In 2008, I decided to get involved with the Annual At-Home Dads Convention and the National At-Home Dad Network. I wanted to pay forward the help other guys had given me during my first six years as an at-home dad and I thought I could be useful in making the Convention and NAHDN better. I think I accomplished that, but what improved more, was me.

Marathon staged photo2

Al Watts with his wife and four children.

When I began staying home with my beautiful daughter 13 years ago, I was grateful and excited and terrified and alone. I thought I was the only dad who gave up a career to be just a dad. I struggled through our first year together, feeling trapped at home with a baby. I was afraid to go out and deal with the stares from moms and afraid I would forget diapers or a bottle or that she would cry or she wouldn’t cry or… okay, I was freaked out! I also was unhappy. My wife and I were not really getting along well which, I learned later, was because I was lonely in a way she couldn’t help. I had no friends. I had no adults to talk to and any I did were moms who didn’t want to talk to me.

Luckily, I ran into another stay-at-home dad (there are others?!) who introduced me to a local group of stay-at-home dads (there are a lot more of you?!!!) who then told me about an annual convention for stay-at-home dads (GET OUT!!!!). I got involved in all of it. I made friends. I became happier and my wife and I started getting along better. She always tears up when we talk about our friends from the Kansas City Dads. They truly saved me and us and I can never repay that debt.

Never.

I was inspired by the help the dads gave me in Kansas City to help other dads. I began my service with helping plan the 2009 Convention in Omaha. That same year I was elected to the Board and the Vice-President role. In 2011 I was elected President.

At this Convention, my second board term ends and I have decided not to seek re-election.

In my time as President, the National At-Home Dad Network has grown from about a $5,000 annual budget to nearly $45,000. Convention attendance has soared from 49 in 2009 to nearly 150 this year. We have over 5,000 fans on Facebook, nearly double that number on Twitter and over 80 dad groups listed on our website who boast a total membership of over 4,000.

While I am proud of those accomplishments, I am much more proud of the people I have met and who have become my dearest friends. They have helped me struggle through the many challenges of parenting our four children, especially on those many days my wife was traveling. They helped me through the tragedy of my daughter falling off a cliff in Yellowstone National Park (she ended up with no injuries, thankfully). They helped me with so many other challenges and cheered my successes. I always tell everyone I know that I can travel anywhere in the U.S. and know I’ll have a friend to go out with for a drink.

I have given a lot of myself, which my wife has reminded me of constantly, but I have received more. Much more.

The friendships, the laughter, the support, the fortune of meeting the very best men in the world, have made me a better man, father and husband.

Our society idolizes government leaders, actors and athletes. They should idolize these fathers.

At this Convention, I am going to cry. It is not tears of sadness, it is tears of joy. Well, and a little sadness too. I am so excited about the future of the National At-Home Dad Network. We have an incredible group of leaders on the Board and in the committees. I am joyful over what we have become and what we will be! I’m also going to miss it. But, not Brett Farve miss it, in that I will want to come back, even if it has to be with the Jets; more like Barry Sanders who accomplished what he wanted to and walked away happy, ready for the next challenge.

I want to thank all the guys who have helped me but that is not possible with the short time we have at the Convention. Okay, that’s kind of a lie. The truth is that I won’t make it through a thank you. I would cry. Heck, I’m crying right now just writing this!

There are so many incredible, strong, brave, compassionate men I have met and I will do my best to thank them here.

To my dear friend and writing partner Hogan Hilling, thanks for the passion you give me for fatherhood and the laughter. Man, that guy can make anything funny! To my dear friend Chad Welch, thanks for always listening, never letting me get away with anything that resembled hypocrisy and for being there for me when I thought I needed it and even when I didn’t. To my dear friend Bill Ekhardt, you are just… I can’t even describe it… you’re just an absolutely wonderful human being. I am a much, much better man because of you. To Jim O’Dowd, thank you for being completely unable to get pissed off about anything even after listening to me rant. To Mike Bonner, your friendship has meant so much more to me than you will ever know. To Gary McVey, if I hadn’t met you, my life would have turned out very differently. To Steve Lundy, Doug Westerhaus, Andy North, Andy Ferguson, Mike Sinkule, Mick Freyermuth, Tucker Smith, Shannon Carpenter and so many other Kansas City Dads, you guys are immeasurable. To Phil Andrew, just, man, thank you. Every time you’re in Chicago, I owe you a beer or a Miller Lite, whatever. To Robb Tavill, so blessed to know you… have a pool! Jumping in next time we’re in Omaha! To Greg Washington, your heart is huge, man, and please don’t hug me so hard next time. To Kirk Augustine, thank you for changing my perception of what a good dad looks like. To David Worford, such a genuine and humble man who I am glad is not at the Convention to roast me because I am sure he would skewer the heck out of me. To Will Culp and Eric Springer, I can’t wait to go to that bar Will used to work at but can’t remember where it is. To Bob Boisvert, I miss our conversations and I miss you and now I have no more excuses for not calling you. To Lorne Jaffe, I thought I knew what brave was until I met you. To Carl Wilke, you are the nicest giant I’ve ever met. To Chris Bernholdt, you are the second nicest giant I’ve ever met (only because Carl is taller, you see). To Chris Routly who taught me orange pants do go with a green plaid shirt. To James Altstatt’s shirt, please put yourself on Jim, he looks cold. And he’s making me want to go to the gym and I don’t want to go to the gym. To Joe Agro, the one guy I wish I had more time to talk to… such a great guy. To Lance Somerfeld, thank you for inspiring me to buy a sports jacket even though I still don’t look quite as dashing as you and for being a true and loving friend. To Joseph Fowler, the most manly man I have ever met and not just because he can kick my ass. To Paxton Helms, your brother may be famous but you are a true star and the one I can’t wait to hang out with again. To Richard Blake for being you, the wonderful man that you are. To Pat Jacobs, as honest and passionate of a man as I’ve ever met. To Doug French and John Pacini, you guys are my idols. To Brian Dickson and Oren Miller, you left the party way too early. To Kevin Folk, I can still see your smile. Does it ever fade? To Jameson Mercier, I am in awe of you. You are such a beautiful man. To Matt Schneider, in my next life I’m coming back as you, except for the part of you that is a Broncos fan. To James Kline, you are all heart, you really are. To my wife, who, everyday, makes me want to be more than I am.

I’d also like to thank Alex Harwood, Brandon Ashby, Kevin Christensen, Mike Njus, Pat Hoarty, Harold Sanchez-Cruz, CJ Trader, Christopher Persley, Mike Heenan, Cuda Mitchell, Paul Gilbride, Dayv Glusing, Marty Josephson, Ariel Isenberg, Mike Biewenga, Dr. Robert Franks, Dr. Aaron Rochlen, Dr. Brad Harrington, Austin Dowd, Jake Knapitsch, Greg Frantz, Bryan Dykes, Tim English, Jesse King, Tony Hernandez, Jonathan Heisey-Grove, Dave Taylor, Todd Matarazzo, Micah Adams, Ryan Rippentrop, Jorun Kaufman, Christopher VanDjik, Ryan Hamilton, Matt Peregoy, Eric Boyette and so many other outstanding and wonderful men. I am humbled to have had the opportunity to become your friend and I look forward to our friendship continuing until we are old and cranky grandpas.

The greatest achievement of my seven years with this organization is the friendships. I have enjoyed each and every one and the men I have met have made me a better man. I can never repay all you have given me.

Thank you from the depths of my heart.