If you had told dad blogger Brent Almond a few years ago that he’d soon be flying to northern England to walk 84 miles along Hadrian’s Wall, he’d probably have thought you were crazy. But that’s exactly what he’s about to do, thanks to one really valuable cause, and a very special friend.
Almond, the man behind the popular blog Designer Daddy, first met his friend Oren Miller after joining Dad Bloggers, a Facebook group Miller created for fathers who write. There, he found a supportive community of over 1,000 men, where they could discuss all sorts of things pertaining to blogging and fatherhood. That safe online space, Almond tells Babble, existed specifically thanks to Miller, who worked hard to ensure that Dad Bloggers was a positive place for anyone who wanted to join.
“I’m one of very few gay dads in the group,” says Almond. “There aren’t a ton of gay dad bloggers to begin with, but Oren created the group to be a welcoming and supportive environment. He would stand for absolutely no homophobic (or racist) comments, and I felt like part of the group from the beginning. He was also really great about using inclusive language when addressing the group (using ‘spouse’ or ‘partner’ instead of ‘wife’), so I never felt unsafe or like an outsider.”
Through the group, Almond built friendships with a number of other dad bloggers, including Miller, and in addition to staying in touch online, they would also meet up in person at blogging conferences and events, or whenever they found themselves in the same cities. But in May 2014, Miller revealed on his blog, A Blogger and a Father, that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer — and that hit Almond and the Dad Bloggers community hard.
As Miller began treatment, a number of Dad Bloggers members came together to think of ways they could help Miller and his family, and Almond himself started a fundraiser, raising an impressive $40,000 for his friend’s medical expenses.
“As dads, I think that’s what hits us the hardest,” Almond tells Babble. “The thought of not being around for our kids, and wanting to do all we can to help take care of our friend’s family by proxy.”
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Miller died in February of 2015, leaving behind his wife, Beth, and their two children. Earlier in the year, three other Dad Bloggers, Phil Corless (of Idaho Dad), Jeff Bogle (of Out With The Kids), and Jim Higley (of Bobblehead Dad) came together to create a fundraising campaign for Camp Kesem, a national organization that provides free summer camps designed for children who have been touched by a parent’s cancer. The campaign, which became known as Dads4Kesem, would involve members of the Dad Bloggers community coming together to walk the Hadrian’s Wall path, a Roman monument near the England-Scotland border that spans the width of northern England.
Roughly one month after Miller’s death, Almond — who had read the eulogy at his funeral — decided to join Dads4Kesem, and along the way, the fundraiser also became a tribute to Miller and his legacy.
The 12 bloggers behind Dads4Kesem are hoping to raise another $40,000 during their 7-day walk, which begins on Sunday, July 10. And with that $40,000, they plan on starting a brand new Camp Kesem chapter at the University of Maryland, Miller’s alma mater. But that’s not the only way that Miller will be honored as part of the Hadrian’s Wall walk. While Hadrian’s Wall had been picked as the location for the fundraiser long before it was attached to Miler’s memory, Almond tells Babble that, rather serendipitously, it also turned out to be a meaningful place for Miller and his wife, Beth, too.
“Beth and Oren first met in London when Beth was visiting her aunt,” he explains. “She met Oren (who was originally from Israel but was living in London and playing in a band) in a pub. On the Friday night before the walk, we will have dinner at Beth’s aunt’s house, and then we will head over to the pub where Oren and Beth first met to drink a toast to him. Several of the UK dad bloggers from our [Facebook] group plan to meet up with us then, too.”
Almond, Corless, Bogle, Higley, and the eight other dads joining them on the walk have all committed to wearing a number of special Camp Kesem name tags during the hike, honoring the names of individuals who have battled cancer. While initially the plan was that anyone who donated at least $100 to Dads4Kesem could have the name of a friend or loved one on a name tag for an entire day, the response was so supportive that now, Almond says he’s currently up to “eight, possibly nine” name tags, which is “a real testament to how indiscriminate and far-reaching cancer can be.”
Almond will also be carrying along another special token: one of his friend Miller’s favorite hats, which will be hanging off his backpack as he walks. “He was a wonderfully kind and patient father,” Almond says of Miller. “And he had very high standards for his kids. He [also] had high standards for what fathers — and dad bloggers — should and could be. His main purpose in starting the group was so that any and every dad who wanted to share his voice via blogging and social media could be heard.”
Now that the walk is finally here, Almond says he’s looking forward to finally getting started after nearly a year of planning. And he’s also looking forward to finally having the opportunity, along with his fellow dad bloggers, to help make a new Camp Kesem chapter a reality, giving even more children a safe space to feel supported throughout their parents’ illnesses.
“It’s a comfort to know that if, God forbid, I or my husband (or any of us on the walk) are diagnosed with cancer, Camp Kesem exists,” he says. “One of a dad’s greatest fears is not being around to watch out for his kids — this eases that fear a bit. So maybe we’re not just doing it for Oren’s kids, but for our own as well.”
To donate to Dads4Kesem, Almond encourages others to visit the group’s fundraising page. Updates from the 12 dads who will soon be walking Hadrian’s Wall for Camp Kesem can be found on Twitter at @dads4kesem or under the hashtag #Dads4Kesem.