San Mateo resident, blogger and father of two Mike Heenan had hoped to receive more of a welcoming at a playground meetup he attended this month for mothers and kids. Dads were welcome, too, he had been told, so he was surprised when he and his daughters were shunned by the mothers in attendance.
"I got the cold shoulder. The moms were on the outside of the fenced-in playground exchanging candles and snacks," he recalled. "Children were hurting themselves, hurting each other. I was the only dad there, and no one ever said hi."
Heenan felt the experience was enlightening, however, saying it made him all the more grateful that he's a member and co-organizer of a growing group of active, involved Bay Area fathers.
The SF Dads Group is part of a nationwide network of city-based dads groups. The San Francisco regional branch, which is open to fathers all over the Bay Area, already has nearly 70 members after being up and running for just five months.
The fathers typically meet up at parks or children's museums with their children, or occasionally get together for dads nights out, sans kids. It's been an amazing opportunity to meet and share experiences with other active dads in the local community, Heenan said.
"We're growing steadily. And forgive me if I get choked up, but it's been tremendous," he described of bonding with others experiencing fatherhood.
Heenan and another of the group's organizers, Beau Coffron, hear from a lot of fathers that they don't feel welcome at events primarily catered toward mothers. Both men met through a network of dad bloggers, and say they both jumped at the chance to become involved in this burgeoning real-life dad network.
The number of fathers who stay at home with their children has nearly doubled since 1989, according to statistics from the Pew Research Center. By 2010, there were 2.2 million stay-at-home dads across the country. That number has since decreased slightly during the recovery from the recession, but Heenan said he feels that he become part of a new era of modern, active fatherhood.
Local fathers don't have to be the stay-at-home kind to get involved with the SF Dads Group. It's open to all -- single, married, full-time stay-at-homers, dads who work full-time in or out of the home. What matters most is that the fathers care about active parenting, members note.
"We have one local politician who recently started attending," Heenan said. "He has a strictly regimented schedule, and he wants to be part of the group so he doesn't become an approachable workaholic to his two young daughters. So we have a really diverse group."
One of the major challenges they face as they grow, Coffron said, has to do with the group's geographical scope. Due to the size of the Bay Area, group members have not quite determined how to ensure that the meetup locations are convenient and accessible to everyone interested. But as both men are quick to point out, the group is young and expanding, and they have the time and resources to figure such issues out as they go.