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Alaska's Approach to InsideOut® Dad

I have been the Education Coordinator at Mat-Su Pretrial Facility in Palmer Alaska for over 15 years.

ak dep corr

I am passionate about providing parenting education for the fathers and fathers-to-be who are in our correctional institutions. While they are incarcerated, we as educators are afforded an incredible opportunity to make a difference in the lives of many young people/children and hopefully break the cycles that keep bringing men and women to our institutions.

Roughly 5 years ago, I ordered the InsideOut® Dad (IOD) program for the first time. In addition to my own desire to provide meaningful information to fathers, I had been tasked by our Deputy Director to find an evidence-based program for parenting that could be provided in all our Alaska facilities. The InsideOut® Dad program fit that bill and proved to be a worthwhile program. Even in pre-trial facilities, where stays are generally shorter, we were successful in having individuals complete the program prior to release.

A few years ago, I received a sample copy of the InsideOut® Dad Guide to Family Ties with my yearly InsideOut® Dad handbook purchase. I decided to try offering this shorter guide as a program in my pre-trial setting to see how it would be received and if I would have better luck getting completions before transfer with the Guide’s shorter time requirements. The guide was well received and because of the shorter time requirement I was able to “graduate” a greater percentage of individuals.  After achieving success in the pre-trial setting, I presented the idea of offering the InsideOut® Dad Guide to Family Ties in all of the pre-trials and short-term facilities to our Criminal Justice Planner (CJP) in charge of programs.  Prior to that, other short-term institutions or pre-trials were experiencing the same difficult issues maintaining class sizes for the extended lengths of time required for other program offerings.  The CJP agreed with my conclusion that this program would fit our needs and implemented the program into several of our facilities for the last two years. 

Scheduling
Alaska has 14 correctional facilities, 8 of those facilities provide education to pre-trial inmates and a few of those 8 facilities also provide sentenced housing and education. Several of the facilities providing education to pre-trial inmates are now using the InsideOut® Dad Guide to Family Ties, with more planning to begin this year. Classes are being scheduled from 2-4 times per week in 1.5 – 2 hr sessions. One educator stated: “The more condensed (scheduled more frequently) I make it the more constant the attendance, the higher the participant’s interest, and the higher the completion rate.” T.L.

In sentenced facilities, the InsideOut® Dad program (original and now v2) is offered. Most of those meet for class once per week for 1.5 – 2 hours for 10 weeks, 4 times per year. Generally they are focused on the core sessions but do offer some of the optional sessions, depending on the needs of the group.

Supplementing
The Alaska Domestic Violence Prevention Project has provided all of the Education Coordinators with a presentation and relevant DVDs on the effects of domestic violence on children as well as up-to-date information on ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and the impact these things have on development, growth, physical health and success later in life. We supplement the domestic violence sections in the IOD curriculum with these materials. Some of the Education Coordinators have supplemented the program in the following ways:

“I may use videos or bring in birthday cards or anonymous general letters for examples. But I do find that some of the best supplements come from the group itself. For example, I had one participant who was both inventive and creative. He created cartoon characters and storylines that he and his young daughter collaborated on. He would often read them in class. This led some of the others to do the same.” T.L.

“I supplement with the Drew Bledsoe Foundation’s “Parenting With Dignity” interactive DVD.” F.Q.

“During the class I allow inmates the benefit of 6 free computer prints per month such as greeting cards, and letters home to spouse and children to reconnect and build upon the father/child and husband/wife relationships, and then discuss any positive outcomes in class.” L.L.

“I like using the family guide and add things from the other book plus supplement it with letters home, coloring pages for the guys to send home so little kids can draw and color for their dad. K.W.

“I do not add too much to the course other than various statistics and information I have heard from other resources on fatherhood. I often will add personal experiences I have had as well from my own experiences as a father.” A.H.

“We are using InsideOut® Dad with alterations for the female inmates.” D.K.

“We have designed an on-going class called Parenting Relationships where dads have an opportunity to come to education and use art supplies and computers to make cards, stories, puzzles and the like to continue to foster communication with their children. Many will just spend time coloring pages either from coloring books or printouts of their children’s favorite characters to send them.” K.S.

Favorite Aspects and Activities from the InsideOut Dad Program
Several things about the InsideOut® Dad program come up as favorites, but there is general overall agreement amongst our institutional educators about one aspect in particular. The most beneficial part of the program is the group discussion that takes place. Once the participants feel comfortable and open up about their family and their children, they come together almost as a team to help each other or provide different viewpoints on issues that individuals in the group face. It can be especially so if there is a mix of younger and older participants. One educator, T.L., shared, “I have had some of my older participants go through a second time just to add a mature factor to the mix. It helps the younger ones to focus on their children rather than complain about their partners. This helps all the participants problem solve and resolve issues.”

Other favored topics and activities include:

“The inmates really enjoy making the Paper Hugs. At first some are a bit shy about the activity, but when they see prior examples and hear about how the children have responded, they jump in. I take pictures of them and print out a life-size version of their head to attach to the traced upper body. It looks so realistic and the families really appreciate it. Some have sent pictures of the kids standing with the Paper Hug to the father.” K.S.

