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Back To My Roots

In a couple of weeks I will attend the stay-at-home dad convention in Portland – HomeDadCon 2017! This is not the first convention that I have attended, and in fact I think this will be my 5th. (As I age my working memory recall isn’t as fast, so I will go with 5.) When I became an at-home dad two decades ago, we did not have these hip phases like DadCon, and dads today continue to amaze me with their models of active engagement, advocacy and support.

When our kids were all younger, and I was in the midst of full-time parenting four kids under the age of eight, I looked forward to convention weekend and made sure I was free to attend. At that point in life, days were full of diaper changes, swim lessons, early mornings waiting for the school bus and trying to do a few loads of laundry during naptime. I welcomed the weekend relief and the camaraderie of other men who had the same experiences as me, and did not judge me for enjoying a “job” that stereotypically had been reserved for women.

When I first attended the convention, it was held at Oakton Community College, just outside of Chicago. I had no idea of what to expect. I figured I would go and sit in the back of the room and observe. Sensing a bit of isolation that can happen with any at-home parent, my wife encouraged me to go, and, of course, I fought her all the way up to the day of the event. You know, at times, when you are in the thick of it, you don’t realize how much you need time away to rejuvenate, rediscover the joy and be surrounded by a network of supporters. It was a great convention, and I remember leaving the event feeling fulfilled and re-energized.

“Back-in-the-Day,” the convention wasn’t well attended in relation to other conventions being held in Chicago that same weekend. The reason? There weren’t as many of us back in the day. I walked in late, still skeptical of course, so my tardiness was intentional; I would sat in the back of the room so that if it wasn’t right for me I could walk out without being noticed. I quickly realized, however, in a room of 50 other stay-at-home dads, I was not alone and this was a safe place to me. I stayed.

Over the next eight hours and dinner that followed, I made friends that I still keep in touch with today. Some of them actually play in a fantasy-baseball league that we started after that weekend, ages ago; and some we still look forward to getting the annual Christmas/Holiday card to get an update on the kids and family.

At my first convention, there wasn’t a well-known, headline speaker who dominated the stage or overshadowed the conference, but there were dads just like me who were doing what I was doing. We had a lot of open discussions about being the primary caregiver, different strategies for disciplining, how to keep your marriage alive during the toddler years, how to take time for yourself and how to reach out to other dads that were staying home.

After the convention, I started a stay-at-home dad playgroup in my town. I printed my own business cards and handed them out to dads I saw at the playground or in the supermarket with their kids. Before I knew it, we were meeting at a different park weekly and having monthly Dads Night out. Several years later, I helped with hosting another stay at home dad convention in another city after a family move.​​

This year will be different. The kids are older, and physically need us less; two of them, for the most part, are paving new ways and the youngest is on the heels of driving independently. My hair is greying. Diaper changing and swim lessons have been replaced with reading apartment rental agreements for the girls, and setting and enforcing curfews for the boys who are still under our roof.

Now I am attending the conference as one of those veteran dads who has been a stay-at-home parent for a long time, a couple decades. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I just have been around the block a few times, and have enough experiences to share; after all we each come to this arrangement in our own ways. If you follow our blog or book ZagZig Parenting, you know my wife dreamed about this arrangement since she was 16 years old – not my dream, but her dream that came true despite my initial objections after child Number 1.

This year at HomeDadCon, I have been asked to serve on a panel for Trailblazing Dads. My wife also will be on panel with a career mom contingent that will be in attendance as well. We both smiled at the idea of Trailblazing; when we started this journey – both as a family and as a stay-at-home dad family – we did not imagine pioneering a new way. Today, however, we are very excited to be able to give back and pay-it-forward for group that has been an instrumental influence on me as

the stay-at-home dad I am today, and therefore our family.

There is still time to register for HomeDadCon in Portland, OR, Sept 14-16. Here is the link to register . If you are able to make it, come introduce yourself to me. I look forward to it.

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