Three days before I was scheduled to go the Dad 2.0 Summit in New Orleans, my throat started hurting. God dammit. I was going to a networking event with bloggers I read and respect, many of whom I considered friends before we’d ever met in real life, and I was losing my voice. Unbelievable. It didn’t make things easier, but maybe it forced me to talk less and listen more.
According to the official website, “the Dad 2.0 Summit is an open conversation about the commercial power of dads online, and an opportunity to learn the tools and tactics used by influential bloggers to create high-quality content, build personal brands, and develop business ideas.”
Blah, blah, blah. Mostly I was psyched to meet the dudes I’ve been bullshitting with for the last year in a Dad Blogger Facebook group!
I also made great contacts and learned valuable lessons about monetizing my blog, not that I’ll be quitting my day job any time soon. (I’m a stay-at-home dad, so that really doesn’t even make any sense.) But that part of the conference really took a back seat to the strong pro-dad message. It wasn’t just “blah, blah, blah.”
It was, as the website stated, about the “commercial power of dads,” but even that was selling the event short. It was really about the power of dads. (Sounds corny, but stick with me.) There was no singing kumbaya around the campfire or artificial emotions at this event. All tears were earned.
The conference, whose title sponsor was Dove Men + Care, opened with a video showing dads in the news as well as a montage of recent commercials from products spanning the spectrum. The ads each featured realistic dads enjoying real dad moments. (I used to make fun of my wife for crying during commercials, but since having kids I am susceptible.) Unlike in the past, the fathers in these ads were not buffoons. They also weren’t necessarily stay-at-home dads. They didn’t have to be. They were just taking care of, playing with, and worrying about their children. I saw myself in each of the dads and my children in each of the kids. I’m not the only one who got choked up.
The speech that got to me, got to everyone, and got the loudest standing ovation was from the most unlikely of speakers. Lorne Jaffe, who I had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with, has suffered some debilitating and, at times, crippling panic attacks. To see him is to know he is a man uncomfortable with his surroundings. He read from one of his blog posts, contemplating whether he really likes what he likes or if these preferences have been foisted upon him. He was barely able to get the words out. He broke down several times. Though clearly ill at ease with the resounding applause he received, he finally understood that he was among friends. Lorne may be an extreme example, but he was not the only one who felt like less of an outcast just by being part of Dad 2.0.
Through most of the conference, I was able to keep it together. However, I finally had to wipe a tear away and make sure no one was looking (hey, I still have a rep to maintain!) during Josh Levs’ keynote speech. He is the CNN reporter bringing an EEOC claim against Time Warner because of its antiquated and unfair paternity policy. He told the story of how his first child was born with a congenital heart defect and had to be rushed to surgery. Then he showed us a picture of the baby (now ten or so, and healthy) after the surgery, attached to machines and tubes. I could not (cannot) help but picture my children in that state. It breaks my heart and makes me realize just how lucky I am.
My blog started off as personal. It still is. But I’ve realized recently – and this idea was strongly reinforced at Dad 2.0 – that I’m not just writing about myself. I’m writing about the common experience of dads. That idea makes me more than a little uncomfortable. Expressing what others should or do think does not come naturally to me.
Who the hell am I? What do I know? Only what I’ve experienced.
The weird thing is, like Lorne, I’m beginning to understand that I am not alone. Like Josh, when I show pictures of my kids or tell our stories, other parents put themselves in my place. And that montage of ads in the video? Those were not just silly commercials for a society that buys too much stuff. Those were the images that reflect that society. Those images bolster the evolving view of what it means to be a “dad,” normalize dads as co-equal parents, and give us all ideals to work towards. Not only am I listening to this powerful message, I am part of it. And proudly so.