“Inmates enjoy making Paper Hugs and reading stories to their children. They read into a recorder, I then burn their story to a CD and mail it to their children where circumstances allow.” F.Q.

“I enjoy Session 7.4 on Fathering and Fun, and the amazing discussions and feedback from inmates concerning the diverse home life they experienced growing up.” L.L.

 “In the family ties book it speaks more towards working with the mothers which is something that we would talk a lot about with the first InsideOut® Dad booklet. But the family guide gives specific things and is more a guide line. It helps the guys see the topic isn't just me talking, it validates the need for cooperation.” K.W.

“I enjoy starting out the book with "My Story". It gets the inmates to open up and everyone else an opportunity to get to know each other through their past and the way our parents play such a huge role in our lives. I also enjoy (Session 10) "Working with Mom and Co-Parenting". It really makes a difference to raise children as a team instead of solo and I try to push that point.” V.S.

“I think that chapter 9 on discipline elicits the most thought and change. Many of my dads were raised punitively and think that is the way to discipline. They are surprised with the connection between discipline and disciple and that discipline implies learning instead of punishment. They also appreciate learning about other alternatives to discipline besides punishment. We spend a lot of time talking about how to use positive reinforcement and even what an effective time out looks like.” J.K.

Success Stories
The bottom-line in parenting education is to provide an opportunity and an environment that disseminates relevant and useful information, inspires growth, and effects change. IInsideOut® Dad programs appear to provide that opportunity and environment. Here are some of the heart warming results some of our educators have seen or heard about:

“We had one father who made an arrangement with his PO to read a book with his daughter over the phone once a month and discuss the story. This inmate had purchased a second copy of the book and sent it to his daughter.” L.L.

“I continue to see connections made and eyes opened when we discuss their experiences from childhood and relate that to what their children might be experiencing now. This is especially true when we look at the effects of domestic violence or traumatic experiences on their children. They state more resolve in their efforts to provide stability and nurture to their children.” K.S.

“One of my older participants wrote to his adult daughter after nearly twenty years of no contact.” T.L.

“The guys love hearing from their children when they receive the paper hugs and stories.” F.Q.

“I have had several inmates tell me that they got more from it (IOD) than any of the other program classes that they took. I had one inmate tell me it helped him keep a positive attitude. He said putting his young 1 year old daughter on his mind helped him focus on coming up with a plan for how he was going to stay out of trouble when he gets out. After finishing the class and getting a certificate he wanted to keep coming to class because he thought continuing to discuss parenting would be a good thing for him to do to help maintain a positive attitude. He came to the first 3 classes of the next session up to the point he was transferred.” A.H.

“We had a mother and daughter who were both incarcerated at the same time and took the parenting class (IOD adapted for women) together. At first, they didn’t want to talk much about the experiences they personally had and it became apparent that they had very different views on their mother-daughter relationship. The mother clearly thought she had been a good mother and the daughter disagreed. It was a fairly small class, only five inmates and that actually worked in favor of getting them to open up a bit more. I think the mother was truly surprised to hear that what her daughter thought. The mother had always been a “fun” parent who let the kids do anything and to hear her daughter say she wished she had had more structure was an eye-opener. I don’t want to claim that the class “healed” the relationship but it seemed to have thawed it a bit. After that they appeared to spend more time together around the facility where previously they had been pretty aloof towards each other. And a week or so ago, I saw them chatting in an aisle at Wal-Mart.” D.K.

Last thoughts
In Alaska correctional education we are continuing to fine-tune our parenting education. The administration is aware of and supportive of the important role that proper, healthy parenting has in breaking the cycle of recidivism, criminal activity and adverse childhood experiences. We have a unique opportunity to provide tools and information that can effect positive behavior change for adults and in turn for their children. The National Fatherhood Initiative has been and continues to be an important resource in this process. Thank you, National Fatherhood Initiative and happy parenting!

Acknowledgements
Thank you to the following institutions for the valuable feedback they provided for this article:
Anchorage Correctional Complex East
Fairbanks Correctional Center
Goose Creek Correctional Center
Ketchikan Correctional Center
Lemon Creek Correctional Center
Mat-Su Pre-trial Facility
Palmer Correctional Facility
Wildwood Correctional Center

From Kaye Saxon, Education Coordinator, Alaska Department of Corrections, Mat-Su Pretrial.

Are Dads Really Clueless About Their Own Health?

I was doing some browsing on the Web when I came across a blog entry from Dr. David Katz, founder of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. The entry focused on the fact that men, especially fathers, need to turn a deeper focus on health and weight control. At NFI, we’ve made several references to the importance of health in men throughout our variety of resources and content. However, the doctor’s blog featured a few sentences that made me question just how thickheaded are men about getting healthy.

“We know that women are the guardians of the family health. We know that women, wives, mothers tend to do the heavy lifting when it comes to medical care, preventive services and diet,” said Dr. Katz in his blog, no doubt sharing a sentiment long shared by many. However, I grew up around men like my grandfathers and uncles who were always on top of their health. I’m particularly worrisome about my own health for a variety of reasons, some of which are hereditary.

