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The Father Factor

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Vincent DiCaro

Vince is NFI's Vice President of Communication and Development. He is married to Claudia, has one son with another son on the way and lives in Maryland.
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Advocate for Dads in Washington, DC!

capitol building advocate for fatherhoodOne of NFI’s goals is to be a voice for fatherhood on Capitol Hill. Over the years, for example, we have helped push through funding that supports organizations seeking to equip dads.

So, while there is funding for programs providing needed services to fathers, there is a general lack of funding available for organizations to obtain the “capacity-building” training and services they need to build long-term sustainability.

What is capacity-building? It is what organizations need to be more effective in their service delivery in the present and more viable organizations in the future. Leadership development, organizational development, program development, and community engagement would all qualify as capacity-building services.

That is why we have created an initiative to inform Congress that federal fatherhood grantees should be allowed to use a portion of their funds to procure capacity-building services and training.

While service delivery is the most important use of grant funds, those services need to be delivered by effective organizations – and that is where capacity-building comes in. It will help organizations do a better job serving fathers and ultimately lead to better outcomes for children.

We have set up a page on our website where you and/or your organization can make your voice heard! The grant program for fatherhood programs will be reviewed in Congress later this year, so now is the time to ensure that future grantees will have the flexibility to use some of their grant funds for capacity-building.

Here is what we would like for you to do: 

As an individual – Use our special webpage to send your opinion directly to your members of Congress. The more voices that come on board, the more persuasive we can be!

As an organizationSign on to become an "endorsing organization" of this effort to allow federal fatherhood grantees to use a portion of their funds for capacity-building services. Your organization's name will be listed alongside National Fatherhood Initiative as a supporter or this important advocacy effort.

We will soon inform Congress and the White House of all the people and organizations that are behind this effort. 

Thank you so much in advance for helping us in this important effort. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact Vincent DiCaro, NFI’s Congressional liaison at vdicaro@fatherhood.org.

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Beasts of the Southern Wild: A Fatherhood “Review”

Each week, we will post a review of one of the four films National Fatherhood Initiative has nominated for the 2012 Fatherhood Movie of the Year. These will not be your typical movie reviews, but will instead focus on what in particular makes the movie a good “fatherhood movie.” Our first entry is on Beasts of the Southern Wild. 

fatherhood,parenting,family,movies,dad,culture,entertainment,oscars, beasts of the southern wild

One of the hardest things for many dads to do is express love and reveal their emotions to their children. Often, and unfortunately, anger is the only emotion men are really comfortable expressing. This is true of Wink, the father in the highly-praised film, Beasts of the Southern Wild (it is up for several Oscars, including Best Picture).

If you are looking for a film with a sugar-coated relationship between a father and his daughter, this is not the film for you. It takes a very gritty, sometimes shocking look at what can transpire when people are faced with severe challenges, like isolation, grief and poverty. 

But it is in the conflict where the true “fatherhood magic” happens in this film. Early in the film, we see that Wink is very hard on his daughter, Hushpuppy, played brilliantly by newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis (also nominated for an Oscar). He yells at her, expects her to fend for herself despite her very young age, and even beats her. In a particularly difficult scene, he slaps her repeatedly to the ground.

It is what Hushpuppy makes of this situation that holds an incredibly valuable lesson for fathers. Despite the mistreatment, Hushpuppy very clearly loves her dad and she knows that he loves her, despite his inability to effectively express it. This is critical for fathers to understand, especially dads who are facing particularly difficult circumstances. 

For example, in NFI’s work with incarcerated fathers, one of the first obstacles we have to overcome in helping these men reconnect with their children is to convince them that despite what they may have done in the past, their children still need and love them. 

In Hushpuppy’s case, she is willing to go on a long, hard journey to save her father’s life, despite the fact that he is not the Father of the Year. No, but he is her dad, and she desperately loves him.

By no means are we suggesting that dads should be callous in their behavior toward their kids, resting assured that their children will love them anyway. But what Hushpuppy teaches us dads is that we are entrusted with a sacred relationship that is forged in love, and it is up to us to hold up our end of the bargain and give our children the love they so desperately need and want from us.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is by no means a one dimensional film – you will learn a lot by watching it. But from NFI’s perspective, it is, at heart, a movie about why fathers matter. And for that reason, we have nominated it for the 2012 Fatherhood Movie of the Year.

Have you seen this film? What did you think about it?

 

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Advocating for Fatherhood Programs in Washington, D.C.

describe the imageAs we detailed in a recent post here on this blog, program sustainability is a critical factor in determining the overall success of fatherhood programs around the country.

However, there is a general lack of funding available for organizations to obtain the kinds of capacity-building training and services they need to build long-term sustainability.

That is why we have created an initiative to inform Congress that federal fatherhood grantees should be allowed to use a portion of their funds to procure capacity-building services and training, such as leadership development, organizational development, program development, and community engagement.

While service delivery is the most important use of grant funds, those services need to be delivered by effective organizations – and that is where capacity-building comes in. It will help organizations do a better job serving fathers and ultimately lead to better outcomes for children.

We have set up a page on our website where individuals and organizations like yours -- who are doing the work each day to connect fathers to their children -- can make their voices heard. The grant program for fatherhood programs will be reviewed later this year, so now is the time to ensure that future grantees will have the flexibility to use some of their grant funds for capacity-building.

Here is what we would like for you to do: 

As an organizationSign on to become an "endorsing organization" of this effort to allow federal fatherhood grantees to use a portion of their funds for capacity-building services. Your organization's name will be listed alongside National Fatherhood Initiative as a supporter or this important advocacy effort. We will then inform Congress and the White House of all the organizations that are behind this effort. 

