They say the hardest job in the world is being a parent. So, this Father’s Day and every day, dads who step up to the plate and go above and beyond the call of duty deserve a big thumbs up — and a great big hug from the kiddos (and ladies) who love them.
Cool New York City dads Lance Somerfeld and Matt Schneider are co-founders of a very special support playgroup — NYC Dads Group — for papas who bond over their children and have a collective desire to change the face of modern fatherhood through the group’s multi-channel platform: blogs, meetups, workshops, and a podcast.
The idea was conceived one boring winter afternoon in 2008, when the two adventurous at-home dads decided to take their cozy little playgroup to the next level. After teaming up — babies and toddlers in tow — the group was created, and now it’s nearly 1,000 dads strong and growing.
Somerfeld, 40, was a public school teacher at an elementary school in the Bronx when he took on the challenging role of stay-at-home dad, after his son, Jake (now 5) came on the scene.
“It was extremely important for our family to have my wife Jessica or me providing quality child care for our son the first few years. Consequently, we made the decision that was the most practical for our family: that I would take a child care leave of absence from the Department of Education, and she would continue working full-time,” Somerfeld recalls.
But after his wife (a corporate actuary) returned to work, the newbie dad discovered how isolating staying at home could be.
“I wanted to avoid the common pitfalls of isolation, and find my people — a social group of fathers looking to connect, share ideas, vent frustrations, and go on adventures together with our children,” he explains.
He’d hang ou occasionally with good friend and fellow pop Matt Schneider, who had been an at-home dad for three years.
“Looking back, I realize how isolated I felt from the world outside my family. Helping to build NYC Dads Group and now City Dads Group has given me a new identity beyond my role as Max and Sam’s dad,” said Schneider, who lives in Battery Park City with his wife and two boys (ages 8 and 5). “I’m proud to be finishing two years as the PTA president at my kids’ school.”
So, what’s it like being a stay-at-home dad?
“I absolutely love spending quality time with my son,” says Somerfeld, who lives on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to relish in all of those small, wondrous moments that occur each day. Being an at-home dad really helps me appreciate seeing things through my child’s eyes. I get to be a kid again.
“My challenges are probably similar to those of other stay-at-home parents: I’m so involved in caring for my child that I often neglect carving out personal time for myself to pursue hobbies, be spontaneous with my wife, or make plans with friends. And, I have those frustrating moments where my child won’t stop crying or he pushes my buttons to the brink of insanity. I need to walk away and give myself a time-out to decompress.”
And so NYC Dads Group was born.
About the group
The group meets several times each week, membership is free, and it’s all about having fun and doing exciting, stimulating things together with the kiddies, who enjoy spending time with their dads and learning new things.
“It’s a diverse and active community of dads who are looking for the same kind of parental camaraderie and network that the mothers they encountered had built and relied upon,” says Somerfeld. “Dads Group members include stay-at-home and working, married and single, gay and straight, young and old, freelancers, teachers, and even a few professional clowns.”
Group playdates: Parent and me classes at Gym at Gymboree or New York Kids Club; soccer with Super Soccer Stars; and music with Music Together. There’s also yoga, fencing, and sign language classes with the little ones. They also hold an annual Halloween party and Father’s Day picnic. This year’s picnic is on June 7.
Outings to museums, parks and playgrounds: Including the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park Zoo, Jane’s Carousel at Brooklyn Bridge Park, and taking the tram to Roosevelt Island. The group recently visited LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Westchester.
Dads’ Nights Out (movies, sporting events, bars): Recently, 50 dads went to a sports bar to watch the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
Special events: These include family picnics, trips to ball games, and sponsored fairs and events. Visit the website for details
Educational workshops: The group hosts a variety of parenting workshops, including child passenger safety, potty training, healthy and happy sleep habits, introduction to nursery school, positive discipline, travel with babies, and the featured weekly class for expectant fathers: New Dad Boot Camp.
New Dad Boot Camp is offered almost every weekend at the group’s partner locations: 92nd St. Y (92Y), Tribeca Parenting, and CityBirths.
“Being engaged from pregnancy through the diaper years sets the foundation for a man to be an involved father and active parenting partner for life. New Dad Boot Camps offer expectant and new dads a frank discussion along with practical advice and hands-on training in essential parenting duties, such as holding, changing, and comforting your baby,” Somerfeld says.
These three-hour workshops, facilitated by a nationally certified trainer, connect experienced dads (and their babies) with newbies to talk about the opportunities and rewards of caring for our children.
They also discuss:
• Developing a bond with your new baby.
• Being supportive of your baby’s mom.
• Navigating work as a new parent.
• Developing a parenting partnership.
• Creating a baby-safe environment.
• Managing relatives.
How important is a father in a child’s life?
“Very important!” says Somerfeld. “Research shows that when a father is involved in his child’s life they’re more likely to graduate from college; that fathers are more physical with their children (in a good way, and kids need it); that we might push them to take more risks; that although we might do less housework, and we are the ‘fun’ parent, we are more strict disciplinarians.
“Bottom line?” he adds, “Parenting is challenging work, but it’s so much easier when you’re able to tackle and navigate all of the responsibilities together, as a team, with your significant other.”
This June, in an effort to spread the message that fathers matter, the city’s program Fatherhood Initiative will present the fourth annual Dads Matter Awards. These awards will recognize 10 fathers from across the city who have overcome challenges to become positive and consistent forces in the lives of their children.
The awards will be one of many opportunities to show that, despite the crisis of father absence facing communities across the country, these New York dads show up every day and are present and active in the lives of their child and communities.
The Fatherhood Initiative was established in 2010 to focus on important issues, such as:
• Make all city agencies as “father friendly” as possible.
• Uncover and remove any barriers that fathers may face in interacting with the city.
• Assist in the creation of memorable moments between fathers and their children.
• Support fathers as they improve their capacity to be good dads.
• • •
If you’d like to get involved with NYC Dads Group’s events, here are some upcoming dates:
• Annual Father’s Day family picnic on Sunday, June 7.
• Central Park Stroller Walk with Britax Affinity on Sunday, June 7.
• Summer “playground tour” (visits to different playgrounds in the five boroughs each week).
For specific details, visit: www.nycdadsgroup.com; the Meetup page www.meetup.com/New-York-City-Dads-Meetup-Group; on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NYCDadsGroup; or on Twitter, twitter.com/#!/NYCDadsGroup.