5 Dads, 16 Kids: Here’s Why We Took a Dads and Kids Only Trip

dads only trip"
dads only trip
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson

I have seen the World’s Largest Underwear, the World’s Largest Overalls, and the World’s Largest Pair of Shoes. None of these were on the same person. They were stops on my annual Dad’s Trip. It’s a road trip where five dads and 16 kids explore our world, see the weird or amusing, and leave the moms to their solo time. What do the moms do while the dads take off? I have no idea, but I imagine it involves a lot of wine and cheese

The Dad’s Trip takes place over several days in the summer. We pick an adjoining state, do a little bit of research, and jump into the minivan. It’s the simplicity of the Dad’s Trip that makes it all the more fun. There are no complicated plans, unyielding airline schedules, or fancy hotels where toddler meltdowns would be even more embarrassing. If you’ve ever thought about planning your own dads and kids-only trip, you’re not alone. I’ve been doing the Dad’s Trip for the last 15 years, and it is the best thing I’ve ever done as a father. 

How it started

The first trip began because I panicked. At the time, like more and more millennial dads these days, I had been an at-home dad for several years. I changed the diapers, conquered toddler tantrums, and fought with never-ending laundry. But when my oldest daughter approached kindergarten, I realized that I had wasted a magnificent opportunity. I could have done more. I should have done more. So, I decided to take her to see the World’s Biggest Ball of Twine. Yup, that exists. The people of Cawker City, Kansas are very nice and into twine. 

dad and kids only trip
Source: Shutterstock

From there, the trip grew. The first trip was me and one other dad on the road for two days. The next year, it was three dads. Each year more kids and dads joined. At times, there have been as many as 10 dads and 24 kids. But the core group remains the five dads that have been on almost every trip. One year, we all caravanned down the highway to play baseball on the mythical Field of Dreams. And once there, as the early summer breeze made the infield dirt swirl, nuns showed up. Actual nuns. I asked them to play ball with us, and that is how the greatest game of baseball ever played began. 

The Dad’s Trip was meant to create memories that are unique to me and my family. But it became so much more. For the last decade and a half, having a dads and kids-only trip has defined my role as a father. 

dads and kids only trip
Source: Shannon Carpenter

It doesn’t matter where we go, but the people we bond with while there

There’s a guy who built a thing he calls Truck Henge. It’s a play on the classical Stonehenge. The man is gregarious, a bit eccentric, and lets peacocks roam around on his property. My kids tell that story better than I do, and for me, that’s the point. I have created core memories for them to go back to over and over again. When life is tough, they will use those memories to help center themselves. I know this for a fact because I do the same thing. And the bond that we’ve built over the miles acts as the bedrock of our relationship. Chasing wild peacocks surprisingly brings people together. 

But more than that, and what was unexpected in the beginning, is the community that I’ve been able to build because of the Dad’s Trip. The other dads and I are the proverbial support village that all parents want. It can be very isolating as a father, and it’s not like we are encouraged to share our emotions. Honestly, many times I don’t know how. But not with my other dads. They know exactly what I need to say when I don’t have the words to say it. It’s a unique relationship that has not only made me a better father and husband but a better man. 

dads and kids only trip
Source: Shannon Carpenter

I have been able to find my confidence on the road as a father and with the encouragement of my village. When my son was 2 months old, we went to see the World’s second-largest Earth Mover. I strapped him to my chest and handled the late-night feedings, early-morning cuddles, and constant exhaustion. And if I could do that, well, there isn’t much in the parenting world that I can’t do. I parent with the confidence that comes from having four other dads cheering me on and walking me through the most difficult parts of parenting such as sex, drugs, and Taylor Swift

“It can be very isolating as a father, and it’s not like we are encouraged to share our emotions. Honestly, many times I don’t know how. But not with my other dads. They know exactly what I need to say when I don’t have the words to say it.”

Our oldest kids are graduating this year and headed to college. They are making plans about dorm rooms and class schedules. But their first question is, “When is the Dad’s Trip this year?” They don’t ask where we are going, only when. 

I’m sure the World’s Largest Pair of Socks is out there somewhere. My dads and I are going to find it. 

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