How stay-at-home dads are finding their tribe

No, they're not "babysitting"! Fathers find support, camaraderie through the National At-Home Dad Network.

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By Kerry Breen

More dads are taking on the role of stay-at-home parent. However, some still face stigma for the choice.

That's where the National At-Home Dad Network comes in.

The organization unites dads across the country, giving them support and allowing dads to connect with each other.

Jonathan Heisey-Grove, the president of the network, said that when he started staying home, he felt like he was "on an island."

"I was on my own, didn't know that there were other at-home dads out there, and just trying to figure out 'What is my role and how do I fit into the family dynamic now?'" he said.

"I think there's a generational shift that's occurred, where the parents that are bringing kids up are realizing that the parenting role is not a one-gender role, that both are equal partners in the development of their children," he said.

'I'm a frustrated at-home dad'

Greg Washington, an at-home dad in Wisconsin, said that he discovered the National At-Home Dad Network after becoming frustrated with being the only at-home dad in his community.

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"I've always envisioned myself as a father. I've never envisioned myself as a full-time father. That was something I had to evolve into," he said. "I wasn't getting the reinforcements, whether it be from friends or family or anybody else that I was doing the right thing."

A Google search of "I'm a frustrated at-home dad" led him to the network's message board.

"I was just sitting there reading and nodding my head about the different things that they were going through," Washington said. "I found my tribe, meaning I was able to find people that were going through the same things as me. It's someone you can reach out to that knows what you're going through."

HomeDadCon

Currently, the network boasts 2,500 members across the country, and even hosts an annual convention called HomeDadCon that has been hosted every year for a quarter of a century.

"It has evolved into an annual event where guys from across the country meet up," explained Heisey-Grove. "We have not only fun programming, but serious programming, and the main focus is for these guys to reaffirm, recharge, and reconnect."

Charlie O'Hara, a former firefighter and father of three boys in South Dakota, says that the convention has become a great place to meet other dads.

"For me this is kind of like me going and meeting up with a group of guys that are in my field," O'Hara said. "You can all meet up and kind of share some stories, share some laughs, and just kind of be. It really is a group of your peers, your true peers."

Meaningful male friendships

Washington added that he sees the convention and the network as a whole as an important step in men forming more bonds with their peers.

"I don't think men have these relationships that women do," Washington said. "Women are amazing about, in my opinion, their friendships, the ones that keep, and the tribes that they make. I think that men need to be doing this more."

Washington and O'Hara both said that they have loved being able to be home with their children.

"Being a stay-at-home I feel great, because I was there for most, if not all, of their benchmarks," Washington said.

"50 years from now, I will probably be looking back and just realizing that I was able to see every little development every one of my sons made," O'Hara said. "From losing a tooth to finally using the potty, I get a chance to see my kids grow up, and be a part of their lives."