There is no shortage of daytime playgroups in Austin, but many stay-at-home dads face a dilemma: Being the only man on the playground can be uncomfortable. Stay-at-home dad Rod Haden experienced this for himself after his son’s birth in 2007. “I was a little nervous of being the ‘weirdo’ on the playground all by myself, my kid and me,” he chuckled. Fortunately for Haden, and for many other dads, he connected with the Austin Stay-at-Home-Dads Playgroup (groups.yahoo.com/group/Austin-SAHDs). Founded in 2003, the group provides regular meet-ups at parks and playgrounds around the Austin area, giving dads the chance to get outside with their kids, socialize, and be active.
According to Saturnino (“J.R.”) Almanza, the group’s current organizer, “At the time, there were a lot of dads who wanted to get out, and maybe some of them felt uncomfortable on their own…the idea was, ‘Hey, let’s all band together; there’s strength in numbers.’ That was the impetus for getting started.” Throughout the years, as kids have gotten older and membership has churned, the group has continued to thrive.
Meet-ups occur at some of the “choice” parks in Austin, and, whether that day’s activity is a hike, pick-up basketball game, or a simple round of tag, there is an emphasis on being active. “We like places where kids can be active and [we can] run around and play with them,” explained Almanza. “We try to keep our locations to outdoors. We try to be active dads and not let our kids play by themselves.”
The group’s focus on actively engaging with their children easily facilitates social bonds among its adult members. Once a month, the group holds a “Dad’s Night Out” at a local restaurant or bar where members can interact without their kids. “I’ve always been a shy, introverted person, and I have a kid who’s extremely outgoing,” admitted Haden. “[This group] has opened me up more to getting to know people. I’m more likely to introduce myself to strangers than I was before.”
The group is managed through an email listserve and, although there are leaders who facilitate events, any dad can suggest an activity at any time. The group even has a few female members, although Almanza admitted that there is still something special about the all-male dynamic. Regardless, anyone is welcome to join. “For any stay-at-home parent—or any parent, really—it can be overwhelming,” he said. “To know you’re not alone can be a powerful thing. This group really understands that.”
Arvin Poole is a divorced dad of two daughters (ages 6 and 8) who enjoys scheduling activities for the time they share. One weekend, he’d planned a picnic but the day turned rainy; Poole wanted to find an activity but, at his suggestion, the girls exclaimed, “Not Chucky Cheese again!” At a loss, Poole thought to Google “things to do with Dad” in Austin. What he found shocked him: “Nothing focused on fathers. And that’s when the light bulb went off.” Poole, who’s been working in the technology space for 25 years, thought a smartphone app would be a wonderful resource for dads. However, in the process of researching this idea, he came to realize that there was a bigger problem—fatherless homes. “There are 24 million fatherless homes here in the U.S.,” he explained. “I knew that I wanted to supply a resource for those families, something that provided everything a dad would want to help him connect with his family and be a better parent.” The nonprofit, Day with Daddy, was born.
Day with Daddy is still in its infancy, and Poole has spent much of his time securing the group’s 501C status. There was a launch party in March as part of the SXSW Interactive conference, and Poole has been busy building Day with Daddy’s Facebook page and website (daywithdaddy.org). It’s been a learning process as well. “Over the last year, I’ve had some insight into some pretty horrific family scenarios,” he said pensively, and this has sharpened his resolve to be the “go to” place for dads who are “co-parenting.” He has a clear vision of where the group is going and where his priorities lie.
“First, I’d like to host an event, a meet-up for dads, every quarter,” said Poole. There have been past events, and a Father’s Day event is in the works for Austin, San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas (check the Facebook page for details). The next phase of development involves “an online program for fathers that teaches communication” in four- to six-week sessions involving one-day-a-week tutorials that are content driven yet still interactive. “The goal is to show that there’s a better way of connecting as co-parents,” he said. The third leg of Day with Daddy is the original idea that started Poole down this path—the app. He sees it as several things, but one of the most interesting aspects is that it will provide a virtual place where separated fathers and mothers can maintain communication, such as syncing calendars and sharing important documents, without personal interaction.
While Poole works on these programs, he’s also speaking about the problem of fatherless families (he’s given several radio talks on Atlanta’s Tenacity Radio, most recently on May 7 as part of the “Love Jones Experience”) and creating material to help dads with being better parents; check out his “Top 10 Kid Friendly Recipes for Dads” at arvinpoole.com. Day with Daddy recently nominated three dads to Jet’s “Fantastic Father” contest (results were announced on May 20 in the “Men’s Issue,” jetmag.com). And, as always, Poole continues to enjoy time with his daughters and celebrate being a dad.
