Over the weekend I attended the 19th Annual National At-Home Dads Convention in Denver, Colorado. This was my third convention since becoming an at-home dad and once again I found it to be an enriching, encouraging, and rejuvenating experience. I appreciated reconnecting in person with a group of dads who have committed themselves to full-time parenting. These men are some of the most creative and compassionate guys I know. I continue to marvel at our different backgrounds and our passion for our families.
These conventions have become for me an annual opportunity to renew my vocation. Usually I cannot get out the door and on the plane fast enough. I notice my patience at home wearing thin. I find myself nagging my son. So, I relish the idea of a quiet plane ride in which I can read for a couple of uninterrupted hours. When I remember I won’t have to cook a meal for a couple days, I can’t control my smile. The chance to simply hang out and have fun with adults all day sounds scrumptious. But I end up receiving so much more than a mere respite from my daily routine. As the conventions end, I find myself excited to get on the plane back home. I miss my family and cannot wait to spend time with them again. I feel compelled to thank my wife for how she supports me in this vocation, I want to hug my son and employ all the healthy parenting tips I learned from the convention’s speakers and my fellow dads. Each year I think I’m just going to get a break and recharge my batteries. Instead, I am reminded of my calling and encouraged to serve my family in fuller ways.
I came into this convention feeling more physically exhausted than in previous years. My son is an outgoing, gregarious toddler whereas I am deeply introverted. I longed for some time alone and didn’t engage the other dads as much this year. I watched from the periphery, catching bits of conversations. This was the biggest convention yet with 106 attendees, many of them coming for the first time. It was a constant blessing to watch these first-timers smile in disbelief that something like the National At-Home Dad Network and this convention could exist. Time and again I heard dads say they couldn’t imagine how wonderful this convention could be and didn’t realize how much they needed the solidarity of other dads making choices similar to theirs.
The Denver Dads who organized the convention did a great job crafting a fun, meaningful, and thought-provoking experience. We went to a baseball game between the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks at Coors Field. Yes, the game pitted two cellar-dwellers against each other, but what’s not to love about a baseball game in a wonderful stadium on a gorgeous night? The actual content of the convention was very solid, from the speakers and panels to the break-out sessions. We heard from three wives of at-home dads and they encouraged us greatly as they described their family structure, the challenges they face, and their gratitude for the lives they have created with their husbands. Dads gathered in groups according to their kids’ ages and we were able to pick each other’s brains about best practices. I also attended sessions on passing along our faith to our kids and photography. Other sessions included online safety, healthy marriages, and family finance.
Our keynote speaker, Barbara Coloroso, gave a funny and practical discussion about dealing with kids. More importantly, however, she reminded us that we each have a parenting philosophy that we need to articulate. Parenting demands we think about who we want our kids to become. She said so much parenting and schooling teaches kids what to think, but if we are to raise kids who stand for good values and against injustices (she’s a former Franciscan nun), we need to teach them how to think. We want our kids to internalize the values that lead to good and just decisions, even when such decisions might make them unpopular. The parenting needed for these kinds of kids goes beyond knowing good techniques to creating an environment in which kids will develop self-discipline. Coloroso argues we have to commit ourselves to three convictions:
- “Kids are worth it.” (That is, kids are worth our time, energy, and love because they are children and for no other reason.)
- “I will not treat a child in a way I myself would not want to be treated.”
- “If it works, and leaves a child’s and my own dignity intact, do it.”
Parenting out of these convictions will move us from merely trying to get our kids to mind us to helping our children believe they are valuable and capable of good moral action.
Three years in and I’m already looking forward to the next convention. If you’ve found this blog because you’re an at-home dad or know an at-home dad, please consider attending the convention next year in Raleigh, North Carolina. You will be enriched and renewed. If you have any questions about this last convention or the upcoming ones, leave them in the comments section. I would love to connect with you. Parenting is tough. The African proverb says it takes a village to raise a child. We parents need to remember it is up to us to connect with our fellow villagers so our kids are raised well. We need the wisdom and encouragement of our neighbors. The At-Home Dads Convention is just one opportunity for us to learn from and support each other.