Much like the meme going around that fathers are clueless when it comes to caring for their babies, a lot of archaic notions about men continue to be perpetuated. I became especially aware of my health needs after becoming a father. In fact, my peers who became dads all followed suit. How some of us arrived to that point was actually simple: taking care of children is taxing! I remember feeling like everything was hurting while running after my toddler, saying to my doctor that I needed to feel whole again.

I do get Dr. Katz’s overall point. As a father of five children and the editor-in-chief of the medical journal Childhood Obesity, he has an obligation to preach to the masses the importance of health. His blog was more so a call to fathers to set better examples for their children. I truly enjoyed his stance on saying that men who find working out and eating better to be feminine traits are acting “un-guy like” – slamming the notion that men can eat and do whatever they want without repercussions.

Dr. Katz is simply urging dads to eat better so their kids will too. The rapid rise in stroke risks in children between the ages of 5 and 14 attributed to obesity is unacceptable. The old adage “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” certainly applies in this case. Good health has to start somewhere, and fathers have a responsibility to lead by example.

I may not have been exposed to many men or fathers who were reluctant about staying healthy, but I do know we can all do better in providing a pathway to healthier living for our children by starting with ourselves.

No Child Beauty Pageants For My Daughter, Please

Reality television is literally like a train wreck. On some shows, one can witness the worst in human behavior, yet people still watch faithfully. There have even been “viewing parties” held during some of the more popular programs, a fact that still baffles me to this day.

One such program I had the displeasure of watching was controversial TLC show “Toddlers & Tiaras,” which profiles child beauty pageant contestants and their families. Already in its fifth season since premiering in 2009, the show is popular for all the wrong reasons.

The mothers of the young pageant contestants all push their girls, some young as two, to emotional and physical limits. They parade the little girls around in makeup, big hairdos, and even bathing suits. In the few times I’ve watched the show, I’ve never seen a father be involved in the shenanigans. As a father of a daughter, it troubles me to see little girls be put through the rigors of a pageant. I wondered often if the fathers are in the lives of the girls and how they felt about seeing their child in that light.

Perhaps I have a narrow male perspective but there is something limiting in this preemie beauty pageant nonsense that suggests the only goals these mothers have for their little girls is a life of preening and primping. I don’t see how a beauty pageant, especially at such young ages, promotes anything other than vanity. I would be appalled to watch the mother of my child force her to do something that adds such little value to her life.

I’m not alone in this thinking, as recent news suggests that the trend of child pageants teeters close to indecency. In France, lawmakers have banned child beauty pageants; this after a 10-year old girl was featured on the cover of Vogue Paris in attire not fit for a child. I don’t know if such a ban could happen here but I’m taking a stand for fathers who would rather see other ideals promoted in their little girls. Beauty and fashion are fine things to aspire towards, but what message does this ultimately send?

Just this week, the father of JonBenet Ramsey, the murdered beauty pageant contestant, came forward this week and called the Toddlers & Tiaras show “bizzare” although he allowed his child to participate. Reading his story, John Ramsey showed serious regret in letting his daughter enter the contests. I am in no way suggesting that JonBenet’s participation in these events led to her passing. Instead, I am glad to see one father finally speak up against the practice.

I happen to think my daughter is beautiful and worthy of being a supermodel should she choose that life as she gets older. For now, she has a lot of growing up to do and I’m in no rush to speed her down that path. Fathers, it’s ok to speak up for your little girls in cases like this. We have to protect our princesses any way we can.

Fatherhood: An Act of Valor that Takes Zeal and Knowledge

Last night, Justin, my 26 year old son and I were having a conversation about how father absence is affecting his generation. He told me that many of his friends who grew up without fathers are very committed to being good dads. However, he offered that they don’t know how to be good fathers. He said that they have “zeal without knowledge.”

Zeal is an old English word that you don’t hear often these days, especially from a 26 year old. But, it’s a concept that is very contemporary because it means to have an intensity for a cause, an eager desire and enthusiastic diligence. Alas, there is zeal aplenty in our culture today, so having a bit of it for fatherhood is certainly a good thing. That said, I think that my son was on to something by linking zeal with knowledge. Here’s why…

Early in the week, I spoke at an event and when I finished a guy about Justin’s age approached me. He told me that he had grown up without a father and he recently had gotten married and was going to be a father soon. He then got a very strange look on this face and said, “Everyone keeps telling me that I am going to be a great dad and I really want to be…But, honestly, I’m struggling with how they can know this or how I can do this… I never had a dad.”

He had zeal without knowledge…

So, I sent him an email with links to several of NFI’s low cost products for new dads like, “When Duct Tape Won’t Work”, an interactive CD designed to improve his understanding of how to help his infant through the toddler years, and “24/7 Dad Interactive”, an interactive CD designed to help him with everything a good dad needs to know, from maintaining a strong relationship with mom to effectively disciplining his children.

