In late September 2019, 118 attendees converged on Minneapolis, Minnesota for the 24th annual HomeDadCon. A chance for old friends to reconnect, for new faces to emerge, and for everyone to remember why it is they are at-home dads.
Before getting down to business, they explored what the city had to offer them: kayaking down the Mississippi River, an artistic and history filled photo tour, suiting up as a virtual reality Rebel Spy at The Void at The Mall of America, and a group of 20+ dads got to experience a Minnesota United match at the new Allianz Field. The pre-convention activities were capped off by the fourth annual Convention Eve, the HomeDadCon welcome party sponsored by Father’s Eve and held at Cargo Food Authority.
After a welcoming address from the president of The National At-Home Dad Network, a profoundly talented set of speakers; anthropologists, professors, and researchers; took the attendees through an array of information and presentations that all flowed together to create a tapestry of discoveries about the state of fatherhood – it’s challenges and successes.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Anna Machin, An Oxford anthropologist, who presented research showing that men have physiological changes in their brain when they become fathers, which help them deeply bond with their new child. She described how fathers have a very important role in a child’s life during those first formative years but also how critical their role is in adolescence. An amazing start to the convention.
Next up was returning HomeDadCon speaker Brian Heilman, a Senior Research Officer for Promundo Global. He presented results from a national survey about young men’s thoughts on the “man box” and how much their lives aligned within it or not. They followed up with behavior questions, including; how often do they binge drink, how many traffic accidents, etc. Comparing the differences between those in the “man box” and those out, they came up with a financial cost for increases in negative behaviors – the staggering amount of $15 billion dollars, nationally.
Following Brian, Dr. David Lambert, a Psychology Professor at Edgewood College in Wisconsin presented his research findings comparing the attitudes towards friendships, masculine ideologies, and implicit gender bias, of two groups of men: firefighters and At-Home Dads. He made some startling discoveries on how similar the two groups were.
After a hearty buffet of Minnesota cuisine, Dr. Leslie Bell presented how to effectively develop a new habit and maintain it, and broke down the four habit forming tendencies and how to use those techniques to our advantage when trying to change habits. She is currently doing research with couples where one partner is an at-home dad and invited attendees to join her study.
After a set of breakouts that focused on mental health, returning to work, and technology with kids, Mark Meier gave a keynote on suicide and depression. His personal story of attempted suicide and the depression that drove him to that point was moving and eye-opening. It led him to start the Face It Foundation, an organization that helps set up free peer support systems to help men struggling with depression.
The second set of breakouts followed Mark’s keynote: a more in-depth with Mark Meier, starting a dads group by City Dads, and Love Languages.
The final panel of the day was with the FATHER Project, based in Minneapolis. Led by Guy Bowling, the director of the FATHER Project, and with a panel of Citizen Fathers, they each shared how the FATHER Project’s mission of assisting fathers to overcome barriers that prevent them from being the fathers they wish to be, helped them get where they are and inspired them to give their time back to others. It was an eye-opening panel of discussion that shed light on a side of parenting that many of our attendees never experience.
After a delicious dinner of walleye and sweet corn hash, attendees went off to explore the nightlife of Minneapolis, or attended group “bottle shares” to partake of craft brews from all over the country, or joined in on a game night of Munchkin, thanks to Steve Jackson Games. They sent 9 hand signed Munchkin games to be given away that night.
Day two started with the annual meeting of The National At Home Dad Network and the election of three new board members. The board are happy to have Ed Lavezzo, Keith Nagel and Matt Strain join their ranks.
After two sets of breakouts that included another mental health breakout, storytelling, and gaming with teenagers, there was a hot dog lunch, culminating in the Ketchup vs. Mustard Challenge. Not satisfied with being the sole victim, Pat Jacobs challenged the attendees to give to the cause; if attendees could bring the total donations raised to $2,000 in 15 minutes, both he and Jay Knudsen agreed they would eat their hot dogs, covered in the condiment they hated most. A flurry of donations of over $1,400 came in, raising over $2,300 in total; all of which went to the Brian Dickson Memorial Fund, which helps bring attendees to the convention every year – those who otherwise couldn’t make it on their own.
After the hot dog debauchery, a panel discussion about Getting Outside With Kids was led by Keith Nagel. The panel included Joe Mailander from The Okee Dokee Brothers, Anna Sharrat and Sam Olson from Free Forest School, and Bobby and Maura Marko of We Found Adventure. They discussed the benefits of unguided outdoor play for children’s mental development, how to find the little bit of nature in your own town, and how to start.
The last set of breakouts followed with a Camping with Kids, Finding Your Parenting Philosophy, and Music with Kids.
The convention culminated in the final panel discussion, titled “Once An At-Home Dad, Always An At-Home Dad.” Led by Quetzal Torres and comprised of veteran At-Home Dads from the Network, the panelists shared their insights and experiences of being at-home parents, it’s challenges and rewards, and emphasized how the job may change as kids get older but it is just as important and rewarding while the kids are all in school.
Three days after coming together, 118 attendees parted ways once again, with 40 of them having just attended their first HomeDadCon. They left having reaffirmed their role as an at-home dad, recharged their batteries to face their next set of parenting challenges with new insights, and reconnected with friends they may have met online, creating bonds of friendship and brotherhood, until they return again for the next HomeDadCon.