After a couple of years of taking his two young sons to library play groups and other events on Saturday mornings and almost always finding himself the only man there, Josh Benson got to wondering.
“I was thinking, ‘I know there are other dads doing this stuff, but where are they?’ ” he says.
More than just wondering, the now-34-year-old web developer did what he does best: He launched a blog and web-based community to support and encourage involved local fathers like himself.
“I knew there were Facebook groups for moms, but I searched and searched and couldn’t find any dad ones,” Benson says. “So I said, ‘You know what? I’m making one.’ ”
Benson, who lives in Ellicott City with his wife, Rebecca, and sons Benjamin, 5, and Julian, 4, launched Howard County Dads in January. The organization’s purpose, as described on its website, is to “foster a local support system for fathers by building community to share advice, war stories, happenings and schedule meet-ups.”
Creating Howard County Dads was natural for Benson, given his computer skills, love of community and the fact he wants to be an involved, capable father but grew up with a stepfather with whom he didn’t see eye-to-eye and had an “on-and-off relationship” with his birth father.
His organization has resonated with a growing number of other fathers. By early September, Howard County Dads’ Facebook group had grown to about 160 people, and its father-child outings (building projects at the local Home Depot, camping trips, visits to fire and police stations, and more) were drawing as many as a dozen dads and their children.
A slight majority of the members are fathers, but the group also includes wives, single mothers, grandparents, aunts and uncles. All of the participants, however, are dedicated to the “spirit of supporting dads,” Benson says.
“Women are out in the workforce and thriving,” adds Benson, whose wife is a teacher. “It needs to be more of a norm for dads to take the reins, to grab the kids and say, ‘I got this.’ ”
Besides the father-child events, Howard County Dads also offers regular happy hours at local bars or breweries, where fathers gather sans children or wives. “It serves as an outlet, so that they [the fathers] realize they’re not alone in being a hands-on dad,” Benson says.
Joe Russo, of Columbia, father of two young children, ages 5 and 3, got involved in the spring. After seeing an ad for the website (howardcountydads.com), he posted a comment on the blog about the struggles of getting your toddlers to brush their teeth. Benson responded to his comment and a favorably impressed Russo took his children to an event at Home Depot. Since then, he’s become one of the organization’s half-dozen core members.
“The biggest thing I get [out of it] is the support structure – having people to talk to, people to do things with,” says Russo, 43. “There are so many moms’ groups out there, it’s great to have something more focused on dads.”
Benson is pleased with the success of his group so far but is convinced there’s room for a lot more growth. His goal, he said, is to have a Facebook group of at least 1,000 by Father’s Day.
“At any given event, we can expect six or maybe a dozen dads, but there’s way more dads out there,” he says. “Howard County is really a family haven, with so much going on. We’re on a mission to get the word out and get more people engaged.”