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I’m currently in Denver, Colorado, attending the 19th annual convention of theNational At-Home Dad Network. This is my second convention, having attended my first one last year, also in Denver. While my experience last year was incredible in and of itself, attending this year as a returning member has taken it to another level. I looked forward to attending again this year because of the Stay At Home Dads that I met last year who became my friends at the convention. Unlike summer camp experiences I had as a kid where you’re buddies for that week but that’s it, there’s been a kinship building that extended throughout the year. There’s a private SAHD-only online group that exploded in membership over the last year that allowed us to continue to build our friendships that started in Denver in 2013. It also afforded me the opportunity to virtually meet other SAHDs and encourage them to attend the convention this year.

That online group deals with some pretty heavy topics (shockingly, most are NOT sports related) that are important to dads in a safe and supportive environment. Guys have shared about marital troubles and successes, births of children and loss of parents or other loved ones, cancer diagnosis and treatments, school issues and child-rearing challenges. While that online support is nice, what really is important is making the personal, face-to-face, in-person connections. And that, in a nutshell, is what this convention is all about. This is a brotherhood of such intimacy and transparency. My only regret is not knowing about the NAHDN convention for the first 12 years of my SAHD career.

The cynic might suggest that this so-called convention is just an excuse for dads to drink beer, play golf, take in a baseball game, go out for dinner (without kids!) and drink beer. While all of those things have happened these last few days they all lead to what keeps guys coming back. The brotherhood of this group is the real thing. Last year I came to Denver not knowing a single guy here. I left with a few new friends. This year, almost every single guy greeted me with a hug. Not one of those lame “man” hugs. A real, genuine, bear hug that expresses the emotion of the bond of this group. And it’s not at all weird. At least not for us.

Last night after the opening afternoon session closed and our Dove Men+Care sponsored meet and greet finished we headed out in smaller groups to local restaurants for dinner. Some guys continued on to local establishments while others returned to the hotel to get some sleep. I was in the latter group, looking to take a shower and get some extra shut-eye…or so I thought. Instead, upon entering the hotel lobby, I noticed an empty spot on the sofa among a group of guys that I hadn’t had the opportunity to catch up with in person. Our conversation lasted for over two and a half hours. And I don’t think we talked sports at all.

We talked about marriages. Children. Challenges. Success. Failures. Real stuff. We listened. We shared. We supported. We cared. As we parted ways at almost 1:30 am I realized that this, THIS, was exactly why I needed to be here again. This group of guys gets me like no one else on this earth. We all face the same challenges and the fact that we can share the burdens of one another while celebrating the successes together encourages me that I’m normal. I’m not alone. And that it’s all worth it.

I woke up Saturday morning ready to write this blog post about the brotherhood while kind of listening to the keynote speaker. I got as far as the title before I realized the mistake I would be making if I ignored Barbara Colorosso’s presentation entitled “Kids Are Worth It“. She’s an author of five books and speaks around the world about parenting, teaching and social-justice issues, drawing on her own experiences as a parent, classroom teacher and university instructor. She skillfully drew us all in with her rapidly-paced (she’s an incredibly fast talker) presentation that included a lot of audience participation. We enjoyed her humor and style of delivery and her message.

But it got really intense in a very good way when one of the guys, Lorne, had the courage to reveal that he suffers from clinical depression. While Lorne is an amazing blogger, he is a first time attendee and doesn’t know that many of the 106 guys in the room, yet he bared his soul for us. He made himself vulnerable because he knew the strength and support of our brotherhood. I think most of us were brought to tears not only by his courage and candor but also by the response of other guys in the room. No less than six other guys spoke up to say that they, too, face that same challenge. They told him that he’s is NOT alone. Not a single person judged him. It is these types of real moments that make this convention truly special.

While having fun is an important part of this weekend away from our families it is more an opportunity to strengthen the bond of the brotherhood of this remarkable group of guys. I’m a better husband, dad and man for knowing them. And for that I am truly grateful. Thank you, gentlemen, for allowing me the privilege of calling you brothers.

This post originally appeared on Carl’s blog Big Cheese Dad and was reposted with permission from the author