I was delighted that this new dad-to-be had the wherewithal to understand his problem and proactively seek help. But, frankly, I am amazed at how many dads, especially ones older than this father, will spend $50 bucks or more to watch a pay-for-view sporting event but won’t invest less than $20 for resources, like the ones that I mentioned above, to help themselves become better dads. And, some dads who will spend hours researching and drafting the perfect fantasy football roster—as if it was “real”—but would consider it a fantasy to join a small group of other dads for just an hour a week for 6 weeks and use the "24/7 Dad Power Hour" to hone their fathering skills. Of course, these fathers say that they want to be good dads. But, discipline, not just desire, determines a dad's destiny. Indeed, they have zeal but they lack the discipline to get the knowledge.

And, that’s a real problem. Let me give you an example to better illustrate this point.

A few weeks ago, a movie called “Act of Valor,” which featured the heroics of real Navy Seals, hit movie theaters nationwide. The film was an instant box office hit. In fact, it was the top grossing movie during the opening weekend and continues to do well. No doubt, thousands of dads lined up to see the film. And, I can see why. Here you have a bunch of guys, many who are fathers, doing amazing things that make us proud to be Americans. Plus, lots of stuff gets blown up!

However, here’s the interesting thing about the Navy Seals in this movie. They have zeal…lots of it. But, they also have knowledge. Why? Because a Navy Seal without both is dangerous. He’s the type of guy on the mission who would kick a door in, guns blazing, and shoot the hostages and rescue the terrorist! In fact, others in his unit can’t count on him to have their backs. So, no one wants this guy on their team. It’s too risky. They would just as soon do the mission one man short.

So, am I saying the untrained dads are dangerous? Of course not. But, I am saying that these dads are less effective and are not prepared for the most important “mission” of their lives--raising their children. This is unacceptable. But, it is also fixable because a guy can learn to be a better dad. Accordingly, if you are a dad with zeal, like that young unprepared dad that I spoke to, I want to encourage you to do as he did. Zealously seek knowledge. Get the resources and training that you need to be the best dad that you can be. After all, being a good dad is the ultimate act of valor.

Devoted And Heroic Dads Should Inspire Us All

Once a man takes on the important task of becoming a father, it suddenly stops being just about his life from that moment. You are now responsible for an entire person, even as they grow from infancy into adulthood. When a father is involved, responsible and committed, the bond established with your child is unbreakable. Sometimes in times of danger or emergency, a father’s automatic instinct is to protect. Most fathers I know who have good relationships with their children all share this innate trait.

The story of Erik Chappell, the Michigan attorney who leapt into action to save his two boys after a car bomb attack, inspired me to recall other tales of fathers who became knights in shining armor for their children.

In 2010, David Anderson and his daughter Bridget, just two at the time, and their scare in New York was an example of a father thinking of nothing more than saving his child. His little girl fell into a cold East River after which a brave Frenchman and Anderson dove into the water to rescue the toddler.

Joe Gutierrez proved his heroic mettle after rescuing three babies from a burning fire in Texas last month. Treating his actions like another day in the office, Gutierrez responded coolly, “I’m a regular guy. I’m not a hero, I’m a father. That’s what fathers do.”

Although I didn’t leap into freezing waters or burning buildings, I received a call today from my daughter while she was at school. Calling from the nurse’s office, I could tell something was amiss with her. I immediately stood up, and began walking towards the door to leave, not even regarding that I had a lot more work to do for the day. Whenever I hear my child in despair, she’s no longer the tiny little person of 11 years ago. I harken back to holding her just out the womb. I don’t see a tweener, I just see my baby.

Even now when she coughs too loud or says ouch, I get right up to see what the situation is. I’ve been told by dads of older girls that eventually, she’ll tire of my doting ways and will want some independence. I know I can’t always don a cape and take care of her problems, but I can’t imagine being any other way for the rest of my life. I hope and pray that my daughter will always know that while I can’t fix everything, I’ll do anything I can in my power to give her the best and safest life.

Like Mr. Gutierrez said, that's what fathers do.

Tommy Jordan And The Path Of Parental Redemption

It was just a month ago when a entire nation was shocked to witness a gun-toting, cowboy hat-wearing Tommy Jordan unload nine shots from a handgun into his daughter’s laptop. The aftermath of the event led to visits from Child Protect Services and the Department of Social Services, online commentators calling Jordan everything but a child of God, and a surprisingly high number of supporters.

Clearly remorseful but still staunch in his reasons for his actions, Mr. Jordan and his family have rallied around each other despite many thinking their situation was much more explosive than it was. I dare say the Jordan family may be a tighter unit than any of us could have ever expected.

Jordan, his daughter Hannah Marie and his wife, Amy, all appeared on NBC morning program TODAY show with host Matt Lauer. When Lauer asked Hannah her feelings about her dad’s actions, she clearly has processed the moment far quicker than America has. “We went our separate ways for a while, but we were able to laugh about it afterwards,” she said to Lauer. Hannah did say her father overreacted but that she ultimately accepted his actions.

Jordan’s wife, a doctor, also supports her husband’s actions and apparently gave Tommy the green light to destroy their daughter’s laptop. “People may look at the video that don't know him or us and think we're just completely uneducated country people. That’s not the case. He’s very intelligent, very thoughtful. He rarely does anything without thinking it through or even consulting me on a lot of occasions. This wasn't any different,” she shared.

