The Sex Talk: It Starts with Self-Knowledge, Trust and Intimacy

Sex Talk

“Are there any cute girls in your classes?”

He flushes deep pink and scrunches up his nose and mouth at me. He is 11. Sixth grade began two days ago.

“What?” I say. “I just asked if you’d seen any cute girls at school.”

He’s been fiddling with something plastic and yellow. He raises it as if to throw it at me. A desperate half-guffaw escapes his scrunched face. He’s smiling, blushing, revealing multitudes.

“Dude. Put that down,” I say. “You know you’re not gonna throw anything at me.”

He releases the other half of his embarrassed little laugh as he lowers his throwing arm.

“Well?” I say.

I am smiling, trying not to make it tougher on him than I know it is. I was a sixth-grade boy and I remember how tough it could be, vividly. I remember everything.

I’m not teasing him. Not about this. I want him to know that. I don’t want to push, but it’s clear to his mother and me that he has enjoyed his first two days of middle school. We know this, because he has eagerly answered in great detail when we’ve asked him to tell us about his days.

And, hey, I’m doing this thing for about “THE TALK.” Like any opportunistic journalist, I take advantage of his openness by asking him about the girls in his class.

I’m pretty sure I’m doing this wrong.



He laughs again, but I know he’s serious.

“OK,” I say. “I mean, you didn’t notice ANY of the girls?”

His left arm cocks in the throwing position again, and he laughs — the full bellow this time. He sprints around the coffee table and attacks, laughing all the way, masking his precious, preteen mortification with a rough-and-tumble moment with his dad.

I let it go.

But then I say …

“You know, we’re going to have to talk about this stuff one day. We’ll need to have ‘the talk.'”

His face goes blank.

“I know,” he says. “But can it wait?”

This is about childhood. He loves just being a kid. He knows, without me or his mother having to tell him, that once we have “the talk,” he will have leveled up. I love that he is so incredibly intuitive.

One day, I’ll tell him that’s his superpower.

Right now, though, on his second day of sixth grade, as he eases into this new middle school life as an intuitive, ridiculously smart and kind kid … I’ll just tell him that of course it can wait.

I’m pretty sure he already knows a lot, anyway. Probably enough to make ME flush deep pink.

“We’ll know when we’re ready,” I say, and he sprints away to the family room and Minecraft, away from any more potential parental potholes.

But …

Will we know when he and his brother are ready for the sex talk?

We’re fortunate that both of our sons are strong communicators. When we must have heavy conversations with them, there is no need to resort to restricted vocabulary.

They’re good with words. So am I, and so is their mother.

But I’m not sure if I have the words for this.

I want to tell them that sex is not just physical — ever. I’ll tell them that yeah, it’s great, and it’s how Mom and I made them. It’s fun. It’s one of the great joys of life, or can be when done right.

The easy part, I think, will be the biology of it.

What I want to convey, when it’s time, when they’re ready, is that great sex begins with self-knowledge. It’s about trust. It’s about intimacy — physical, sure, but more importantly, emotional intimacy.

I want them to know that, and I want to be able to leave no doubt that we are here to help them understand anything they might need help understanding.

This is where will be of tremendous assistance in the next few years. The organization produces short videos about sexuality that are made to speak to kids 10-14 (and their parents).

I like their message a lot:

  • Sexuality is a natural, healthy part of being human. AMAZE is all about more info, less weird!
  • AMAZE wants to help empower parents to be the primary sexuality educators of their kids —the goal of the videos is to inform and spark a conversation.

Are you stuck on the words, like I am? Amaze has a video I’ll reference when my kids do ask, “Where do babies come from?”

And here’s something I’m still not sure how to handle: How will my wife and I talk to our sons about masturbation?

I think this one on self-discovery and puberty will be particularly useful:

This one will help, too, for when we need re-assurance that our older son’s coming mood swings are not evidence that he’s been transformed into a werewolf:

If you’re a parent who, like me, needs a bit of guidance for the important conversations with our kids about sex and sexuality, check out Amaze on Facebook and Twitter. And give their videos a look on YouTube.

Be sure to look for the hashtag, #MoreInfoLessWeird, which represents Amaze’s philosophy of straightforward talk about sex and sexuality.

I partnered with Amaze to help raise awareness about their cool and useful videos on sex. All opinions are mine alone.

Free-Range Parenting: Knowing When to Let Go

Free-Range Parenting

I asked our 9-year-old son if he thought he and his 6-year-old brother were old enough to walk the mile between our home and the neighborhood community pool without me or Mom.

He shook his head “no” before I finished the question.

“Maybe in one more year,” he said. “But right now … it’s a mile.”

He paused to marvel at the magnitude of the word, the vast distance it represents for a third grader, the incomprehensible here-to-thereness of it.

“There’s so much chance of bad stuff happening along the way,” he continued. “Like, what if there’s a snake or something?”

Yes. Exactly.

What if the mean streets of our suburban Central Florida neighborhood were over-run by an army of hungry Burmese pythons, on the hunt for new meat after eating all the rabbits and deer in the Everglades?

Or something?

Something like aggressive, stinging fire ants, which can swarm up a small child’s leg in an instant and inflict dozens of painful wounds.

