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The Father Factor


Michael Byron Smith

Michael Byron Smith is a retired Air Force officer and civilian engineer. His chosen area to give back to society is as an advocate for better fathering. His book, tentatively entitled "The Power of Dadhood" will be published by in Spring 2015. He also writes a blog for dads called "Helping Fathers to be Dads."

Recent Posts

Teach the Magic of Learning to Your Preschool Children

“Parents can plant magic in a child's mind through certain words spoken with some thrilling quality of voice, some uplift of the heart and spirit.”—Robert MacNeil (novelist, journalist) 

The early education of a child is a crucial aspect of future success and happiness. The most important qualities to nurture before any formal education is a vivid imagination, curiosity, and a love of learning. A previous article presented in The Father Factor, “Five Easy Ways Dads Can Get Involved in Their Child’s Education”, posted by Christopher A. Brown, gave excellent advice regarding dads and their children’s education. I’d like to expand on that topic with a focus on the early years, prior to school. Whether you're a dad or lead other dads, these ideas can help you consider new ways teach a child. 


Many parents, especially first-time parents, miss the greatest opportunity they will ever have to influence their children. It comes in the first five years of their lives, when they are ripe for learning, hungry for knowledge, and malleable. In that time, they are like sponges, ready to soak up the environment around them. It’s your responsibility to provide an environment that is rich and fertile. The more they learn, the larger their thirst for learning. A dad can provide both customary and magical ways to prepare children for their future, but he can be particularly effective in the magic. 

Customary but Important Preparation Activities 

Reading to children is universally agreed upon as vitally important. Studies show that “a child from a high-income family will experience 30 million more words within the first four years of life than a child from a low-income family…and 125,000 more words of discouragement than encouragement. When compared to the 560,000 more words of praise as opposed to discouragement that a child from a high-income family will receive, this disparity is extraordinarily vast.”

A lack of spoken words, encouragement, and mental stimulation hurts children of low-income families more than a lack of money! Welfare can help with money but it can’t help with the environment in the home. So we see that if low-income families could embrace the idea of emphasizing reading and imagination in their children, they would do much better in school and possibly escape the predicament of their parent(s).  

Another common yet important activity is playing with blocks or Legos--toys that are creative, that challenge solutions to be found, are three-dimensional, yet fun. You can also teach them counting, colors and letters in a fun way, but competing with other parents on what their child knows is not nearly as important as preparing them to be open and excited about learning.  

Magical Activities to Prepare Young Children for Learning 

Stimulation is the magic ingredient in learning. When learning is an adventure then adventures are teaching.  

  • Set them up to discover something. For example, teach them the shape of leaves for different trees then take them to a forest or park to find them.
  • Let them grow things. It has been shown that kids who grow their own vegetables will eat them. It also teaches responsibility and patience. 
  • Kids love imaginary play with their dads. Give-in to it occasionally and ask them questions about their imaginary friends to get them to think and imagine even more. 
  • Challenge them with options/choices. Would they rather ride an elephant or a train? What is a better present for Mom? Their painting of her, or making her breakfast? Always get them to think and make decisions. 
  • Traveling teaches kids in a way schools can't. Take them on a train trip. Go camping and hiking. Take them to a farm or to the city. Let them see other cultures and other terrains when possible. 
  • Take them to the zoo. Teach them about monkeys or tigers then take them to the zoo to see them instead of just wandering through without a purpose. 
  • Visit a Science Center. A good one will have all sorts of interactive exhibits. Take your children, as young as two years of age, and they will be in awe.
  • Let them help you. Occasionally, let your children help you around the house, even though it will slow you down; and explain what you’re doing and why, even though they may not understand. 
  • Stare into the sky. When comets are forecasted on a clear night, take your child on the roof (if safe) or on a high hill and watch for them. Go deep into the country on a moonless night and look at the Milky Way. Point out different stars and constellations. 

These are just some ideas. Having your children understand these moments or lessons is not as important as the interplay and stimulus they get from it. The memories may last a lifetime! 

Social Preparation 

Socially, your children need to know how to play, share and cooperate with other children. Ask their friends along on these adventures occasionally and observe their interactions. Social experience is important so they are not afraid of school or people. Friends are important for them, both to enjoy, and to deal with. Get your kids involved in group activities that can be found in parks, libraries, and in the neighborhood. 


Your children should know that the world is limitless in its beauty and variety. They should feel confident in themselves having been challenged, just enough to need significant effort, but within their capability. They should be outside as much as possible experiencing and not just watching, looking for four-leaf clovers more often than looking at television. Television should be a side dish, not a main course. 