When Brad C.’s* first child was born eight years ago, you might say he approached fatherhood as an athlete would a race: He began to get into shape. Brad had always been active in his youth, but years of working in a stressful job took their toll. Spending long days in front of a computer screen, working overtime on weekends, and eating catered—and often unhealthy—lunches caused Brad to gain 45 extra pounds, making him the heaviest he had ever been.
Concerned that his health and poor fitness would interfere with his ability to keep up with his daughter, Brad knew it was time for a change. “I was going to be a stay-at-home parent,” he explained. “I had not felt very good, and the stress started to wear off after we had our daughter, but I knew I needed to get back in shape.”
Brad started his journey back to fitness by returning to a sport he had loved during his adolescence: martial arts. “I was going to class two nights a week and eating a little better and trying to sleep when I could,” he said. “It was good to go back and do something I had enjoyed in the past. I would go to the class and have time for myself.”
Between his newfound exercise regimen and changes to his diet, Brad’s weight began to come off. Before he knew it, he was 40 pounds lighter and had much more energy—enough to keep up with the physical demands of fatherhood. “I was getting into shape for myself,” he asserted, “but because of the amount of energy that a baby required, [fatherhood] was something I needed to be in shape for. They don’t get any less energetic, right?”
Over the years, and even with the addition of a second child, a son, Brad has not only managed to maintain his weight loss but has also instilled healthy habits in his kids, with the help of his wife Jennifer. Living fit is a family affair, and Brad is quick to admit that having children has whipped him into the best shape of his life. Having active children has even forced him to expand his exercise repertoire to include other sports, like running.
“These past two years, my daughter has been really interested in running,” he laughed. “She’s just a really good runner. I can’t let my daughter run faster than me, so I started running a bit. My kids are all old enough that we can all run together.” With his daughter’s school only half a mile from their home, Brad and Jennifer typically alternate walking/running with her for drop-off and pick-up. They also run around their neighborhood as a family, participate in “fun runs,” and have helped to implement the Marathon Kids program (through which participants run or walk 26.2 miles over the course of six months) at her school.
Brad believes that exercise should be fun, which is why he views playtime as the perfect opportunity to be active with the whole family. “[Sometimes] that ends up with sword fighting, which is a good solid hour of cardio if they’re feeling rambunctious; sometimes we’ll go to the park and they want us to play tag,” he explained. Like his kids, Brad said, “I want the chance to run around and play.”
In addition to playtime with his family, Brad is a long-time member of the Austin Stay-at-Home-Dads Playgroup, which holds regular meet-ups at area parks and trails for fathers and their kids. The group gives both Brad and his children the opportunity to get out of the house during the day, stay active, and socialize with others. He even takes advantage of one of the group’s meet-up locations (the Central Market playground) to teach his kids about food: “We walk through the store and get samples and go grocery shopping. There’s always some new food choice to try, and we say, ‘Try it; if you don’t like it, that’s fine. You can try it again another time.’”
Brad believes it’s essential to get kids involved with meal times. “The kids eat what we eat most of the time; once or twice a week they get to pick dinner or cook with us,” he explained. Although their children are relatively accepting of new and healthy foods (green smoothies are on regular rotation), they occasionally get picky. “Even if you’re disciplined, even if you’re an adult, you get tired of the same things,” Brad admitted. “We just try to be encouraging and not force. People don’t like that… Mealtimes are not always perfect, but you can see them make the choice, the better choice.”
Fatherhood can be intimidating, and making the time to exercise and plan healthy meals can be overwhelming for any parent. For Brad, however, being a living example of healthy habits is essential to being the kind of parent he wants to be. He asserts that families can take simple steps to incorporate such habits into their routines (for example: making playtime an opportunity for physical activity and talking to kids about where their food comes from). “The excuses not to do it are hard to defend,” he said. “Everyone’s schedules are different. I’m very lucky we have the flexibility but, even if we weren’t getting outside all the time, it’s not any more time to get [the kids] involved in food choices.”
The payoff of such a lifestyle change, according to Brad, is in not only becoming more fit but also in being able to enjoy more quality time with your family: “It’s nice to know that it’s going to benefit my children. If I wasn’t in shape, or if my kids went hiking and I couldn’t do that, I would be pretty sad about it.”