Something like reckless high school-age kids tearing around the neighborhood like idiots on modified, rocket-propelled golf carts.

Something like a careless driver flying along far too fast to see two little boys alone crossing the road.

Something like open bodies of water – retaining ponds, drainage creeks and golf course lakes.

Free Range Parenting

Actual alligator sunning itself near the sidewalk connecting our house and the community pool. It looked hungry to me.

Something like the alligators that frequent those bodies of water. (Seriously. They’re everywhere. See photo.)

Something like a bad person looking for an unprotected kid to take.

Something like an over-zealous “good Samaritan” watchdog poised to place a panicky phone call to an over-zealous law enforcement agency that stands ready to over-zealously protect the children of the world from parents who have the gall to allow their kids to walk alone on a public sidewalk less than a mile from home.

It’s a jungle out there, right?

No. No, it’s not. Not here.

It’s a pleasant, 15-minute stroll, with broad sidewalks attended by shade trees the whole way. Wide strips of low-cut St. Augustine grass form a green, well-tended barrier between the walkways and the occasional passing minivan.

It’s a nice neighborhood. It’s a safe neighborhood. It’s the kind of place where friends respond gladly to neighbors in need. Crime is low.

This is home.

Yet, even in this idyllic setting, danger lurks behind every swaying palm tree. The seemingly tranquil stretch between our driveway and poolside actually is a battle scape.

In my mind, at least.

Listen, we trust our sons. They have proven worthy of that trust time and again. They are growing up well and confident.

But they’re kids, and we’re parents. They don’t yet possess the capacity to deal with crises — or even minor conflict — without adult supervision. It’s our job as their parents to help them learn those skills, and part of learning means failing at it. We understand that, but we’re not going to be irresponsible about it, either.

So, when they play outside, they must do so within shouting distance of the front or back doors. If they plan to go inside at someone else’s house, they must let us know where they’ll be and for how long.

When they want to go swimming, we take them to the pool. One day soon they’ll ride their bikes or walk that mile alone, but not yet.

Does a cautious approach make us helicopter parents? Are we over-protective? Too risk-averse for the healthy emotional development of our sons?

No. We aren’t over-protective. We are risk-averse, admittedly, but who in his right mind is risk-agreeable when it comes to their own kids? We aren’t Free-Range parents, either.

We are, simply, parents.

My wife and I are doing everything we can to prepare our kids to live life well. We also are doing everything we can to make sure they enjoy a happy childhood, and we’re in no hurry for that to end.

Confession: My greatest fear is that something catastrophic will happen to one of my sons, and I won’t be there to help them.

I’m not paralyzed by this fear. I don’t sit in the dark and rock back and forth, contemplating the horrific potential of the havoc rendered by the forces of darkness.

But the fear is there. I can’t deny it. It might not be rational, especially when you consider the statistics behind this recent Washington Post headline: There’s never been a safer time to be a kid in America.

Still, I want to protect them. I need to protect them. It’s more than a sense of responsibility or duty. The compulsion is visceral. It’s fierce. It’s real, and it’s not going anywhere soon – if ever.

This urge to shelter them from the harshness of the world is something I’ll have to work through as a father. As they grow, so too will I.

Part of being a parent is learning when and how to let go. It’s gradual, sometimes imperceptible, but eventually – they let go of their need for reassurance. They no longer feel the urge to look over their shoulders and make sure we’re still there. They let go and move on, alone in the world but ready for what comes.

When that happens, I’ll have to be ready to let go, too.

Not yet, though. Not just yet.

Maybe in one more year. But right now … it’s a mile too far.

Free Range Parenting

One day, he won’t look back to make sure I’m there. I need to be ready for that day. I’m glad it’s not here yet, though.

Broken Places

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”A Farewell to Arms

We are broken in unseen places.

We are broken by divorce. We are broken when we lose a dream career because of a poor economy. We are broken by a heart attack. We are broken when we live the nightmare of fearing for the life of one of our children. We are broken slowly, callously, by impersonal office jobs. We are broken by cancer.

Even as we break, the sinews and ligaments of love and leisure hold the center.

I am broken, but I am intact because of my wife, my kids, my parents, my extended family, my friends, occasional professional success. I have been broken but not defeated, because even as the bits and pieces of me dangled precariously and threatened to fall away along the path, I found reasons to smile.

I found I could still experience happiness.

Happy is not a condition. It is a moment of forgetfulness or a flash of remembrance.

I was able to forget, or to remember, during my wedding with Beth, on our honeymoon to Las Vegas, on our 10th anniversary trip to New York City, when our sons were born, when I was chosen to read an entry from my online journal at Dad 2.0 Summit, during all the many days of enjoyment and abandon at Walt Disney World and other places where reality was paved over and I could remember or forget. These countless moments and experiences lifted my spirit and, for a time, seemed to mend the broken places.

Seemed to.

Once broken, we stay broken. Wrapped in a thick blanket of inertia, scarred and scared, yet awake and aware, I was unable to stop but unwilling to move. The broken places are not stronger. They are merely broken.

