I Took More than Just Shwag from the Dad 2.0 Summit
I was lucky. Despite growing up very poor, with my earliest memories being of my mother going to work while my dad, who had been laid off from his job, stayed home with me, I was lucky. In the early 1980s, it was very rare for a father to be an at-home dad. While I was obviously too little to be aware of all of the variables involved or how that dynamic may or may not have been a strain on my mother and father’s marriage, I still look back on those times in my life and smile.
I would wake up from after-pre-school naps to a low-income townhouse smelling like homemade food: freshly baked breads from scratch, cookies, pots of who-knows-what simmering on the stove for our family’s dinner.
We would play in the sunshine outside.
We would go for walks.
We would listen to my dad’s vinyl records. Especially the ones mom hated.
My dad taught me things that I still remember to this day. Little nuggets of knowledge which, while they won’t be used to save the world, remind me constantly of how the smallest things can really have lasting impressions on a child’s life.
Where does a ladybug keep its wings when it’s not flying? Do they bite?
What is dad’s secret ingredient in his scrambled eggs? It’s paprika, by the way.
I was lucky because while so many of my friends grew up with either part-time or nowhere-to-be-seen fathers, mine was very involved in my upbringing, subtly shaping me to be the father and husband I would some day become. Want to know a great man? Watch how he takes on the role of being a surrogate father to his children’s friends. Today, the word “mentor” comes to mind but for my dad, it was just what he did.
I was lucky.
My friends were lucky.
My dad always said he wasn’t an “emotional creature” and I can probably count on one hand how many times I saw him shed a tear during my entire childhood. But he was always there to give me a hug and his hand was always there when I wanted to hold it. Grizzly Adams is one of my favorite books, not because it was a particularly great story, but because I remember my dad reading it to me when I was a kid. I would lay in bed and wait for him to karate-chop the blankets under my legs and arms, tucking me in for the night and making me feel like an Egyptian mummy. Then he would sit at the edge of my bed and read a chapter of Grizzly Adams to me.
My dad was the one who taught me how to sew buttons on a shirt, tie my shoes, learn how to iron, and how to handle the confusing, tear-filled heartbreak after your first junior high dance when nobody wanted to dance with you.
I was lucky.
Last weekend, I went to the Dad 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, my first ever conference and when I bought the ticket last fall, I remember feeling guilty about spending the money. I’ve been part of the dad blogger community for a few years, having immersed myself in it when I was laid off in the spring of 2011. For the next two years, I was an unemployed, stay at home dad. The coincidence that I was an early-30s, unemployed, at home dad with a preschool-aged child – the same situation that my own father found himself in in the early 1980s – was not lost on me.
Over the years, the dad blogger community – especially the Dad Bloggers Facebook group – became the reason I booted up my computer. It became the reason I used Facebook at all most days. On particularly rough days, it was sometimes my only outlet into life outside of my house. But through it all – the good days, the bad days, the seemingly never-ending job hunt, to the eventual job offer – the guys in that Dad Bloggers group were there for me. Always ready with encouragement, harsh honesty when I needed it, and support when I didn’t know what to do. To paraphrase my friend, Oren Miller of A Blogger And A Father, they were my people.
I was lucky.
Since the closing party last Saturday, I’ve been trying to formulate in my head how to write about the experience, but the words just aren’t there the way I want them to be. So I’ll just end with a few notes.
I met for the first time a lot of guys who have become friends over the years. It’s an amazing and sort of surreal experience to walk up and give someone a big “hey old buddy” bear hug, feeling as if no time has gone by, when in reality the timer between encounters had never even been started. I shared in some experiences that I’m pretty sure I never would have been able to under normal circumstances.
I’ve lived in the bay area my entire life and I’ve never just walked around San Francisco looking at the architecture and appreciating its history. I never would have been able to watch a trailer for the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie in George Lucas’s private LucasFilms theater. I never would have spent nights drinking, talking, and laughing the night away in a basement karaoke bar or in a cramped, hole-in-the-wall neighborhood bar, being dubbed “Team Dave’s.”
I learned that Esquire Magazine has been working hard to get men all over America to step up and become a mentor – in any of several different programs – to children who sorely need a positive male role model in their lives. Click here to learn more about Esquire’s mentoring initiatives. Take a look at these stats, according to Esquire Magazine and you’ll see how American boys are in a dangerous position and need as much guidance and positive role models in their life as possible.
- 95% of state and federal prisoners under the age of twenty-five are male (Department of Justice).
- 5 times as many fifteen- to twenty-four-year-old boys commit suicide as girls of the same age. In 1970, the ratio was only 3:1 (Centers for Disease Control).
- 14% of eighteen- to twenty-four-year-old males are high school dropouts. For females, it’s only 10 percent (U. S. Census Bureau).
- 34% of children are raised in households without a biological father present (Census Bureau).
I never would have learned just how important the role of a father is in the life of a child. This isn’t to say that, as dads, we’re more important than a mother, it’s simply to say that fathers have an entirely different impact on a child’s life. I didn’t fully realize what the statistics showed happens when a child – especially a young boy – has to grow up without a healthy father figure in their life.
Looking back on my life, I know I was given opportunities that many others weren’t, and I know that the active presence of my father throughout my childhood – showing me what it means to be a loving father, a caring husband, and a force to be reckoned with – in my life was one of the biggest reasons why, as an 18-year-old kid in high school finding out that he was about to be a father himself, I stayed in the ring and fought for my family and my children, against whatever life threw our way. I fully acknowledge that not everyone has these examples in their lives.
I was lucky.
At Dad 2.0, I was able to listen to some amazing panels and speakers about a wide variety of issues that affect me as a blogger, a father, and as a human being:
- Change Two Lifes: Be A Mentor
- Keynote speech by Dr. Michael Kimmel about “What is a good man?“
- Tech company leaders from Facebook, Change.org, and LinkedIn spoke about Tech Companies, Innovation and the Future of Working Parents
- I listened to a room of goofballs give some solid advice about how to be proactive with brands and ask for what for what you want, in their panel, “Why Not You? Proactivity Makes Its Own Luck“
- I did my convention fanboy thing and sat in on the “Everything Is Negotiable… Until It Isn’t” panel.
So, where do I go from here, in this post-Summit haze? I’m planning on working every day to apply the takeaways I picked up at Dad 2.0 to my writing; to my everyday efforts to be the best father, husband, and man I can be; and work to maintain the friendships I’ve made.
I’ve already purchased my ticket to the 2016 Dad 2.0 Summit in Washington, DC, taking place February 18-20. If you’d like to join me there and share a few beers together, buy your ticket! It’s such a great experience that the value of this community – as someone jokingly referred to as “the Brotherhood of Fatherhood” – is something you don’t want to miss out on.
I am lucky.