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The Fatherhood Gap

I am a husband and father to two beautiful children. They directly affect a lot of the decisions my wife and I make.

As a matter of fact, shortly after the arrival of my firstborn five years ago, I changed careers because of him. Little did I know that my change from retail management to education would move me from the sidelines of the fatherhood game to smack-dab in the middle of the action. 

mind the gap brick wall

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America—one out of three—live in a home where their biological father is not present.  

The above statistic is both staggering to me and saddening. I was blessed to be raised in a home with both a mother and father who loved me and wanted the best for me. They pushed me to be the best and showed me there was no limit to my potential. I am the husband, father, and productive member of society that I am today because of them. However, some don’t have it so lucky.  

On a daily basis, I deal with children who are living in situations that they have absolutely no control over. I deal with children who frankly don’t even know who their father is. A couple of years ago, I was writing for National Fatherhood Initiative and did a poll of my class about fatherhood. Fifteen out of the twenty-five children in one class did not have their father in their household. Six of the students had absolutely no contact with them and frankly said they didn’t care if they ever saw him. One student looked confused and I asked them what they thought a good father was supposed to be. Their reply was, “He at least leaves a picture so you know what he looks like.” I went home with a heavy heart that day and decided my job description was going to need some tweaking.  

Let’s be honest, the world is full of horrible fathers. Those who want nothing to do with their children, be it financially or physically. Granted, some of those absences are at the discretion of the mother, but often it is the selfishness of the man who doesn’t want to do his job. My friends, that is where we come in as those who choose to stand in the gap.  

I apologize for the “standing in the gap” cliché, but it paints a very honest picture. Anywhere in life where you find a gap usually means danger of injury. Growing up, my little brothers were scared to cross the footbridge over the creek to the barn because there were gaps in the footboards. More often times than not, I would carry one across and then go back and get the other one. It was only about a five foot drop in the creek, but the children I see on a regular basis are dealing with a much more dangerous impact than our farm’s creek.  

Even after controlling for income, youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds. Source: Harper, Cynthia C. and Sara S. McLanahan. “Father Absence and Youth Incarceration.” Journal of Research on Adolescence 14 (September 2004): 369-397.

We know that children who live in a home without their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.  

I once told a perspective father that becoming a Daddy was scary and easy. I try to reassure Tyrone that it was like God puts a Daddy chip in your head and it activates when the baby gets here. About a year ago, his wife gave birth to a daughter and he sent me a message simply saying, “You were right. This is great.”  If only every man embraced his role like this one.  

Men, we have to do what we can in the lives of those children around us. Throwing a football with a youth might not be that big of a deal to you, but Houston-area police officer Ariel Soltura thought enough to stop and play catch with a kid he saw playing by himself. Time is one of the most valuable things you can give a child.  

Can't view the video? Click here.

If men like Officer Soltura don’t stand in the gap to be a positive influence, the scariest thing is that someone else will. Odds are, they won’t be the role model the kid needs but they will be offering the love and acceptance that the child is yearning for.  

My question for you is...will you stand in the gap?

 

This post is from Maury Wood. Maury is a sixth grade teacher. He is married with two children and has mentored young people for over ten years. Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.

 

Parenting Tips Inspired by Military Fatherhood Award Finalist CPO Patrick Mondragon

The end of voting for our 2013 Military Fatherhood Award finalists is fast approaching. If you haven't had a chance to watch the videos of the four finalists and vote for your favorite, check it out on Facebook now!

This week, we're shining the spotlight on CPO Patrick Mondragon with some tips from his experience as a dad that you can apply in your own family.

Chief Petty Officer Patrick Mondragon, U.S. Navy

  • CPO Patrick Mondragon, Military Fatherhood Award finalistCurrently serving at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California
  • Father of two kids, daughter age 9 and son age 8

Read CPO Mondragon's nomination

Tip 1) Spend one-on-one time with each child
In addition to spending time as a family, CPO Mondragon spends one-on-one time with both his son and his daughter. He takes his daughter to an annual Father-Daughter Dance, goes on field trips with the children's classrooms, and does other special things with both kids. Remember that each of your children need different things from you as a dad. Make a commitment to spend regular one-on-one time with each kid.

Tip 2) Make special days memorable for your kids
Before deploying, CPO Mondragon recorded videos his kids could watch on Valentine's Day, Christmas, their first day of school, or when they've had a bad day. He also creates a countdown activity calendar leading up to Christmas. Think about creative traditions you can add to your family's holidays. And don't forget to recognize the other big moments in your child's life, like losing the first tooth, starting school, or making the varsity team.