This only ends one way. Remember the rest of Hemingway’s quote from Farewell: “But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these things it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

I am in no special hurry and must therefore find a way to function. I live with the knowledge of the broken places. They mount and swirl together as a swift current in a strong, cold river that gashes a drear desert. If I give in, I can drift along on that current and let it take me where it will, no will of my own. But I choose to choose my response. I can remember to forget, or forget to remember. I know I can do that, because I still can smile.

We can’t fix the broken places. So we need to know: How much can one person endure? That’s the question. Do we possess an infinite capacity to endure break after break after break, winding on endlessly into that desert? I am afraid I do not, but the evidence is incomplete.

Where are the unseen places? What do they look like?

I see a bridge, a stone passage through and over time, a safe thoroughfare imperiled on all sides by vagaries comedic and tragic. The bridge has crumbled and fallen in on itself in places. Where the stones are collapsed, the bridge veers in new directions. Crossing, thwarted by each new chasm, I leap along on wings of forgetfulness and remembrance, catching the current of love and leisure, pursuer and pursued. I land and peer along the narrow path ahead. I see only a straight road, but it is an illusion and I know that now. Inevitably, my gaze is drawn backward, where I look upon a labyrinth of my own unconscious design, a life in parts, a bridge broken but on the whole, not bad. I move on.

Where will I break again? Will I be ready and able to leap across the next chasm? Will the current slacken as I lament the broken places and fall, fall, finally and forever?

Yes. The world breaks everyone. Afterward, there are broken places but we move on. We meet new, better friends and lifelong companions. We find more fulfilling careers. We improve our diet, take our meds and promise to exercise. We relish every moment we have with our dear children and never – never – take their laughter and strength for granted. We vow to find our place in this world. We meet illness with treatment and optimism and if we are healed we cherish our good fortune and move on.

We make the leap across the unseen chasm. We turn into the current. We remember or we forget. We smile. We move on.

Creative Minds Podcast Appearance with Chris Read of Canadian Dad

From left: me, Chris Read of Canadian Dad; Kevin McKeever of Always Home and Uncool; Whit Honea of the Internet. I spent an hour Tuesday rambling about baseball, storytelling and other things on Chris' Creative Minds podcast.

At Dad 2.0 Summit in New Orleans this past February. From left: me, Chris Read of Canadian Dad; Kevin McKeever of Always Home and Uncool; Whit Honea of the Internet. I spent an hour Tuesday rambling about baseball, storytelling and other things on Chris’ Creative Minds podcast.

One of the best things about publishing this online … whatever it is … journal, I guess … is the chance to develop friendships with people all over the world. One of my favorites is Chris Read of Canadian Dad.

Chris was kind enough to feature DadScribe on his Dad Blogs Exposed series about a year ago. And Tuesday, he was kind enough (again) to invite me to join him for an hour-long conversation on the Creative Minds podcast he produces with fellow Canadian Mike Reynolds of Puzzling Posts. Mike was out Tuesday attending to under-the-weather family members (get well soon, Mike’s family!), so it was just me and Chris.

Chris indulged my rambling about baseball writing and storytelling and parenting and other topics, and I enjoyed every minute. We name-dropped a few of our favorite fellow online writers and I made a few lame attempts at jokes about how Canadians occasionally add a “u” after an “o” in inappropriate places.

It was a good time, and I hope you get the chance to listen. Here is the link to the podcast, which is  also available through subscription on iTunes.

Thank you again, Chris and Mike, for the invitation. I’d love to do it again sometime.


Swing, Fail, Swing Again


Stay focused. Stay relaxed. See the ball, hit the ball. Failure is inevitable. How you respond is up to you, and it can make all the difference.

We played ball out back on a makeshift miniature diamond I mowed into the high, early summer St. Augustine grass. The 8-year-old stepped to the foam-rubber home plate, batting lefty, knees bent just so, arms high but relaxed, head cocked toward the pitcher — me.

I wound up and tossed the ball softly in his direction.

It occurs to me that I was 17 when I became a sportswriter. Nine years older than this boy at the plate. I stepped into that life before my life had really begun, and had no real reason to regret it for two decades. But at the end, when it was over, it could only be classified as a failure.

The boy swung and missed. The swing was handsy, too much upper body, but there was purpose to it and his head and eyes were where they were supposed to be. That’s more than half the battle when you’re learning to hit a baseball. Watch the ball hit the bat. See it, hit it. He retrieved the ball and tossed it back.

How could a career as rewarding as mine be considered a failure? Because it didn’t end on my terms. Where did the fault lie? With me alone? With a newspaper industry in its dying throes? A combination? No matter. When I began that career, I intended for it to end many years from now, many games later, when I was too old to carry my computer bag into the press box. Didn’t happen that way. I failed.

I reminded him to focus on the ball, to keep his arms relaxed, to step toward me, pivot and turn his hips, throw his hands at the ball and explode into the swing. I pitched, he swung — and missed again.

Failure of that sort — mammoth, life-altering, frightening — can derail a man. You think you’re moving along toward a certain destination, surely, confidently. And then … it stops. Even if you sensed it coming, knew failure was inevitable, it stung. Worse, for the first time in your life, you didn’t know what came next.

