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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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Recent Posts

New Dads Really Do Affect Infant Behavior!

Dad with Infant Girl

Have you ever wondered how important father involvement is for infants?

 

I mean, does a two-month-old really notice the differences between a dad and a mom, and do those differences even matter?

Apparently, they do.

A new report from The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (April, 2012), found that “disengaged and remote interactions between fathers and their infants were found to predict externalising behavioural problems at the age of 1 year.”

Based on this finding, the researchers conclude that “these [disengaged] interactions may be critical factors to address, from a very early age in thechild’s life, and offer a potential opportunity for preventive intervention.” 

The key phrase there is “preventive intervention;” that is the “business” National Fatherhood Initiative is in. And we have been especially mindful of the need to provide hospitals and community-based organizations with the tools and skill-building materials they need to educate and inspire fathers in the earliest stages of a child’s life. More on that in a moment.

Regarding the research findings above, the researchers defined disengaged or remote interactions as ones “where a father is silent or not engaged with the infant.” I think all parents have been there. There are times when parents are caring for their baby out of obligation, but they are just not that into it --- they may be tired, stressed, or just in a bad mood. Amazingly, infants notice this! They sense the lack of interest and engagement, and it has an impact on them. Dads can be especially vulnerable to pulling the “silent treatment” when they are doing something they don’t want to do. But this research is another powerful reminder of just how important their active engagement is in their children’s lives, even when their children are infants. 

But how do you get fathers to the point where they know how to interact in an engaged fashion? Many of the dads you work with grew up in father-absent homes and have never seen a good dad in action. 

It starts with knowledge and confidence. When dads have those two tools at their disposal, their level of engagement with their infants skyrockets. 

NFI’s Doctor Dad™ workshops help build this confidence and knowledge by increasing fathers’ health literacy in the areas of infant and toddler health and safety. There are four workshops: The Well Child, The Sick Child, The Safe Child, and The Injured Child. Presented as 60-90 minute stand-alone workshops, or as supplemental sessions to your current fatherhood programming, Doctor Dad™ Workshops can be presented individually or as a series of four to cover all the areas of need your clients have.

Take it from me: When men feel like they know how to do something well, they do it with passion!  

Tell Us: What are you doing to address the health literacy of the dads you work with?

 

Just the Father Facts

Having worked at National Fatherhood Initiative for over 10 years now, I sometimes take for granted why our issue is so important. But every once in a while, I get a good reminder; this time it was from Father Facts, our research compilation on the causes and consequences of father absence.

ff6 resized 600I was flipping through the 90-page volume to locate some of the old print PSAs that we placed throughout the book. But as I flipped, I was once again struck by the boatload (that is the scientific term) of data on why fathers matter to children.

Since 1995, when we published the first edition of Father Facts on one side of a sheet of paper, we have cited research from thousands of academic and government studies that show, without any doubt that on average fathers play a unique and irreplaceable role in their children’s lives, and that children do best, on average, when their mother and father are married to each other. If you have a problem with that statement, I will put it another way: there is no evidence that growing up in a fatherless home, on average, confers any benefits whatsoever on children. If you have access to such evidence from a reliable academic source, please send it to us. 

If we had this much conclusive data on any other topic, we would start a multi-billion dollar campaign to “save our children.” Think of what we’ve done with smoking. Not everyone who smokes dies of lung cancer or heart disease. But because we have research that shows the increased risks smokers face, we have deemed smoking unhealthy (we are comfortable generalizing based on the data) and spend billions to get people to quit or never start.

I hope we can get to the same point when it comes to family structure. Despite the fact that we have 30-plus years of social science research that shows the clear risks children face when they grow up in father-absent homes, there are still debates about how important dads really are. For some reason, naysayers always point out the exceptions – “I know someone who grew up without a father, and she is fine. Therefore, fathers are not important.”

Would we do this with smoking? Would anyone say, “I knew someone who smoked her whole life and lived to age 85 and died of natural causes. So, smoking is not unhealthy.” No one would say that, because, again, it is about risk. The research helps us understand the risk, and we take action to reduce it.

So, why is it different with fatherhood? Why do people always point out the exceptions and conclude that we should base our behavior on the exceptions rather than on the rule?

Take this article that was just published in the New York Times denying that there is any problem with the institution of single motherhood. The thing that frightens me most is the attitude that decades of social science research can be dismissed in favor of someone’s “gut feeling.” How do we typically characterize people who dismiss academic evidence about climate change? And how about smoking… what would you think of someone who denied the research on smoking because they didn’t “feel” like smoking was unhealthy? The author of the Times piece, Katie Roiphe, takes issue with a researcher from Princeton University. So, her opinion is more reliable than Princeton University research? What nerve.

She also commits the fallacy of reducing fatherhood to money. She implies that the only thing missing in father-absent homes is a second income. Is that the only thing children without dads are missing out on? Money? Dads don’t contribute anything else to their children? Nonsense.

If you have some ideas about why folks act in this irrational way around the “family structure issue” please share them.

Is it because telling men they should be good fathers and telling women they should enable good fathering is more “personal” than telling them not to smoke? Is it because people have more control over whether or not they choose to smoke than whether or not they raise their children in a two-parent home?

What do you think?

Learn more about Father Facts and the research on families and fatherhood.

Why? Whyyyyyyyy!!??

