Stories simmered everywhere I looked this past weekend at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
I wish I had been there as a journalist. I wish I could have covered the fifth annual Dad 2.0 Summit in Washington, D.C., for a major news organization.
For example: Esquire. The venerable men’s magazine — my favorite magazine since the early 1980s — was the event’s primary media partner for the second year running. For that, the magazine should be applauded.
I wish I could have been there writing about the event for Esquire.
As it is, I was there for the fourth consecutive time. I was there as a speaker, as a participant, as a member of a community that has become dear to me as a 40-something father of two elementary-age children and a writer who loves great stories.
Throughout the weekend, from the moment I landed at Reagan National Airport on Wednesday evening until the moment I arrived home on Sunday afternoon, I was awash in story ideas.
It never gets out of your blood when you’re a journalist. I did that for 24 years. I found stories. Even when I didn’t want to be there, even when there seemed to be nothing compelling, nothing worth writing — I found the story.
That was the job.
If I had been there covering for Esquire or another respected news and entertainment organization, I might have felt a bit overwhelmed by the volume of compelling material. Still, I’m confident I would have managed to write something coherent and representative.
All I had to do was look and listen and write it down. What I saw and heard was a movement that is composed of dads and moms from all over the world. Parents who share a passion for content creation, for storytelling, and for being the best dads and moms they can be.
I saw brands — Dove Men+Care, Kia, Lego, Best Buy, Lee Jeans, Rheem, and many more — that sent representatives to the Dad 2.0 Summit to connect with fathers and to join in the conversation about the evolving role of dads in the 21st century.
I saw what I always see at the Dad 2.0 Summit: waves of raw emotion shared and accepted — and embraced.
Speaking of things embraced, I saw hugs. I saw a lot of hugs. I gave and received a lot of hugs, too, from people I have come to love over the years and from people who I met for the first time. Hugging is the universal language at the Dad 2.0 Summit, and there is a lot of it, always.
Mostly, though? I saw stories. So many stories.
Here are just a few that I might have used as a hook in a post-conference roundup if I had written one for a big-time publication:
Oren was one of the dad blogging community’s most important leaders, the founder of a large and vibrant group of dad bloggers on Facebook. He also was an incredible writer who died too young of lung cancer, and Beth was in Washington, D.C., to tell her family’s story with the people who loved Oren so.
Disclosure: I sat on a panel with Beth, along with the head of Movember in the United States, Mark Hedstrom. Jim Higley, the marketing director of Camp Kesem and one of the most respected voices in the country for cancer care advocacy, moderated the panel, which was about the galvanizing effect of fighting cancer.
That was a story. It was a story of Beth and Oren’s final days together, of how Oren nearly lost his fight before it began because the news shattered him and sent him to a dark place that could only be lit by the presence of his small children. It was a story of fierce optimism, a story of nine difficult months that moved all who heard it to tears and left me in awe of the strength and grace of Beth Blauer.
I told my cancer story, too. We all have one.
Oh, and? Higley announced a huge fundraiser for a new Camp Kesem chapter at the University of Maryland, Beth and Oren’s alma mater. Twelve dads will walk Hadrian’s Wall this summer to help raise money to fund the new camp.
That’s a story.
So were these. It would have been easy, frankly, to unearth them:
The brands have shown up in force over the years. What were they doing there? What did they expect to accomplish?
That’s a story.
Creed Anthony, a dear friend and father of African-American descent who authors Tales from the Poop Deck, read a powerful post about visiting the land in Kentucky where his ancestors had been forced to work as slaves 140 years ago.
That’s a story.
On Friday night, a large group of dads turned out for the first “Dad Slam,” a series of readings where men cried and laughed and shared their hearts. When time ran out on the ballroom, they moved to another room and kept right on reading and crying and laughing and sharing.
That’s what they call “color,” in the news business. It was a chance to pull back the curtain and find out what this community is about.
That’s a story.
And then came Derreck Kayongo, the closing keynote speaker. He is the CEO of the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. He got us singing and dancing.
So many moments. So much useful information. So many hugs.
So many selfies and so much fun.
This was the fifth annual Dad 2.0 Summit as I saw it. Stories everywhere. Simply everywhere.
And there will be even more a year from now in San Diego. I can’t wait to find out what happens next.