Tip 3) Make family dinners a priority
CPO Mondragon gets to work an hour early so that he can make sure he's always home for dinner with his family. Not every family is able to have dinner together every night, but as much as you are able, take time to have a meal together. NFI has some great ideas for how to use family meals as a opportunity to connect with your kids.

Tip 4) Read with your children
While he was deployed, CPO Mondragon served as the United Through Reading coordinator to help the sailors record videos for their children of themselves reading books aloud so that the kids could still have their dad read to them even while he was gone. For most civilian dads, bedtime stories don't require a DVD player - just grab a book and sit down together! Check out NFI's suggestions for investing in your children through reading.

Tip 5) Be strong for your family in the challenging times
When his children were very young, CPO Mondragon's wife experienced a life-threating medical situation and was hospitalized for an extended period of time. He had to assume full responsibility for their two toddlers and take care of her - and continue to fulfill his military duties. Your family's challenges will be unique, but your hard work, leadership, and love are key to helping your kids feel secure and grow through the situation. 

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Parenting Tips Inspired by Military Fatherhood Award Finalist Ssgt Jorge Roman

We're in the last few days of voting for the Military Fatherhood Award! Make sure you vote everyday for your favorite finalist! Each dad has great stories and we are grateful for their service to our country.

Even if you're not in the military, you can be inspired in practical ways by our Military Fatherhood Award finalists. This week, we're featuring SSgt Jorge Roman.

Staff Sergeant Jorge Roman, U.S. Army

  • Ssgt Jorge Roman, Military Fatherhood Award finalistCurrently serving at Fort Stewart, Georgia
  • Father of two daughters, ages 9 and 8, and expecting another

Read Ssgt Roman's nomination

Tip 1) Make everyday experiences learning opportunities

The Roman family enjoys being outside, and Ssgt Roman is always looking for opportunities to teach his daughters about nature, bugs, and plants. He also shares his love for art with his daughters by painting and making crafts with them. A great way for you to bond with your kids is to share your interests and look for teachable moments in the daily activities of life.

Tip 2) End every day on a positive note

Ssgt Roman and his wife tuck the girls into bed every night by reading a story or singing a song together. Even when he was deployed, he joined the family for bedtime by telephone as often as he could. Depending on the age of your children, a bedtime story might not be your family's evening routine. And, there will be days when you have to discipline your children or when your teens want to assert their independence.  However, make a commitment to end every day on a positive note with your family. 

Tip 3) Turn the phone off for family time

Ssgt Roman turns his phone on silent or off during dinner and other family times. The family knows that sometimes he has to answer the call of duty, but he is committed to not letting work interrupt his time with his family. Check out NFI's tips on how to turn off your phone and establish balance between work and family.

Tip 4) Invest in other kids who need a father figure

One of Ssgt Roman's colleagues in the Army is a single mom with four children. Ssgt Roman brings her kids home from school when he picks up his daughters, invites the children to play with his kids, and tosses a ball around with the son. He makes an effort to be a positive male role model for these children. NFI calls this being a Double Duty Dad. You probably know kids whose dads are not as involved or are absent from their lives and can be a positive influence in their life in simple but profound ways.

Tip 5) Know what is really important to pass on to your kids

Ssgt Roman is a first generation American. He didn't grow up with a lot of money. He is passing on the "American dream" to his daughters with the emphasis not on material things but on spending time as a family and instilling good values. As a dad, know that your relationship with your family is the real legacy you pass on.

 

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Parenting Tips Inspired by MFA Finalist Ssgt Charlie Linville

As we encourage you to vote for our 2013 Military Fatherhood Award™ finalists through May 12th, we're sharing tips inspired by the finalists that you can us with your family, even if you aren't in the military.

This week, we hightlight Ssgt Charlie Linville.

MFA13 Linville5 good resized 600Staff Sergeant Charlie Linville, U.S. Marine Corps

  • Currently serving at Balboa Naval Medical Center Wounded Warrior Battalion in San Diego, CA
  • Father of two daughters, ages 5 and 2

Read Ssgt Charlie Linville's nomination

Tip 1) Connect with Your Kids Through Challenges.
Ssgt Linville sustained injuries in Afghanistan and had his right leg amputated, yet that hasn't stopped him from playing with his daughters, taking them to fun places, and being involved in their extracurricular activities. His experience is not something most dads have to deal with, but you have other obstacles that can make it challenging to interact with your children. Whether those challenges are physical, geographical, or related to busy schedules, make an intentional choice to put your kids first and invest time with them, even if other factors make that difficult.