Last week, my two-and-a-half-year-old son started asking me “Why?” “I have to wash your face.” “Why?” “We have to eat dinner now.” “Why?” “We can’t watch TV now.” “Why?”

I am not sure what to make of it yet, other than that IT’S REALLY CUTE!

But as someone who works for a fatherhood organization, I try to reflect on these mundane parenting situations to make sure that a) I am making the most of them as a dad, and b) I have something interesting to write about on this blog.

So, to kill those two birds with one stone, I began waxing philosophical about what my role is in answering the “why?” for my son.

Why, daddy?I have often heard, and mostly agree, that dad’s primary role is teacher. In fact, you are your child’s first teacher. While mom is nurturing and loving, she is creating a “nest” to protect her child from the dangers of the world. But at the same time, a good dad is slowly and safely exposing his child to that same world and teaching him how to navigate it.

I am generalizing of course, but generally speaking, men and women approach things differently, and parenting is no different. In fact, another recent study confirmed this by showing that fathers stand further away from their children than mothers while the kids are playing in a playground. Moms want to protect, dads want to teach safe risk taking. Neither approach is better than the other; they are both necessary and important to child development.

So, my role is to start revealing the world to my child. When he is asking why, he is really saying, “I want to understand the world!”

Therefore, my balancing act is to give him just enough to understand the truth, but not too much to forego his using his own imagination to make sense of things. This can be tough, but I have to practice now while he is asking me “unimportant” things like why Spider-Man can’t come to the dinner table with us. Because one day, he is going to start asking things like, “Why do I have diabetes?” (he was diagnosed with Type 1 two months ago).

Then, of course, he will inevitably ask the King of All Why Questions, “Why do I exist?” (or “What’s my purpose in life?”). If I can help him answer that question, then I will feel as though I am a successful father – even if I give him terrible answers to his questions about Spider-Man.

The Father Factor in the Aurora Shooting

aurora resized 600In four of the most recent high-profile mass shootings (the D.C. Sniper, Chardon High School, the Tucson shooting, and the Norway terrorist), we wrote about how the killers had damaged or nonexistent relationships with their fathers and how that factor contributed significantly to their horrific actions.

As details of the Aurora shooting emerge, it appears as though the killer had a relatively “normal” upbringing. We will continue to monitor the situation as more details emerge, as we know there is a father factor in crime. For example, children whose fathers were incarcerated are 7 times more likely to become incarcerated themselves.

However, there is another fatherhood story that has emerged from the tragic events in Aurora. In this article, Hanna Rosin writes about how, by and large, men protected women when the gunfire began, often getting shot themselves to save their girlfriends, children, and/or wives.

But one line in particular stood out: “Several women were at the midnight showing with infants and toddlers, presumably because there was no one else at home to watch them.”

I don’t know if I have much more commentary on this statement other than to say how sad it is.

Recent data published on the New York Times website shows the troubling explosion of the out-of-wedlock birthrate in our country, across all races and education levels. Note in particular how rates among white women have nearly doubled, more than doubled, or even tripled, in all categories. We know from research that these children will inevitably live in father-absent homes, because even in cases where mom and dad are living with each other at the time of the birth, 1 in 3 of those cohabiting relationships end by the time the child is only two years old. By comparison, only 1 in 17 marriages end by the time the child is 2 years old. In other words, marriage is more than 5 times more stable than cohabitation.

There is so much commentary out there about how marriage is an “obsolete” institution, and “healthy relationships” matter, not marriage. But this commentary rarely analyzes things from the perspective of what children need. And social science research isn’t sophisticated enough to measure something like, “what percentage of infants and toddlers with unmarried parents will attend midnight showings of PG-13 movies compared to their peers with married parents.” Those “intangibles” are hard to measure, but they matter greatly. And they matter to children. 

I am not saying that all single parents take their children to the movie theater late at night. But I am saying that in this case, had these children had someone “else at home to watch them,” they would not have been in that theater. That’s how it works in my marriage. When I want to do something late at night, my wife stays home with our toddler. When she wants to do the same, I stay home. Very little “coordination” is needed because, a) she lives in the same house as me, and b) via our wedding vows, we have already committed to doing things like this for each other.

This is not about criticizing single parents and idolizing married parents as individuals. It is about being honest about how institutions, not individuals, affect children. The Aurora shootings have provided another example of how the institution of marriage confers benefits upon children that should never be undervalued.

PBS Parents Engages in More “Dads and Clueless” Stereotyping

pbsparentsOne of the reasons NFI gives out the Fatherhood Award™ to worthy individuals and corporations is because we believe that “lighting a candle” is often more effective than “cursing the darkness.” However, from time to time, we feel it is necessary to curse some darkness, as we did about a Huggies advertising campaign in March.

Now is another time. On June 15, just in time for Father’s Day, the Facebook page for PBS Parents posted this picture of dads in the baby food aisle, presumably on the phone with their wives, with the caption, “Ha!”

Sure, the photo is kind of funny. But, as we have pointed out numerous times before, would it fly if they posted a picture of clueless-looking women at an auto parts store? First, they would never post such a picture. Second, if they did, they would take it down the moment a negative comment came in.

After all, shouldn’t we be getting past stereotypes? PBS Parents apparently thinks so, as they posted this article called “7 Ways to Fight Stereotypes.”