The ball sailed over the shrub and the external AC unit as he swung and missed a second time. It was a bad pitch, a ball in any league, but at age 8 he still swings at anything and everything. He has not yet developed a discerning eye, a well-defined hitting zone. Every pitch is a promise. Every swing and miss is that promise broken. He dropped the bat and hustled after the ball again.

You didn’t know what came next, but you understood for the first time in your life that nothing was promised. Really understood that fact, not merely the theory. That there were dead ends. 

He found the ball in the high grass and tossed it back. Insects disturbed by the lawn mower began to crowd around us. He swatted at a bug in front of his face and stepped in for one last pitch from dad.

There are dead ends. Failure is inevitable. How you respond to that inevitability determines whether dead ends crack and split and branch off in promising new directions or stay dead ends. You choose your response. You choose to move forward. You choose. That’s what failure does for you, if you let it. If you let it.

This one came in under-handed, an acquiescence to physics and undeveloped, 8-year-old muscles. His eyes grew large as it arced toward the plate.

He stepped. He pivoted. He swung.

Let’s Talk About God

“Every mythology, every religion, is true in this sense: It is true as metaphorical of the human and cosmic mystery.” – Joseph Campbell, the Power of Myth


Detail of Michelangelo’s ceiling fresco at the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City. Source: Photo illustration by DadScribe.

Our first summer in Florida, I was 13 years old and wheelchair-bound after corrective surgery on both feet. My parents sent my brother and me to vacation Bible school at the Presbyterian church up the road from our Palm Beach Gardens apartment complex. There, in the Sunday school classroom, as I sat in my wheelchair with my feet in their twin casts sticking straight out in front of me, a young man with shaggy brown hair, bad acne and huge glasses asked me if I would accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior.

If so, he added, my soul would be saved and I would be guaranteed a place for all eternity in the Kingdom of the Lord.

That sounded OK to me. So I said, “Yes. Yes, I do.”

And he said, “Praise Jesus. You are saved today.”

So, I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.


Sundays at our house have always been reserved for rest. If not rest, Disney World. If not Disney, Busch Gardens. Or laundry. Or yard work. Or the community pool. Or grocery shopping. Or anything except church.

Put simply, we don’t go. We are among the 20 percent of Americans who a Pew Research Center poll identified as having no religious affiliation. That’s not to say we are not religious. Beth certainly is. She prays regularly, and she believes in the traditional, organized-religion definition of the Christian God.

I don’t share her beliefs. I suppose I would have to be lumped in with the 33 million Americans who identify themselves as atheistic or agnostic. I don’t know what that means, though. What I do know is that I don’t know what happens when we die.

I also know this: Neither does anyone else know. But you know what else? That doesn’t matter.

Religion isn’t about that. Or it shouldn’t be.

Joseph Campbell, a scholar of comparative mythology whose work influenced George Lucas as he created the Star Wars universe, makes as much sense to me as anyone I’ve read or listened to when it comes to the purpose of religion. He said it exists not to reveal the meaning of life, but to help us find a way to live life with grace, to discover within ourselves an accord between what we experience and the questions and concepts that transcend our experience.

Campbell said God was, in fact, a metaphor for the things that transcend thought. I think what he meant was that because we exist in the field of time — we’re born, we live, we die — it is incredibly difficult, maybe even impossible, to grasp the concept of eternity.

And that’s about as deep as I want to go with that. As I say, I don’t know. I want to know, but I also am not arrogant enough to believe that I have the answers. That said, nor will I at this point in my life acknowledge that anyone else truly knows, either. That’s what I believe.

Which brings us to our sons.


Beth wants them to go to church. We have found one that might serve, at least for now.

I have qualms.

On one hand, I want our sons to learn about organized religion, about spirituality, about humanity’s attempts to make sense of it all.

On the other hand, I believe that much of humanity’s strife — today and throughout history — has been caused by organized religion. As Campbell said, practitioners of the individual religions get stuck in their own interpretations of their chosen metaphors. That is, they fail to read the sacred texts or hear the sacred stories as poetry. Instead, they read it and hear it as prose. It is, Campbell said, a purely literary problem.

I see people in the public eye espouse views in the name of their religion about topics such as homosexuality, and it is clearly a bigoted way of thinking. Here’s the problem, though: They don’t think of themselves as bigoted, because they simply are adhering to the things they learned from their religious leaders. They are wrong to think that. Hiding behind specious lessons does not excuse the ignorant. While I might not know the answers, I do know this: Any religious teaching that is used to objectify and dehumanize other people is deplorable. I hope our sons never think that way.

Some of my favorite people in the world are deeply religious, and so sure in their convictions that it sometimes makes me wish that I could give myself over to the rapture and let the joy wash over me like a baptismal font.

It’s tough, but our sons need a frame of reference. They need to be exposed to these ideas — and at 7, our older son is probably as impressionable as he’ll ever be when it comes to ideas about spirituality.

It’s tricky. I bought our older son a book the other day called The Kids Book of World Religions, and he sort of freaked out about the drawing of Jesus on the cross. He needs to know what that means, that the resurrection is emblematic of the “death” and “rebirth” we all must experience as we transition from one stage of life to another (I am aware there are those whose interpretation of the crucifixion differs from this one). I Googled [talking to children about religion] and found an entire blog dedicated to the subject, along with this Washington Post story about the author of that blog. This is not a problem unique to us.

