It’s been 20 years since the formation of the National At Home Dad Network’s annual convention. To celebrate this milestone we will be counting down to our convention in Raleigh by featuring past and present attendees, who will share why this gathering of modern fathers is so important.

It’s not every year that we turn twenty. As the 20th Annual National At-Home Dad Network’s Convention rolls around we want to celebrate our special event.

Many dads have transitioned through their role as the primary caregiver for their children and many of them have found and attended our convention to find support and meaning to help them in their journey. For the next twenty weeks we will be highlighting 20 dads who have attended the convention. Join us as they share exactly why this gathering is so beneficial to them, their kids, and their family.

Week 7 – Jim O’Dowd, Denver, CO

jimodowdbaby1. Who is in your house? Tell us about your spouse, kids etc.

Our family includes me, my wife, and our 4 kids. Our oldest turns 14 just after the convention, and our youngest will be 6. The first three were boys, and we didn’t know it was possible for us to have a girl, until she came in at number 4! My wife is an attorney who started her own firm several years ago, and I started to help out at the office whenever the kids are at school or camp. Our kids are into sports and music and even theater in addition to school and friends, so our lives are pretty busy.

2. How long were you, or have been a stay at home dad?

I have been a stay-at-home-dad since the very beginning. We decided before we even got pregnant that I would be the primary caregiver – and I’m still going. I got to do the things around the house to ‘nest’ as our first was on the way, and have just kept going. The job has gotten progressively busier, since we added all his siblings… How many did I say we have, about 20? I work part-time, but the kids are still Job #1.

3. What city/ cities and year(s) did you attend the convention?

I attended the 9th & 10th in Chicago, and every convention since except for one in KC, which was just a few days from our 3rd son’s due date (couldn’t miss that!). So, I’ve been at conventions in Chicago (2004 & 2005), Kansas City (2007), Sacramento (2008), Omaha (2009 & 2010), Washington DC (2011 & 2012) and Denver (2013 & 2014, where I helped run the conventions). This year in Raleigh will be my 11th show.

jimodowdfamily4. What is your best memory from a convention that you attended?

There are so many, I can’t really choose one. Was it my first convention, where I met a guy named Phil Andrew and a guy named Brian Chalmers, who both talked to me like I was a peer (more on this in the next question)? Was it in Omaha, when I was asked to join the Board? Was it Sac Town, when the economy was so bad that very few guys could attend -but in a way that made it soooo cool? Was it watching fireworks with Lance outside Union Station in Denver? It is not really just one memory, it is the collection of memories, meeting guys that have become friends (some for more than a decade), hearing stories of triumph and stories of struggle from total strangers who felt completely safe, getting ‘out with the guys’ without worrying about getting home too late, and all else that is the convention. I know what my biggest regret is, not being able to do more to help David run things last year. Best memory? Everything else!

5. Why should someone attend the convention?

Way back in 2004, I went to my first convention just outside Chicago. A neighbor who worked at the college where it was held tipped me off that it was happening, and I decided to go. At that time, I was really struggling in the role. Our oldest was about 3, and our second son was still an infant. I wasn’t convinced I was doing the right thing, but I was convinced I wasn’t doing it well. I walked in without knowing anyone there. I sat down at a big round table near the only other guy at that table, Phil Andrew. We started to talk, and before I knew it the table had filled up and I was feeling like part of the group, like I belonged there. I also met Brian Chalmers, who befriended me and was one of the key guys that turned out to be instrumental in helping the convention transition from Chicago. There have been many, many other guys I’ve met at conventions (way too many to list), all of whom have made a positive impact in my life, but these two guys started it all for me. They were the first to make me feel welcome, and let me realize it was okay to be uncertain. (In fact, I have since realized that the uncertainty is what makes me know I’m alright.) It helped me to be more engaged during that day, and nudged me toward the feeling I had as I left. It was empowering. It was inspiring. It was energizing. It was fun. It was real.

That day was a turning point in my life. It let me shed a lot of baggage I had about my new career, and helped me learn how to appreciate the opportunity I’ve had. Being an at-home-dad is the most amazing thing I could be doing with my life. I love having such a deep relationship with each of my children, being part of their lives every day, and knowing they count on me for it. What used to be a burden (all those years ago) is now the joy of my life. Sure it gets tough sometimes, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Without that first convention for me, I may have turned away from all this. Even if I hadn’t, I certainly wouldn’t appreciate it that way I do. All thanks to that convention, and every single one since.

Follow #RoadToRaleigh and #AHDCon on Twitter and Instagram and read about our featured dads every Friday until the convention as we count down to the 20th Annual NAHDN Convention