As an individual – Use our special webpage to send your opinion directly to your members of Congress. The more voices that come on board, the more persuasive we can be!

Thank you so much in advance for helping us in this important effort. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact Vincent DiCaro (vdicaro@fatherhood.org).

NFI Supplies U.S. Military With Fatherhood Resources

nfiGreat news! NFI has completed the delivery of over 140,000 fatherhood skill-building resources to 47 Air National Guard Airman and Family Readiness Programs and 71 Army New Parent Support Programs across the United States and around the world.

In the Air National Guard, the resources -- which include guides, classroom-based programs, and brochures -- will be used to support and train Air National Guard dads, thereby strengthening and improving the resilience of Air National Guard Families. In the Army, the resources will be used by Army New Parent Support Program Home Visitors to educate and train new and expectant Army dads, resulting in stronger and more resilient Army families.

At a time when thousands of military fathers are returning from long overseas deployments, it is critical that our nation’s military fathers receive the education and inspiration they need to embrace their roles as fathers and to build their relationship and parenting skills.

Tim Red, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, father, and NFI’s Senior Program Support Consultant for the Military, said, “Building resilience in our military families and communities has become a top priority, and there is no better place to start than with building the skills and confidence of our nation’s military dads. Having been there myself, I know firsthand the difference an involved, responsible, and committed father can make in the lives of military children and families.”

Through FatherSOURCE, the Fatherhood Resource Center, NFI has provided a wide variety of skill-building materials to the Air National Guard and Army, including NFI’s flagship 24/7 Dad® curriculum, a classroom-based program designed to help fathers build their communication, fathering, and relationship skills. Other resources include NFI’s Deployed Fathers and Families Guide™, which helps military dads prepare for, endure, and return from deployment. Several of NFI’s fathering skills brochures were also delivered, including “10 Ways to Be a Better Dad” and military-focused brochures such as “10 Ways to Stay Involved with Your Children During Deployment” and “Welcome Home Dad!”, which helps military fathers successfully transition from deployment to every day life with their families.

The Air National Guard will support dads and families with the resources at sites in the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and Puerto Rico. The Army will support dads and families with the resources at sites in the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Korea, Japan, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Since launching its Deployed Fathers and Families program in 2001, National Fatherhood Initiative has become the nation’s leading provider of fatherhood-specific resources to the U.S. Military. NFI has delivered nearly 650,000 resources to all five branches of the military on bases all over the world, and has been listed on Military OneSource, the Department of Defense’s support service for military families.

For more information on Military Fatherhood Programming, please contact Tim Red at tred@fatherhood.org.

Connect with The Father Factor by RSSFacebook and on Twitter @TheFatherFactor.

Good Dads and Bad Dads in TV Ads

My wife hates watching TV with me because whenever I see a commercial depicting fathers in a negative light, I go off on the same rant. So, she hears this rant almost nightly.

But to be fair to the Madison Avenue crowd, there are certainly lots of commercials showing dads in a positive, or at least realistic, light (note: showing dads acting like childish idiots is not realistic, nor is it helpful). In fact, NFI has given the Fatherhood Award™ to several of these companies, including Google, Subaru, and many more.

In the spirit of being fair and balanced, here is one good and one bad example of current TV ads depicting dads.

The good

As a baseball fan, former Little Leaguer (where my dad was my coach for several years), and high school player, I love this ad.

Some may argue that it is another ad showing a dad looking pretty dumb, but my problem is not so much with “dumbness,” but with ads that are not realistic. This one is. Not everyone can throw a baseball well. What matters is that this guy is so sincere, and he’s spending time with his son, one on one.

Most importantly, the ad does such a great job of telling a realistic and touching story. Look closely and you can see that the dad is still wearing his work clothes. He pulled into the driveway from work and his son was waiting for him in the front yard wanting to play catch. And he started playing with him right there – he didn’t even go inside to change his clothes! You can almost hear the kid saying, “Dad, dad! Let’s play catch!” And he, being the loving dad he is, dropped everything and started playing, despite his obvious lack of skills or comfortable clothes.

Humor, storytelling, and a positive message about fathers – this ad has it all. As opposed to this ad…

The bad

In contrast to the one above, this ad is not realistic. I do not know a single dad who would be this negligent and uncaring. Nor would a dad be “bought” so easily with the promise of food that was probably purchased with his own money. I also hate the recurring commercial theme of “if it weren’t for moms, American households would be bastions of chaos and permissiveness.” One could counter that the ad was “bending the truth” for a comical effect – but so was the above ad, and it was great and heartwarming and realistic. Again, note to commercial producers: you don’t have to make men and dads look like idiots in order to make funny ads. Frankly, I think it is lazy writers falling back on stereotypes who are making these kinds of commercials. The non-lazy ones are making gems like the VW ad above.

To be fair to Kraft, they are a sponsor of the upcoming Dad 2.0 Summit, so clearly they are trying to make a genuine effort to reach out to fathers. But with ads like this (and it is only one in a series of similarly bad ads), I don’t think they are going to have as much success as they’d like. To be sure, if they want to work with NFI, we would need to have a serious discussion about what they really think about fathers given the mocking nature of their ad campaign.

Have you seen any good fatherhood commercials lately? How about bad ones? Let us know.

NFI Supplies U.S. Military With Fatherhood Resources

Great news! NFI has completed the delivery of over 140,000 fatherhood skill-building resources to 47 Air National Guard Airman and Family Readiness Programs and 71 Army New Parent Support Programs across the United States and around the world.