Tip 2) Communication is Vital.
While deployed, Ssgt Linville used modern technology such as Skype to stay connected with his daughters, but he also mailed them hand-written letters and brought them home gifts from his deployment. You can do the same thing while business traveling. Those real indications of your love will mean everything to your kids!

Tip 3) Model persistence and Hard Work.
Despite his injuries and daily pain, Ssgt Linville chooses to smile and spend time with his daughters doing their favorite activities. Linville understands the importance of teaching his daughters that they can accomplish anything in life. Your example of handling obstacles and difficulties will leave an impression on your kids and will prepare them to take on challenges with a good attitude.

Tip 4) Serve Your Community.
Ssgt Linville spends time talking with kids who are struggling with their dads' deployment and invests in other wounder warriors and their families, even through something as simple as babysitting their children. As a dad, your unique experiences will equip you to encourage and help other kids, dads, and families. Don't discount the impact of inviting another child to join your family for an activity or offering childcare for a couple who needs a night out.

Tip 5) Value Every Moment.
Because of Ssgt Linville's combat experiences and injuries, he knows that life is short and he makes sure to hug his daughters just a little longer every day. Even if your family never faces a life-threatening situation like military combat, your kids will grow up all too fast. Fathering is a challenging journey, but make the most of the time you have right now and enjoy every moment. Get those hugs in early and often!

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Parenting Tips Inspired by MFA Finalist Major Kevin Billups

NFI invites the nation to help select the 2013 recipient of the Military Fatherhood Award™ by voting for our four finalists on Facebook. These dads are inspirational examples of involved, responsible, and committed fatherhood and we are grateful for their service to the country.

As we encourage people to vote for the finalists over the next four weeks, we'll share practical tips inspired by the finalists that you can apply with your child. This week, we're shining the spotlight on Major Kevin Billups.

billups resized 600Major Kevin Billups, U.S. Air Force 

  • Currently serving at Tyndale AFB, FL
  • Father of three children

Read Maj. Billups' nomination page

#1 Get involved in your child's activities.
Major Billups serves as a Cub Scout leader in his son's troop. He helps his son learn the material in the Cub Scout handbook and work toward the achievements required for advancement. Being involved in your child's activities allows you to spend more time with your child, get to know your child's friends, and encourage your child to develop skills and interests. Whether it's a Scout troops, sports team, school or church activities, or other extracurricular activities, take an extra hour a week to be part of something your child is doing.

#2 Find ways to connect with your child.
When Major Billups was deployed, his son packed his favorite toy dinosaur in his dad's luggage. Maj. Billups took the dinosaur on all his flights and sent pictures home of the dinosaur accompanying him throughout the day. The dinosaur gave his son a fun way to see what Dad did while he was away. If you travel for work, you can do something similar. No matter what your job entails, find fun ways for your child to identify with what you do on a daily basis.

#3 Involve your child in household chores.
As is the case with most families, much of the Billups time is spent apart at work and school. Maj. Billups involves the kids in everday tasks and chores so that they can spend more time together. This also enables him to teach the kids responsibility. Your kids, no matter how old they are, can also help around the house. Identify age-appropriate tasks that your child can do or find ways to let him help you in your projects.

#4 Share your fathering experience with other dads.
Maj. Billups is an instructor for fathering classes that teach new dads how to support their pregnant wives and care for their newborn children. You don't have to teach a fathering class to pass on your experience to other dads. Take a younger dad out for coffee and talk about your fathering journeys. (NFI has a resource for mentoring other dads or fatherless children - check out the Double Duty Dad™ Guide.)

#5 Spend time together outside
Maj. Billups enjoys sharing his love of the outdoors with his children. They go fishing, gardening, build makeshift tee-pees, and other activities he enjoyed as a child. The family also captures their adventures by taking photographs. As much as you can, turn off the TV and get your family together outside.

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Help us select the 2013 recipient of the Military Fatherhood Award!

Every year, National Fatherhood Initiative celebrates military fathers and families through our Military Fatherhood Award™.  We get hundreds of nominations and after narrowing down to four finalists, we turn to the American people to help us select an Awardee by voting on Facebook

Our finalists are going above and beyond in staying involved in their children's lives, despite the challenges of military life, and they are an inspiration to us.  We hope they'll inspire and encourage you too.

Ssgt Charlie Linville, 2013 Military Fatherhood Award FinalistSsgt Charlie Linville, U.S. Marine Corps - a combat veteran and Wounded Warrior, Ssgt Linville insisted on attending his daughter's first karate competition the day after having his leg amputated and continues to plan activites with his daughters, despite daily pain.


CPO Patrick Mondragon, 2013 Military Fatherhood Award finalistCPO Patrick Mondragon, U.S. Navy - CPO Mondragon was effectively a solo parent while caring for his wife and kids - and continuing to fulfill his military duties - during a life-threatening health complication his wife experienced.