It’s necessary. We want our sons to make informed decisions about how they choose to think about spirituality in the future. We’re going to expose them to different ways of thinking, to different paths. We’re going to let them make their own decisions when they’re ready. You’ve got to start somewhere. So … we’ll start by giving up our Sunday rest or recreation to explore the spiritual.

And we’re going to hope that when (if) they choose their paths, they find grace and peace and love. Above all else, we hope that.


Michelangelo’s Pieta, Vatican City. Source: Photo illustration by DadScribe.

Are Angels Real?

“Dad, are angels real?”

Not what I expected to hear tonight as I tossed supper onto the stove. I waited a beat, turned toward the kitchen table.

“Why do you ask?”

“Because I don’t know.”

Fair enough. But I wasn’t quite ready to give him my answer. So …

“Well, what do you think?”

He pointed toward the ceiling.

“Are they up there?”

“On the ceiling?”

“No,” he said. “The place on the clouds. What’s on the clouds?”


“NO,” he said. “Heaven.”

“How do you know that’s heaven?”

He has read it somewhere, or seen it on a TV show or a movie. Or perhaps he heard it at school or at his after-school center. We’ve not had many conversations of a religious nature yet with the boys. We don’t go to church, but the idea is to give our sons a grounding in spirituality and right and wrong, as well as we can. Then we’ll let the boys make their own decisions about religious beliefs when they’re old enough. Not saying that’s the way it ought to be done, necessarily, but it’s right for us, and that’s how we’re going to do it.

Meanwhile, back in the clouds …

He told me he read about heaven in a book on the Civil War. Someone was hungry and scared, and they prayed to the angels for food and protection. I can imagine why a kid — anyone, really — would want to know if that works.

Hence, the question.

“So, what do you think, buddy? Are angels real?”

“Well, I don’t actually know,” he said. “But do you think they’re real?”

“I don’t actually know, either,” I said.

“No one knows,” he said.

“No one knows?”

“No one.”

No one.

Dad 2.0 Summit: Next Year, I’m Singing

Houston Sunrise

Sunrise over Houston during the Dad 2.0 Summit, as seen from the 18th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel.

First, it was about the song. The song we all dance to as loving, engaged, parents and creative souls. The tune that wakes us in the morning before the sun or the kids are up so we can be ready for work or whatever our day holds before we make them breakfast and walk them to the bus stop. It’s the melody of the midnight crying jag. It’s the chorus of cookies and milk. The lunchbox aria.

Second … it was about karaoke. Maybe first it was about karaoke.

Dad 2.0 Summit in Houston, Texas, will probably best be remembered by those who (wisely) chose sleep deprivation instead of resting peacefully at night in the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel as the weekend when Canada made a scene. Not the scene. A scene, as in, “Holy Black Hockey Jesus, did you see that guy spin around that stripper pole while belting out Neil Diamond (or whoever)? No? Well, check out this six-second video on Vine! Ha! That guy rocks.”

Yeah. You know who I’m talking about. Chris Read, CanadianDad, proved that there is room on the dad blogging stage for the new guy. He earned his place there, one of five Spotlight Bloggers invited to read at the second Dad 2.0, with a moving tribute to his late father, as well as a willingness to put himself out there over the past year as a prominent resident of what I thought of as the Planet of the Pixelated Parents before I got to Houston on Thursday.

See, as I touched on in an earlier daily recap (and told pretty much anybody who stopped to chat with me during the weekend), my perception of my fellow attendees was shaped by the months of research and reading I did before I ever wrote word one here. I knew them as avatars and blog posts and rabble rousers or peacemakers. I knew them as pithy tweeters and witty digital conversationalists. I knew them, or their personas, as they wished me to know them.

Most of them didn’t know me at all. Which, yeah. Feb. 21 will mark one year since I “launched” this thing, whatever it has become. Even though parent blogging remains a fairly new phenomenon, especially among the growing field of dads, one year is a blink of an eye in this well-established, tight-knit community.

Going to Dad 2.0 was like crawling into my laptop screen and melding with the circuitry of the surreal. Throughout the weekend, familiar faces drifted by, like scrolling through a living Facebook photo album.

That surreal sensation was completely gone by the end of the event. I can’t begin to recount every interesting conversation or in-person connection I made in Houston. What I can do, though, is point out that there is something beyond intimate about a blogger conference for a natural introvert like me. I think what makes it so interesting in terms of making those real connections with people is that, if you do your homework (and, as a lifelong journalist, of course I did), then you meet these writers and content creators already knowing a great deal about them. There is no need for the verbal circling and sparring that takes place as you get to “know” them. As I say, you already know what they want you to know about them – because they’ve written it or talked about it on a podcast or depicted it in viral meme form.

Also, it helps that we all come from the same place emotionally and creatively. We’re parents. We love to write (or draw, or take photos, or whatever the medium of choice might be). We love to tell stories.

That’s what I’ll remember about my first Dad 2.0: the stories of the people I thought I knew, as told in their actual voices in hotel hallways, on a ballroom stage, over a game of Texas hold ‘em with fake money, in the hotel lounge, or in a bar.