On air, Tommy Jordan admitted to his mistakes which he and his wife said was inspired by his daughter’s initial mistake. Both mom and dad’s overall point: watch what you say online because it can come back to haunt you. “Don't post anything on the web you don't want the entire world to see. That was why we were upset with her in the first place and all of this has driven the point home,” said Mrs. Jordan.

Another moment that folks should notice was that of Mr. Jordan revealing he did indeed save Hannah’s hard drive from the same fate her laptop suffered. He looked his daughter in the eye and told her point blank that when she’s allowed to have a computer again, she can access her old files.

Like any other family, the Jordans aren’t perfect by any means. Tommy Jordan realizes that his shoot-em-up stunt has made for weighty consequences for he and his family. But together, it seems like they’re working it out just fine. Perhaps it’s time to let this story rest and allow a family to heal and find their path to redemption all on their own.

Father Absence And School Discipline

Before I joined NFI’s staff, I never heard of the term "father absence," but I was most certainly a product of it.

Raised by a single, African-American mother in a tough neighborhood, I had to navigate the dangers of my environment and still be a well-behaved student. My mother worked late five days a week, and I was left alone often. Naturally, I modeled my behavior after the tough guys in the neighborhood, carrying that attitude into school. I was in trouble frequently for insubordination and not following instructions. Mom attributed much of my actions to my father not being around to help guide me.

A national survey conducted by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) points to a glaring gap between the discipline students of color faced compared to their white counterparts. The numbers showed that while the collected data counted for just 18 percent of African-American students, Black males were shown to have nearly twice as many suspensions and even higher numbers for expulsion.

According to recent reports compiled using Census data and other sources, it was found that last year just 33 percent of Black children lived in a two-parent household compared to 85 percent of Asian children, 75 percent of White children and 60 percent of Hispanic children. Nearly all children living in single-parent homes lived with their mothers, with over half of those being Black children.

While the OCR survey is said to be expanding its research categories in the ongoing survey, it hasn’t been said to include data regarding the number of parents in the home. Education Secretary Arne Duncan addressed reporters in an open call on Monday ahead of the release of the data, asserting that the numbers are not directly a result of discrimination. Educators, obviously invested in what the data means ultimately, wisely noted that race, poverty and struggling school districts plays a part in what’s happening.

I scoured a lot of text while writing this blog entry, and not one person mentioned the family structure, at least in my searches. There is nothing said on whether these students of color are in two-parent homes or not. According to research, children from father-absent homes are more like to have behavioral problems. Why are commentators ignoring this reality?

In my own experiences, not having my father present in the home directly impacted how I behaved when I was not under my mother’s care. I’m not a statistician or researcher, but other numbers mesh with this report. 24 million children live apart from their biological fathers, with two out of three Black children and one of three Hispanic children dealing with father absence.

That alone points to something I’d like to see the OCR address in their further collection of data. While it’s not the Department of Education’s aim to offer a counter to the problem of father absence, I’m a living example of how the issue of academic failure could also be attributed to growing up in an unbalanced home environment.

Regardless of race and other societal factors, you can’t always expect well-behaved children in the face of father absence. In fact, the more the gap widens between fathers and children, the more we can expect numbers like this to spike even higher, and that’s truly a shame.

Does Chris Brown Need A Father Figure?

R&B singer Chris Brown burst onto the scene in the fall of 2005, and like the rest of America, I enjoyed his energetic dance moves and singing. Just 16 at the time, he was a fresh face poised for stardom. I knew some people personally at his label, and I rooted for his success.

His first two albums were full of puppy love talk, ballads, and up-tempo songs that captured his talent. In February 2009, however, my perception of Brown’s music and personality changed after the violent domestic dispute between he and ex-girlfriend Rihanna. Then 19, Brown assaulted the beloved pop singer after attending a party together earlier that evening. Naturally, Brown caught the wrath of both the media and his fans. The images of Rihanna’s swollen face still haunt me.

At the time, Chris Brown’s biological father, Clinton, defended his son, saying his son was remorseful. Chris didn’t grow up with his biological dad as his parents split when he was young. His mother, Joyce, remarried and Donelle Hawkins became his stepfather. In 2007, Chris revealed that his stepdad would beat his mother and that the situation filled him with rage, saying he even plotted to harm him. Although Hawkins denied striking Brown’s mother, he did confirm that it was a tense relationship.

It’s no stretch to see that Chris Brown modeled behavior he grew up seeing. He wasn’t given an opportunity to witness a man treat his wife with respect and honor. His violent reaction to Rihanna was reportedly sparked by an accusation of Chris sneaking around with other women, leading to the fight. It was nearly the same pattern of events he would have to endure between his mother and stepfather. Instead of learning to resolve conflicts sensibly, Brown’s propensity to fly off the handle continues to this day.

Brown has since gone into the gutter with his lyrical content. Moonlighting as a foul-mouthed rapper and morphing into a sex-crazed singer, he has lost all of the innocence in his music that once defined him. Another evolution of Brown’s character is his caustic online persona. Gone is the man who was subdued and reflective after his appearance on the Larry King show months after the 2009 incident. On his popular Twitter account, Brown is often profane and pushed into rage easily once anyone mentions his violent past.