Ssgt Jorge Roman, 2013 Military Fatherhood Award finalistSsgt Jorge Roman, U.S. Army - a first-generation American, Ssgt Roman is fulfilling the American dream for his children, teaches them art and fitness, and has continued to parent his daughters during overseas deployments.

Maj. Kevin Billups, 2013 Military Fatherhood Award finalistMaj. Kevin Billups, U.S. Air Force - leaving for his eighth deployment in a few weeks, Maj. Billups is not only an involved father to his three children, he teaches other new military dads how to prepare for fatherhood and care for their little ones.

You can watch the videos their families created and vote for your favorite finalist on NFI's Facebook pageVoting opens on Monday April 15 and closes on Sunday May 15.  You can vote once every 24 hours.

We're excited to introduce these wonderful dads as outstanding examples of fatherhood and to honor them for their service to the country.

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Steubenville Rape Case: When "I Love You" is "Too Little, Too Late"

The internet and social media are buzzing this week with criticism of CNN's coverage of the Steubenville rape trial in which two juvenile males were convicted of raping a severely intoxicated 16-year-old girl.  Trent Mays, 17, was sentenced to two years in a juvenile detention facility and Ma'lik Richmond, 16, was sentence to one year.  Critics charge that CNN's approach is "pro-rapist" and that the anchors and correspondents are showing more compassion for the two perpetrators than they are for the victim.

There is plenty of commentary on CNN's angle on this story, so we won't address that here.  However, in CNN's coverage of the conviction of the two young men, they have unwittingly highlighted the "father factor" in crime that we at National Fatherhood Initiative have repeatedly pointed out. (See previous posts on the Sandy Hook shooting, the Aurora theater shooting, the DC snipers, the Tuscon shooting, and the Chardon High School shooting.)

In her report after the judge handed out the sentence, CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow recounts an emotional moment between Ma'lik Richmond, one of the convicted youth, and his father:

You know, something that came up throughout this sentencing. Ma’lik’s father had gotten up and spoke. Ma’lik has been living with guardians. His father, a former alcoholic, got into to a lot of trouble with the law, been in prison before.

And his father stood up and he told the court, ‘I feel responsible for this. I feel like I wasn’t there for my son.’ And before that, he came over to the bench where his son was sitting. He approached him, he hugged him and whispered in his ear.

And Ma’lik’s attorney said to us in a courtroom, I have never heard Ma’lik’s father before say, I love you. He’s never told his son that. But he just did today.

Read that again.  The first time Ma'lik heard his father utter the words "I love you" was the day that he was convicted as a sex offender and sentenced to juvenile detention. 

Ma'lik Richmond and his lawyerOn the one hand, it is wonderful that Mr. Richmond is affirming his unconditional love for his son at this moment when Ma'lik is emotionally devasted over the consequences of his actions for himself and for others.  (His statement to the family after his sentencing was very emotional and sorrowful.)  Harlow previously noted that when Ma'lik heard the sentence of the judge, he collapsed in the arms of his attorney and said "My life is over. No one is going to want me now.”  He needs to know that his dad still wants him, despite his actions.

However, this seem like "too little, too late." What if Ma'lik had grown up hearing his dad say "I love you" every day?  What if his dad had been a positive role model and an involved, responsible, and committed father?  Would Ma'lik have made the choices that led to his involvement in a drunken party and ugly rape of a young girl if he didn't grow up with an alcoholic father who committed crimes and was absent for part of his life because he was in jail?  What if Ma'lik's dad, while he was in jail, had the opportunity to participate in NFI's InsideOut Dad® program for incarcerated fathers and learn how to build a relationship with his son even while behind bars?

We don't know the whole story, of course, and it seems that Mr. Richmond realizes that his absence has contributed to his son's behavior and is now urging parents to be more involved in their children's lives.  Hopefully he'll start to be more present in his son's life now.  Unfortunately, the Richmonds are yet another fulfillment of the statistic that children with incarcerated fathers are seven times more likely to become incarcerated thesmelves

The Steubenville case is a tragedy for all involved; most certainly for the 16-year-old girl who was victimized.  If anything, the relationship between Ma'lik Richmond and his dad is a sobering reminder to fathers that their involvement in their children's lives shapes the decisions their children make. 

The words "I love you" are powerful - say them now, before it's too late.

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Nominate a dad for the 2013 Military Fatherhood Award!

Military Fatherhood Award: Honoring Military Fathers and Families
Every year, National Fatherhood Initiative honors a military dad who goes above and beyond in his service to the nation and his responsibility as a dad.