I’ll remember the impressive keynote speakers, of course, and the five men who weaved sublime tales about being dads, bloggers, and Internet pros – the Three-headed Dads. And I will always, always remember the warm welcome everyone gave me when I stumbled through my Spotlight reading on that first morning. I’ll also remember the guys from Dad Labs grabbing me as I raced out of the main ballroom on my way to the restroom to ask if I had time for a live, streaming interview with Clay Nichols. In case you were wondering (which, of course you were), I had to piss like a racehorse throughout the conversation.

I’ll remember Manwich and Army of Frankensteins. Free! Booze and food. The kilt.

I’ll remember the walk from my hotel room on the 18th floor to the bank of elevators. Out the door, right turn, right turn, left turn, long hallway. Push “down.” Which one would arrive first? Where would that magic box carry me next? Who would be there when I got there? Would the people and lobby have dissolved into flowing green streams of pixelated code? Would Agent Smith be waiting at the bottom to chase me back into my rabbit hole? Would a black cat walk by … then walk by again?

Somebody, Amy from Mom Spark, I think it was, called herself the glitch in the Matrix when I floated my “climbing into the laptop screen” analogy for the first time. (Oh, you didn’t know writers tested material in conversation before committing it to the page? Why do think writers talk at all?)

Most of all? Most of all, I’ll remember the weekend as the time when the pixelated people of the Daddy Complex and Howtobeadad and Beta Dad and Honea Express and Always Home and Uncool and Black Hockey Jesus and Canadian Dad and BloggerFather and OWTK and Pet Cobra and Daddy in a Strange Land and Clark Kent’s Lunchbox and Bobblehead Dad and the Daddy Doctrines and Momo Fali and the Muskrat and Lesbian Dad and Bitchin’ Wives Club and the Captain and Laid Off Dad and Super John and so many, many, many more morphed into David, Charlie, Andy, Andy, Whit, Kevin, um … Jesus, Chris, Oren, Jeff, Jason, Jason, Ron, Jim, Chris, Momo, Michael, Polly, Amy, Creed, Doug, just plain John and on and on and on. Turns out they’re all real. And they’re almost all warm and friendly, and curious and alive, and dancing to the same tune.

Oh, yes. I’ll be back. And next year, I’m singing.


Beer. Lots of beer.

Why am I doing this?

I don’t have a plan. I have some business cards (and boy, are they nifty), and I know when I have to be on-stage Friday morning. I also know that I’m sandwiched between the mayor of Houston and the opening keynote speaker, Jeff Pulver.

But they all said I need a plan. This is my first blogger conference, the second annual Dad 2.0 Summit in Houston, Texas. I’m going because I submitted a blog post when they did a call for submissions for Spotlight Bloggers. They asked me to come, and asked me to read this post instead. I was blown away when they asked, and I consider it one of the great writing honors of my long and illustrious blogging career. Which began in earnest on Feb. 21, 2012, less than a year ago.

So, what am I doing? I’m going to read my thing, which will be over before the event even really gets started. I’m going to meet face to face some of the other Spotlight Bloggers, established dad blogging voices like Black Hockey Jesus and Whit Honea and Kevin McKeever and the pride of Canada, Chris Read.

I want to meet members of the new dad bloggers group on Facebook, including group founder and Bad Boy of Dad Blogging, Oren Miller.

I want to meet some other people, too. Writers I’ve come to admire. Funny writers. Poignant writers. Powerful writers. Men and women who know how to use the English language and social media to tell stories that matter. Stories about parenthood, certainly, but stories about life. These are writers who make me want to write better.

I want to meet them.

But I also want to meet Doug French, founder of the Dad 2.0 Summit and the guy who sent me the email telling me my work had been chosen. Doug seems pretty cool. I want to meet him.

I want to meet so many others, too. The guys from DadCentric, including the inimitable Jason Avant (the blogger, not the receiver) and Andy Hinds (the brilliant, brawling everyman behind Beta Dad blog). There are people I want to meet that I’m not even going to mention here, because I don’t want to jinx it. I don’t know if I’m invited to karoake, and I’m not going to invite myself. But apparently there will be late-night karoake. Rumor has it, anyway.

Even representatives from the event sponsors. I want to thank them, for sure. There’d be no Dad 2.0 Summit without Dove Care for Men, Honda, Turtle Wax, and many, many others. I also am fascinated with the idea that there seems to be a groundswell among corporations to move away from the buffoon-dad stereotype we’ve always seen on TV and in movies. It’s important, I think, that high-profile events like Dad 2.0 Summit bring attention to parents who shatter those stereotypes, and share their stories on the Internet.

But what am I doing? Three days away from my family? For what? Damn, I’m going to miss them. They’ll be fine without me, of course. Yet, one of the main reasons I wanted off the baseball beat back in 2006 was I wanted to be here — always — for my sons. So … irony! I write a dad blog now, which I would not write without them, and I’m about to jet off to Houston for a long weekend of boozing it up with a bunch of other mom and dad bloggers learning as much as possible about the craft and business of blogging.

Honestly, I don’t know what to expect at the Four Seasons Hotel (although I did stay there once while covering an NLCS, Astros versus Cardinals). The guys from DadCentric did a round table primer on the conference, so I guess that helps some. No, it definitely helps quite a bit.