Rihanna and Chris Brown are reportedly together again; with some saying they never split officially. Disappointing fans and opponents of domestic violence, they have also recorded new music together that’s unfit for young ears. Rihanna herself lived with an abusive father in her native Barbados, who she has since forgiven. To his credit Brown has tried to address the issue but while he begins with his heart in the right place, he is easily moved to anger. Even entertainers on Twitter have pushed Brown to the edge and even challenging him to fights.

Had Chris Brown been closer to his dad, a corrections officer, would he have received better guidance? Is it possible that Brown still needs a father figure or a mentor that can steer him away from this downward spiral? In other words, Chris Brown has a lot of growing up to do and may need a guiding hand along the way.

Make Mine A Maxima: A Nissan Fan's First Auto Love

Although NFI is wrapping up its “Innovation For Fatherhood” partnership with Nissan, I’m really thankful to know that a car brand I’ve loved for years has shown a deep commitment to being an automaker dads can trust. Although I wasn’t a father when I made my first car purchase, I do want to share a story on how Nissan won me over thanks in part to my dad’s love for cars.

I’m not exactly what you would call a car buff, but my father was a bit of a collector. One of his favorite cars was his Datsun 280ZX, which he called “Tammy” for reasons still unknown to me. I always liked the sporty look of the car, and I remember playing a lot of “that’s my car” games with my brother whenever we saw one on the road. However, the car that first stole my heart was the 1988 Nissan Maxima.

When I finally got to high school and the reality hit that I could soon be driving, I crafted an ambitious plan that I was going to work at the local fast food joint, cut grass in the summer, and do house paintings in my neighborhood for money. I truly believed I’d save enough money to buy a Maxima but the time I graduated from high school.

My dreams were dashed and car ownership eluded me until I was around 19 years old. The 90s were upon us and while the Maxima underwent a change into its third generation shape at the time, I still wanted the boxier ’88 model. Luck would have it that a man who lived in my neighborhood was selling his sky blue Maxima. My father was skeptical, saying I shouldn’t buy a used car but everything checked out.

I loved this car so much that I even learned how to do maintenance and I’m not the handiest guy around. The engine was the same as another favorite car of mine, the Nissan 300Z, and it was zippy! I pushed the car to the limit, racking up well over 100,000 miles in five years. Because of my loyalty to the brand and a higher income bracket, I was able to upgrade my car to the fourth generation version in 1996. It was all black and it was customary to see me in the summer cleaning and waxing my car every weekend.

An accident some years later (which wasn’t my fault) totaled the car and I’ve missed it since. I’ll admit that I’ve owned other cars since then, but I still want a Maxima. It’s amazing how sleek the car looks now in its seventh generation, coming a long way from its inception in the late 70s. Should good fortune shine upon me in the near future, I can say without hyperbole that a Maxima will be the car that I’ll buy.

Chardon High Shooting: Symptoms of the Father Factor

Image by Aaron Josefczyk, Reuters.

On Monday, a teenage gunman shot five of his peers at Chardon High School. When this story first broke, my initial impulse was to skim the news for hints about the shooter’s family life, as I’ve become more aware that there is usually a “father factor” in these sorts of stories.

T.J. Lane’s motives for shooting his five classmates (three fatally) are still largely a mystery, and I will leave journalists to speculate on the mental processes leading up to Monday’s horrific events. However, I did discover that Lane’s story does indeed have a father factor. It would seem that the lifestyle choices of Lane’s father had a significant impact on him.

According to multiple news outlets, T.J. Lane was born to Sara Nolan, while she was in a relationship with his father, Thomas Lane. Sara and Thomas’s relationship was tumultuous and eventually ended in divorce after repeated incidents of domestic violence. T.J. stayed with his mother, and it’s unclear if he had much contact with his father afterward.

It’s reported that his father went on to marry another woman and started a family with her. But he was repeatedly abusive to this woman, and went on to get in trouble with the law for assault, kidnapping, and attempted murder.

Clearly, having an uncommitted and unstable father was a significant part of Lane’s story.

The knowledge that his father acted violently toward the women in his life must have had an impact on T.J., and the absence of an involved father probably left T.J. craving affirmation, acceptance, and without a clear idea of what a healthy relationship between a man and a woman could look like. T.J.’s Facebook page shows that he was dating a girl from his youth group, but that she recently broke up with him to date someone else. The new boyfriend is reported to be one of the victims of Monday’s shooting.

T.J. Lane is ultimately responsible for his own actions, but I have to wonder: would he have done this if his father had been positively engaged in his life? Would these three high school students be dead today if T.J. had a dad who cared about him and modeled healthy relationships with women? Would T.J. have shot his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend if his own father wasn’t abusive to T.J.’s mom?

These questions deserve serious consideration. As this shooting and its aftermath plays out in the media, I’d urge you to remember that the news stories we read are often just about the symptoms of deeper issues.

Many heinous events like these have a father story behind them. We’ve noted before how the D.C. sniper situation in 2002 was largely cause by two men with deep father-needs, and how the Tuscon shooter last year was affected by his negatively-involved father. And just this summer we saw a mass murderer in Norway whose life was marked by his absent father.

