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How "Cultural Parasites" Affect Work with Dads

Posted by Christopher A. Brown

As I've noted in previous posts, I'm a voracious reader of non-fiction. I read from a variety of fields because it expands my view and exposes me to ideas that I can bring to our work at NFI and, as a consequence, to your work in the trenches.

ed yong ted talk cultural parasitesI recently read a blog post on parasites and watched this video of a TED talk by Ed Yong, who writes for such renowned science publications as Nature and Scientific American. Ed is fascinated by parasites, particularly those he calls "mind-controlling" parasites. He's fascinated by how these tiny creatures can lord over much larger creatures controlling the larger creatures' behavior.

But what he's really fascinated with is how these parasites help humans expand our world view and better understand our own behavior. Before you read any further, watch the 13-minute video. (Actually, you only need to watch the first 5-7 minutes to get what I'm talking about. But by then, you might be so taken by the utter fascination of the symbiotic relationship between the parasites and their hosts that you'll watch, as I did, until the end. Plus, Ed is kind of a funny guy.) 

Can't view the video? Click here.

That's exactly what this video did for me. It helped me see in a very different way the parasites that infect NFI's efforts and yours to involve fathers in the lives of their children. These parasites, however, aren't biological. They're cultural. And yet they have the ability to infect fathers, families, and communities and are, unfortunately, all too familiar and widespread. We have names for them--divorce, out-of-wedlock childbearing, and cohabitation.

Collectively, these parasites lead to father absence, an illness that infects individuals and our society and causes the problems we spend so much time and money trying to address with little or no success. (See my 
previous post on how father absence causes the problems it's associated with.) Just like the mind-controlling parasites control their animal hosts, so too do these parasites control the behavior of some fathers, families, and entire communities in providing the key ingredient for children's success--two present, involved, loving parents.

What Ed doesn't discuss are parasites that don't control their hosts' behavior. These parasites--let's call them "beneficial" parasites--actually help their hosts. A great example are the probiotic bacteria that infect our guts and are all the rage in health and nutrition these days. (Can you, like Bobby Flay, correctly pronounce Fage®?) We give them a place to live, feed, and reproduce, and they help us digest our food and bring balance to our immune system. 

Similarly, there are beneficial cultural parasites. They also have familiar names--morals, values, traditions, etc. They "infect" us because we internalize them. They become a part of who we are. You can use cultural knowledge about these beneficial parasites to positively affect your efforts to help fathers become more involved in the lives of their children.

But first, you have to identify them and understand how to use them. To help in this regard, use our FatherTopics Workshop Let's Celebrate Culture™. It will help you identify the cultural barriers to and motivators for father involvement that affect the specific kinds of fathers you work with. It helps fathers explore how their culture and cultural behaviors and beliefs influence their fathering and introduces several universal fathering skills, such as nurturing. It's particularly useful for working with fathers who are members of American subcultures (e.g. African American and Hispanic American) and who are members of subcultures that are not well acculturated or who are not acculturated at all (e.g. recent immigrants). 

Purchase your copy of the workshop today by clicking here

As for me, I'm going to get my daily dose of Fage®.

Topics: corrections, military, community-based, fatherhood program tips

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