Fitting In at Dad 2.0 Summit

It had been a warm day.

I had expected the temperature to be higher in New Orleans than at home in New York, but even I was surprised to feel uncomfortable in anything more than a t-shirt. I’d spent the afternoon by myself, making my way through the French Quarter to buy souvenirs for my wife and children before the conference started. I ended up with a fair-sized haul: Mardi Gras masks, a pair of t-shirts and a children’s book for my kids, plus a cookbook and beignet mix for my wife. I was sweating by the time I returned to the hotel because I had been walking quickly, weaving through the other passersby walking slower than me; an hour and a half in the Big Easy was hardly enough to shake my New York City impatience.

It was around two hours later when the tone was set for the rest of my time at my first Dad 2.0 Summit. I had traded my sneakers and t-shirt for loafers and a button-down and finally put some food in my stomach (I had barely eaten since putting down a cheap sandwich at the airport). I found myself standing in the hotel courtyard with what must have been over one hundred other conference attendees. I was exchanging pleasantries with one of the few people I had met face to face before when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

The man was a few inches shorter than me and looked to be a year or two older. His hands had been shoved into his pockets and he gave a sort of half-smirk as he looked me in the eye. I recognized him as one of the other dad bloggers with whom I’d had countless conversations online, between our shared contributions to Dads Round Table and more general interactions in the dad blogger Facebook group.

“Hi, I’m Aaron,” I said as I extended my hand.

He glanced quickly at my offer but his hands didn’t move from his pockets.

“Don’t try to introduce yourself and shake my hand like I don’t know who you are,” he said. The half-smirk spread to the rest of his face as if to say, What’s wrong with you?

“Er– okay,” I said nervously, bringing my hand back to my side. I had never been so thankful to be holding a drink in my other hand.

“Hi John. It’s nice to finally meet you in person,” I said, trying a different tack.

His smile became more genuine and the conversation took a more natural turn. We began speaking about our respective flights, our families at home and our latest online projects. He shared his insights from having attended previous conferences and gave me some suggestions about pacing myself and taking notes because there was going to be a lot to take in.

I had no idea how right he was.

A few days later, after returning home to my family, my job(s) and the rest of reality, I’ve finally been able to start processing my experiences over the last week. I’ve begun reviewing my notes from the different workshops, updating my social media profiles according to the suggestions I received and thinking about strategies for solidifying the connections I made with brand representatives at the conference. I’m doing my best to stick to a plan, rather than just throwing things at a wall and hoping something sticks, but it’s still been somewhat slow going.

Through it all, though, I keep coming back to that moment on Thursday night when John tapped me on the shoulder. I had similar interactions with dozens of other people during the course of the weekend. I would offer my hand and introduce myself, their eyes would light up with recognition and they would respond by either shaking my hand or wrapping me up in a bear hug.

The most jarring part was getting used to the idea that I could fit in with these other people,1 most of whom were much more experienced in this world than I. Some of them had turned their blogs into genuine revenue streams and were able to leverage their brand connections into amazing experiences for their families. Some of them had been professional writers, working as newspaper reporters and broadcast journalists; one was even the founder and managing editor of a magazine. These people had built social networks, parenting organizations and baby gear businesses and I… well, I consider it an accomplishment if I publish a new blog post each week.

None of the accolades seemed to matter, though. After my initial shock of meeting people whose names I had recognized online for five years, the conversations became more about writing, parenting and the brotherhood that we had all joined. We were all fathers and content creators who had joined together to compare notes, share insights and lift each other up to new opportunities. We were all at different stages of parenting and blogging but we all had the same goals: to become better at each.


1. I say “people” instead of “men” because there was a strong contingent of women there, both representing brands and their own blogs. I learned as much from them as I did from the other dads.

Nerves of Steel

I’m nervous.

