I had been moved to tears on five separate occasions, and we were only 90 minutes into the 2-day conference. This was going to be one looooong-ass weekend. Deep, primal emotions were stirred in my (shrinking, but still large) 6’ 4” frame from the jump, without a single moment to exhale, to soak in the sounds and smells of the swanky place situated along the southern end of Canal Street, the double wide boulevard that stands as a line of demarcation between noble civility and a real good time. Salty water streamed down my cheeks and I was not ashamed. I was not embarrassed. I was far from the only soggy-faced fella in the crowd.
The weekend of the 3rd annual Dad 2.0 Summit began with a video package featuring many of the guys in the room, guys who must’ve been up early cutting onions, guys seated in formal ballroom chairs at stiff-as-starch white linen cloaked round tables, guys with cups of much needed Starbucks coffee in hand. We guys, mouths a gasp, watched and listened to ourselves playing with, reading to, holding tight, and, in general, loving the stuffing out of our children.
I was absent from the montage but I was there too, just slightly out of frame as the centerfield camera in Cleveland’s Progressive Field captured for forever my 75-year-old father standing on the rubber and tossing the first pitch of a Major League Baseball game 60 feet 6 inches to my 9-year-old daughter who waited behind homeplate in an awkward half-squat, with no glove, to secure that baseball in her miniature hands. A small white ball, scuffed with soil, held in the basket of two joined palms as if offering up a sacrifice. A young girl smiles and trots away from the batter’s box, all the while examining a baseball from stitches to stitches. That was their moment to have and to hold. A grandfather and a granddaughter bound together by blood and baseball.
The moment so neatly surmised one of the underlining themes of the entire event: we fathers were gathered together, out of frame and far away from our families back home, but we’re never too far removed from the heart and soul and struggle of modern fatherhood. We are never too far out of frame. We are men, hear us sob.
The video was followed by a tear-soaked blur of an AM which included opening remarks by Dad 2.0 co-founder Doug French, title sponsor Dove Men+Care VP Rob Candelino, and blogger spotlight readings from Daddylibrium’s humorist Christian Toto and Raising Sienna’s impassioned Lorne Jaffe. We guys were also treated to a sit down chat between Friday Night Lights and Parenthood executive producer/show runner Jason Katims and HuffPost writer/author/radio host/amazing human, Jim Higley. During their hour long discussion focusing on the beauty of and demand for complex father figures in the media, about 250 people made a blood pact to start binge watching Parenthood, although the task of setting DVRs from cable provider’s apps was made more difficult by the tear puddles that had gathered on smartphone screens.
Crying was far from the only marching order of the weekend. There were sessions on building community, handling controversy, men’s health, overcoming our own father’s failings, more fantastic blogger spotlight readings, more keynote talks (most notably from CNN’s Josh Levs and Family Adventure Guy’s Charles Scott) and countless one-on-one conversations resulting in gut-laughs, additional tears, high-fives, hugs, and the transferring of information and inspiration among the writers, bloggers and media folk who braved the ice and snow to attend.
At the end of the day, which, in the Big Easy, often came between 2 and 3 AM, I came away with…with what? I didn’t leave with a book deal, a clearer path ahead, or even a Microsoft Surface giveaway. But, my first few pieces of writing since the plane pushed away from Louis Armstrong airport were more poetic, more emotionally charged, and more personal than just about anything I’ve ever penned. I think that what I was reminded of at the Dad 2.0 Summit is that I am a storyteller first and foremost, a chronicler of childhood and fatherhood and adulthood and Boyz-n-the-Hood, and that while this dad blogging track is about many things in 2014, it’s really all about finding compelling narrative threads that will take me and my readers (hi Mom!) on meaningful journeys, ones that stir deep, primal emotions for all involved. Any money earned along the way will be spent, the stories told will endure.
Something tells me that the tears I shed in New Orleans, surrounded by many talented men and women, seated at fancy tables, and listening to inspiring people say inspiring things, are the first of many I’ll shed as a result of stories I write and read this year. And I know that I have nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about, but that I should probably keep my electronics out of the way because the warranties are long since up.