NFI's Military Fatherhood Award™ recognizes and celebrates a dad who:

  • demonstrates ongoing dedication to his children
  • puts in extraordinary effort to stay connected with his kids
  • successfully balances his military duties and family life
  • invests in other military fathers and children

If you know a great military dad, nominate him for the 2013 Military Fatherhood Award™ today!  Nominations close on Monday February 4 at 12:00 p.m. EST, and we can only accept the first 600 nominations, so submit yours quickly!  (See Terms and Conditions to answer most questions about the award program.)

Share this blog post using the buttons at the top of the post to let other military friends and family know about this opportunity to nominate their dad or a dad they know!

 

Sponsors of the 2013 Military Fatherhood Award:
as of January 17, 2013

Protect and Defend Sponsors

Nissan USA   Acumen Solutions, Inc.

Supporting Friends

Boy Scouts of America

 

If you are connected with a company that would be interested in sponsoring, contact Renae Smith at rsmith@fatherhood.org.  Download the sponsorship kit here.

Will you join the 12 Dollars, 12 Months, 12 Dads challenge?

We have exciting plans for 2013 to reach more dads, help more families, and advocate on behalf of responsible fatherhood - with the ultimate goal of improving child well-being and creating a world in which every child has a 24/7 Dad ℠.  But we need your help.

As we start 2013, will you join our 12 Dollars, 12 Months, 12 Dads challenge?  

It costs $12 to provide a dad with one of NFI's evidence-based fatherhood handbooks to help him build his fathering skills.  We are looking for 100 people to commit to donate $12 a month to help one dad every month.  If we reach that goal, together we will equip 1,200 extra dads in 2013 with resources to help them connect with their children heart-to-heart!

Will you be one of our team of 100 giving $12 a month to help a dad?

InsideOut DadFor example, 24/7 Dad$12 gives an incarcerated father an InsideOut Dad™ handbook to help him connect with his child even while behind bars and build a successful reentry plan for when he returns to his family.

Or, $12 gives a dad in a community like yours a 24/7 Dad™ handbook to help him build fathering skills like communicating with his child, working with mom, and understanding the impact of his relationship with his own father.

Each time a dad completes one of NFI's evidence-based, tested and proven programs, a child is more likely to benefit from a dad who is involved, responsible, and committed.  You can help make that happen.

Joining the 12 Dollar challenge is an easy but significant way to make a difference in the lives of kids.  Plus, all donations are tax deductible!

Will you take the challenge?

 

Donations represent a gift to the entire mission of NFI. To help the most number of children and families, we use your gifts where they can do the most good by pooling them with the gifts of others. And, because you are helping to change children’s lives, your gift is tax deductible!

The Connection Campaign: Troy and Xavier’s Inspiring Story

fatherhood connection troy and xavierRegular readers of The Father Factor know that this blog is a great source of helpful tips for dads and funny/inspiring stories from fathers and dadbloggers about their experiences in fathering. 

But perhaps you’ve wondered what else National Fatherhood Initiative does to fulfill our mission of improving child well-being by increasing the proportion of children who grow up with involved, responsible, and committed children.

Since 2004, NFI has distributed 6.3 million fatherhood resources to dads to help them be the best dads they can be. Troy is one of those dads. His story of connection with his son Xavier, despite the challenges of incarceration and loss, is an inspiration to those of us who work here at NFI. We hope it inspires and encourages you, too.

The story below is reprinted from NFI’s Executive Quarterly newsletter. Please consider supporting NFI financially with a gift of $25, $50, $100 or more to help us reach more dads and kids like Troy and Xavier.  

Troy Gaines knows firsthand the pain of wondering why his dad didn’t care enough about him to be part of his life. But thanks to NFI – and the support of people like you – his son Xavier doesn’t have to ask those questions.

“My father, as far as I was concerned, didn’t have any kind of role.” Troy’s dad never said anything of substance to him, offer guidance, or even show up to watch Troy’s football games. Troy felt like he had done something wrong to make his father not want to see him. The pain made him want to lash out. 

Troy looked for other people to fill that void and teach him things about life. Unfortunately, the people he turned to were the guys in his neighborhood who were doing “all the bad stuff.” Eventually, Troy ended up in prison.

One week prior to landing in prison, Troy became a father to Xavier. “I remember thinking that Xavier would feel the same way about me as I felt about my father. I’m not going to be able to connect with him and show him the path to growing as a man.”