Except, of course, when it comes to dads. Again, as we have often repeated here at NFI, despite the fact that there is a child-damaging trend of crisis-level father absence in America, our culture continues to think it is ok to make fun of dads, and thus, in our view, discourage them from getting involved.

Despite numerous complaints in the comments next to this photo, PBS Parents did not take down the photo, and basically shrugged off the complaints saying that they meant no offense and that it was meant as a “tribute” to dads.

I don’t believe them. They found the photo on a “humor” website that shares vulgar, even profane, photos, and captioned it with “Ha!” In other words, “laugh at these dads with us!” 

I don’t know enough about PBS Parents to say whether or not the rest of what they do reflects this immature attitude towards fathers. A quick glance at their website suggests that they are mom-centered but offer resources for dads, too.

So, why the dad bashing? First and foremost, they are not afraid. They have no fear that they will lose money or business as a result of posting such content. When moms or women are offended in the public eye, they make a big deal out of it and force change. Men and dads don’t do this, and no one does it for them.

However, this could be changing. I mentioned Huggies earlier. After they received criticism from the community of dads (and moms, too), they pulled the offensive ads and have since been in dialogue with NFI and daddy bloggers in a genuine effort to include dads in a positive way in their branding and messaging.

We indicated then that Huggies’ actions may have marked a turning point in brands actually responding to criticism from fathers. So far, PBS Parents has bucked the trend.

And it may be to their detriment. Research is starting to show that fathers are an important market force. If PBS Parents and their ilk do not change with the times, the last “Ha!” could be on them.

The Night My Son Came Home With Diabetes

Last Thursday night at around 7:30, my wife and I took our two-and-a-half year old son, Vinny, for a walk. It was a beautiful night, warm with a cool breeze. The sun was just starting to set.

We approached the neighborhood playground and Vinny asked to get out of his stroller so he could go play. His chubby little legs carried him over to the slide, which he promptly climbed and slid down.  He was having a blast.

As twilight progressed, the evening took on a magical quality. The air had a golden glow, the fireflies were coming out, and a few stars began appearing in the sky.

I stood next to one of those spiral slides as my son started to climb it. As he came around the bend, he saw me standing there and a big smile came over his face. He said, “Daddy? Daddy?” I answered, “What is it, baby?” He sat down right next to me and looked me in the eyes, still smiling. He just wanted “Daddy,” not something from Daddy.

Under normal circumstances, this would have been a great moment for me as a dad. But that night, it became a “remember-forever” moment that almost made me break down in tears. Because just an hour earlier, my wife and I had left the hospital after a three-day stay in which my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.

Let’s rewind back to last Tuesday. It had been at least a week during which my son was barely eating, was always thirsty, was constipated, and was wetting his diapers like never before. He was usually in a bad mood. It had really hit me that something was wrong when he was lying down on the changing table and I could see his ribs protruding.

So, I took him to the doctor that morning to see what was going on. They began doing a series of routine tests to see what was wrong. One of those “routine” tests was a blood sugar test that returned a result of 565.

vinny dbThis was when I heard “the word” for the first time. Diabetes. You know, that disease that your Aunt Bertha takes pills for because she’s eaten a few too many of her own apple pies. But in a healthy two-year-old?

At that point, our doctor told me that I should take Vinny to the emergency room so they could do some tests to confirm whether or not it was diabetes. I called my wife, and we met at the hospital 20 minutes later.

After a very short period of time, he was admitted and the diagnosis was confirmed – Type 1 Diabetes. The kind of diabetes that you just “get” and does not go away. The kind where you have to do blood sugar tests and insulin shots every day for the rest of your life.

My wife and I were in shock. It sounds cliché, but we really did not know how to react.

But the doctors were amazing. They immediately began preparing us for the new routine we would have to establish every day with our precious son. We learned carb counting, blood testing, and how to administer insulin shots.

By Thursday night, our new endocrinologist was comfortable enough with where we were in our knowledge and where Vinny’s blood sugar was to let us go home.

I can’t remember ever being so nervous in my life.

We were leaving the security of the hospital and left on our own. What if his blood sugar dropped and he passed out? What if his blood sugar spiked and something terrible happened? My wife and I never paid so much attention to our son’s mood, facial expressions, complexion, and demeanor in our parenting lives… But that is where the magic came from…

One of the best pieces of advice the nurse gave us as we left the hospital was to handle everything in a matter of fact way so that our son wouldn’t get upset. So, to ease our nerves, we went for that walk to the playground where he, in his own little 2-year-old way, showed his affection and appreciation for daddy.

I believe children are wired to crave connection with their parents – God makes them that way. My wife and I both work full time. We spend a lot of time with our son, but never three straight days, 24/7, in the same small room, playing with him, feeding him, reading to him, watching Disney movies together. While our stomachs were churning about his new disease, he was delighting in the fact that mommy and daddy were spending so much time with him.

So when we went for the walk, he was as happy as can be. He didn’t know that mommy and I were bundles of nerves. He just knew we were there, and he loved us for it.

The next few months are going to be tough. We are going to continue adjusting to the reality that our son has an incurable disease that needs constant management. But the silver lining – which I learned about on the playground that night – is that I will become closer than ever to my little boy. And every time he smiles at me, I will thank God that I have been given the opportunity to be the daddy to this wonderful boy, diabetes and all.