In the Air National Guard, the resources -- which include guides, classroom-based programs, and brochures -- will be used to support and train Air National Guard dads, thereby strengthening and improving the resilience of Air National Guard Families. In the Army, the resources will be used by Army New Parent Support Program Home Visitors to educate and train new and expectant Army dads, resulting in stronger and more resilient Army families.

At a time when thousands of military fathers are returning from long overseas deployments, it is critical that our nation’s military fathers receive the education and inspiration they need to embrace their roles as fathers and to build their relationship and parenting skills.

Tim Red, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, father, and NFI’s Senior Program Support Consultant for the Military, said, “Building resilience in our military families and communities has become a top priority, and there is no better place to start than with building the skills and confidence of our nation’s military dads. Having been there myself, I know firsthand the difference an involved, responsible, and committed father can make in the lives of military children and families.”

Through FatherSOURCE, the Fatherhood Resource Center, NFI has provided a wide variety of skill-building materials to the Air National Guard and Army, including NFI’s flagship 24/7 Dad® curriculum, a classroom-based program designed to help fathers build their communication, fathering, and relationship skills. Other resources include NFI’s Deployed Fathers and Families Guide™, which helps military dads prepare for, endure, and return from deployment. Several of NFI’s fathering skills brochures were also delivered, including “10 Ways to Be a Better Dad” and military-focused brochures such as “10 Ways to Stay Involved with Your Children During Deployment” and “Welcome Home Dad!”, which helps military fathers successfully transition from deployment to every day life with their families.

The Air National Guard will support dads and families with the resources at sites in the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and Puerto Rico. The Army will support dads and families with the resources at sites in the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Korea, Japan, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Since launching its Deployed Fathers and Families program in 2001, National Fatherhood Initiative has become the nation’s leading provider of fatherhood-specific resources to the U.S. Military. NFI has delivered nearly 650,000 resources to all five branches of the military on bases all over the world, and has been listed on Military OneSource, the Department of Defense’s support service for military families.

For more information on Military Fatherhood Programming, please contact Tim Red at tred@fatherhood.org.

The Director's Guidance on "Parental Guidance" — Interview with Andy Fickman

describe the imageJust before Christmas, we had the pleasure of speaking with Andy Fickman, director of the new film Parental Guidance, in theaters now, starring Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, and Tom Everett Scott. Crystal and Midler play Tomei’s character’s parents, and are grandparents to her and her husband’s three children. Mom and dad have to go away for the weekend, and they struggle with leaving the kids with their grandparents. Much intergenerational hilarity ensues, driven by the great comedic acting of Crystal and Midler.

The film does a great job of exploring issues around parenting, grandparents, and marriage. Take a look at what the film’s director had to say about it. We are hopeful his wisdom, insights, and humor will inspire you to go see the film this weekend!

On if this film was personal:

Andy Fickman: I’m a father, I have a 15-year-old son, and I think every day on the set you are bringing your personal life into it... It became a very personal journey for me…

On if he was going in trying to make a “fatherhood film”:

AF: Billy and I spoke so much in development about fathers… we are a little bit in this weird position because, look what the mother lovingly does. The mother helps carry the child in her womb, she goes through all the physical changes while we sit on the couch, she goes through labor, breastfeeds and has that maternal bond that is so beautiful and so specific that every dad knows the look on a child’s face when the child sees the mother. Every dad knows that moment of lighting up, you know, “The nurturer is coming!” So for dads, we have that weird pace, which is, am I the dad who comes home from my 9 to 5 job, and I’ve got my one hour of story time? So entering [into the movie we wanted to explore] what are [dads] hoping to pass on to our children, and what are they learning that they are then going to pass down to their children?

describe the imageOn how his relationship with his dad affected the themes of the film:

AF: My father passed away when I was 16 and I was very lucky that I had an uncle who became a surrogate, and I have three older brothers who became surrogates. But to this day my brothers and I talk about how lucky we were that our father provided such a role model for us, from education to social issues. So our challenge to us is we always feel like our responsibility is we have to pass down to our children what our father probably would have continued passing down to his grandchildren.

On the struggles grandparents sometimes face:

AF: Especially with the stuff in the movie where Billy is really struggling, he has some incredibly personal moments. The hardest thing to admit to anybody is that “I am not comfortable around my grandchildren” or “I don’t know how to talk to them.” I think those are very real things, and what we found throughout promoting the movie how many grandparent or parents have said that just because you have the title of parent or grandparent certainly does not mean you are comfortable with that title or that your relationship with your offspring is always a healthy one.

On helicopter parenting:

AF: That helicopter style of parenting is a very different world. There are whole stores dedicated to just early development of your child, and it’s great. But you also think about the classic line, “I was pretty sure I was just happy with a cardboard box.”

On if things really are better today for parents and kids:

AF: I remember we were talking on set one day about how great people are these days with health. True, I said, but make no mistake, all throughout history and all over the world, there are still kids born in a grass hut… So I definitely feel like it’s hard not to look a little like the marketing sham sometimes in modern society, where if we can come up with something, like the Snuggies commercial. “If putting on a bathrobe is too difficult for you, you need a Snuggies!” They’ll show commercial for things for children, where they’ll be like, “Tired of your child constantly falling off the bed? You need the new Bed Guard 2000!” That’s where we’ve gotten as a society, so when you put those generations together, it’s easy for them to Clint Eastwood squint their eyes at you and wonder, “Really, is that what you need?”

billy crystal bette midler marisa tomei in parental guidanceOn the importance of strong marriages:

AF: From the very beginning, what we wanted to deal with was reality, and anybody’s who’s in a relationship knows that children can pose challenges. And what the husband and wife are dealing with is, I think, so universal. “What do I do for an hour of intimacy?” One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Tom grabs Marisa and takes her out on the patio and the kids are going crazy in the kitchen and he gives her a kiss, and she says, “Oh, that’s like a mini-date!”