Children that have parents that read to them, notice them, listen to their questions, take them on small adventures and wallow in creeks, who take them on hayrides, look at clouds, and make snowmen together--these are the children that have been stimulated with a love of learning and have learned they are loved, who have an interest in many things, and who love to wonder and wander. What a beautiful way to start a life! 

What your child knows is secondary to their curiosity.

Question > Have you done any of the above ideas with a child? How did that go? Did your child learn something or did you?

Questions to Ask Your School-Aged Child or Teen > 
This free ebook is designed to help you and your child connect on a deeper level. Use it to help yourself and the dads you know.


Never Forget, You are a Father!

Here’s something to put on your wall at work or your bathroom, where you will see it every day. A reminder of the important things in life, as a father. 

Most of us men are good people, but too many of us are not as adept at being good fathers. The difference lies in everyday life and our priorities. Some men are intentional about placing a career ahead of ‘Dadhood’. Many more of us do the same thing, but we do it subconsciously. When your children grow up, they will most likely think of you with love--but will they have your respect? We must occasionally stop, look, and listen to our children and our role as their father.

never_forget_you_are_a_father national fatherhood initiative

Some Things to Ponder:

  • When you’ve been in the office for 60 hours this week, don’t forget you’re a father.
  • When your buddies want you to stop by after work for a drink, do it, maybe. But don’t forget you are a father. 
  • When you are watching the ballgame, and your child asks you a question, remember, you are a father.
  • When you are trying to catch up with maintaining your house, and your young son wants to ‘help’, don’t forget you are his father.
  • When your daughter asks you to take her to the mall, take her. But ask a lot of questions and place limitations first. Remember, you’re her father.
  • When your child needs a hug, or a smile, or a stare-down, remember, you’re their father.
  • When a dance recital is scheduled during the Master’s tournament, remember to record it. The Masters--not the dance recital! After all, you are a father.
  • When you don’t live with your children, at least live for your children. After all, you are their father and they need you.
  • Never forget to be around for the milestones. Is work really more important than the first day of school? Maybe so, around .1 percent of the time!
  • Never forget to discipline your kids when they need it. Be firm but do not yell or shake! 
  • Never forget to ask them how they are doing, at school, with friends, with their siblings, etc. Talk with them--not at them. 
  • Never forget to be respectful to their mother and to be a partner to her, especially for your kids’ needs. 
  • Never forget that neither you, nor your children are perfect. Be patient.
  • Never forget that they are not you. Let them be the person they are, but guide them as their father.

Many of these reminders are reminders your kids may want you to ignore, like disciplining or asking too many questions of them. They want you to ignore those actions for that moment, but they want you to be interested enough to be concerned for them and to mold them.

Understand that you don’t fail as a father if you don’t comply with these reminders 100 percent of the time. It’s the attitude you have as a dad, not 24/7 perfection. For instance, if it were the ninth inning of the World Series and my daughter asked me to do something with her, I would say, “Okay, but wait until this game is over.”  You can explain later why you asked her to wait, if necessary.

As long as you are aware that you are a father, never feel guilty about time to yourself! You need it! You deserve it! And you will definitely be a better father for it! Just carefully balance your children’s need with yours.

For a further look into your role as a dad, see my “Dads Self-Inspection Checklist”. It will help you to decide where and if you may need to improve your fatherly skills.


image: iStockPhoto



That’s Part of Growing Up?

We’ve all heard the phrase, “that’s part of growing up”. It takes a lot of learning and experience to grow up, but sometimes, “that’s just part of growing up” - is used as an excuse.

For instance, I don’t think experimenting with alcohol or drugs is part of growing up, nor is shoplifting or truancy. Obviously it happens all too often, but it is not a necessary part of growing up. If fact, it’s detrimental. There are, however, many basic issues a child must overcome to be a successful adult. All kids need help with these basic life lessons.

thats_just_part_of_growing_upNaturally, parents should be the teachers, mentors, cheerleaders, and disciplinarians of their children.

Most parents have at least a passing grade in their ability to guide them to become responsible citizens. Many parents, however, fail their children in this respect. When the parents fail their children, it’s likely their children will also fail. Would it not be beneficial to train parents in parenting instead of dealing with the results of poorly raised children?

Following are two lists of challenges kids have to deal with growing up. The first list states common challenges when good parents are available to teach and guide them. The second list are those challenges kids must face when good parents are not there to mentor them. I use ‘father’ in the example because it really takes a team to raise kids, and when one parent is missing, most often it’s the father. Of course these apply to the mother as well.