Pampers Gets Pops

Pampers Gifts to GrowLast month at Pampers Cincinnati, OH headquarters, NFI president Roland C. Warren presented the big baby care brand with a Fatherhood Award™ for its “A Parent is Born,” “Welcome to Parenthood,” and “Love Comes Early” video series.

If you haven’t seen these online mini-documentaries, check them out as a Father’s Day treat. They really do an incredible job of showing how important it is for fathers to be involved in the “peri-natal period” (the time right before and after the birth of a child).

Pampers is a rare breed in the baby care world in that they are one of a few brands that understands the role dads can and should play in this area. Sure, moms still buy more diapers than dads do, but according to all the research we’ve done and seen, moms are more likely to support brands that support fathers. Moms don’t want brands letting dads off the hook.

To celebrate and commemorate the Fatherhood Award™ recognition, Pampers is unveiling new rewards in its “Pampers Gifts to Grow” catalog that are very dad-centric - BBQ tool sets, professional-caliber golf balls, stainless steel water bottle gift sets, and headphones, to name a few.

pampers NFIThis quote from Fama Francisco, Pampers General Manager perfectly sums up Pampers enlightened understanding of this issue: "Pampers recognizes that today’s fathers want to be involved in the very important role of nurturing their babies and acknowledges that it is just as important for dad – as it is for mom - to bond with baby too. With all the attention on expectant and new moms, the role of an expectant or new father can sometimes be overshadowed. That's why this Fatherhood Award™ honor is a special thrill. Whether it's been via our web-based real parenting video series or our past partnerships with the likes of great dads, Pampers is committed to honoring and celebrating dads for the unique role they play in their babies lives!”

We love this! Especially the part about the “unique role” that dads play. Again, research shows that the different approaches that moms and dads take to child care have a significant, positive impact on child well being.

We thank Pampers for their dedication to fatherhood, and commend them for doing work that will last far beyond this Father’s Day.

Is Your Child a Match or a Torch?

match 0009 resized 600My son was sitting in his car seat as we drove home from day care at the end of a long day. He was holding his lunch bag in his hand. He always has to have something in this hand… Then, something about the lunch bag suddenly annoyed him, so he frantically threw it down, it landed on his legs, and he kicked vigorously to make sure it ended up on the floor of the car. Then he was quiet. We listened to music in silence for the rest of the 15-minute drive home.

This happens a lot with Little Vinny. He is a bundle of emotions, needing only the slightest prompt for him to erupt into an emotional – happy, sad, angry, annoyed – storm for the next… 5 seconds.

Yes, it is true. My son has the shortest emotional outbursts I have ever seen in a human being. He is a “match.” Doesn’t take much to light it, it burns bright and hot for a few seconds, and then it is out, with little sign that anything ever happened.

I have only had one two-year-old son in my life, and I have never spent more than a few minutes with any other two-year-old, so I am certainly not an expert on toddler temperaments. But my guess is that there are lots of two-year-olds like mine.

But I have also heard stories of two-year-olds who are not matches, but “torches.” They are not set off too easily, but when they are, they burn for a long time. They stew and fuss and are moody and unbearable for minutes or hours.

I am not sure what is “better,” a match or a torch. The good thing about my son is that he rarely is in a bad mood for more than a few minutes. But he can go from being in a good mood to a bad mood so quickly and for the silliest reasons. On the other hand, he can go from bad mood to good mood quickly, too.6910flaming torch

A torch on the other hand would be “easier” in that his or her moods would be more stable. No emotional roller coasters from minute to minute. “Oh, Johnny is in a good mood today. Great.” At our house, it’s, “Vinny is in a good mood right now. Great.” But with torches, I would imagine it could be stressful to know that your child is in “one of his moods” that may last for hours. We never have that problem with Vinny.

What is your child – a match or a torch? What do you think is easier to handle for parents?

Military Fatherhood Award Finalists on Fox & Friends

fox-and-friendsThis Sunday morning at 9:20 am eastern, tune in to Fox & Friends on the Fox News Channel to see our three Military Fatherhood Award finalists interviewed live!

And remember to cast your vote for your favorite once a day, every day until May 25 on NFI's Facebook page.

Guest Post: Are Dads an Endangered Species?

This is a guest post by Dave Taylor. Dave has been living the single dad adventure for almost five years and continues to fight for equal access to his children, while trying his best not to explain to them the behind-the-scenes reality of life as a divorced, single man. You can read about his travails and musings at GoFatherhood.com or find him on Twitter as @DaveTaylor.

single divorced dadI'm a single dad. I have three children from my marriage, a 15yo daughter, 12yo son and 8yo daughter. I have the kids roughly 50% of the time, which makes me a really unusual person in the world we inhabit here in Boulder, Colorado. In fact, I was having a fascinating discussion with my teen just last night about the hassles of two households which, we're both convinced, just sucks. No great solution to the problem, but there's no way that it's an optimal arrangement for anyone, unfortunately.

She observed that none of the other kids in her high school class bounce back and forth like she does, to which I commiserated and made my usual suggestion: "just come live with me".  We talked a bit further, and she shared that almost half of the kids in her class come from broken homes, but that in every other case, the dad's vanished. Either he's literally in another state, he's missing in action or he's either been pushed out of the parenting role or abrogated it of his own accord. Her class of children have about 50% of the dads completely out of the picture.