Even his grandparents are talking and it’s very real. You don't get the impression that these are couples on the verge of divorce lawyers and dealing with the nastiness. You get the impression that these are two couples who are dealing with life and not always making great decisions, and just because I’m your spouse doesn’t mean I have to support you, and yet I am supporting you.

On the central importance of the relationship between mom and dad for the well being of kids:

AF: Bette has a line that a lot of people have really responded to when Marisa says to her, “You always take dad’s side.” And Bette says, “Yes, because children leave, and I’m gonna be left with him. You hit college and you said goodbye and your father stayed.” And I think that is so relatable to people.

Bette also says to Marisa, “You need to go and show your husband that you support him and believe in him and you want to be with him.” And Marisa’s character is coming up with so many excuses, the children being the entire excuse – the children, the children, the children. And Bette and Billy are saying, you aren’t even giving us a chance; you are assuming we are going to fail with your kids… In those moments, Bette’s trying to point out, especially in a marriage, that the one night away or those two nights away… you really need it.  Two people are in love, they are human and sometimes it’s nice to be in that hotel where the phone’s not ringing, the kids aren’t screaming, and I think that’s important for those relationships, because as we all know, happy parents returning home are only going to be that much better for the kids.

On intergenerational parenting challenges:

AF: The three grandchildren are so raised to be a certain way that when they see the behavioral attitude changes that their grandparents bring to the house, it’s confusing for them because then, are they going to get in trouble with mom and dad for eating the cake. I think that’s what a lot of people deal with because there’s always the sense of, when you’re a kid, you always want to be around your grandparents, because they’re like, “Here's $10.” And you’re like, “Yay!”

any fickman director of parental guidanceOn what he wants today’s dads to take away from the film:

AF: It’s twofold. One is a reminder to dads that we do play a part, we do have a role, and that role never changes. It’s easy to say, let your mom handle that, but it’s important that we’re handling that as well.

And I think it’s also that we have different experiences that we are bringing to the table, and a child lucky enough to have both a mother and father can give them different pieces of wisdom. There’s that great moment in the movie where Billy’s watching baseball with his daughter and it’s a really sweet scene because you can imagine what it was like when she was 11 years old and he says, and then you got all girly on me… So hopefully that’s the sort of thing that we can not escape but continue in trying to learn their world as much as ours.

Get tickets to the very family-friendly and funny, Parental Guidance, rated PG.

 

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Photo credits: Phil Caruso  - TM and © 2012 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and
Walden Media, LLC.  All Rights Reserved.  Not for sale or duplication.

The Spider-Man Sleep Solution

spider-manMy son has been sleeping in his own bed every night, all night since a new room “opened for business” in our house. Yes – he has his very own Spider-Man room, and it is the greatest solution to toddler sleep issues ever invented by a father, humbly speaking.

He is 3 now. From when he was an infant until about a year ago, he slept in his crib pretty much every night, but he never wanted to fall asleep in his crib. He would have to fall asleep on the couch with mommy and daddy nearby, or in our bed. Then when he fell asleep, we’d whisk him away to his crib. For the last several months, matters had been worse. Not only would he not fall asleep in his own bed, but when we would place him there, he would inevitably wake up in the middle of the night and come to our room, seeking a comfy spot right in the middle of mommy and daddy’s bed.

We didn't want this to continue. And I realized he not only didn't sleep in his room, but he never spent any time in there at all. He just didn’t like his room. We assembled it for an infant, with a soft yellow color and a nice Beatrix Potter mural on the wall. While relaxing for an infant, it just wasn't exciting to a three-year-old whose tastes have shifted to superheroes and Disney Pixar movies.

By far, his biggest fanboy obsession has become Spider-Man. Everything from the movies to the Disney XD cartoon, to books, to clothes, to toys, this kid loves Spider-Man. As a somewhat handy dad, I decided that I was going to convert our boring guest bedroom into our son’s very own Spider-Man bedroom.

I envisioned what I wanted the color scheme to be and that there would be a big Spider-Man Fathead® on the wall. It would be a regular Spider-Man bonanza and, in theory, he would actually enjoy spending time in his room, and thus, sleeping there.

spider-man roomBoy, was I right. This picture of his new Spider-Man room should capture the essence of what it is like. Hyper Blue and Real Red paint from Sherwin-Williams. Spider-Man Fathead® from Fathead.com. Spider-Man curtains and bedding ordered from various websites, etc. And, for old times' sake, my own bedroom furniture from when I was growing up – solid oak furniture that looks practically new at 25+ years old (my parents kept it well preserved).

Now, for the first time ever, Vinny actually asks to go to his Spider-Man room. He loves it there. The other day he said to me, “Look at my Spider-Man room, daddy. It’s so cool!” I was teeming with pride. Shows you what a little daddy ingenuity can get you...

Not only does he sleep in his own bed every night, he actually falls asleep in it. No more waiting for him to fall asleep somewhere else and then sneaking him into his room. And even when he wakes up in the middle of the night (which happens often, as we have to check his blood sugar due to his Type 1 Diabetes – another blog post on that soon), he seems so comfortable in his own Spider-Man bed that he stays there. No more wandering into mommy and daddy’s room at night seeking refuge. He has his very own superhero watching over him to keep him where he is.