One day, some men looking for drugs came to the wrong house and shot and killed Troy’s girlfriend, the mother of Xavier. This tragic event was a pivotal moment in changing Troy’s outlook on life. “I had to make a serious, serious change in me, my mind, the way I did things, and the way I presented myself to my community. I didn’t have all the answers and I needed to go to someone or go somewhere where I could find some guidance on fatherhood and being a better man.” 

Thankfully, his facility offered National Fatherhood Initiative’s InsideOut Dad® program. InsideOut Dad® gave Troy the inspiration to make a better life for himself and the skills to connect with his son. Troy is now committed to being an involved, responsible, and committed dad. He helps Xavier with homework and goes to his football practices – the very things he craved so much from his dad.

“The [National] Fatherhood Initiative program helped me realize that you have to make some changes in your life because what you’re doing is going to affect your boy. Kids do exactly what they see their parents do. If I didn’t straighten up how I did, he would probably follow in my footsteps because he wanted to be like me. I tell my son at least five times a day that I love him. We love each other. I think he understands and believes that my focus is to be the best man in this world that I can.”

The positive impact that Troy is making in his son’s life is obvious. Xavier told us, “With my dad at my games, I feel better and I care more. I love him a lot because he is a very good dad.  If you make a mistake, he’ll make you keep going and going and… make you lift your head up. My dad loves me and would do anything for me.”

These kinds of changes are only possible because of the financial support of people like you. NFI depends on the generosity of donors to make our programs available to dads like Troy. Ultimately, it’s kids like Xavier who really reap the benefits of your support. Please donate today to help us give more kids like Xavier a brighter future.

Give a Second Chance to Dads Like Shawn

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UPDATE: A generous donor has offered to match dollar-for-dollar all donations given to our “Give a Second Chance” campaign through September 30, the end of our fiscal year. Your donation will now have double impact!

And don’t forget – anyone who donates $100 or more this month will receive a copy of Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance, an inspiring book of photography and stories of dads who have been impacted by National Fatherhood Initiative’s fatherhood programs in their local communities – and by your support that makes our work possible!

One of those dads is Shawn Kennedy, of Mobile, Alabama. NFI’s programs for new dads helped him get the right start in his fatherhood journey and connect heart-to-heart with his brand new baby daughter. Shawn told Lewis Kostiner, author and photographer of Choosing Fatherhood, about what he learned from NFI’s fatherhood program.

describe the imageShawn Kennedy […] and his wife lived in a small and lovely vintage South-style bungalow in Mobile. I had spent a few days with his father-in-law, who was taking Milt Scott from National Fatherhood Initiative and me around to meet the fathers in the area. Shawn has this beautiful baby girl in his arms, whom he carried with him all over the house. He even wore a shirt and tie for the picture. After I took the picture, I sat with him at his dining room table, and we talked. He said he was always open to learning how to become a better father. He told me [he] had taken some classes with NFI and learned a great deal about small things about fatherhood he never thought about. He was very clear with me: his family’s faith in the Lord gave him the strength to be a good and loving dad. I imagined he would be, always.

Because of the financial support of friends like you, we are able to help dads like Shawn be involved with their children and build their fathering skills no matter what stage of parenting they are in. Sometimes, the support and inspiration these dads find through our programs is the second chance they and their families need.

donate now

Your financial support is crucial to reach more families like Shawn’s. Will you make a donation before September 30? We have almost crossed the finish line for this fiscal year and your donation will be the final push we need to end strong and get started on our plans to help more dads next year.   

Thanks for your support!

End Father Absence: Give a Second Chance to Dads Like Steven

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NFI’s fiscal year ends on September 30 and we are celebrating the end of an impactful year by sharing stories of real-life dads and their children who have found second chances through our work in their communities. 

Steven Gonzales of Sacramento, California, is one of those dads.  Photographer Lewis Kostiner met him as he traveled around the country at his own expense photographing and interviewing dads who participated in NFI’s fatherhood programs in local communities.  Mr. Kostiner shared his impressions of Steven’s relationship with his son in his book Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance.

describe the imageSteven Gonzales worked fourteen-hour days, seven days a week.  He lived amongst the ghosts of bygone eras of vintage cars.  Steven was the owner of the body shop that consumed him.  He also was a father who taught his children by example.  He told me that he regretted not being home for dinner every night, sometimes having to run out to give an estimate.  He told him his heart hurt when he had to do this.  Steven and his son took me on a tour of the body shop.  We visited the paint shop, rich in the aroma of the freshly sprayed paint.  His son was so proud of his dad.  My presence with the camera made the young boy feel important.  He knew his father to be a very special person and that I was sent there to take this famous person’s picture.  Steven and his son posed so proudly in front of the blue, beat-up Cadillac.  I envied that boy and the life he had with his father.  When I was done, they gave me a red t-shirt with the name “RED STAR California Original” [the name of the body shop] on the front of it.  I felt as special as the son when I left.