With a good father in the home:

  • Dealing with peer pressure is part of growing up. - A good father is respected and advises how to deal with peer pressure, both good and bad.
  • Overcoming fear is part of growing up. - A good father will teach his child which fears are helpful and which are irrational.
  • Learning confidence is part of growing up. - A good father will teach confidence to his child with challenges that will tax him, but won’t exceed his ability.
  • Understanding how your attitude affects your life is part of growing up. - A good father teaches how to not be a victim and supports good attitudes.
  • Knowing and learning the value of manners is part of growing up. - A good father teaches manners and how good manners will beget acceptance, allowances, and success.
  • Learning from consequences is part of growing up. - A good father teaches through consequences. Used properly, consequences are nothing more than lessons to correct behavior, leading to achievement and respect.
  • Knowing when to take the path of least resistance is part of growing up. - A good father will teach his child that there are efforts to minimize or avoid, while other efforts should never be cut short.

Without a good father in the home:

  • Fitting in with whomever or however you can, or never fitting in at all is not part of growing up. - Looking for acceptance can become more important than having values. Not finding acceptance can lead to psychological issues.
  • Being afraid of the wrong things while being brave for the wrong reasons is not part of growing up. - Being afraid to ask for help will result in false bravado. Chest pounding does not signify bravery.
  • Never knowing real confidence is not part of growing up. - How can you be confident in the right areas when you don’t have feedback from the right kind of people?
  • Having “the world is against me” attitude is not part of growing up. - Being a victim places a young person in a position of weakness, laziness, and/or revolt.
  • Getting your way by force instead of persuasion is not part of growing up. - If a child doesn’t know how to deal with people and has a bad attitude, they often resort to bullying, crime, or simple disrespect to steal or scare their way to what they want.
  • Not understanding that consequences are for teaching is not part of growing up. - If young people don’t learn this from the right people, consequences become punishment, not learning.
  • Almost always taking the path of least resistance to get by is not part of growing up. - Without mentoring, many children will take to the easy way out to avoid work, embarrassment, and fear, or to rebel.

A good father, and a good mother, will guide their child as he grows up. The problem is that many parents had poor parenting role models themselves. You raise your children the way you were raised unless you make a conscious effort of doing things differently. You are not likely to do this without training or mentoring.

If you need guidance in parenting you first must acknowledge it. Churches and non-profit organizations will help. There are also, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, brothers and sisters who will help you. You already know those who are most successful as parents. It’s much better to mold young people with love and proper attention than to try and fix them later.

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The Hidden Costs of Dysfunctional Families

I have achieved much in my life and some don’t understand this, but I am an under achiever. Why I consider myself an under achiever lies in fact that I was unable to completely overcome the impact of my upbringing. This is my story.

Others would have reacted in differing ways depending on the nature of their character. But everyone is impacted by their parents, both positively and negatively.

The Issue

Pilot Training Photo

My family was a victim of alcoholism and little education. I am the oldest of six children raised mostly by my mother alone. She struggled mightily to raise us and had little time for nurturing. Of the six of us, I struggled the least. But my determination to escape from my lifestyle was hampered by my low self-esteem and shyness.

Reaching High, Under Achieving

I achieved by studying hard to win a need-based, academic scholarship to a Washington University in St. Louis. I under achieved because I did not learn to fit in on campus. I did graduate with a degree in Electrical Engineering, but with mediocre grades. I found out later that my fellow students got together quite often in their dorms and elsewhere to study and review past tests. That might have helped me had I gotten out of my shell. But I was intimidated by my peers and failed to get to know them, something that now seems foolish.

Wanting to be an Air Force pilot, I joined Air Force ROTC while in college. Upon graduation I went to USAF pilot training in Del Rio, Texas. My class consisted mostly of graduates from the U.S. Air Force Academy. These young men had been together for four years and were very accustomed to the military way of life. I, on the other hand, came from a home life where we moved three times a year with siblings who were in and out of trouble. Instead of being molded by the military, I was molded by chaos.

While the Air Force treated me as an equal to these Academy graduates, I lacked the confidence needed to be a top-flight pilot and officer. I didn’t feel like I belonged. Instead of diving into every aspect of flying, instead of focusing on improving my weak areas, I was numb. I thought I was trying hard, but I really wasn’t. I never learned how to prioritize or ask for help.