An involved father makes a significant positive impact on the lives of his children, and you never know what might be averted by ensuring that you are a positive and loving presence in your children's lives.

Get Off The Couch, Get In The Game

I grew up in a time where I was able to witness home-based video games grow from their clunky infancy to the heights of technological wonder we see today. I don’t play video games as much as I used to. In fact, my father, 62 years young, knows more about video gaming than I do. As a dad of a young daughter, I’m not totally out the loop as we have the Wii gaming system.

Like most parents, I was drawn to the idea that you had to get off the couch to play many of the games for the console. However, a new study reported that the benefits of “active” video gaming might not boost physical activity in kids. I don’t find this particularly shocking, as there’s only so much you can do physically in front of the TV in the family room. I do disagree with the idea that active gaming isn’t helpful. If fathers and mothers played the active games with their children, it could become a bonding family routine.

My daughter is about as physically active as an 11-year old should be. She loves to play active games with me and we always have a great time. For me, the dual benefit is that we both get to move around a bit and raise our heart rate, and further, we get to bond a for a bit. With some of the sports simulations, I’m actually playing games that mimic activity my child wouldn’t normally do. Perhaps we’re not getting the same benefit compared to an outdoor activity, but playing games with your family can be engaging.

Even with the active games, getting outdoors is especially vital for families of young children. Your child may not be the next big star athlete but you can still introduce them to games that will inspire movement and activity. Playing catch, kickball, and even talking brisk hikes in your neighborhoods or trails are some fun ways you can get your kids off the couch a bit more. If your child isn’t that great at sports, you can still go outside and toss around a Frisbee or basketball.

Active video games are also evolving with the times, with some even featuring physical training. There are even studies that show active games can boost activity in kids. The bottom line is we shouldn’t think poorly of active video gaming, but fathers and families should certainly hit the power button at times and get active in other fun ways with their children as well.

Are you a video gaming dad? Do you play games with your child and family? Tell us more in the comments below or tweet to us at @thefatherfactor. You can also visit and "like" our Facebook page by clicking here.

Dads And Depression: Are You Passing Your Symptoms To Your Children?

I can admit to the Father Factor readers that I’ve struggled with depression over the years, with therapy and group sessions aiding me through the rough patches. Various things happened over the course of my life that led to my diagnosis, but I tried hard to mask the pain. This is a dangerous practice done by lots of people, especially men. This could prove to be even more troubling if you happen to be a father.

There is a disturbing lack of research showing what being a depressed father does to children in the home– until recently. A study undertaken by NYU researchers found that one out of every four children who are raised in a home with depressed parents soon develop mental health issues of their own. This nationwide study captured data from 7,247 US households where the parents and children all lived. Of that number, 6% of the fathers showed results that suggested they were depressed.

Further numbers in the research paper show other alarming stats: 15% of children with a depressed father showed symptoms; 20% of children with a depressed mother showed symptoms and, lastly, 25% of children living with two depressed parents showed symptoms. Factors influencing the depressive symptoms in parents included poverty, joblessness, and having a child with special health care needs.

Amazingly, this is the first large study done on male depression as it relates to fatherhood although there is plenty research on maternal and postpartum/postnatal depression. One could suggest that men are typically insular with their emotions and cope silently. Another point could be that many men don’t even know where to go for resources. When was the last time you saw a men’s mental health care center in your neighborhood? Do you know of any outreach groups doing work on a large scale?

I can tell you from my own experience that finding help for my depression was an epic task. I called therapists and counselors who all had many female clients but barely any male patients. Finding groups to talk about my issues also proved difficult, as I scoured the Internet and newspaper classifieds for assistance. Eventually, I did find some help.

It was important for me to move beyond my depression as a father. I know that my child watches every move, so it became necessary for me to make sure she doesn’t repeat my mistakes. If we want to make certain as fathers and parents to not pass on bad physical health habits, we have to start including our mental health in that equation as well.

Are you, or a father you know, suffering with depression? Do you think fathers pass on bad mental health habits to their children? Leave us a comment below or tweet to us at: @thefatherfactor. You can also like and comment on our Facebook page by following this link.

Minnie Driver And The Curious Case Of The Hidden Father

Image courtesy of Splash News

I became a fan of English actress Minnie Driver after her star turn in Good Will Hunting in 1997. Driver’s good looks and charm had her seemingly poised for stardom. She then starred in the box office flop Hard Rain, and while she kept acting in smaller films and TV, nothing came close to the fame she gained working on Good Will Hunting.

I read a story from British newspaper The Observer which featured Driver offering a revealing look into her private life. Before now, Driver had been mum about the identity of her three-year old son’s father. She was still vague in her revelation during her interview, only opting to say there isn’t much to the story.

"We weren't together and he wasn't directly in the business," she said. “So I chose to protect him and not have a rain of publicity. I know, but it's ridiculous. He's not famous. There's no big story. I don't need to protect him anymore. He can fend for himself. He's a grown-up.”

The unnamed mystery dad was a writer on short-lived television series The Riches of which Driver was a co-star. Driver shared some opinion of the father’s parenting duties. “He's figuring it out. I mean, he hasn't been that involved; his choice. But he is now,” she said.