I think it reflects a greater reality in our society as we fully enter the 21st century: men are being pushed out of the parenting role. I think that there are a lot of causes for this, including that a lot of us men are more interested in impregnating a gal than in stepping up and taking life-long responsibility for their offspring, whether it's easy or hard, whether the children are polite and respectful (read "compliant") or not. But that's not the only reason for this looming crisis, and a crisis it is.

I believe that our society has created the myth of the irresponsible father and that we now have men and, especially, women who buy into it so wholeheartedly that they don't believe there are honorable, trustworthy and reliable men still left. Watch the movies, endure a day of TV shows (especially daytime programming), or read contemporary best-selling fiction, that irresponsible man shows up everywhere! Just count, how often do you see men holding babies or grocery shopping in media portrayals?

What's happening is that we men, we fathers, are in danger of becoming second class citizens.

I know, I've seen it arise time and again, like when I would pick up my little girl at preschool and be the only man in the room. "Who are you? Why are you here? What's wrong with your wife that she isn't here for pickup?" was the constant vibe I got as i walked into the coatroom to wait. I've experienced conversations literally stopping when I walked in, like I was a gunslinger and they were in an Old West saloon.

Even years later, years into this experience of being a highly involved single dad, I experience a skepticism, a suspicion of my motives and comments about how I am so incredibly unusual when compared to most divorced dads. It gets old. And in my experience, not just our culture but the legal system also discriminates against men in both divorce proceedings and post-divorce issues.

A friend who is just starting down this lonely road commented to me a few days ago that he was thinking of trying to get full custody of his kids because his wife is an alcoholic, but realized that it would be just about impossible to win at that battle, however fabulous he was (and he's not, he's just a guy doing his best and occasionally challenged by his dark side, as we all are) and however horrible she might be (and she's not either, she just does what a lot of alcoholics do, unplugs and leaves the children to their own devices).

He's smack in the middle of the cultural morass that we've been stuck in since the 1950s, if not before: It's all too common for the outcome of a divorce to be that the children are fulltime with the mother and the father's role is writing checks and, if they're lucky, interacting with their children in very, very small amounts.

What's worse is that it's then a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you only see your children for one afternoon a week, you will indeed lose touch with them and they'll act up when they're with you because they don't know you. They act up, you're out of practice parenting, so you get angry and upset, then they go home and say how mad you were. Doesn't take long for that cycle to result in you being the Checkbook Ex with almost zero time with children you don't even know.

It's a cycle that I see too often in the divorce community and it's dangerous, not just for us men, but for our children. How will they learn what a healthy mother/father relationship is? Where will they learn what it is to be a father, to know what to expect from a good man who isn't the Prince Charming of teenage fantasies, and to work with us men to create healthy, successful family units again?

But this isn't just about divorce and single parenting, this is a more pervasive problem with the role of men, of fathers, in our culture. Thirty years ago men had a known, specific role in our family unit, the "wait 'till your father gets home" and 'father knows best" world of women as day-to-day nurturers, but fathers as pivotal members of the family too. Now plenty of us men are home, moms are working fulltime. Times have changed. Indeed, our expectations of relationships and our willingness to work towards success have changed. Isn't it time to make sure we're still moving in the right direction before we find that us fathers are obsolete?

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of National Fatherhood Initiative.


Octomom: Her Children, Her Choice and Our Responsibility

By Roland C. Warren --

Last week, the Associated Press reported that Nadya Suleman, a.k.a. Octomom, has run into some serious financial trouble. Apparently, she has amassed $1 million in debt to a range of creditors -- including her parents. It's also reported that she may have to resort to doing a porn movie in order to make ends meet.

For anyone one who has followed Ms. Suleman's saga over the last three years, none of this should be a surprise. She has made a series of troubling and unwise choices, most notably her decision to have 14 children with no apparent financial means to support them. Alas, actions have consequences, and although one can choose their actions, no one can choose the consequences of their actions.

You might recall that much of the initial reporting about Suleman's decision to have octuplets was positive, even glowing. Our culture tends to respond to these kinds of "scientific miracle" stories like proud 3-year-olds showing our adoring parents a new skill, boasting, "Look what we can do!"

But the tone of the news stories soon turned negative, even vicious, as reports surfaced that Ms. Suleman was a jobless single mother with six more young children who subsisted on a combination of welfare checks, food stamps and student loans. The situation got even worse after a widely seen interview of Ms. Suleman by NBC's Ann Curry. Ms. Suleman reportedly even received death threats.

Why were (and are) so many so incensed by this situation? Is it because children are involved? Maybe, but there certainly have been worse stories that involved children. Maybe it is because Ms. Suleman does not have the money to support her family. Possibly, but could one really make that case in this season of billion-dollar bailouts?

No, I believe the real issue is that Ms. Suleman has been smugly putting in our collective faces something about ourselves that we do not want to see and refuse to acknowledge. Ms. Suleman's story exposes the fact that for the last few decades, our culture has been carefully constructing a modern-day "Tower of Babel" in celebration of "personal choice," especially in matters related to sex.

We have constructed this tower brick by brick -- one brick to unlink marriage from childbearing, another to unlink fatherhood from family life. We have been on a march to climb our tower without taking the time to consider the consequences.