These heroes really are pretty super.

What worked/didn't work in getting your child to sleep in his or her own bed?

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photo credit: dogwelder (comic cover)

Is the Sandy Hook Shooting Another Crime of Fatherlessness?

In the wake of the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, our nation is collectively mourning and trying to figure out how something this terrible could happen. While it is not our job at NFI to figure out how to solve issues around gun control and mental health treatment, we would be remiss not to point out that once again, like in so many tragedies of this nature, there appears to be a significant “father factor” at play.

sandy hook

As we learn more and more about the troubled life of shooter Adam Lanza, it appears that the divorce of his parents had a significant, negative impact on his life.  

It is becoming clear that Adam Lanza suffered from some sort of emotional or psychological disorder that has not yet been specified. It also appears that this mental disorder contributed significantly to the heinous crime he committed. However, we know from research that children from father-absent homes are more likely to have emotional problems and are also more likely to commit crimes.According to this news article, he took the divorce especially hard – “The break up was traumatic, leaving the couple's sons devastated.” His father, Peter Lanza, had moved out and remarried in 2009; and although he had legal access to his child, he had not seen him in 6 months. In other words, there were no legal barriers preventing him from seeing his child, but he had not seen him since June. Adam Lanza was not alone in this – fully one third of children from father-absent homes never see their dads, and another third only see them once per month*. 

This blog has written several times about the father factor in mass murders (the Aurora shooting, the D.C. sniper, and Chardon High School, the Norway terrorist, and Tucson), and the patterns we see in each and every one of these cases is eerily similar. 

Had Peter Lanza been more involved in his son’s life -- helping him deal with the mental anguish it appears he was going through -- would things have turned out differently? Sadly, we will never know.

For now, all we can do is mourn with the families who were affected by this tragedy and start to work together to devise solutions that will reduce the likelihood of this sort of tragedy happening again. And certainly, part of the solution needs to be to ensure that all children have involved, responsible, and committed fathers in their lives who can help them navigate a difficult world, one that is especially difficult for the mentally ill.

*See: 

  • Stewart, Susan D. “Nonresident Parenting and Adolescent Adjustment: The Quality of Nonresident Father-Child Interaction.” Journal of Family Issues, 24 (March 2003): 217-244 
  • Aquilino, W.S. (2006). The noncustodial father-child relationship from adolescence into young adulthood. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 929-946

    photo credit: Rickydavid

March of Dimes’ Big Miss

small 107729240Very good news was just released about the United States’ preterm birthrate: in 2011, for the fifth consecutive year, it decreased. The rate now stands at a 10-year low of 11.7%.

This news was rightfully celebrated by the organization that is probably the single biggest advocate for maternal and infant health in the U.S., March of Dimes. That admirable organization has set a goal of a 9.6% rate by 2020.

We sincerely hope and pray that the goal is met.

However (you knew a “however” was coming), we at National Fatherhood Initiative believe that March of Dimes is missing an enormous opportunity to reach and surpass the goal they have set. As far as we can see, they are doing little to nothing to acknowledge or encourage the role that involved fathers play in maternal and child health.

Before I say more, I will take this opportunity to inundate you with data, because there is so much research out there that shows, unequivocally, that father involvement matters to maternal and child health.

In a landmark study conducted by the University of South Florida and published in the Journal of Community and Family Health in 2010, researchers examined the records of all births in Florida from 1998 to 2005 – more than 1.39 million live births. They found the following:

  • Infants with absent fathers were more likely to be born with lower birth weights, to be preterm and small for gestational age.
  • Regardless of race or ethnicity, the neonatal death rate of father-absent infants was nearly four times that of their counterparts with involved fathers.
  • The risk of poor birth outcomes was highest for infants born to black women whose babies’ fathers were absent during their pregnancies. Even after adjusting for socioeconomic differences, these babies were seven times more likely to die in infancy than babies born to Hispanic and white women in the same situation.
  • Obstetric complications contributing to premature births, such as anemia, chronic high blood pressure, eclampsia and placental abruption, were more prevalent among women whose babies’ fathers were absent during pregnancy.
  • Expectant mothers in the father-absent group tended to be younger, more educated, more likely to never have given birth, more likely to be black, and had a higher percentage of risk factors like smoking and inadequate prenatal care than mothers in the father-involved group.

If that data is not enough to convince you that March of Dimes should do more to engage fathers, here’s more:

  • Infant mortality rates are 1.8 times higher for infants of unmarried mothers than for married mothers. 1
  • High-quality interaction by any type of father predicts better infant health.2
  • Children living with their married biological or adoptive parents have better access to health care than children living in any other family type.3
  • Premature infants who have increased visits from their fathers during hospitalization have improved weight gain and score higher on developmental tests.4
  • When fathers are involved during the pregnancy, babies have fewer complications at birth.5
  • Babies with a father’s name on the birth certificate are 4 times more likely to live past 1 year of age.6
  • Twenty-three percent of unmarried mothers in large U.S. cities reported cigarette use during their pregnancy. Seventy-one percent were on Medicare.7

Given the powerful case that the research makes, it is critical that every entity working to improve maternal and child health invests in increasing father involvement. All indications are that March of Dimes is not doing this in any noticeable or significant way.

