|The ride of the Muskrat|
I went to Texas last weekend, which is something I've never done on purpose before. It was Austin though, the cool part of the state, and the reason for my visit was to attend and speak at the first real dadblogging conference ever.
I had been away from my kids overnight exactly once since they were born, and hadn't been among large groups of males since the days when I worked on big construction sites. So, yeah--disequilibrium.
Here's how it went down:
- Thursday: Arrived at a resort in the "hill country" around Austin, which wasn't very hilly at all, except when compared to the rest of Texas. But it was rugged and beautiful in its way, like something out of Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove. Hoped the rain would clear up so I could hike or trail-ride or blast clay pigeons with shotguns.
- Went to the gym because I knew it would be the last healthy thing I did in a long while. Grabbed some dude to spot me.
- Met up with a bunch of yahoos I had hung out with that other time I stayed away from my kids overnight. Also met a bunch of new folks, and people I had previously known only as text and pixels. Had a few drinks, and the first of many plates of protein/carbs/bbq sauce.
- Had some more drinks. Schmoozed. Hotel bar closed unexpectedly at midnight.
- Went out in a 2-car convoy full of dadbloggers, looking for a roadhouse.
- "I'm scared," said one blogger, as we stood on the shoulder of the highway discussing our dwindling options. Wind drove fat hard raindrops down the back of my neck. "We're all scared," I said. We pressed on.
- Friday: Bounded out of bed, got inspired by keynote speeches and breakout sessions, met with the guys on my panel to hash out the details of our highly orchestrated presentation.
- Under the guidance of our fearless leader, dropped wisdom to a full house about writing good, being a good writer, how to write better if you don't write as good as the guys on our panel, which is pretty likely that you don't know how to. As good as, anyways.
- Went into a fugue state for about 4 hours. Swore to never drink Light Beer from Miller while REDACTED again. Missed my family. Went to the gym, I think.
- Had a relatively civilized evening by the lobby fireplace. Spoke passionately with some new friends concerning subjects about which my compatriots and I are passionate.
- Saturday: Got up, not feeling terrible. Watched rain pound puddles into the parched earth. Agonized over which panels to attend (seriously) because all of them either featured friends, people I admired, topics I wanted to discuss or learn about, or combinations thereof. More inspirational keynote speeches, including one by super-famous guy, Guy Kawasaki, who is famous for stuff I'm not sure I understand.
- Bus ride into Austin! Big fancy sponsored party with good free beer and pretty cool bands! Outside! Mud! And the greatest part...I met up with one of my best buddies from high school, who moved to Austin a while ago. Haven't seen him in 20 years.
- Carousing on 6th Street, which is much like Bourbon Street in New Orleans or the Gaslamp in San Diego. Booze-soaked (and rain-soaked in this case) douchebaggery. Not something I would do as a local, but pretty fun when you're in someone else's town.
- Oh, yeah. Watched two superstars of the mommyblogosphere ride a mechanical bull.
- Spent many hours in the rain trying to catch a cab back to the resort in Hill Country. Austin doesn't have many cabs, and there was another little event happening in town called South By Southwest. There was an incident with a sandwich.
- Sunday: Had a lovely brunch with my high school buddy and his family, plus Whit and Charlie.
|Eyewear by Sam Adams|
- Countless hours waiting for a cab
- Some more hours waiting for a plane.
All the panels and speeches were informative, lively, and exciting in different measures. I found that we talked about a lot of the things we always talk about when dadbloggers get together, and came to many of the same conclusions. The talks about how one could theoretically possibly maybe make some money in this racket got me briefly revved up; but when I thought of the work and the time and killer instinct necessary, I deflated.
Talking about writing and parenting and writing about parenting was where I found value. "Culture change" was a phrase that popped up a few times, and that's the arena in which I felt our efforts were most hopeful. Whenever we're together, we convince ourselves that we're making a difference in the way fathers' roles in society are perceived; but we usually gloss over the fact that we're a self-selecting group who reinforce each other's convictions. This time, however, there were real glimmers of hope that the world outside our sphere was paying some attention. Big brands believed in, if not our cause, then at least our market influence, enough to sponsor the shindig. And one notable brand who many of us felt had denigrated fathers when they thought they were celebrating us, parachuted into the conference to do some damage control. Even though I don't hold out much hope of getting my hot little hands on the money these brands dole out to "influencers," I think their interest suggests a larger shift in the perception of dads: specifically, that we identify as parents and take that role seriously and make decisions from that standpoint. And perhaps that we can even be decent parents.
The most immediate after-effect of this conference, however, was how great it felt to come home.
I had felt like I needed a break from the routine. My nerves had been getting frayed and my temper short. I thought that four days away from home would be relaxing and recharging, but it took the first three just to get over the discomfiture of not having my family around me. Grownups all over who expected me to have sustained grownup conversations. Decisions to make without the usual parameters. Hours to fill with no curfews or constraints.
When I got home near midnight, I sneaked into my kids' room (okay, closet, technically) and watched them sleep. When Cobra started crying at 1:00 a.m., as she is wont to do lately, I rushed up to comfort her. If she realized it was me holding her, she didn't give me any indication. She fussed herself back to sleep in my arms, and I held her a little longer than I needed to. Usually, I would have been muttering swear words as she screamed in my ear, but that night it was music.