Exploring the At-Home Dads Convention in Raleigh
When I heard the At-Home Dads Convention was coming to Raleigh, Oct. 7-9, I knew I wanted to be there. As a former full-time mom, I was curious about the issues that full-time fathers face, and quite frankly, sick of media stereotypes portrayed of dads — those bungling, incompetent idiots ignorant about parenting to the point where they couldn’t even change a diaper.
Who were these dads, and how did they come to forge this nontraditional path? I entered the convention hall Oct. 9 at Marbles Kids Museum with the trepidation of a woman entering an all-male club. Once inside, I was pleasantly surprised: Everyone I met was friendly and willing to talk frankly with me. According to convention organizer Austin Dowd, who greeted me, 134 men registered for the convention, but due to Hurricane Matthew and HB2 concerns, eight to 10 were no-shows, and three speakers were unable to attend.
Of the three-day event — which featured breakout sessions on various topics and keynote speakers — I chose to attend the Dad Expo, a new feature of the national convention this year, where exhibitors promoted niche areas of growing interests to dads. As I looked around the room, I saw fathers of varying ages chatting or lining up to meet exhibitors. They offered information that included divorce and coparenting, coaching kids, LGBT issues, babywearing (how to carry a baby in a scarf-like sling) and how to start your own Father's Eve (a pre-Father's Day night for dads).
I asked Dan Wilkerson, who lives in Cary, why he came. “It’s a great experience to get out with people that do the same thing I do and learn from them and from the breakout [sessions]. There’s camaraderie. They understand you.”
Wilkerson said he learned some techniques he’s planning to try out on his 5-year-old daughter to help her eat a wider variety of healthy foods. “My daughter doesn’t really have a large palate,” he said.
In another corner of the room, Josh Goguen and Jon Goguen, two brothers who are both fathers, were promoting their Dad Bros Show, a podcast live-streamed on Beam and also available on iTunes and Stitcher.
“We describe it as a guy talk show with a dad slant,” said Josh, who moved to North Carolina to be closer to family, then started the show with Jon. “We don’t talk about dads all the time. We usually start with banter and talking about something in our day, whether it’s taking the kids to the playground or pediatrician, and some of the challenges we encounter.”
The show is just “guys being guys,” Jon said. “It’s taken the shape of guys being out at a bar. We joke … We are a little more rough around the edges, a little more bravado.”
The brothers aim to turn Dad Bros into a self-sustaining business, to help dads connect with each other and their children, and to change the face of fatherhood. “Our tagline is ‘our goal is to connect fatherhood with manhood.’ Being a good father doesn’t mean you have to give up being a man,” Jon said.
In another area, people stood waiting to talk with Wes Swain, a Cary resident whose 2-year-old startup, geeksmithing.com, is built around Swain’s talent for creating things. Swain does woodworking, sculpture and painting, and his Mario Kart-themed nursery — his latest three-dimensional sculpted mural — is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a child’s room. You can view it here. Swain created the mural when his wife was expecting their daughter. “It was my nesting,” he said, smiling. “The challenge for myself was to put it on the ceiling.”
(In case you’re wondering—like me—if it can fall off, Swain said went into the attic to bolt it to the ceiling.)
A changing table Swain made and posted on online went viral with 1.1 million views, and he also has made chocolate action figures for friends, he said. Swain gets his creative work done from 10 p.m. to midnight or 1 a.m., but he also has a podcast with three other at-home dads http://makinggeeks.com/, aptly called, “Making Geeks.” “We are geeks that are making things, but we are also making geeks,” he said, with a grin.
CharltonTrader speaks with West Swain at the Dads Expo
At the next table, Micah Adams, father to a 2- and 5-year-old, was promoting his blog, “Big Boned Biker,” where he writes about his efforts to lose weight. Once 450 pounds, he said he has lost a total of 200 pounds, although he has regained about 80 pounds. “I started a blog for it to be a journal for myself, to look back and keep balanced,” he said. “People started reading it, and it inspired people to lose weight and it helped other people.”
Charlton Trader said he came in from Omaha, Neb., looking for training to excel at parenting his 7- and 3-year-olds. When he worked as a facilities director, he went for training, so now that he’s a full-time father, he’s also seeking training. His day these days often means working 12 to 14 hour shifts. “It gets stressful,” he said, adding that the convention was a good way to sit back and relax.
Jeffrey Taggart said it was his fifth At-Home Dad convention. “I came because I’m trying to be the best dad I can be and it is a place of complete acceptance. There’s no place like this… There are good times and support. The best thing you can do for your children is to give them and your spouse some space. I come back and I am refreshed. It really makes a difference.”
And there’s another plus, Taggart said. “One major thing my spouse gets is a weekend to see what was like. He returns to hear, I really missed you and I really appreciate what you do.”
After the Dad Expo, I caught up with cartoonist Brian Gordon, father to a 5-year-old and 8-year old, who turned to producing his own comics after getting laid off an 18-year career at Hallmark. He had come in from Kansas City, Mo. to speak at the convention and was signing his book, “Fowl Language,” which draws inspiration from his experience in parenting, for convention-goers. "What's it about?" I asked him.
"It's just kind of an honest unvarnished look at parenting," he said. "I try and give an honest look at the struggles of raising kids and make it funny and let people know the struggles they are privately facing everyone who is parenting is going through."
You are not alone: What a comforting message. Parenting can be a lonely place even when you're surrounded by your children. Being in a community, whether moms or dads, or both, makes it so much less stressful.