A legitimate question at this point is, “How do you increase father involvement in maternal and child health?” There are three broad categories:

  • Awareness – The first step is to ensure that the public is aware of the data that we provided above. Do you think most people understand the central role fathers play in this area? March of Dimes is positioned better than any other organization in the country to make a big deal out of how important dads are to maternal and child health. By simply listing this sort of research on their website and talking about father involvement as a factor in determining the preterm birthrate, they can have a great deal of influence. In the USA Today article from 11/13/12 in which I found out about this news, March of Dimes spokespeople cited things like access to prenatal care and reduced smoking during pregnancy as critical to preventing premature births, but nothing about involved dads.
  • Research – Given what we know from the above research, and given the continued emphasis on research into why preterm births happen, more research dollars should be dedicated to understanding why fathers play such an important role, and then, how we can get them more involved from the start. Based on their website, it appears that none of March of Dimes’ research grant recipients are studying father involvement.
  • Skill-building – Finally, every entity that interacts with pregnant moms (hospitals, birthing centers, Lamaze classes, nurse home visits, etc.) should be encouraged and equipped to provide fathers with inspiration and education about the importance of their role. Many fathers are afraid to get involved in pregnancy and infants’ lives because they fear that their lack of parenting skills will hurt more than help. We need to collectively disavow fathers of this notion by providing them with high quality skill-building materials to increase their health literacy and get them in the game. Again, it does not appear March of Dimes is doing anything on this front.

small 3233086359There is a concept called the “tipping point” that can be described as follows: “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”8 We believe that for reductions in the preterm birthrate to reach a tipping point, increasing father involvement needs to become an important part of the noble efforts currently underway. Otherwise, there is a very strong possibility of the reductions plateauing and lots of very smart people wringing their hands about why they can’t get the needle to shift further.

Let’s work together to encourage March of Dimes to pay more attention to the father factor in maternal and child health Here’s how. Contact March of Dimes to praise them for their great work, but to also encourage them to take the next step by acknowledging, celebrating, and encouraging the central role that fathers play in determining the preterm birthrate.

  • Ask them a question about their research here. For example, you can ask “What are you doing to investigate the role that father involvement plays in reducing preterm births?”
  • Comment on their Facebook wall. For example, you can say, “Research shows that father involvement is a key to reducing the preterm birthrate. What is March of Dimes doing to encourage father involvement?” Share with them the research we provide in this post, and tell them that father involvement during the prenatal period is key to reaching a tipping point in their effort. Encourage them to work with NFI.
  • Tweet about the father factor in maternal and child health and tag March of Dimes. For example, you can tweet, “There's a father factor in preterm birthrate. Data here: http://bit.ly/nfiblogdimes112612. What is @MarchofDimes doing to encourage father involvement?”

Collectively, we can help a great organization reach a very important goal by speaking up for dads and the important role they play in nurturing healthy moms and babies.

Endnotes:
1. Matthews, T.J., Sally C. Curtin, and Marian F. MacDorman. Infant Mortality Statistics from the 1998 Period Linked Birth/Infant Death Data Set. National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 48, No. 12. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 2000.
2. Carr, D. & Springer, K. W. Advances in families and health research in the 21st century. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 743-761 (2010).
3. Gorman, B. G., & Braverman, K. Family structure differences in health care utilization among U.S. children. Social Science and Medicine, 67, 1766–1775 (2008).
4. Coleman WL, Garfield CF, and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. “Fathers and Pediatricians: Enhancing Men’s Roles in the Care and Development of their Children”. American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement, Pediatrics, May, 2004.
5. Alio, A.P., Mbah, A.K., Kornosky, J.L., Marty, P.J. & Salihu, H.M. "The Impact of Paternal Involvement on Feto-Infant Morbidity among Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics". Matern Child Health J. 2010; 14(5): 735-41.
6. Ibid.
7. McLanahan, Sara. The Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study: Baseline National Report. Table 7. Princeton, NJ: Center for Research on Child Well-being, 2003: 16.
8. http://www.amazon.com/Tipping-Point-Little-Things-Difference/dp/0316346624

photo credit: bies via photopin cc

photo credit: Martin Gommel via photopin cc

A Focus on Fatherhood is Coming to New Jersey

NFI Logo verical BlackNational Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) has been awarded a contract from the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (NJDCF) to strengthen the state’s services to fathers.

Through the provision of training and technical assistance on its flagship 24/7 Dad® program, NFI will help the state’s 175 NJDCF-funded agencies deliver standardized, high-quality services to fathers across the state. This 18-month process will give NJDCF the ability to more effectively measure the impact of fatherhood programming on pro-fathering skills, attitudes, and knowledge in New Jersey.

Each of NJDCF’s 175 service providers will send two to three staff to a two-day, NFI-run Fatherhood Program Camp. At these camps, the staff will be led through NFI’s Father Friendly Check-Up™ workshop to measure the degree to which their current services are catered towards meeting the needs of fathers. Then they will be trained on how to deliver NFI’s 24/7 Dad® program, which will help them educate and inspire the fathers they serve with practical skills and encouragement on their importance to their families. They will also be trained on how to integrate NFI’s Understanding Domestic Violence™ workshop into the 24/7 Dad® program.

The end goal of this training program will be to create in the service providers an organizational culture that supports the effective delivery of fatherhood programming, to equip them with a research-based fatherhood skill-building program in the form of 24/7 Dad®, and to give the providers the means to effectively address the issue of domestic violence. Ultimately, this program will allow NJDCF to increase the well-being of children throughout New Jersey.

Christopher A. Brown, executive vice president of NFI said, “We are excited to partner with the state of New Jersey on this innovative program to help the state’s family service providers more effectively engage New Jersey’s fathers. Every child deserves to have a 24/7 dad, and NFI stands ready to help New Jersey reach that honorable goal.”