Worse yet, any courageous soul who dares to try and stop us on our "upward" march is shoved from the tower, sans parachute, as an example for others.

Ms. Suleman, a learned product of our culture, knows our dilemma well, or at least got her money's worth from the many PR consultants who have coached her. For example, when Ms. Curry asked, "Why is it responsible for a single woman without a job... to have eight more children?" Ms. Suleman responded, "Yes, I have chosen to be single... If there is a couple... just together, why are they exempt from being called irresponsible?"

When Ms. Curry queried why her fertility specialist, who knew that she already had six children, transferred so many embryos, Ms. Suleman responded, "It's a subject of choice... so he did not judge me. [He was] Very professional."

Even when Ms. Curry tried to challenge Ms. Suleman by suggesting that children need a father, Ms. Suleman had all the right answers. She said, "I absolutely believe that. And they do have a father."

The problem is that Ms. Suleman, like many others, has chosen to view fatherhood as merely a biological transaction. In a culture where choice trumps all, who can "cast the first stone" at a woman who undervalues the need for children to have a physically and emotionally present father in their lives? This is despite reams of social science research that support the fact that children need involved dads.

In short, the more Ms. Curry tried to turn the mirror on Ms. Suleman, the more the mirror was turned back on the culture that produced her.

Indeed, the truth is that choices are never personal; they are always communal. Her children are our responsibility, too -- your tax dollars pay for the programs that support her choices. Ms. Suleman's story illustrates that in our politically correct, choice-saturated culture, there are more and more things that you dare not say. However, the problem is that there are fewer and fewer things that you dare not do.

This post was originally published on May 8, 2012 on The Huffington Post

Ryan O'Neal Not Alone as a "Lost" Father

In a depressing interview on The Today Show yesterday, actor Ryan O'Neal spilled his guts about the multitude of problems he's had with his children and with his romantic partner of many years, Farrah Fawcett.

In the interview, Matt Lauer listed the various problems O'Neal's four, now grown, children have had, and then the conversation went like this:

Lauer: "Were you a bad parent?"

O'Neal: "Looks like it... Sure looks like it... I suppose I was."

Lauer: "Why did you fail as a parent?"

O'Neal:"Well, I wasn't trained."

Lauer: "Nobody's trained."

O'Neal:"Nobody's trained, so I found out..."

First, I can't imagine how difficult it would be as a man in my later years (O'Neal is now 71) to have to face the fact that I was a failure as a father. After all, being a dad is the most important role a man will ever have (along with being a husband). If you fail at that, then, in many ways, your life is a failure. At least that is how I think I would feel.

So, I felt a mix of pity, pride, and anger at O'Neal as I watched him make this admission. Part of me felt terrible for the guy; what a tough thing to face. Part of me was "proud" of him for having the courage to make this admission publicly; it is a hard thing for a man to admit he failed at something, especially in public. But another part of me was screaming, "Why didn't you realize this 40 years ago when your kids were young and you still had a chance! It's too late now, you jerk!"

Second, there is much wisdom, but also an omission in Lauer's statement that "nobody's trained" to be a good father. While this is true (our own research shows that about half of men do not feel prepared to become fathers), it is also true that many sons learn how to be good fathers by watching their own dads. I don't know anything about O'Neal's father, but it would appear that O'Neal did not feel like he learned anything from him. He may not have been trained, but wasn't there the possibility he could have learned by watching? Apparently not... 

That said, O'Neal's experience should be a lesson to our culture -- we need to make sure we are doing more to prepare men to be good dads, especially in an era of mass father absence. One in three kids grows up without his or her father in the home. And they are not being "trained." What kinds of fathers do we expect boys to become? It's hard to be what you don't see. And what kinds of fathers will our girls decide they need to have for their children?

From that perspective, it is hard to be mad at the Ryan O'Neals of the world who grow up in a culture that de-emphasizes the importance of dads and then expects them to be good fathers. While he should certainly be held accountable for not being as responsible as he should have been, there is at least an explanation that provides context.

What did you feel when you watched O'Neal's interview?

Junior Seau's Fatherhood Story

There are still many unanswered questions about the tragic death of former NFL player Junior Seau. From our perspective here at NFI, many of the most important questions surround his family life.

While many people in the sports world gush about how great a player he was and all the good he did for "the community," things are much less clear when it comes to what he did, or didn't do, for his own family.

We do know that the day before he apparently took his own life, he sent text messages to his ex-wife and three children telling them he loved them. The fact that he texted his kids, and did not see them face-to-face before his death, raises questions. How often was he seeing his children? What was the extent of the estrangement since his divorce in 2002? Indeed, it was his girlfriend, not his ex-wife or children, who found him dead.

I also find it interesting that Seau never officially retired from football. Was his life so locked up, his identity so inseparable, from his role as an NFL player that he just could never bring himself to let go? Because of his divorce, was he not able to pour his life into his family, especially his children, in a way that would have saved him from what looks like an identity crisis? While he was too old to continue playing on the football field, couldn't he have continued playing with his children?

I don't pretend to know the answers to these questions. But having been around this fatherhood thing for as long as I've been, there are certain patterns that you start to notice. I think of the murder of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair in 2009, which we blogged about here.

