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.↩