I didn’t know what to expect when I went to a conference for dads — let’s just pause and let that soak in for a moment — last year. Other than a higher-than-acceptable ratio of cargo pockets to pants, I suppose.
What I found at the annual Dad 2.0 Summit, held in Washington, D.C., last February, was a centrifuge of fatherhood. Dads of every background. Dads who had their stuff together. Dads who had never had their stuff together. Dads who blogged professionally and made money off of talking about being a dad. Dads who were delightfully blunt about having no idea about how to be a dad (we need more dads like this!). Dads with heartbreaking stories. Dads who cried and laughed and dished out sympathy and knowing head nods like they were going out of style as fast as, well, cargo pants.
This month, I’m heading back to Dad 2.0, this time in San Diego. I’ve got my wife and a very thoughtful Christmas gift to thank for that. She saw how I had what one friend described as a “glow” after coming home from last year’s conference, and wanted to make that happen again. There’s a reason I asked her to be my Valentine forever.
Why am I writing about a conference, you might wonder? Recapping a conference is like looking at photos of a vacation you didn’t go on with a co-worker you don’t really know.
“Oh and then you found a new place to eat dinner? Wow. Oh and you have photos of your meal? Great. I had wondered if you got an appetizer or not and now I know.”
I’m writing about this because I’d like to think we can get to the point where the message of Dad 2.0 isn’t contained in a conference with a couple hundred progressive-thinking dads.
These are all dads who don’t balk at the sight of a Boppy, who stay up late and wake up early with their kids, who attend parent-teacher conferences, and who in general are exactly the kind of dads who grow tired of some people finding it unusual they want to be “involved” as if there’s an acceptable second option for men.
And man do we need more dads like that.
Not perfect dads, mind you. I mean dads who set a really high bar for what should be the baseline for fatherhood and make it clear that anything lower than that shouldn’t be tolerated — not by their partner, not by the kid, not by society. We can’t keep accepting what we wouldn’t accept from moms and calling it good enough because it’s a dad.
(To be very clear, I can and do often fail to reach this higher standard, but I also am striving for it, which is more to the point. It’s not about some unattainable goal. It’s about not settling)
That’s the only way change happens — one diaper change in a men’s bathroom at a time that DOESN’T immediately warrant a breathless Facebook post about the achievement because it’s not an achievement. It’s status quo.
I wish every dad could attend, honestly (as a side note, they have scholarships to help as many dads attend as possible). I’d like to get to the point where my son asks me one day why I ever needed to go to a summit to hear from speakers who talk about how men need to be positive role models for their kids, how men need to expect more from themselves as fathers, or how men can and should talk more openly about their struggles with being dads. I hope that sounds baffling to my son one day because he sees so many of his friends’ dads already embracing those ideals.
They call it Dad 2.0 because it’s the next iteration of being a dad. Sometimes I feel like I’m still in beta. You probably do, too. But at least we can make progress toward a version update together.