NFI will provide NJDCF with evaluation tools to measure the impact of this program. For example, 24/7 Dad® includes a pre- and post-survey that facilitators can use to measure the impact of the program on pro-fathering self-efficacy, attitudes, and knowledge, and ultimately allow NJDCF to conduct a statewide evaluation on the program’s impact. Additionally, NFI will provide reports to NJDCF and each of its providers that show the pre- and post-assessment results of the Father Friendly Check-Up™ to determine whether or not the agencies have become measurably more father friendly over the course of the first year of the program.

National Fatherhood Initiative has a long history of providing comprehensive training and technical assistance on a statewide and national level. NFI has run statewide initiatives on behalf of Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia, and has been involved in consulting with and operating portions of city & county initiatives in Milwaukee, WI and New York City. In 2006, under an open competition, NFI was awarded the administration of the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse. Under this federal contract, NFI provided and coordinated training and technical assistance for all of the approximately 100 fatherhood grantees of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Also in 2006, NFI was awarded a grant to run the National Responsible Fatherhood Capacity-Building Initiative with support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services / Administration for Children and Families / Office of Family Assistance.

If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about the New Jersey program, or would like to engage NFI on a similar county- or state-wide fatherhood initiative, please contact Erik Vecere, NFI VP of Project Design & Consulting at evecere@fatherhood.org.

A New Season for NFI

describe the imageRoland C. Warren, who has served as president of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) since 2001, will be leaving the organization to pursue a personal passion, but will join the board to continue guiding our important mission. NFI’s board of directors has created an executive search committee that is engaged in the search process to find the next president.  

While the board conducts the executive search process, the chairman of NFI, Carlos Alcazar, will be interim CEO with the support of executive vice president Christopher Brown. Roland has done an excellent job of building a superb senior management team in Christopher Brown, Paul Byus, Erik Vecere, Vincent DiCaro, and Melissa Steward, who will continue to manage NFI on a day-to-day basis.

During Roland’s time at NFI, the organization has become the nation’s #1 provider of fatherhood resources in the nation and the most quoted authority on fatherhood in the national media and on Capitol Hill. NFI has turned into an organization that not only inspires the culture about the importance of fathers, but also provides dads and organizations with high-quality skill-building materials to move people from “inspiration to implementation.” In the coming months, NFI will be releasing new tip cards, pocket guides, and Spanish translations of various resources for dads, and even some new resources for moms. There are also exciting partnerships with corporations and entertainment media companies that will advance the public dialogue on responsible fatherhood.

Roland said, “NFI's story is my story and its mission remains my mission. That's why I am so pleased to continue to be involved on NFI's board, and I look forward to continuing to support NFI's compelling and urgent mission to ensure that all children have involved, responsible and committed fathers who will connect with them heart to heart.”

“Both the staff of NFI and the board are eternally grateful for the inspirational leadership that Roland has provided NFI during his nearly 11 years of service”, said board chairman and interim CEO, Carlos Alcazar. “And at this pivotal moment, I’m very inspired about the release of our best work ever in the coming months, as well as the partnerships with organizations and media companies that will amplify our mission and impact,“ added Alcazar.

Roland departs NFI to become the leader of another non-profit organization whose mission he cares about deeply. We wish Roland all the best in his new role.

describe the imageWe are excited about NFI’s future, and we look forward to the new season we are entering under new leadership. In the meantime, we are delighted to continue providing you with the same level of inspiration, resources, and services around fatherhood. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact NFI’s Vice President of Development and Communication, Vincent DiCaro at 301-948-0599 or vdicaro@fatherhood.org.

If you would like to share your appreciation of Roland for his 11+ years of service at NFI, send us an email at president@fatherhood.org.

Please continue to check in with us at our website, www.fatherhood.org, for the latest news and announcements from NFI.

Thank you.

NFI Launches Update of InsideOut Dad

National Fatherhood Initiative annouces the release of an updated version of InsideOut Dad®, the nation’s only evidence-based program designed specifically for incarcerated fathers.

InsideOut Dad Second EditionNFI’s team of fatherhood experts incorporated practitioner feedback and evaluation data from around the country to refresh the program, which is already standardized programming in 24 states and New York City.

InsideOut Dad® Second Edition is designed to reduce recidivism rates by reconnecting incarcerated fathers to their families, providing the motivation inmate fathers need to get out and stay out.

For example, a three-year study by the Indiana Department of Corrections found that fatherhood programs such as InsideOut Dad® were linked to prisoner return rates of less than 20%, compared to a national rate of nearly 38%.

These reductions in recidivism can lead to enormous cost savings for taxpayers and the criminal justice system. Nationally, the annual cost of incarceration per inmate is between $25,000 and $40,000. The cost to take an incarcerated father through the InsideOut Dad® program could be as little as $40.

Used by both inmates and ex-offenders, InsideOut Dad® has been proven, through an extensive evaluation by Rutgers University, to improve inmate knowledge and attitudes. Hundreds of state and federal facilities, pre-release programs, community organizations, and more are using this life-changing reentry program. Facilities such as Angola State Prison in Louisiana, the Rikers Island complex in New York, and U.S. Penitentiary Leavenworth in Kansas are among the notable facilities that have run the program for inmate fathers.

Through practical, engaging material delivered in 12 core sessions and 4 optional sessions, InsideOut Dad® increases inmates' self-worth and gives them valuable relationship skills. It covers topics such as Being a Man, Co-Parenting and Communication, Men’s Health, and Children’s Growth and Discipline.

