The 5th Dad 2.0 Summit: Stories Everywhere You Looked

The White House was aglow the night before the fifth annual Dad 2.0 Summit in Washington, D.C.

The White House was aglow the night before the fifth annual Dad 2.0 Summit in Washington, D.C.

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:

One of the seminal moments of the fifth annual Dad 2.0 Summit: Beth Blauer, left, meets author Brad Meltzer, the opening keynote speaker. Meltzer dedicated his speech to Blauer and her late husband, Oren Miller, a leader and friend who helped galvanize the dad blogging community around the world.

One of the seminal moments of the fifth annual Dad 2.0 Summit: Beth Blauer, left, meets author Brad Meltzer, the opening keynote speaker. Meltzer dedicated his speech to Blauer and her late husband, Oren Miller, a leader and friend who helped galvanize the dad blogging community around the world.

Author Brad Meltzer, the opening keynote speaker, dedicated his remarks to the late Oren Miller and his wife, Beth Blauer.

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 reads a tale of visiting the land in Kentucky where his ancestors were forced to work as slaves while author and keynote speaker Brad Meltzer looks on.

Creed Anthony reads a tale of visiting the land in Kentucky where his ancestors were forced to work as slaves while author and keynote speaker Brad Meltzer looks on.

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.

These guys and 400 others -- my extended family. We have a lot to say and we have a lot to do. The Dad 2.0 Summit brings us together for common purpose: To change the way the world thinks about fatherhood. That's a story. (L-R: me, Jeff Bogle, Out With the Kids; Chris Read, Canadian Dad; Jay Sokol, Dude of the House.

These guys and 400 others — my extended family. We have a lot to say and we have a lot to do. The Dad 2.0 Summit brings us together for common purpose: To change the way the world thinks about fatherhood. That’s a story. (L-R: me, Jeff Bogle, Out With the Kids; Chris Read, Canadian Dad; Jay Sokol, Dude of the House.)


Oren Miller: He Has Shown Me How to Live

Give Foward

Oren Miller has made me a better person and a better father. He is my brother. I will always tell his story.

We want context at the end. We want order, or some sense of purpose. We want it to matter. We want to tell our stories, and we want them to make sense.

It helps with the pain. It helps with the sadness. It helps to remind us that the reason we cry is because once, we were oh, so glad.

We have been glad to know Oren Miller. We have been proud to call him friend, to call him brother.

We all have stories to tell.

We have stories to tell about Oren Miller.

Today, and for the past few months, these stories have been nourished with tears. We knew it was bad, then worse, and now we are at the end and we want context. We want to add our patch to the quilt of Oren’s life, or his digital life, I suppose.

We were brothers, Oren and I. As his brother, as we come to the end, I am compelled to tell my story. This is right. This is good. Will it make sense? I don’t know. But my pain demands it. My tears require it.

It matters.

My story of Oren is about hope. It’s about the human capacity to shape the world for good.

It matters, all right.

We found out the worst of bad news before Father’s Day – lung cancer had spread to his brain. Nothing could stop it. We set out to help Oren’s family in a small, but meaningful way.

We came together to raise money for a dream trip, a vacation for a lifetime. We figured $5,000 ought to do it. Disney, maybe. Someplace nice before treatment began. Someplace Oren and Beth and their beautiful son and daughter could go and laugh and love and just be, if only for a while.

Our brother Brent Almond posted the online fundraiser on the crowd-funding site,, at the suggestion of another brother, Jim Higley. These are remarkable human beings. These are my brothers. Oren’s brothers.

Brent posted it late on a Thursday night, the Thursday before Father’s Day, with no fanfare or social media promotion. By mid-morning Friday, the goal had been eclipsed and the total pledged was approaching $10,000.

Eventually, it would surpass $35,000. That was the power of this brotherhood, the power of a group of creative fathers from around the world whose primary connection was a Facebook group started by an unassuming, quiet, Israeli-born Marylander named Oren Miller.

“So crazy, it just might work.”

That is the group’s tagline. It started with about 30 fathers in December 2012. I was among them.

As of this writing, there are 1,047 members from nearly every state in the U.S., nearly every continent on the planet.

There are stay-at-home dads, single dads, old dads, young dads, married dads, divorced dads, gay dads, granddads. There are dads who draw, dads who paint, dads who create video, dads who make crazy lunches, dads who take photos, dads who write and dads who sing.

There are conservative dads, liberal dads, black dads, Asian dads, white dads, and dads of just about every ethnic and religious persuasion you can imagine. We fight and cry, love and learn from one another.

Once a year, we get together at Dad 2.0 Summit. That’s where I met Oren in person for the first time, in Houston. I can’t believe that was only two years ago.

He and I had exchanged excited messages about how we were going to try to expand the Facebook group while we were in Houston. Could we reach 100 members? Who did we want to ask?

Anyone and everyone. That’s who. All were invited.

Are you a dad? Do you have a blog?

You’re in.

One thing, though: “Don’t be a dick.”

It’s Oren’s only real rule for the group. Pretty reasonable, if you ask me.

Now, two years after he wondered if we could reach triple digits in the group, a scholarship fund bearing his name enables some of his brothers to go to Dad 2.0 every year. Six bloggers were awarded the scholarship this time around. It is a powerful, permanent testament to what he means to our community.