I think of all the research I've read on what happens to men's health, and father-child relationships in particular, after divorce. In short, they disintegrate over time. Many men tend to view "the wife and kids" as a single "package," and when their marriages end, their relationships with their children often become strained. And often, the legal system and our culture make it more difficult for them to stay connected to their children over time. Also, men are more likely than women to remarry after divorce, and when they start new families, the old ones often get left behind.

More answers are certainly going to come in the next few weeks as to what happened with Junior Seau. We can only hope and pray that his children will be ok. We will continue to follow the story as it unfolds.

The Huggies Conversation Continues...

As regular readers of The Father Factor know, NFI recently played a key part in a firestorm of social media commentary that led Huggies to respond to the complaints of dads and modify an ad campaign to portray dads more positively.  (If you missed it, check out our blog post rebuking Huggies for their original campaign and the second blog post applauding them for listening to the feedback of dads.)

The conversation about how brands and organizations can effectively reach out to dads - and why it's important for them to do so - continues.  Vince DiCaro, NFI's Vice President of Development and Communication, was NFI's voice in the Huggies "debacle."  The National Diaper Bank Network invited Vince to share NFI's thoughts on the important role that dads play.  As we've frequently noted, calling on men specifically as fathers, and not just parents (which is often interpreted as a code word for "mothers") is key to welcoming them into the conversation.  Vince elaborates on that and other ways and reasons to engage dads.

Read what he shared with The National Diaper Bank Network in his guest blog post "Today's Dads Can Help Close The 'Diaper Gap'"

 

Guest Post: How I Taught My Daughter To Fight

This is a guest blog post by best-selling author Brad Meltzer on his just-released book, Heroes for My Daughter.

I was sleeping. Soundly. And then my pregnant wife shook me awake.

“I think the baby’s coming,” she told me.
It was four in the morning. 
“Go back to bed,” I pleaded. “It’s too early.” 
God bless my wife, she actually tried to go back to bed.
 But my little unborn daughter had her own ideas. 
Believe me when I say, that wouldn’t be the last time.

At the hospital, the instant I saw my daughter for the first time, my heart doubled in size. My own mother told me at the time, “Now you’ll understand how I love you.”

After giving us a few moments with her, the nurses did their usual weighing and measuring, and then said they wanted to whisk her off for her first bath.
 “I’m coming with you,” I told them, determined to protect her.
 They smiled that smile they save for new parents and reassured me, “She’ll be fine. We have her.”

But as I looked down at my beautiful, teeny, amazing daughter…c’mon… No way was I ever letting her out of my sight. Thankfully, the nurses put up with me, and let me pretend I was some old parental veteran as I helped give my daughter her first bath. Later, as I sat there, rocking in the rocking chair they gave me and holding her close, I still remember all the dreams I was dreaming for her.

I didn’t want just one thing for my daughter. I wanted everything. If she needed strength, I wanted her to be strong. If she saw someone hurting, I wanted her to find the compassion to help. If there was a problem, big or small, that no one could solve, I wanted her to have every available skill - ingenuity, empathy, creativity, perseverance - so she could attack that problem in a way that no one else on this entire planet had ever fathomed. And that would be her greatest gift: That no one - and I mean no one - would ever be exactly like my Lila.

I still believe that. I do. I’m a mushy dad. And it was in those first moments of blind idealism and unbridled naïveté that I resolved to write a book for her.

Yes, I’d been down this road before. I started a similar book on the night my son was born. The goal was to write this book over the course of my children’s lives - that I’d fill it with all the advice they needed to be good people. I began that night:
1. Love God.

2. Help the kids who need it.

My plan was to add more ideas as she grew older, and eventually, on the day when I presented this book to her, she’d realize I was indeed the greatest father of all time (I had a parade planned for myself as well).

Thankfully, during your first few years, I realized my cliché, self-important plan was just that. It hit me after thinking about my own life and after my friend Simon Sinek told me this amazing story about the Wright Brothers: Every time Orville and Wilbur Wright went out to fly their plane, they would bring extra materials for multiple crashes. That way, when they crashed, they could rebuild the plane and try again. Think of that for a moment: every time they went out - every time - they knew they were going to fail. But that’s what they did: Crash and rebuild. Crash and rebuild. And that’s why they finally took off.

I love that story. I wanted my daughter to hear that story. I wanted my sons to hear that story. I wanted everyone in this world to know that if you dream big…and work hard…and have a good side-order of stubbornness…you can do anything in this world.

Soon after, my new plan was born. I wouldn’t give my kids a book of rules. I’d give them a book of heroes. And in that, I’d give them absolute proof that anything is possible.

Following birth order, I first wrote Heroes for My Son, which was published two years ago. At the time, I was simultaneously writing the book for my daughter, and not just because my daughter kept coming up to my office and demanding, “Where’s my book?” (which she did). Over the past six years, as I began my collection of heroes, I always knew I’d have to split them between a book for my sons and a book for my daughter.

For that reason, I worked hard to divide the heroes equally. My son got more male heroes; my daughter got more female (in the exact same ratio, down to the exact percentage, so there’d be no arguing about which “side” was better).

Think I’m nuts? Wait till you have more than one kid. Like Switzerland, my parental goal was to keep all parties neutral, so all my children would feel equal love, equal respect, equal life lessons. Am I insane? I have three kids. Of course I’m insane. But (to steal my mother’s phrase), for those three little blessings, I’d saw off my own arm. And so, feeling like a 21st-century parent (so progressive I couldn’t even see, much less acknowledge, gender differences), I began to write these two equal books filled with equally amazing heroes.

