Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fatherhood, Friendships and Self-Reflection. A Reboot in The Big Easy.

Having just returned home from a three-day weekend in New Orleans and my first experience at Dad 2.0 I’ve been reflecting on the trip, my friends, and myself.

Have I ever felt less proficient as a father? Probably not. In New Orleans, there were so many great fathers doing so much more than me and doing it better.

Despite this personal crisis of inadequacy I also realized while I may not have the connections, the waistline, the readership, the world-shaking ideas of some of my fatherhood mentors, I usually manage pretty well on the parenting front and I think most of these dads would agree this is where the rubber meets the asphalt, so I do take some pride in that and thank the community for putting such an emphasis on those types of successes and pushing me to grow in this, the most important aspect of my life.

I've really been struggling with how to balance this experience, to accept myself, to be proud of myself while also using it as an accelerant for bettering myself. How do I parlay the information shared, the experience and these new relationships into a force to help me grow as a parent, as a person and as a writer? How do I write this post? How do I manage my time in a way that honors and respects my children, my wife, and my responsibilities while making room for myself creatively? Can it be done without sacrificing in some other area? The time to invest is now. I can no longer wait to make myself healthier (physically and mentally), to stop pushing my children and my wife away when I'm “busy.” It is time to get my priorities straight and manage my time better so I can make room for more.

On top of my concerns of not meeting my potential as a father and a husband, I often worry that I’m a great “acquaintance” and, too often, a poor “friend.” I talk (or write) a big game when it comes to fatherhood, morality, understanding and acceptance, but on the inside I struggle constantly with realizing within myself the thoughts and ideals that float around my head. I find it difficult to reciprocate interest others show in me, why is that? Am I malfunctioning; Am I broken? How often I walk away from conversation thinking, “what a genuine person, they were actually interested in me and what I've been doing,” only to realize, too late, I didn't ask the same type of questions. I didn't make an effort to show them that I care about their lives. I don't know why this is, but I vow to do better. It is time to stop being the one man wolf-pack and allow myself the acceptance into something greater than myself and to recognize that these types of relationships are two-way streets.

Only 5 years ago, I was new to Chicago and fatherhood. Fortunately, my own father’s voice and experience provided some guidance in the absence of many fatherhood peers. How often I wish I the Wayback Machine could provide me a cached version of his thoughts along the way. Dad, what was your URL?  In the absence of a blog or an undiscovered journal, I suppose the conversations and the hands on experience of having been fathered by him are a good start in the journey to know him and coming to a better understanding of the gig as “Dad.” As a stay at-home father I long for the Facebook history or memoir of my mother (an at-home mom) as well, but it not to be found.

Alone (on the fatherhood front) in a new city I looked up to the fathers I found online: Whit Honea of Honea Express, James Austin of Luke I Am YourFather, and Doug French of Laid Off Dad were among the first I read. By the time I learned my way around the Second City and a changing station, I had discovered other voices of fatherhood in Zach RosenbergJim Higley, Shannon Hossman and others. Around the time my daughter started potty training, we moved out of downtown, into a neighborhood and I began to write on my own. 

I floundered around with my writing for a year or so before I started gaining any kind of traction and then with the discovery of the Dad Blogger Facebook group and later the National At-Home Network, I found camaraderie, both local and digital. A vast support group for me existed and I had been unaware all this time. I now run a Stay At-Home Dad Facebook group (listed on the NAHDN as a virtual dad’s group) in addition to my blog and hope to contribute in a small way to accessibility of the same type of support for other new and isolated fathers.

Carter Gaddis (whom I met at the convention) of  DadScribe, once wrote about “finding his tribe.” Having integrated with local fathers, other stay home dads (at the NAHDN convention) and now with other Dad Bloggers at Dad 2.0 Summit I feel like I have finally found my tribe as well. I was near a starstruck feeling when I joined the Dad Blogger group and conversed casually with some of the very same writers I read as a new father. The feeling was then magnified as I met many of them in person, I rubbed shoulders with the likes of Charlie Capen and Andy Herald, Chris Read, John Kinnear, Brent Almond, Mike Adamick (who I really wanted to meet, and apparently did, but didn’t recognize with my astute powers of observation, or maybe bourbon was involved?), Frederick Goodall, Chris Bernholdt, Aaron Gouveia, Chris Routly, Jeff Bogle, and Adrian Kulp. From reading Whit Honea’s poetic stories 5 years ago, to reading Kulp's book “Dad or Alive” on the flight to New Orleans to walking Bourbon street with both authors and so many other influencers of my life. The experience was surreal. There were so many others as well, I am hesitant to even include those few names here for fear of leaving out someone who has had impact on my life, but I do have to mention Oren Miller (founder of the Dad Blogger group), the entire Life of Dad crew (responsible for my attendance), and Don Jackson (my personal sparring partner, lady’s man and all around good guy). In the end, I don't know if I deserved to be there. I don't know if I'll have the opportunity to return next year, but I do know that I realized there are an awful lot of great fathers forging the new meaning of “Dad” for those doing it today and for dads to come. I thank you all for myself and on behalf of my son.

I wrote, after my first fatherhood convention (the NAHDN convention in Denver), of a changing definition of masculinity and of a brotherhood of common experience. Many of those feelings were echoed in the Big Easy. Watching clips of ads, headlines, interviews and sitcoms with active, involved and loving fathers on the big screens with a few hundred other great parents had the tears welling up on more than one occasion and other men… “Men!” commented on and admitted the same. We were comfortable with our emotions, we were supportive of each other’s stories, we were in awe of a newcomer to the Dad Blogger community, Lorne Jaffe of Raising Sienna, when he battled his own emotions and fought through a fog of doubt and anxiety to discuss his battle with questions we all feel at some level, “Who am I? Do I deserve to be here? Am I one of the “good ones?” Well, Lorne, you are indeed deserving and one of the best ones. The intestinal fortitude of reading your own work, a work that bared your soul, in front of a crowd is outstanding and what you do every day and the love you shower on your family inspires us all. I’m happy to be your acquaintance and hope that one day I'll be more of a friend to you and so many others I mentioned.

I'm all over the map here and I realize that, but in my tribe, I've found that we can talk with each other about our feelings and go where our hearts lead us. I can't imagine my life without these acquaintances friends of mine. Please help me realize my potential, please continue to be friends to me and let me know when you need a friend or when I'm failing at being one. Thank you, Dad 2.0 for helping to inspire me to be a better man.

8 comments:

  1. Awesome meeting you, Eric, and thanks for the shout! Glad that you were able to make it out there, and glad that you made some good connections!

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  2. Eric, you deserved to be at Dad 2.0 just as much as any of us did. You are a father and you are spreading the message of engaged fatherhood at a time when it is needed most. I enjoyed meeting you and hanging out this weekend. I also enjoyed watching you trying to stay awake in the hotel lobby at 3am but that story is for another time! Finally, the fact that you included me on your list of people you wanted to meet means a hell of a lot. Thanks and hopefully we'll see you next year!

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  3. It was a pleasure meeting you in the "real life" that all the kids are talking about. You belonged there and then some! I hope you make it back.

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  4. Had a great time, Tommy, thanks for presenting the opportunity that ultimately sent me there!

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  5. It was a great time, Chris, I hope so too. And I'd love to hear that story some time.

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  6. Yeah, that's true JackB. Thanks for reading!

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  7. I appreciate that, Whit. IRL is so under-rated sometimes.

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  8. It was great meeting you! Hopefully I'll see you in Denver this year.

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