National Fatherhood Initiative started working with incarcerated fathers in 1999, leading to the release of the first edition of InsideOut Dad® in 2004. Through its use in over 400 correctional facilities over the years, NFI’s fatherhood experts gathered user feedback to create the second edition, a more content-rich, user-friendly, and engaging curriculum for fathers, which now includes video and other activities to maximize its impact.

More information on InsideOut Dad® Second Edition can be found at fathersource.org.

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When Daddy Isn't in the "Family" Picture

For all the talk we hear these days about how “families can take many forms,” it seems there is one particular form that, if there was a popularity contest for family types, would be losing. It’s the one where dad is involved.

Every time I think NFI is in danger of exaggerating our claims around the prevalence of father absence and the lack of respect for the institution of fatherhood, a good reminder of our pinpoint accuracy smacks me right in the face.

The latest smack came in the form of a series of pictures in a book for toddlers. The book, First 100 Words, was sitting innocently on a shelf in my house. I mindlessly opened it and started flipping through, and came across the following picture.

Dad not in family

In case you can’t make out what is going on there, it shows a picture of a family that includes “mommy,” “brother,” and “baby.” Where’s “daddy”? Well, he has his own separate, much smaller picture to the right of the larger “family” picture. (it is probably also worth noting that grandma gets the second largest picture)

Talk about a stark, visual representation of our culture’s general disregard for the centrality of responsible fatherhood. It is as if the editors did not want dad interfering with the pristine image of a mom-child family.

Moreover, this is a book designed to give toddlers their first lessons about the world around them. May as well get to them early with the notion that when we talk about family, we are really talking about a mom and her kids.

One might defend the use of an image of a mother-only family with the premise that we should be cautious about offending such families, or making them feel “left out.” But why is no one ever concerned with offending two-parent families? After all, 2 in 3 children still live in mother-and-father-present homes, and reams of social science research shows it is best, on average, for kids to live in such homes. So, shouldn’t we be “protecting” this family type?

These sorts of images reinforce the false belief that fathers are not as important as mothers. For a boy in a father-absent home, it reinforces the idea that he does not have to worry about being a central part of the family he will one day have. Mom’s got it covered! This attitude “empowers” neither men nor women.

fatherless family bookFor a child growing up with a father in the home, like my son, I am sure this image will be confusing. My 2.5-year-old son is too young to express himself about something as complicated as this, but this book -- along with a lot of other messages he will get from TV commercials, etc -- shows him that fathers are on the periphery of family. When he asks the question, “How now shall I live?” the answer provided by our culture will be vague at best. If it suits you to stick around for your family, that’s fine; but if not, don’t let the door hit you in the rear on the way out.

Now, you may say that it is just one book, and maybe it’s not indicative of what the general belief about fatherhood is in our country. But that is a cop out. If “just one book” published an image of a blonde girl struggling with a math problem, a ruckus would be raised. Or if “just one book” published an image of a minority being belittled by a white person, a ruckus would be raised. Because we know that images and messages matter; they communicate our culture’s values. When such messages are allowed to see the light of day, it is an indication that there is little fear of reprisal for publishing them.

Dads are not a feared demographic; very few people are worried about ticking us off. NFI will do its part to expose negative representations of fatherhood and award positive ones, but until market forces start to move, little will change. We saw a hint of how powerful those forces can be when Huggies made a mistake with dads.

Here’s to hoping that the mistakes are always pointed out and the offenders learn a lesson.

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Fatherhood’s In the Genes

A recent op-ed in The New York Times provides dads with more evidence of why they are important to their children.

The article is written from a health perspective – and the science of genetics and epigenetics can be very complex – but the takeaway for dads is this: your behavior and lifestyle choices over the course of your life become “imprinted” on your genes, and, consequently, are passed down to your children and grandchildren.

spermFor example, if you experience a lot of stress, your body responds, the sperm you produce are affected by this response, and then you pass your “stress” on to your children.

Same goes for alcohol or drug abuse, malnutrition, obesity, and several other behavior-related phenomenon.

The lesson – living a healthy, stress-free life will give you a better chance of having healthy children!

The writer points out that, as a result of these findings, dads are now in a position to share the burden that pregnant moms have carried for years – that their health and lifestyle choices were being scrutinized because they were the ones carrying the baby.

It is good that dads will take on this added responsibility, and there are two sides to the coin. While dads will now share the blame for an unhealthy child (“He smoked his whole life before becoming a father and it messed up his sperm!”), they will also be able to share in the credit for a healthy child (“He has been a healthy eater his whole life and it got passed down to his hale and hearty children!”).

There is not much to say about the article other than that, but I was certainly expecting something different when I saw the headline, “Why Fathers Really Matter.” I expected a discussion of the social science research that details the unique and irreplaceable role that fathers play in their children’s lives; I wasn't expecting a science article. But that is because I am not “normal” – I have worked at NFI for 10 years so my expectations about the media’s discussion of fatherhood are probably different than 99.9% of the people on the planet.

Beyond that, I also noticed that the headline could be read in two ways, and I am not sure which one the writer meant. The skeptic in me read the word “really” in the headline this way: the ways that we usually talk about why fathers matter – that they play a unique and irreplaceable role in the upbringing of children -- aren’t the ways that really matter. The ways that really matter are solely in the purview of genetics – dads should be careful how they live because they can pass bad (or good) stuff onto their children.

But again, my 10 years at NFI have tainted me. The other more innocent way of reading the headline is this: fathers really matter and here is more evidence as to why they do.

So that I can sleep well tonight, I will assume that is what the headline means and dream about a world that is increasingly recognizing just how much kids need good, responsible dads.

I think that is a dream we can all share.

photo credit: bhav.bhav

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