aside from the birth of my kids). It seemed I was the only one to notice. A I am listening to this song I am overwhelmed by emotion. It reminds me it will be the first time in a very long time that my boys will wake up and their dad would not be there. I felt myself begin to tear up and I was sad that I couldn’t be there for them in the morning.
After spending the day in downtown Denver, after I finally found some food in downtown, I met up with Eric of Dad on the Run and Don Jackson of Daddy Newbie. It was great being able to hang out with 2 guys I felt I already knew because of Facebook. After about 30 minutes, my roommate and gracious host Al Watts arrived and I was finally able to get in a room and clean up. As a scholarship recipient, Al hosted me in his room without me having to cover any costs. I am still amazed and thankful for everything the National At-Home Dad Network (NAHDN) did to help me get out there. They covered flight, admission to the convention and even covered the cost for the Saturday dinner. After spending a few minutes in the room I met downstairs with Eric and Chris from DadNCharge. I then did something I have never really done before; walked to a bar for a few drinks. After a couple beers and meeting up with Trevor from OneSAHD, we headed back to the hotel for the meet up before we all headed to Lucky Strike.
Early Friday many of us went to the Food Bank of the Rookies for a community service project and then after lunch the convention officially began.The speakers for the Friday were really great. We were introduced to Dr. Richard Mahogany and Mantherapy.org, followed by a great discussion with, Al, Hogan Hilling, Chris Routly and Doug French about empowering dads and leading the charge on breaking down negative stereotypes. Something we all deal with on a regular basis; people that don’t understand why we are at home with the kids and not our wives. Two people that left a positive impression on me during the whole trip were women. Lisa Duggan and Stephanie Jelley from The Modern Village & Umojawa. They did a nice presentation on mindfulness and at every turn, whether speaking or just hanging around during a meet up, they were always helping us and inspiring us to be great dads.
Saturday began our keynote speaker (Dr. Harley Rotbart) and our breakout sessions. Dr. Rotbart blew me away. His book No Regret Parenting is all about creating those little moments in your kids lives that will stick with them for the rest of their life. It has been an eyeopener in the fact I realize I already do things like, every time we are in an elevator my kids and I will try to lift the elevator up or push it down. My kids always do it even when I’m not paying attention. Hearing what he had to say made me realize how important it is to always do that and make it a moment they expect and have fun with it.
After a great lunch provided by timetoplaymag.com the breakouts began. I attended Returning to Work, At–Home Fitness, Infants & Toddlers, Marriage – Relationship . They all offered a great learning experiences but the one I enjoyed the most was the At-Home Fitness session. It made me realize how easy it can be to get in little workouts and still get stuff done. They actually had us doing the exercises so we can learn them before we take it back home and start to be more fit.
The part of the whole convention that I enjoyed the most was the end. Not because I was happy it was over but because it offered the most emotion. Al Watts blew us all away with a powerful talk about his daughter and how her recent brush with death was a reminder about why he stays at home and why he helps run the NAHDN. The story had almost every man in that room tearing up. His daughter was horseback riding in Yellowstone and the horse she was riding stepped wrong and fell in a canyon with is 11 year old still on. She stopped around 150 feet down and was trapped there fro 4 hours waiting for helicopters to come and rescue her. I know we were all imagining that happening to our own kids. Afterward we watched a slideshow of pictures of our kids. Seeing all these happy faces of our kids was a bit overwhelming. Having just heard Al’s story seeing picture of kids I recognized, kids that looked like guys I just met and then seeing my own brought tears to my eyes. All the pain I felt about leaving them was too much and I couldn’t hold back. I don’t think I have ever missed my kids more than that moment.
During closing remarks, I was real proud of all the scholarship dads that stood up and thanked everyone for helping us get to the convention. It is extremely important for dads that are low income to attend something like this because we learn stuff we never would because we can’t afford it. There are so many books and classes offered back home but because of our position we can’t attend or buy the books. I am very happy we spoke up because it allowed us to put it out there that this scholarship is great and can be better if only we get the word out and bring in more funding to get more dads out to these conventions. I was nearly brought to tears when I heard of some dads, that didn’t really know about the scholarship, decided that they would pay for a hotel room for next years recipients. I decided if I couldn’t afford it next year, I would rather sit it out than to receive another scholarship and stop someone from missing out. If you can please donate to the scholarship fund and help as many dads as we can.
I guess it’t time to close this. I want to thank a lot of people here. For Robb Tavill, thank you for all the work you did to get me out there. For Al Watts, thanks for hosting me at the last minute and for all the amazing conversations. They may have kept us up later than we should have but they were worth it. For Eric Boyette and Don Jackson for hanging out with me while I waited for Al to arrive. For James Kline, thank you for teaching me how to enjoy beer and for the great conversations we had, I can’t wait for 2015/2016! For Greg Washington, thanks for being awesome and all the Facebook friend suggestions. For Michael Brown for the great conversation we had that left me feeling inspired about something I can barely remember, one too many beers I guess. And a big collective thanks to the following for just being awesome: Philip Andrew, Will Culp, Rich O’Dell, Ron Crouch, Bill Ekhardt, Justin Faucette, Joe Agro, Ryan Rippentrop, Lance Somerfeld, Doug French, Stephanie Jelley, Jim O’Dowd, Todd Matarazzo, Chris Routly, Lisa Duggan, Jesse King, Hogan Hilling, Christian Toto, Michael Madsen, David Worford, Jarrod Hindman, Dr. Harley Rotbart, Nick Weber, Alberto Pellicer, Austin Dowd. For the convention sponsors: Huggies, Timetoplaymag.com, SafariLtd.com, Farmrich, The Modern Village, Umojawa, Flexjobs.com, DAD 2.0 Summit.
I know I missed a few people but if I talked to you and didn’t mention you here it is because either we never friended each other on Facebook or I never got your name.
And a huge thanks to Richard Blake and all the other Denver dads for leading the charge on setting it all up!