But here’s the thing. Along the way, something happened.

When I handed in the manuscript for my daughter’s book, the editor came back with a surprising reply. She noticed that I kept overusing one word throughout the manuscript.

What word?

Fighter.

By her count, fourteen of the fifty profiles had the word “fight” or “fighter” in it.

As she pointed out, “Some of them, like Abigail Adams, Winston Churchill, Hannah Senesh, Thurgood Marshall, were literally fighters, so of course the term should stay there.” But I also used it with Audrey Hepburn, Helen Keller, Teddy Roosevelt, Nancy Brinker…even with Lisa Simpson and the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama! Even in the pacifist, I sought a fighter. And yes, that probably highlights my lack of descriptive ability. But it also raises a vital question.

Why?

After years of trying to keep this book for my daughter perfectly equal to the book for my sons - after years of trying to teach them the exact same lessons - why did I focus so intently on making sure that my daughter knew how to fight? Why did I keep using that word? Why, subconsciously or not, was that the lesson I kept coming back to?

It’s not a complex answer. Part of it’s because I’m still trying to protect her (even if I don’t like to admit it). Indeed, when my daughter was three, and first learning to swim, she used to jump in the pool, sink down to the bottom, and then pop up and shout, with a huge grin on her face, “I’m okay!” We used to laugh at it, especially as it became her personal catchphrase every time she went underwater: I’m okay! I’m okay! I’m okay!

But looking back, why did Lila keep yelling, I’m okay? Because someone (read: me) kept asking, “Are you okay?”

Yet the other part of the answer is because my dreams for my daughter today are different than the ones on the day she was born. Sure, I still want everything for her. I always will. But - and I’m just being honest here - I do want my daughter to learn how to fight.

It’s the dream that links every single hero I picked out. In this book for my daughter, every hero is a fighter. And as I tell my daughter, no matter what stage of life you’re in, when you want something - no matter how impossible it seems - you need to fight for it. When you believe in something, fight for it. And when you see injustice, fight harder than you’ve ever fought before.

To see the results, I picked out the story of Marie Curie, who never stopped pushing science forward, even when she was dying from the radiation she was studying…or the Three Stooges (yes, laugh if you want), who were the first ones to make fun of Adolf Hitler onscreen, nearly two years before Pearl Harbor…or the story of Billie Jean King, who challenged (and beat!) the pig-headed man who told her that women were weaker than men.

Women are not weaker. It was perhaps the most important lesson in there. I needed my daughter to hear that: Women are not weaker. They are just as strong, just as resolute, just as creative, and are filled with just as much potential as any man. Yes, as her father, my instinct is to protect her (like that first day with the nurses). Other people will want to protect her too. But she needs to know that she is not a damsel in distress, waiting for some prince to rescue her. Forget the prince. With her brain and her resourcefulness, she can rescue herself. And when she has her doubts - as we all inevitably do - she’d have this book, full of people who were wracked with just as much fear, but who also found the internal strength to overcome it.

From Amelia Earhart, to Teddy Roosevelt, to every person I picked, she’d have the stories of women and men who were no different from any of us. We may lionize them and put them on pedestals. But never forget this: No one is born a hero. Every person I picked for my daughter had moments where they were scared and terrified. Like you. Like me. So how did they achieve what they achieved? Because whatever their dreams were, big or small - for their country, for their family, or even for themselves - they never stopped fighting for what they loved.

We all are who we are, until that moment when we strive for something greater.

Is that schmaltzy and naïve? I hope so. Because I wanted my daughter to learn those things too.

As for the most important hero in the book, yes, I included my wife. And my grandmother. But for me, the most vital hero is my mother, Teri Meltzer, who died from breast cancer three years ago. On the day my publisher was shutting down, and no one was there to take over my contract, I thought I was watching my career deteriorate. So I called my Mom and told her how scared I was. She told me, “I'd love you if you were a garbage man.” It wasn't anything she practiced. Those were just her honest feelings in that moment. And to this day, every day I sit down to write, I say those words to myself, soaking in the purity of my Mom's love. I’d love you if you were a garbage man. My hero.

Yet for you, dear reader, the most important page in my daughter’s book is the last one, because it's blank. It says “Your Hero’s Photo Here” and “Your Hero’s Story Here.” And I promise you, you take a photo of your Mom, or Grandparent, or teacher, or a military member of your family, and you put their picture in there, and write one sentence of what they mean to you; that will be the most beautiful page in Heroes For My Daughter. And the best present we can give all our children: the reminder that it is indeed ordinary people who change the world. That’s way stronger than any upper-cut.

Today, my gift is complete. I’ve finished my daughter’s book. The book is my dream for her. And when my daughter has doubts, there is strength in the book. When she’s ready to give up, there’s motivation inside. And when she has questions, there are answers inside. But I hope, as every hero proves, the best answers will always come from what’s within herself.

Brad Meltzer is the #1 bestselling author of The Inner Circle and the host of “Brad Meltzer’s Decoded” on the History Channel. Heroes For My Daughter will be published April 10th. This article originally appeared in Spirit Magazine by Southwest Airlines.

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