The core of community is not good intentions or agreement. It’s sitting at the same mystery. — Michael Meade
All last year the drought in Texas had persisted past reason and despair.
Last weekend when I went to Austin for the Dad Conference (Dad 2.0 Summit), it rained and rained, translating the landscape into a soggy, gray-green pond.
I couldn’t help thinking of a long ago men’s conference in the north California woods, where sixty men sat in a lodge and listened to the rain in silence with the poet Robert Bly.
Men’s conferences then. Dad conferences now.
When I started this blog, bless me, I didn’t even know that other dads also had the idea of writing about their kids. In that old world of myths and stories, I ran with the wolves. In the new world of sponsorships and page views, I am a naked, new-born babe.
I’m not complaining. Men, on the whole, are no different. Quick to embrace ideas, slow to feel, they carry their wounds deep inside the same crusted shell.
At one panel I attended, a participant wondered if dads and moms couldn’t just lose the gender labels altogether, and all of us simply be parents.
“Dads have two problems different from moms,” I said. “Trouble talking about feelings. Trouble with their fathers.”
Those are spiritual problems, however, and below modern radar. The conference work was political, and essential, and had to do with transforming the image of dads from the lovable bumblers that they are not, into the savvy caregivers that they are. To that end, a dozen or so corporate sponsors also came, looking to partner with leading dad bloggers.
I confess that something in those sponsorships makes me uneasy.
In 1975, Esquire announced that an upcoming article by a Pulitzer-winning journalist, Harrison Salisbury, would be sponsored by Xerox Corporation. Xerox claimed that payment would not depend on their reaction to the piece, and that the magazine would retain full editorial control. But in letters to his local paper and then to Xerox, the immortal E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web, voiced concerns anyway:
When a large corporation or a rich individual underwrites an article in a magazine . . . the ownership of that magazine has been diminished, the outline of the magazine has been blurred. . . . Whenever money changes hands, something goes along with it—an intangible something that varies with the circumstances. It would be hard to resist the suspicion that Esquire feels indebted to Xerox, that Mr. Salisbury feels indebted to both, and that the ownership, or sovereignty, of Esquire has been nibbled all around the edges.
White here puts his finger on the troubling crux of the gift culture so prevalent in our land now, involving not only journalism, but also political institutions such as Congress.
Dad bloggers, though, are not journalists. Moreover, they are entitled to make a buck. And corporations are multifaceted creatures. One brand, Huggies, even sent representatives to Austin specifically to talk to participants about eliminating the damaging dad stereotypes of a recent ad campaign.
HERE IS THE GREATEST THING
A moment occurred when the conference’s ambiguities became palpable. It was during a presentation of Dove men care products, when the speaker, Robert Candelino, in charge of brand building for Unilever’s skin care business, and a father himself, referenced the picture reproduced above.
The photo shows Drew Breese, quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, just after winning the 2010 Superbowl in Miami. Amid the streaming confetti, instead of doing the usual things that winning quarterbacks do, Breese reached for his young son and held him aloft, as if to say before God and anyone watching, here is the greatest thing in the world.
As Robert Candelino told the story, and told us it was why Dove wanted to be partners with Drew Breese, he grew silent. He coughed. He tried to talk, and couldn’t. And suddenly, the rain outside became the rain inside, and it rained in all of us.
I realized that the world is all of a piece, the map isn’t the territory, and nothing is simple anymore, if it ever was.
After the conference was over, in the Austin airport lounge waiting for a flight home, I sat alone musing on these things when Whit (Honea Express) tapped me on the shoulder. He asked me to join himself, Charlie (How to Be a Dad) and Andy (Beta Dad) for a quick bite.
It was a welcome invitation. I had come to the conference knowing only one or two participants, and though I met many men and women over the weekend, I couldn’t shake the conjecture that at heart, I was in, but not of, Dad 2.o. I suspect that sort of experience is more common among men than we like to admit.
The four of us sat at a table oblivious to the foot traffic around us and talked for an hour about many things, among which the tears of men. I told them about an early Just Add Father post involving a room full of crying men, one of the only posts I’ve ever done where no one left a comment.
It was an hour of grace. Something in our tiredness had gotten to the four of us and it was easy to speak the truth to one another. We were home, because home is wherever the truth can be spoken.
We talked about the tears of men.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
Dad Summit 2.0 — website of the Austin conference.
After the Conference — I meet a blogger friend, Barbara Shallue, and her family, in Austin. Photo evidence provided.
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