boyetteI’m watching a slideshow of other men’s families flash across the overhead projection screen in a fluorescent lit classroom in Denver, Colorado. A moment ago I was eating a cupcake topped with bacon… because that’s how (some) men do it. I watch with detached interest as little faces, little hands, big eyes and gigantic dreamers click across the screen. After a few minutes though, the room grows silent; Disturbed only by laughter at behind-the-scenes antics each of us can imagine by looking at this one frame. Each picture is just one sliver of a moment and I, like most in the room, don’t know more than a handful of the children I’m looking at. Some are alone with hilarious expressions, others are with their siblings playing or holding hands, there are more still with mom or dad embracing or sharing silly costumes with their children.

Now droplets spilling over the dam of my eyelids have caught me by surprise. What trickery is this!? Why the water works? This is a man’s convention, a dad’s convention dammit! Aren’t we supposed to be too hungover to make it to the presentations? Shouldn’t we be considering cutting out early to check out a strip club? What is going on here?!

When it comes to fathers who don’t follow society’s rules, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to find that what might look like a glorified guy’s weekend away to the casual observer turns out to be so much more. You see, every man in this room is a stay at home father. I look to my right, red eyes. I look to my left and that dude has a tissue at his face. Everyone looks as stunned as I am to have been caught off-guard by family pictures, but no one is ashamed. We share these feelings, we let them roll over us. We are the same. We’ve talked about communicating effectively, about being engaged, we’ve heard stories of loss and triumph, we’ve listened to raconteurs deliver heart wrenching descriptions of miracles. We’ve laughed at each other’s anecdotes about the challenges of being an at home parent. We’ve heard quotables from notables such as “Potty training isn’t a corridor, it’s a labyrinth” (Chris Routly of Daddy Doctrines). We’ve learned breathing exercises from Dr. Rich Mahogany of Man Therapy. We all wanted to hug president Al Watts as he painted, with a croaking voice, a picture for us of his 11 year old daughter falling into a canyon, and surviving. The pain he felt, the feelings of helplessness he endured as he waited for her to be extracted via helicopter pierced us all like a dagger. The sheer force of will he showed to get through the epic story for us became our strength and we helped feed it within him.

The weekend has been an incredible experience. I’ve met dozens of guys for the first time and others I only knew from social media. I’ve ribbed and joked with men as if we were old buddies, then turned around and had conversations with them I’d be surprised to have with my closest friends. There were beers, bourbon and burgers with guys who will make your stomach hurt from laughter. I’ve listened to stories of sorrow, tragedy, intestinal fortitude, persistence and honor in the face of challenges. Sure, many of us partied and carried on, but we were careful to pull back the reins so as not to miss out on an opportunity to learn and share with these fathers.

We ran the full gambit, from cruising happy hours in downtown to volunteering in a warehouse to facilitate food distribution for the hungry. From board meetings to running (a very short way before hyperventilating) up the steps at Red Rocks amphitheater. There was drinking and debauchery and meals out to satisfy the craving a stay home parent might have to hit the town, but I was proud no one suggested a strip club. We were the most respectable bunch of bar hoppers you’d ever want to meet and we tipped pretty well too. We did some good for others, and plenty for ourselves.

As I sit here watching the faces of children I’ve never met go by on the screen, those faces stop being strangers and they start to represent fatherhood in general for me. They show how much we have in common despite our differences, and they are the thread that hold all in attendance together. We’re lashed together by the common purpose of raising great children and becoming the best fathers we can be. Somehow the grins going by cease to be just some kids and they start to look like loved members of my community. I see determination in their eyes. I see wonder, love, and innocence in every smile. I see faces looking for approval, without a shadow of doubt they will receive it from loving parents. I’m reminded of the stories I’ve heard this week and suddenly all of the stories I’ve heard of pain and encouragement of miracles and disasters have become my own. I’m crying with joy for these families and my own. This is how we define masculinity; with strength and support for each other and for our families, with empathy and encouragement for all in our community and many beyond, through teaching and in listening we teach our boys and girls what a man is… what a dad is.

As the trip comes to an end, I’m delayed and my chances for reaching home today become long odds. A new friend (Chris of DadNCharge) offers to put me up for the night while another (Don of¬†Daddy Newbie)¬†offered to drive me to Chicago from Denver as if he were offering me a ride to the 7/11, despite his home being in New Mexico (the opposite direction). That’s the kind of friends I made in a few days. The kind I’ll keep up with from now on.

I made my flight, I made it home and I spent the better part of the next day hugging and playing with my children. The desire to be in the moment with them has delayed the final editing of this article, but that is OK. I tried to focus on the principles I’d learned from Dr. Harley Rotbart and his presentation on “No Regrets Parenting” and it felt good. Those dishes can wait… I’ve already decided that, so why not immerse myself in the moment and wonder at these amazing beings who are a part of me? Later, when I had a chance to catch up online, I noticed a large number of posts from fellow attendees indicating happiness with being home and showing off pictures of their kids. Another slide-show of sorts, though I didn’t cry this time, I just smiled to myself. I like this slideshow, it plays every day and it will help me keep perspective about what the most important things in life are and keep me motivated to make as many moments as I can between now and next year’s convention. If you are or know a stay home dad, please put them in touch with the National At-Home Network and start thinking about how you can send them next year. It’s a gift I can’t understate and a trip all stay at home dads should experience. Big thanks to all the coordinators, board members, presenters, sponsors and fellow dads who made this trip one to remember

AHD Convention Group Photo. I’m the good looking one.

Reprinted with permission from the author. Check out his original post on his blog, Dad On The Run for more photos from the event.