Driver’s cavalier decision to keep the father out of the limelight may be a manifestation of her own upbringing. Driver’s father was a married man with a family who had no idea that Minnie and her sister existed. Although Driver’s mother was her dad’s mistress, she doesn’t seem to hold any ill will towards her father for his choices. She even compared herself to her father, neatly saying he “lived his life.”

For Minnie's son, Henry, one can only hope that his mom and dad will become effective co-parents and allow a relationship to build as it should. Driver has seen many mistakes up close when it comes to fatherhood. It would make sense for her to include her son’s father in raising their child. While I find it curious that Driver shared the news after hiding the facts for three years, perhaps this is her attempt in giving Henry a chance to know his father in the best ways possible.

Father Factor readers, what do you think about Minnie Driver’s decision to speak openly about her son's father? Tell us in the comments below or tweet to us at @TheFatherFactor. You can also like and comment on our Facebook page by following this link.

Fond Memories of Family Firsts in the Nissan Pathfinder

This is a post by Kayla Cates Brown, NFI's Project Specialist. As part of NFI and Nissan's Innovation for Fatherhood campaign, Kayla shares her memories of one of her family's favorite vehicles.

I am a native Texan by birth and have been a licensed driver for over 30 years and can easily state that in Texas trucks are a big deal!

Almost any native Texan will give their opinion on which truck is the best based on their experience with owning or driving one. However, when I think about the trucks that our family has owned and used to navigate the many road ways in Texas, I fondly remember our 1999 Nissan Pathfinder.

As a family with two young daughters, we celebrated lots of “firsts” and adventures with it. Our oldest daughter, who is also now a licensed driver, remembers telling the neighbors the story of how the SUV found its "path" to our garage on New Year’s Eve 1998. The path began with driving to the "parking lot with lots of cars and trucks;" she was miffed that there were no purple colored ones. Then came the process of correctly buckling both car seats into the SUV, which many parents can attest is much easier said than done. Our daughter remembers driving around in big circles while offering comments to the salesman on how her "sissy" was enjoying the ride. Eventually the path progressed to a purchase and we brought home our first truck.

Other "firsts" we celebrated with the Pathfinder were:
  • It was the first and only car we have ever paid for fully in cash.
  • It was the first car we owned to have a soccer sticker on it – which for our family is a big deal, as we have spent the last 12 years cheering and watching our daughters play soccer. I officially earned the title "soccer mom" due to all the driving associated with this dedication.
  • It took us on our first trip to the hospital to get stitches for our younger daughter when she was 14 months old.
  • It moved us from our first house to our second house.
  • It brought our first adopted rescue dog, Daizy, home from the shelter.
We also shared lots of great family adventures in the Pathfinder while taking road trips to Angel Fire, New Mexico for skiing; many trips to Port Aransas Beach near Corpus Christi, Texas to enjoy some fun in the sun; camping at Inks Lake in the Central Texas Hill country; and lots of travel to Dallas - Fort Worth to visit our extended family.

I guess you could say the Pathfinder was the vehicle that assisted our travels, keep us safe and warmed our hearts. If only DVD players were an available feature in 1999, the Pathfinder might still be in our garage today...

A Father Cannot Afford To Be Careless With His Children

Most parents will agree that taking a small child or children into a grocery store or on a shopping trip can be a test of wills, especially if you have a curious little one. Shelves are enticements to young eyes and hands all too willing to explore – and also tear down – the displays as they walk by. There’s also the danger of your child hurting themselves darting about all the grownups and not controlling their motions as well. As tempting as it may be to leave your child in the car while you try to quickly shop, it’s a terrible idea waiting to happen.

One upstate New York man is learning this very lesson now after leaving his six-year old napping child in the backseat of his car – which was still running – as he went inside a convenience store this past weekend to grab a drink. An unidentified thief, seizing the opportunity, hopped into his car and took off with the sleeping boy in the back. After a countywide search, the car was found a half-hour later with the boy unharmed and still asleep. The poor little guy was so tuckered out, he slept through the whole harrowing ordeal.

Whatever this drink the father had to snag while leaving his boy asleep in the back of his car couldn’t compare to the possibility of him losing his child forever. This is just a bad idea and indicative of an irresponsible parent putting their child in harm’s way. Naturally, the police are looking to charge the man with child endangerment and rightfully so. What if the thief was violent and hurt his son? What if a chase ensued and the thief wrecked the car with his boy still inside? The variables of the situation are not positive at all. And according to the news story, the family has already suffered tragedy involving a child previously.

I suppose it’s fine to be impatient at times, but when it comes to your children, a father needs to curb those feelings and remember that the main debt they owe their child is to keep them safe as possible at all times. This is especially necessary when you’re out in public with your children and an occurrence of this sort is highly preventable.

As the police lieutenant said who oversaw the case said, “People just run inside and figure they are only going to be gone for a couple minutes. I don’t care if you have nothing in the car, or your children, lock the car up and bring your kids inside.”

Or maybe, just get the items you need from the store later or with another adult to help supervise your children. Makes perfect sense to me.

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