No matter. So what if I don’t know what I’m doing, or why I’m going? I’ll enjoy finding out the why and what for in the coming days.

I’ll also be tweeting the hell out of it, in case anyone is interested in following along. Hey, and if you have any suggestions about what, exactly, I should be doing while I’m there … don’t hold back.

See you on the other side.


Why Do We Join?

One of the first pieces of advice I received when I began to write this dad blog was to “find your tribe.” I thought the guy was being condescending. I thought I was being blown off.

It sounded a little to me like, “Look, pal. You’re new. We’ve been here. We know each other. We don’t know you. We don’t need you. Beat it.”

That wasn’t what he was saying, of course. He wasn’t being condescending at all. He was telling me the truth. What he was saying was that the blogosphere is a big place, with room enough for everyone and their motives. Somewhere out there in that vast virtual echo chamber of parent bloggers there was sure to be a group of people who shared my interests and wanted to connect.

A community of my peers.

I think I might have found that community a little less than a month ago, when Oren Miller of a Blogger and a Father started a dad bloggers group on Facebook. He called it “Dad Bloggers,” and as the first week of 2013 drew to a close, the group’s membership approached 100. I asked to join the closed group a week into it, after seeing it mentioned on Twitter.

Not until a few weeks later did I even stop to think about why I asked to join. I thought of myself as a dad blogger without a tribe. I didn’t even know I needed that community.

It’s my understanding that they study group dynamics pretty extensively at the finest universities in the land. Apparently, I’m not the first person to wonder what compels people to join groups of all kinds. Yet, to my knowledge, there has never been a scientific study conducted with the goal of deciphering the motives of several dozen men from all over the world (well, the U.S., Canada and the UK so far) who decide to join a Facebook group for dad bloggers.

So, I conducted a very unscientific study by asking in a post on the group’s site: Why did you decide to join this dad blogging group? I received many thoughtful, thought-provoking responses. Some made me wonder about my own motives. One even made me wonder whether the group is for me, after all. Overall, though, what I read from my fellow dad bloggers reinforced what I felt about the burgeoning group. That it is a good thing, an inclusive thing, a “tribe” that welcomes all, regardless of purpose, regardless of audience, regardless of personal or professional motive. That seems right to me.

I’ll excerpt some of the on-the-record responses in a moment. First, I also asked Oren why he started the group, and here’s his response:

A couple of months ago, I joined a group of bloggers. They do group-giveaways, but they also do almost-daily threads like “Leave a Twitter link if you want a RT, and in return you have to RT 5 tweets others leave in the comments.” The same deal works for FB shares, reciprocal commenting, voting on Picket Fence, whatever that is, and a bunch of other things. The problem is that 99% of them (over a thousand members) are women, and 99% write review/giveaway-only blogs, so while I appreciated what they were doing, I couldn’t really participate, because I think Twitter is being damaged enough by automatic Triberr sharing, and I don’t want to be just another person spamming his followers.

But I thought something like that would actually be great for a group of dad-bloggers. We can retweet and share on Facebook stuff we actually read and like, and we can help each other grow. And I thought this group could be a great leveler too, since every time I saw a mention of the new Babble 50 Best Dad Blogs, I got upset because some blogs will never get there, and we can’t let Babble tell us what’s good. (Not that blogs there didn’t deserve to be there. See? Avoided another conflict.)

So I thought a Facebook group of blogging dads would be able to help bloggers, and would help raise the profile of dad-blogging in general, and since I believe institutional attitude toward a group is determined by perception of that group, I thought that if we can raise the profile of blogging dads in general, it would help raise the profile of fatherhood in this country (and in Canada, I suppose, wherever that is).

And then, being me, I waited for a month for someone to read my mind and start a group. When no one else did, I figured maybe it were up to me after all.

And that’s just half the story, because the group as it is now works much better than I thought it would. I didn’t think people would use it to talk about conferences and about the philosophy of writing, and share others’ posts on their blogs… So thanks again to everyone here for making it work. Hopefully we’ll have 100 members soon!

Oren was kidding about Canada, by the way. And I’m pretty sure we’ll reach triple digits sometime this weekend, if not soon after.

Where it goes from there, who knows?

Here are excerpts of the responses I received from my fellow bloggers. Some of them are edited for length. All of them were greatly appreciated, and each helped shed light on why this Facebook group has taken off.

Creed Anthony of The Captain’s Log … Tales from the Poop Deck: “What makes this group different is that we are all writers. So there is the combined challenge of baring your soul and the technical aspects if it. I am still a newbie. I don’t know much about marketing myself or even if I am marketable. I’m here to learn. And someone said there were cookies.”

Aaron Gouveia of the Daddy Files: Aaron said “intense political discussions” leading up to the election cost him a few followers. “But now that the election is over, I wanted to make a concerted effort to get back to basics, start writing more about my life and family, and reconnecting with like-minded dads and writers. So when this group popped up, it was perfect timing. And it’s been exactly what I hoped it would be.”