NFI is active in communities like Steven’s, helping dads in all walks of life build their fathering skills and connect with their children.  In some cases, the support and inspiration these dads find through our presence in their communities is the second chance they and their families need.

Your financial support is crucial to reach more families like Steven’s.  As we end the fiscal year on September 30, will you make a donation to help us finish this year and start next year strong?  We have almost reached our fundraising goal for the year, and your contribution will get us across the finish line and help even more dads and families next year.

describe the imageAs a special “thank you,” we will send a FREE copy of Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance to anyone who donates $100 or more.  Of course your gift of any amount helps us reach our goal for the fiscal year and start our next year of work strong.

Thanks for your help!

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Help Us Give a Second Chance to Dads Like Jonathan

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As we near the end of our fiscal year on September 30, we're turning to you to help us raise an additional $20,000 to end the year strong and reach even more fathers and families next year.

Lewis Kostiner could tell you from experience about the difference that National Fatherhood Initiative’s (NFI) work has made in the lives of dads and families.  As a professional photographer, Mr. Kostiner traveled around the country at his own expense to meet dads who participated in NFI’s fathering programs through their local communities.  Mr. Kostiner’s photographs and the stories of these families are collected in an inspiring book, Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance.

describe the imageJonathan Coughlin is one of those dads.  A husband and father of five children, Jonathan serves in the United States Army and has experienced the challenges of being deployed away from his family in a war zone.  He participated in National Fatherhood Initiative’s programs for military dads.  NFI partners with military installations in all branches to help families prepare for deployment and equip dads to stay connected with their children.

Lewis Kostiner met Jonathan Coughlin at Fort Riley in Kansas and shared his thoughts on photographing this military dad in Choosing Fatherhood:

It was hard to imagine that, just a few miles from this serene picnic pond next to the U.S. Army base at Fort Riley, troops were training rigorously before they were sent off to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.  They were all members of the 1st Army Brigade.  It was a strangely quiet and removed landscape.  Jonathan Coughlin’s family was what I always imagined the perfect American family to be: three boys and two girls and a loving mother.  Jonathan […] lit up whenever [his children] ran in and out of my picture field.  He would kindly let them know that they needed to behave.  They boys grew restless as the twin girls took it all in.  Rarely would a photographer be given the gift of photographing a family such as this.  You could tell that, with Jonathan and his wife in their lives, these kids were going to do well.  Jonathan was also a father to the soldiers under his command.  He lamented to me that, in many ways, they had to come first, sometimes above his own family.  His job was to train his troops well and keep them alive.  He was so proud of them.  They, too, were his children.  When I left Fort Riley, I was so proud to be an American and happy I had a chance to meet and photograph Jonathan and his family.

Jonathan and the military dads that he leads are real-life dads who have found the support they need to balance their commitments to the nation and their families through NFI’s programs.

By supporting NFI, you are giving a second chance to military families like the Coughlins.

Will you help us reach more families next year?

describe the imageAs a special “thank you,” we will send a FREE copy of Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance to anyone who donates $100 or more.  Of course your gift of any amount helps us reach our goal for the fiscal year and start our next year of work strong.

Thanks for your support!

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Help Us Give a Second Chance to Dads Like Marvin

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National Fatherhood Initiative is nearing the close of our fiscal year at the end of September.  We have a lot of exciting things planned for FY-2013 and we’re looking forward to bringing you more expert advice for dads, fatherhood perspectives on events in pop culture and the news, and practical resources to help you in your fathering journey.

But we can’t do this without your support.  We need to raise an additional $20,000 by the end of the month to enable us to activate the plans we have to change the lives of more dads and families next year. 

describe the imageMarvin Charles of Seattle, Washington, (pictured here with his wife, son, and father) is one of the dads whose life has been touched by National Fatherhood Initiative’s work.  His example as a role model and his commitment to helping others is impacting dads in his community who need a second chance.

Marvin’s story was captured by Lewis Kostiner, a photographer who traveled around the country at his own expense to meet dads who participated in NFI’s fathering programs through their local communities.  Mr. Kostiner’s photographs and the stories of these families are collected in an inspiring book, Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance.

Mr. Kostiner describes the role that Marvin plays in the lives of other dads and his own son:

Marvin Charles [...] spent most of his time keeping tabs on all the fathers and children in the National Fatherhood Initiative program whom he helped in his district. He picked them up and dropped them off and told them how to do this and how to do that. He never looked down on any of them, and his presence helped organize and prepare the children for their everyday journeys and, for the men, fatherhood. His clients struggled daily to survive, and he knew it. He did what he could to help them along. […] Marvin was a real community organizer, in the true sense. He was […] [there] to help kids and their dads. In his son's eyes, Marvin could easily have been elected Mayor of Seattle. Marvin carried his family's picture around with him all day long on his T-shirt, right in front of his heart.

