Our trip starts with a ride on Banjo Billy's Bus Tour. The artfully decorated tour bus, a popular Colorado curiosity, pulls up to our hotel, music blaring, and out bounds our welcoming guide, Richard Blake. "Are you with the At-Home Dads group?" he asks. I smile at my colleague, Stephanie. We are the only two people waiting on the sidewalk outside our hotel, and we are women.
But yes, we are the party he is looking for.
The driver takes us to the Denver Food Bank where we will put together food packages for Colorado families in need, alongside some of the 70+ stay-at home fathers who are attending the 18th Annual At-Home Dad convention this year. The convention is the second longest-running fatherhood event in the country and the flagship event of the National At-Home Dad Network. The network, originally called Daddyshome and started in 2003, is dedicated to helping stay-at-home fathers find support and resources, including tips for beginning their own local, at-home Dad groups.
Convention sessions covered topics you'd expect at any conference for moms: blogging, returning to work, education, childhood development, marriage and relationships, and how to parent without regrets or losing one's mind. But what distinguishes this conference from mom-gatherings are a few, significant things. First, the conference is designed for fathers, by fathers, and it includes a scholarship program so that at-home Dads from every income level can attend.
Secondly, the convention addresses critical subjects in a way that is meant to speak directly to men. This year's theme was mental health, with an extraordinary keynote presentation by Jarrod Hindman, MS, of the Colorado Department of Public Health about a public-private effort called ManTherapy.org. The program is an online resource that includes an anonymous mental health assessment tool and features videos by a hilarious, fictitious, therapist named Dr. Rich Mahogany. The videos had dads laughing out loud in recognition and relief, and was incredibly effective in breaking down barriers to talking about sensitive subjects such as depression, suicide and seeking help with both.
Lastly, the convention offered a few extracurricular activities, like the service project we participated in Friday morning, as well as a night of bowling, sight-seeing tours, a cocktail hour meet-and-greet and three dinners. It was at these informal gatherings, and in the conversations between breakouts, where fathers were able to speak openly about their personal challenges, and joys, and to form lasting bonds with other dads there.
These fathers willingly sign up to do a thankless job, one that our culture, and the world, simultaneously devalues and expects only a woman to be able to do well. They navigate a landscape that is unwelcoming to fathers as caregivers at best, (mommy and me land) and is downright hostile, at worst, with spoken and inferred fears of them as predators, on playgrounds and at playgroups. We were so pleased and honored to be the only two moms to attend, as parents, speakers and sponsors of the event. We found these fathers to be open and engaged; emotionally open to us, as well as to their own, innate nurturing selves and engaged with their children, on every level. We were also impressed by the love and admiration with which they described their wives.
A powerful, experienced group of stay-at-home dads, organizing and training the next generation of fathers, gives us hope for the future. We will continue to support them every way we can, and we look forward to seeing them in Denver in 2014.
Lisa Duggan is the Chief Operating Officer and Director of Community Outreach at umojawa.com and Founder and CEO of The Modern Village, Continuing Education for Parents. Follow her on Twitter @motherhoodmag.