I won’t pretend being a work-from-home dad isn’t daunting. I’ve been there, and what you gain in flexibility and time with your kids is often the envy of 9-to-5 fathers who may get home in time for dinner, soccer practice, or dance class—but rarely much more.
Dads who mostly work nights and weekends may miss a PTO meeting or orchestra concert, but the practical aspects of modern parenting remain culturally biased toward mornings and afternoons—and moms, in particular. But it can’t all be storytimes and jungle gyms. Too many tea parties are enough to drive a dad to drink.
That’s the Day Dad Dilemma, but Night Dads have fewer options still. When the park gets dark and the school day looms large the following morning, are there any adventures for fathers and their children to make Day Dads envious for a change?
As it turns out, there are—and Columbus is full of them.
Here’s an enviable itinerary for dads (or moms) hand-picked to help reconnect and create memories as the day grows long and the night is still young.
3050 S High St.
Nothing says nostalgia like a drive-in theater, and the South is the last one in town.
Located between downtown and the south side of 270 is a time machine of epic proportions. Two giant screens set back from the road noted only by a modest marquee. The evening double feature is the best deal in Columbus. Adult prices are about the same as the multiplex, but kids’ admission is just a buck—plus you can bring your own snacks. Lawn chairs and a blanket are great, but lounging behind your windshield still works just fine. Get there early for the perfect spot and stay late for the second show.
Best Bets: It’s easy to fall into the dad-time trap of “just you and me, kid.” And maybe that’s fine for the first film out. But sometimes, being a dad is best experienced as a spectator sport. Next time, bring a few of your kid’s friends along, buy a big bucket of popcorn, sit back and marvel at how connected kids can be when they are all watching the same thing as a shared experience, instead of being individually glued to their iPads. Not all screen time is inherently bad.
Ten Pin Alley
5499 Constitution Blvd., Hilliard
If your idea of summer fun is indoors and air-conditioned, go knock down some pins.
Ten Pin Alley may be outside the outer-belt in Hilliard, south of Cemetery Road, but the updated lanes and legit food and drink offerings make it a destination worth the drive. Bowling alleys easily get a bad rap for the dingy décor and smoke-stained ceiling of another age. Not here—it’s all kid-friendly and kid-approved. The recently renovated lanes also complement the robust, rotating bar menu and craft beer selection. You might just have to return another time with your grown-up friends.
Best Bets: If you go often, the Summer Bowling Pass is the way to go. For $100, you get an hour of lane time every day for up to six people (including shoe rental), through October 30. As if that wasn’t already a deal, a portion of the proceeds got to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio. This is another opportunity to bring your kid’s friends along and revel in the shared social awkwardness of adolescence.
3933 Trueman Blvd., Hilliard
For those unfamiliar with the “maker” movement, Tinker is your crash course.
Tinker offers children immersive access to emerging technologies like robotics, coding, and 3D printing. Just inside 270 off Fishinger Road, their class schedules cover toddlers to teens, as well as an occasional Makers’ Night Out where you get to take what you create. Birthday parties, or even hosting your own “maker mentor” event for your kids and their friends, offer options to build fairytale terrariums, design dollhouses, construct marshmallow shooters, or make superhero costumes.
Best Bets: If your kid is already obsessed with Minecraft, take the next step and go for a coding workshop. The sleek simplicity of the Raspberry Pi platform and its hardware are a low-cost entry into custom computing—even for elementary ages. Reluctant to buy your kids their own computer? How about letting them build one instead (for less than $50 in parts) so they can create their own games?
1249 Morse Rd.
Be the hero and introduce your kid to a universe of imagination and adventure.
Comic shops all need to find a niche to survive, and Comic Town has found several. Sure, you’ll find the standard fare of new releases and long boxes of back issues, but the comics market has become a collectors market as well. Action figures for kids and pricier cast statues coveted by adults intermingle with graphic novels and role-playing paraphernalia. Evening hours also host trading card games, like Magic: The Gathering, nearly every night.
