Organizer Spotlight, Father’s Day Edition: City Dads Group
Lance Somerfeld and Matt Schneider met when they were both teachers at the same Bronx, New York elementary school. They worked together for two years, teaching sixth grade by day and taking classes at night as they pursued Masters degrees in education. “We bonded,” recalls Lance. “We had a lot to share.”
When Matt’s wife gave birth to their first son, Matt opted to take the childcare leave of absence offered by their school, typically only accepted by mothers. “Matt was a trailblazer,” says Lance. “He took advantage of the policy and became the primary caregiver to his son.” Three years later, Lance and his wife welcomed a son of their own. “I took a leap of faith,” he remembers. “I thought: what better way to be a teacher than to my own son? I walked into the same principal’s office, and told him I was following in Matt’s footsteps to be a stay at home dad.”
By the fall of 2008, Lance’s son was a few months old, and his wife was heading back to work. Lance knew he needed a support network that extended beyond his baby boy. “I’m an extrovert,” he says. “I need a social network of guys I can lean on. I knew I wasn’t gonna have my wife to navigate each day with.” He looked around for a local dads group and came up empty handed. That’s when a friend from his neighborhood told him about Meetup. He broached the idea to Matt, and they decided to start a group of their own. The NYC Dads Group was born on November 24, 2008. Their first Meetup took place a few days later, at Big Daddy’s Diner on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
The group grew slowly at first. “The idea of looking for a community of dads was new at that point,” says Matt. “There were a whole lot of Meetups where it was just Lance and me at a museum, or Lance and me at a park.” They recall an early Meetup at the Whitney Museum, where the dads brought their kids for lunch. “There were six or seven of us,” remembers Matt. “We had lots of people coming up to us asking, ‘are you on a day off?’ No would could fathom the idea of that many dads getting together.”
After a while, momentum picked up. The group grew to include several hundred dads of all stripes: gay, straight, working, stay-at-home – the Meetup embraced them all. Lance and Matt realized they’d touched on something special. “It became important to us at some point,” says Matt, “to show the world that there are dads who are really active in their kids’ lives. The way we were going to change the perception of what it means to be a dad was by being very visible.” When one of the NYC Dads moved to LA, he leapt at the chance to bring the group’s model with him. Soon after arriving, he co-founded the LA Dads Group. Slowly but surely, word spread. Today, there are eleven Meetup chapters in cities across the U.S under the City Dads umbrella. “We’ve been able to take what we know about running a Meetup, running a dads group, and really support these guys getting together in other cities,” says Matt. “It’s been really fun to see all these dads getting together”.
Lance and Matt credit the success of their Meetups to a few things. “We learned early on that having a leadership team of Co-Organizers and Event Organizers is key,” says Lance. “It’s almost like a succession plan. If someone were to move or get a new job, we know there’s longevity.” Especially in larger, more sprawling areas, “it helps us to have Event Organizers spread across the city,” says Matt. They also learned to use the power in their numbers to secure exciting opportunities for their members. “It helped us grow our membership to plan really exciting Meetups that people wouldn’t be able to do otherwise,” Matt explains. The group has hosted jazz Meetups at New York’s Lincoln Center, and art classes at the MoMA, alongside park playdates, and dads nights out. “Organizations love to have dads come in and experience their services with their kids. We create these mutually beneficial experiences … we have a market, we have an audience.”
The future certainly looks bright for City Dads. “If you were to ask us a year ago if we’d be in the spot we are now, with eleven Meetup Groups around the country, we would have said you’re nuts,” says Matt. “But I hope we get bigger and bigger! I would love to see a dads group in every metropolitan area of the United States, and even internationally.” If there’s anyone who can pull it off, it’s the City Dads. But first, there’s Father’s Day just around the corner. How will these super dads be celebrating on Sunday? “I’m sure I’ll get a handmade card from my son,” says Lance, “and that’s exciting enough.”
Photo courtesy of the NYC Dads Group