Bill Peebles of ihopeiwinatoaster: “After the tragedy in Connecticut, I had nearly decided to give up blogging. I wrote a post and seriously decided that I could no longer celebrate the life of my twins as I had been doing for nearly a year. I somehow stumbled upon this page and my faith in what I was doing was rekindled; my faith in what others were doing was re-established. Mostly, I joined to see what others were doing and, in so doing, felt validated in my presence on the blogroll.”

Chad Miller of “I decided to join this Dad bloggers group because I understand the importance of locking arms and unifying with like-minded men to spread a message of being intentional active participants in the leadership of our families.”

Chris Gould of Blog of Manly: “I have a passion for helping husbands and fathers, and this year I have found blogging to be an outlet I really enjoy, so linking up with a group of like-minded dads was a no-brainer.”

Mitchell Brown of Thoughtful Pop: Mitchell said he had spent the past six months re-evaluating his approach to blogging and social media, wondering where it all fell on his list of priorities. “Then, as I was withdrawing from Facebook, this group appeared and rekindled a belief that social media can be valuable to me through an understanding that my blog has value to me, despite it being so small and not something through which I make any money. Simply, what I write on Thoughtful Pop is important to me and the connections I have made are also important to me. So, this group is a wonderful opportunity to share more and to connect more. I have already learned so much being here and feel invigorated to see where we all can take this. End of the day, this group has shown me value in these efforts that I thought wasn’t entirely there anymore.”

James Rohl of Stay at Home Dad PDX: “I joined this group to reconnect with the blogging community and because a number of people I respect either started it or were here already.”

Ricky Shetty of Daddy Blogger: “Why I joined this group: 1. To meet fellow dad bloggers & network; 2. To market my blog & build my audience; 3. To become a better father through the wisdom of other daddies.”

Brent Almond of Designer Daddy: “Same as what Ricky said. Plus, I was considering closing up shop as well, due to financial/parental pressures. But part of my renewed energy to keep at it was this group.”

Neal Call of Raised by my Daughter: Neal said he was initially ambivalent about joining, because he wasn’t so sure about doing blog giveaways and such. He said that he joined up initially because Oren made him feel welcome, and that his ambivalence quickly faded. “I think it’s pretty cool to be able to interface with other dad bloggers in a setting that’s removed from the sort of cliquishness that so often occurs on individual blogs or even prominent parenting web sites, no matter how much I may enjoy those individual blogs or sites. This group, in a remarkably short time, seems to demonstrate an impressive inclusiveness for dad bloggers of all types, who have all sorts of intentions and goals. That may partly be simply because it’s fresh and new, and everyone’s sort of exploring how they want to interact on it. I appreciate learning from those who are making efforts to blog professionally, and I identify with those who merely do it as a labor of love to their children. I hope that neither one of these paradigms ever pushes the other out.”

James Zahn of The Rock Father: “While I’ve associated with a few fellow dad bloggers over the past two years, I’ve been kind of a rogue force out there and thought it would be fun to mingle with more folks that were also in the ‘dad blogging’ realm. I’ve featured other blogs on The Rock Father from time to time (either in featured posts or blogroll), and I do enjoy highlighting some things such as that 25-blog-cross-post. Like Ricky, I’m always looking for ways to build my audience and brand, and I like showing support for those whose writings I enjoy. Like many of you will surely agree, there’s also not a lot of time to actually seek out and read other Dad Blogs, so finding a lot of great content in one place (like this group) makes it easier to find writers that you dig. As with any online community, I expect that we’ll see some folks lose their enthusiasm and just ‘disappear’ after awhile, and there will no doubt be ups-and-downs. Friendships and partnerships will form, as will cliques and rivalries as the group falls into place and finds writers/blogs/sites that the like… and the ones they don’t. As Bill noted above, post-Sandy Hook there’s been a lot of re-evaluating in the blogosphere, as the event effected us all in different ways. While I don’t think it’s changed HOW I blog, I did take a couple of days before doing my own post as I couldn’t just return to ‘business as usual.’ Thus far, I like a lot of what I’m seeing from this group.”

Olly Du Cruz of Parenting Challenge: “As a UK blogger, I was concerned about being a bit of an ‘outsider’ in this group. But to be honest you trans-Atlantic blokes have got it nailed. The group is full of people passionate about fatherhood and aren’t afraid to say it. You have greater blogging experience and expertise than most people in the UK who blog about any topic. And you’ve formed a warm, welcoming community that is already becoming a valuable place to offer support and advice for like-minded blokes everywhere. Great stuff!”

Daniel Waldman of Evolve Communications: “I had both a personal and professional interest. Personal: I’m a dad who owns his own business and I’m always looking for insight/shared experiences from other dads. Professional: I’m a PR guy and networking with bloggers to cover our clients is a central part of what we do.”

Daniel T Monk Pelfrey of PostPostModernDad: “I don’t know. I was drunk at the time.”

Vincent Daly of Cute Monster Dad: “Being a stay a home Dad was a difficult transition to make initially. I felt cut off from the world I once knew, independence and all seemingly gone forever. My site came to fruition more as a means of escape as well as a creative outlet. Over time, I’ve evolved as a father and so too has my site. The opportunity to network with other Dads has helped immensely and I suspect will continue to do so. We’re all writing a new playbook for fatherhood. Interesting times indeed.”