Best Bets: Every dad loves a bargain, and the dollar boxes at Comic Town are treasure chests waiting to be discovered. These aren’t just bent-and-ding covers or unpopular overstock. Flip through the stacks to find well-known titles from Marvel and DC to obscure and independent releases. Some aren’t even that old, and include codes inside for digital copies you can download. You can even buy the following issue through the app to see what happens next. Added bonus for paper comics, they never need charging.
6513 Kingsmill Ct.
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: we all know that DAD + DANGER = FUN.
Their new facility just north of The Continent is bright and inviting for climbers of all ages and abilities. Though safe and supervised by capable staff, it’s not without the sensation of danger kids crave. Hands-on dads who want to try it on for size first should consider the Ropes 101 class. You’ll learn the basics and how to “belay” (hold and handle the safety rope) for your child. Plus, the class includes a two-week pass to try everything in the gym and scout out the best courses and climbing walls for your kids.
Best Bets: The Summer Climber’s Club runs Monday and Wednesday evenings for two hours of small group climbing, knot-tying, and practical problem solving that work the mind and body. Bring their friends or make some new ones. Need a little more support? Vertical Adventures also offers a Climber’s Club for kids with autism on Tuesday nights to build confidence and social skills while learning rope techniques and bouldering basics. Both classes are just $15.
610 West Town St.
Working on your cool dad cred? How about teaching your kid how fun it is to play with fire?
What started in the late 1980s as a “traveling hot shop” founded by a handful of OSU students and graduates has grown to become a Franklinton fixture for the art of blown, fused, cast, and stained glass. With more than 12,000 square feet of studio and gallery space, the class calendar covers nearly every night of the week and experience level. The organization has its roots in GCAC’s Artists-in-Schools program and the love for teaching still glows like molten glass.
Best Bets: You wouldn’t expect their “First Experience” classes to be so comprehensive and varied, but they are both. With projects and prices ranging from glass beads and blown ornaments to paperweights and neon, there’s the perfect project for you and your kid. Dads are often maligned for lame gift giving, so maybe make that first foray a present for someone special, like a teacher or grandparent?
Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza
5601 N High St., Worthington
Who says you can’t take your kid to the bar for a live show?
Well, not exactly “the bar.” Yes, Natalie’s does have a credible collection of craft beers and cocktails. But your kid is always welcome for eats and a show, so long as they sit at a table instead of by the taps. Though perhaps not a school night outing, their musical lineup is as eclectic as the toppings on their pizzas. The clean-burning, coal-fired oven creates a crisp crust and bubbly cheese, paired with impressive local and regional acts in an intimate, purpose-built performance space in Worthington.
Best Bets: Digital downloads just can’t compete with the palpable hum of live music. Acts range from blues to bluegrass, simple to soulful. Many shows start at 8 p.m., but if you get there before 7 p.m. you can grab the best table and still sneak in for the happy hour food specials. Highly recommended is the “seasonal pie,” offering the chef’s daily selection of fresh ingredients and locally sourced toppings. Come early, stay late, and let their pizza and performances surprise you.
116 E Long St.
Go old school and teach your kid what music was like before there were iPods.
This downtown, down-low location is an unpretentious destination for established and aspiring fans of analog audio. Spoonful Records finds just the right mix of collections and conditions to keep the experience approachable and affordable. Reissues and rarities round out the bins of classic and contemporary releases. There’s also a rich range of reasonably priced turntables, which they assemble on-site, that are perfect for your newly pressed audiophile.
Best Bets: Record Store Day can be crushing in any small shop, so try a weeknight when there’s more time to meander, sift through the stacks, and play some free pinball. Don’t judge an album by its cover, either. The best looking album cover could conceal a well-worn LP, and the rough covers sometimes reveal pristine vinyl that’s rarely been played. Take anything you find for a spin before you buy. •