A Kick in the Butt

I failed a training flight one day because, as I was approaching the runway for a landing, I did not put my landing gear down! This I failed to do while the warning siren was screaming in my helmet. My instructor waited as long as he could then told me to go around. We ended the mission and I thought my flying career may be over. In light of this embarrassing flight, and wanting to prove my worth as a pilot, I did something that I had not been doing with this great opportunity. That night, I went over the landing pattern procedures in my head, over and over again. I sat in a chair with a pretend stick and throttle in my hands. I drummed every procedure, every visual key, and every step into my head.

Two days later I had to repeat this flying lesson. My instructor was blown away! It was the best I had ever flown! The extra work, focus, preparation, and visualization proved to be all I needed to succeed. Why I hadn’t worked this hard before I still don’t understand completely. However, my failure in the previous flight was like a kick in my butt to do better. I realize now what was missing from my childhood. No one ever kicked me in the butt (or encouraged me) to do better. What I accomplished was on my own, but it always fell short of what I could accomplish.

When the T-37 phase of my training completed, I was at the bottom of my class. But after we moved on to the T-38, a sleek, white and thrilling jet to fly, I ranked in the top quarter of my T-38 phase. The lesson of applying myself more had helped me and I was able achieve my goal of earning my wings. However, I under achieved again because I could not choose the aircraft I wanted to fly due to my lower class ranking, caused by not working hard enough in the T-37.

The Lesson

The lesson is that not every casualty of a dysfunctional family is obvious. Some “success” stories mask what could have been even bigger successes. Families should be slingshots, throwing children into the world prepared for what lies ahead. Unfortunately, the problems of dysfunctional families are like anchors, dragging down their potential, and too many people succumb to their disadvantages rather than fighting to conquer them. I did fight to conquer them. But much of my energy was spent on catching up to where I should have already been. I finally caught up twenty years ago. However, I was past my prime and I wonder what more I could have accomplished with a little more kick and confidence. Although I totally love my standing in life now, it was too long of a growing period.

Every parent must encourage determination, criticize with love, support through failure, and reward successes, because some of our children will not fully succeed without it. It takes two parents to have the time and energy to do this properly. We must eliminate any incentives or circumstances for a family to break apart. I know that is an impossible goal for all families, but it is possible for some. Every family, and every child, counts.

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This is a guest post by Michael Byron Smith. Michael blogs at Helping Fathers to be Dads. Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.

The Seven “BE”s of a Successful Dad

Being a successful father is not an easy task! It's complicated because you'll find yourself asking ‘what are the answers’ when the answers are unique to every dad and every child. Instead of answers you can best rely on proven characteristics.

The Be's[7]Although there many, below are the characteristics I believe are the most important in being the best dad you can be. But none of these characteristics alone are sufficient and sometimes not even beneficial if not balanced.

  1. Be Involved: Be involved from the moment of your children’s birth. You are a parent, not a figurehead. Be there for important events. Be available when they need support. Be strong for them when they are afraid. Be careful to consider your children when you prioritize your life events. Be a listener!
  2. Be Principled: You are being watched by your children. They assume you are the model they should follow. You must have personal values that will guide them in the right direction. Be honest. Be moral. Be sure you have rules and limits.
  3. Be Consistent: Do what you say and say what you'll do. When you have limits there will be rewards and consequences. Be reliable. Be a rock. Don't confuse your children. Explain to your children the reasons when you vary from the norm. Explain the situations that may cause to relax or tighten the rules/limits.
  4. Be Loving: Be gentle. Be kind. Be understanding. Be protective. Give hugs and pats on the back. Occasionally give them your complete attention. Sympathize when appropriate but show your concerns about improper behavior. That is also love.
  5. Be Fun: Be a jokester, but don't force it. Surprise your children with occasional treats and adventures. Smile. Do crazy things like balancing a broom on your nose. Play catch. Pretend with them. Have tea. Tease them in a kind, not demeaning way. Know and be kind to their friends.
  6. Be Balanced: Possibly the glue that makes all the other 'BE's work is to be balanced. Be involved but not too involved. Be principled but don't be preachy. Be consistent but not inflexible. Be loving but don't be a pushover. Be fun but be respected. Know your own limits. You cannot be consistent if you don't have principles. You can't be loving or fun if you are not involved.
  7. Be Passionate: Being passionate about being a dad comes natural to some men - but not to all. If you don't have a natural passion for fatherhood, then be passionate about reviewing this list of characteristics and thinking about how you can apply them. A father that has to work at being a dad can be a bigger hero for his children than those for which fathering comes easily.
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This post is from Michael Byron Smith. Michael is a retired US Air Force officer and civilian engineer. He’s been married for 39 years, has three children and 3 grandchildren. Follow him online at Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines

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