You know that feeling when you really belong to something? That sense of camaraderie? It’s knowing that your teammates have got your back and the sensation of you, as an individual being a part of something bigger than yourself? I can honestly say that I’ve felt that many times in my life.

I found that part of me first in art. While always being tall meant that I stood out, it didn’t necessarily mean that I was ready to stand out. When I could express myself through my art and people would marvel at the things I could do, it just made me feel amazing.

It then happened with teaching, though it was ironic that before I became a teacher I was terrified of public speaking. Teaching kids just gave me the world’s greatest feeling. To see a student blossom before my eyes, to witness those “a ha!” moments, or to watch a kid they said never would graduate because of where he was from, walk across a stage while his family gave him a standing ovation. It was great to be a part of that.

Then, I felt this connectedness as a stay at home dad. Feeling like I was meant to stay home, that the relationships I am building with my kids now will last throughout their lives. That I get that chance, thanks to my wife, has left me feeling lucky to have shared every moment even if I can’t have an uninterrupted bathroom moment. Finding those other dads who are just like me through the National At Home Dad Network while I frantically searched the internet my first year while staying at home has been a big part of that. I am proud to be a part of them.

Finally, and most recently, attending the Dad 2.0 Summit in New Orleans with Dad Bloggers from around the world that I have established friendships with. Blogging has been a way to share my voice with the world and to share the way I see it. It has become a way to empower other fathers who are searching for answers about whether they are doing it right and to open up conversations about tough issues that we all face as parents. It has been a way to share my successes and failures, our laughter, and sometimes even sadness.  I am proud that they are a part of me.

lesserroutly

Chris Bernholdt (DadNCharge), Dave Lesser (Amateur Idiot / Professional Dad), and Chris Routly (Daddy Doctrines)

I’m a bit of an anomaly. I’m 6’7″, bald, and I look like The Transporter but I’m just a big softie. I pretty much cry at any emotional commercial, anything that involves kids usually because I can see my kids or myself or my family in those moments. I have cried at parent-teacher conferences, school plays, and baseball games though I know there is no crying that should be happening there.

When I went to Dad 2.0 I felt like I was headed to a family reunion. Getting to know various dad bloggers over the past year has been amazing. But until I stepped off the plane and actually met with them face to face, I would be referring to them to my wife as “one of the dad bloggers”. There is something about meeting in person that brings all those shared moments to the forefront. Brothers don’t shake hands, brothers gotta hug. We did and that’s probably why some of us are sick. Still, it feels good to know you have so many dads and moms in your corner.

When the whole group had gathered and the lights dimmed, I had goosebumps. The videos that lead opened the floodgates literally, and it just made me proud to be a dad who cares about how fathers are seen today.  Our common goal being to define how the roles of fathers in this world have changed and to get others to see it too.

You have all helped me in some way either as a dad, a blogger, an editor, a supporter, a champion of my work. You have been there for me when I fell and lifted me up when I needed to celebrate my victories. You have let me in and told me to sit down in your favorite chair and allowed me to talk for a bit. Let me tell you, it feels great sitting here with you.

Each of us is essential, a piece of something much bigger than ourselves. We are all cogs in the fabric of fatherhood, trying to make things click in this world. I think of us as a machine and sure, you can picture Voltron if it makes you feel better because how cool would that be? Dadtron.

Collectively, we are a machine doing work but not in that sense that we are Tin Men because we all have the hearts that go with it. Thank you for Dad 2.0.  I am proud to be a part of us.

This post originally appeared on DadNCharge.