Marvin and the dads he helps represent real-life families whose lives have been changed through NFI's work.  These "second chances" are possible because of the support of people just like you.  

Donate now and get a free book!Will you help us give a second chance to more families in the next year? 

Donate $100 or more today and we will send you a FREE copy of Choosing Fatherhood: America's Second Chance.

If you can't donate $100 or more, any amount will make a difference in helping us reach our goal for the fiscal year and start next year on the right foot!  Thanks for your support!

Donate Now

When the Principal's Name is Dad

As a graduate of home education, I often get two common reactions when people learn that I was homeschooled through 12th grade.  "Wow, I would have never guessed - you don't act like a homeschooler!"  I believe this is meant to be a compliment on my social skills and fun, outgoing personality... I think.  Or, "How you did learn advanced math and science at home?!" 

Actually, yes; I stand before you as proof that calculus and chemistry can be successfully mastered without a full-fledged laboratory and a professor with a specialized degree.  (While my AP test scores will prove this, please don’t ask me to solve any differential equations right now.  It’s been 8 years and I’m a little rusty.)

So when I came across Quinn Cumming’s article in the Wall Street Journal about her experience home-schooling her daughter, I resonated with what she shared about the evolving nature of homeschooling.  It is becoming a more widespread and respected form of education.  There are countless resources and opportunities available to amplify home education curricula and extra-curricular activities. 

describe the imageAnd just because a child spends normal school hours at home does not mean that he or she is deprived of all opportunity for socialization with peers.  Church activities, neighborhood playmates, and competition in sports leagues afforded lots of interaction with other kids.  I turned out fine, and so did my brother.  (That's him on the right at his high school graduation in 2007. He's now a 2nd Lieutenant serving in the U.S. Air Force. Please humor my proud-big-sister bragging indulgence!)

But, what stood out to me in Ms. Cumming’s article was the role that her husband played in the decision to homeschool their middle school daughter and in the day-to-day responsibility of educating her.  Together, the couple reviewed a variety of educational programs for their daughter, and after settling on home-schooling, the father plays a continued role in teaching.  Ms. Cummings admitted that math is not her forte, so her daughter takes an online math class “with great lashings of help from her father.”

As a homeschool graduate, I am familiar with “great lashings of help from dad,” administered graciously and patiently to me and my siblings.  While Mom was heavily invested in hands-on teaching during elementary school, Dad always said that Mom was the teacher and he was the principal.  That was code for “If you give Mom a hard time with school, you’ll have to answer to me.” 

Then, as we advanced to the more challenging aspects of school, Dad became more involved.  It wasn’t that Mom couldn’t handle the advanced subjects, but with seven children, she and Dad took a “divide and conquer” approach.  Dad has been our math tutor, proofread our papers, and coached the sports teams we played on (our “P.E. credit”). When the time came to look for a different form of education for another younger brother to meet his unique needs, my dad played a leading role along with my mom in determining that public school was the best option for this particular sibling.

Research clearly shows that there’s a father factor in education.  Children who grow up with involved fathers are more likely to get A’s, less likely to repeat a grade, and more likely to be read aloud to as a child.  I appreciate the investment my Dad made in my education and that he continues to make with my younger siblings, regardless of the format of the education.  He is genuinely committed to helping us achieve the potential he sees in us.

But perhaps the most poignant father factor in homeschooling that Ms. Cumming’s article pointed out was the importance of dads in socializing boys into men.

“Homo sapiens have walked the Earth for at least 130,000 years and, in this time, they learned to be human from their elders, not from their peers. Mandatory education in the U.S. is less than 150 years old. Learning to be a productive adult human by spending a third of every day with other kids might be a good idea, but it's too soon to tell. I'm still unsure that the people best equipped to teach a 14-year-old boy how to be a man are other 14-year-old boys.”

As my younger brother has begun attending public school and enjoyed increased socialization with his peers, the change in his behavior has me sharing this uncertainty Ms. Cummings expressed in the last sentence. Boys learn what it means to be a man not from their mothers, teachers, or buddies at school.  They learn this from their dads. 

Home education is certainly not the only way to socialize children into adults and to provide a robust education, and countless students of all types benefit from dads who invest in their education.  For my family, I can attest to the benefits of having a principal / teacher / coach whose name is also Dad.

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