And so, the group of brothers who came together out of that initial experiment rose up when Oren needed us and raised tens of thousands of dollars for his family. I wish it could be more. It should be more. Please help make it more by donating here: Give Back to Oren.

One day this past summer, Whit Honea and I were talking on the phone about Oren and the group and how sad it was that Oren had cancer but what an incredible thing it was to see the group come together for that cause with such effect.

If we could do that for one of our own, looking inward, we thought, why couldn’t that energy and spirit be turned outward? Why couldn’t we band together, brothers from around the world, and try to make good things happen everywhere?

And so, thanks to Oren Miller and his loving brothers and all of those who contributed to the fundraiser, Dads 4 Change was born.

All we want to do at Dads 4 Change is make the world a better place, to help our kids develop an appreciation for volunteerism and giving, to model good citizenship for them and hope they carry that message into the future. That’s all.

That’s Oren’s legacy for me. It also is a legacy of community, which is peace. In peace, our best selves emerge. Just don’t be a dick.

Context? Purpose? Order. There is none. What is happening is too sad and pointless, as meaningful as a flower, as full of purpose as a single raindrop, as random as a stalk of wheat in the breeze.

But he has shown me how to live. He has shown us all the meaning of grace and dignity. Outwardly, his humor has remained intact and as sharp as ever. He is Oren. Then, as now, my brother.

There is no context for this. There sure as hell is no purpose. It does matter, though. Oren Miller made me a better person, a better father. That matters. And I will always tell that story. Always.

Oren Miller

Oren Miller (far right) with some of our brothers at Dad 2.0 Summit in New Orleans, January 2014. Also pictured (L to R): Aaron Gouveia, John Willey, Fred Goodall, Vincent Daly.

I’ll leave you with this: a dancing chihuahua. I saw it first on Oren’s blog, a Blogger and a Father, and it was one of his favorites. I smile every time I see it. So does Oren. I hope you will, too.

happy dance

Once More … For Oren

Give Forward

Oren Miller, founder of a Facebook dad bloggers group almost 800 strong. He and his family need our help. Now is the time to act.

They were in the car together, Beth behind the wheel, husband Oren Miller by her side. This was life now. A trip to Johns Hopkins for radiation treatment, a necessary precursor to deal with a cancerous invader in Oren’s brain before the rest of it could be dealt with.

The rest of it is stage 4 lung cancer, which has spread and is life threatening. Very life threatening. But that would have to keep. First, the brain.

Oren’s phone rang. It was me.

My editor at TODAY Parents had agreed to let me write it up live. When a group of dad bloggers get together to make something this big happen, it’s news. Especially on the Friday before Father’s Day.

What was so big that the parenting arm of the TODAY Show immediately responded in the affirmative to my inquiry that afternoon? The fundraiser, of course. Using the wonderful Give Forward platform, Oren’s fellow blogger and Marylander, Brent Almond, had set up an online fundraiser on behalf of the Facebook dad bloggers. This group, this extended family of fathers and writers from all over the world, would do our small part to help Oren’s family.

Oren Miller

L-R: Oren Miller, his wife Beth and friend and fellow blogger Brent Almond, together on Memorial Day weekend — hours before Oren’s cancer diagnosis.

The idea was to raise as much as we could to help them enjoy a nice vacation getaway before Oren began his treatment in earnest. We figured $5,000 was a nice, round target.

Brent posted the link to the fundraiser late Thursday evening. By Friday morning, the amount raised had slid right on past $5,000 and was bearing down on $10,000 before noon. When it reached $13,000, I emailed my TODAY Parents editors and told them news was happening.

Important news. News that illustrated the strength and power of these things that bind us in that Facebook group. Fatherhood. The creative impulse. Passion for our roles as caregivers, and compassion for others.

It had to be shared, this wonderful story that arose from such a terrible thing.

I say terrible, because that’s what it was. And is. Yet, Oren’s grace and dignity in the face of this awful circumstance moved thousands (here it is in his words, powerful words, words that will make you cry and wonder at the strength of this gentle father and caring husband).

That Friday afternoon, as Beth and Oren wheeled their way toward Johns Hopkins for his radiation treatment, I reached back into my professional past and tried to wear my journalist hat for an interview session. We chatted, he and I. He sounded tired, of course, but all I heard was music in that thick Israeli accent of his. His responses to my forced and awkward questions were as graceful as you would expect, if you know him.

And then he put Beth on the phone. I wish I had known Beth before this. She sounds amazing. She also let me know how much the group has meant to Oren during this time. I wrapped my TODAY piece with a great kicker quote from Beth, but it was cut in the final edit. Here is that quote now, in its entirety:

“Right now, this is the [worst] time you could ever imagine,” she said. “The only time in those early days in the hospital I saw Oren smile was when he was keeping up with what was going on with the group. I don’t think he would have made it out of the hospital if not for that. I really don’t.”

The fundraiser goes on. The goal has been increased to $30,000, and as of this writing, we’re past $26,000. It’s more than a vacation fund now. It’s money they can use for medical bills or any other needs that will arise as they fight this. The founders of Give Forward have generously agreed to donate $25 for every post the dad bloggers publish (up to 40 posts), an additional $1,000. Click here to donate, if you like, or simply to leave Oren and his family a message of love and hope.

There is no moral here. No feel-good story, no happy ending. Not really. There is something, though, and it’s this: We can do good in this world when we act together out of compassion and love. What else is there?

Oren Miller

Oren Miller and family.