I don’t feel this way very often and, even when I do, I rarely let on. I pride myself on being flexible, adapting to situations as they come, taking in new information and adjusting accordingly. People tell me that they admire my calm, that they don’t understand how I can appear to be so relaxed in the face of difficult meetings, challenging personalities or mountains of paperwork. Somehow I manage to remain stoic, composed, cool under pressure through it all. I channel Yoda and Mr. Spock; I don’t let emotion get in my way.1

But this morning, I’m nervous.

I’m sitting on the subway, making my way to a school visit for work. My legs have been trembling for enough time now that I’m slightly worried about what will happen when I try to stand up. My pulse has quickened and I recognize the awkward discomfort in my stomach. I’m still the image of a duck, unflappable to observers, while their feet paddle furiously beneath the surface. I doubt anyone around me can tell anything is wrong just by looking at me, even though I feel like my body is tying itself into knots.

It’s not because of work, by the way. The visit I’m making this morning should be a cakewalk and, in general, work rarely gets me bent out of shape. I’ve been a social worker long enough and had enough people yell at me, threaten me and, in one case, use anti-Semitic slurs toward me, that I’ve come to accept the stressful parts of the job as simply that – part of the job. I enjoy my work because of the interactions with people, even when those interactions are uncomfortable.

My foot starts tapping on the subway floor, making my bag shake as it rests on top of my leg. I close my eyes and take a few breaths, inhaling deeply and counting the seconds as I let the air out, forcing my escalating anxiety back under control. It occurs to me that my current struggle to maintain my composure is fitting, given the piece I’ll be reading publicly in a few days, though that realization doesn’t help me feel much better.

My foot stops tapping as I hear the subway doors open. I open my eyes again to check the station but it’s not time to get off yet.

This is what happens to me anytime I speak in public. Miniature lessons in graduate school, reading Torah in synagogue during Shabbat services, the presentation I made to my entire department at work; the context doesn’t matter. It always starts out the same: my heart feels like it’s going to burst out of my chest, my stomach does backflips and my legs turn to jelly right before I’m supposed to start. Then I breathe, start speaking and I’m on my way.

This is a new experience, though. I’m going to be reading my writing at a blogging conference for dads later this week and, days beforehand, I’m terrified. This conference has a lot riding on it, after all. The connections I make there can open up new writing opportunities for me and different ways for me to support my family. If I trip over a word or two as I’m reading, are these representatives going to think less of me? Are they going to lose sight of the story I’m telling because they’re distracted by my verbal fumbling? Am I going to lose my place and, in the process, the interest of a brand that would have otherwise pursued me?

Then there is the fact that I’m going to be away from home for three days. How are my kids going to behave while I’m gone? Is my wife going to be pulling her hair out and cursing at me while I’m schmoozing with other dads? What if someone gets hurt while I’m busy taking selfies with Chewbacca or test-driving a Kia or talking about football with Von Miller?2 I still remember the guilt I felt when Eitan fell into a wooden piece of playground equipment, bashing his chin and needing to be rushed to the doctor for x-rays. I was only on the train then; how will I feel if something happens and I’m thousands of miles away?

I take another breath. I inhale, hold it for a second, and slowly let it out. Then I do it again. And again.

And again.

I tell myself that I’m overreacting. I remind myself that my wife is amazing and that “capable” barely scratches the surface of her strengths as a parent. Plus, I’m only going to be gone for three days, two of which Eitan will be in school for. I remember that I’ve interacted online with many of the other dads countless times and that reading my post will only be five minutes of a much broader experience. I think of the congratulations and other well-wishes I received when the announcement was made about my participation at the conference.

I feel the knot in my stomach begin to loosen and my legs start to regain their stability. I stand, slinging my bag back over my shoulder and move toward the door if the subway. I know that I will probably feel nervous again just before my turn to speak but I feel much calmer now. I hold the bar nearby as the train comes to a stop and the doors open. I take another quick breath and step off the train.


1. My kids are the only real exception to this rule. I don’t become a blubbering mess in crises but there is some sort of glitch that causes my brain to suddenly have difficulty processing new information. It’s the only time I imagine I really look shaken.

2. These are all things I’m going to be able to do at Dad 2.0 because Lego, Kia and Best Buy are sponsors.