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The Father Factor

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The One Investment You Never Regret Making

Have you ever invested in a "sure thing" only to lose your money? Maybe a friend gave you a hot stock tip and you tried to ride the wave. Or, perhaps you found that local startup and jumped in quickly so you could get in on the ground floor. You just knew these were winners! You were glad to invest and eagerly anticipated the return as you leafed through travel magazines and perused new home floor plans. But, the returns never came. In fact, it got worse and worse, never better. 

theonlyinvestmentyouneverregretmaking
The planned gains quickly became losses, and as the daydreams of green turned into nightmares of red, you knew your money was never coming back. You quietly (or loudly) mourned its loss and held a personal wake in honor of the dearly departed dollar bills. For some of us, this has happened on a small scale; but, for others, this approach led to financial ruin.

Even so, we knew there were risks when we invested. We read the prospectus (or maybe just the back-of-the-envelope scrawl penned by the wild-eyed entrepreneur). We have heard the adage that financial investing is all about balancing risk versus reward. The higher the risk, the greater the potential for reward. Every investor searches for the holy grail of low risk and high reward, only to find that these two characteristics hardly ever align.

There is one arena however where this is perfectly true: our investment in our children. This is one place where an amazing economic reality exists - we never end up regretting the time we invested with our children. The returns are often exorbitant, generating immense relational value; and, the risk is completely non-existent. In the end, this investment actually leaves our emotional bank account more full than when we started.

I suppose one could invest so much time with your children that you neglect your spouse or cause your health to fail. You can only eat so many funnel cakes at the state fair before the effects (and the flab) eventually set in.

However, has it become cliche for fathers to over-invest in their children? Are we observing a national epidemic of kids who suffer from over-connection with their dads? Have we amassed statistic upon statistic of the ill-effects on society of all these way-too-fathered children? Hardly.

Fathers, we understand risk and reward. Money given to one thing often means money not given to some other thing. We get that and readily accept it as a cost of doing business. Yet, when it comes to our most precious commodity - our time - why wouldn't we put that time into an investment with infinite return and infinitesimal risk?

Do we realize that our money may actually be increasing in quantity; but, our time is not. Time is a finite resource. None of us know how much we have left, but there is one thing we each know for sure. The amount of time we have left on this earth is less than we had yesterday. Our time is dwindling, perhaps slowly, perhaps more quickly than we know.

So, let's commit that while we have our children around, we fathers will back-up our dump truck of time at our front door and unload it completely all over them. We will shovel our currency of time into the lives of those little ones. It is a risk-less investment and once we have made it, we - and our children - will be all the richer for it.

Question: What's one way you've invested in your child lately?

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

The Best and Worst of Times for Fatherhood

This post originally appeared at Care Net's blog.

“It is the best of times and the worst of times for fatherhood in America.” I am not sure to whom I should attribute the above quote, but it was something that Roland Warren and I used to say often in our decade plus of work at National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). I believe that statement is still true today.

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Some “best of times” news just came out of the 2015 Dad 2.0 Summit, which took place last week in San Francisco. I was honored, in my role at NFI, to attend the first three annual Dad 2.0 Summits from 2012 to 2014. I was sad to miss this year’s event (especially since Lego and Star Wars were involved!), but I was delighted to see some very positive coverage of the event from Time.com.

The Time story makes two points:

1) There is a new crop of fathers today who are more involved and more holistically involved in their children’s lives than their own fathers were.

2) More and more consumer brands are recognizing the power (and marketability) of portraying dads in a positive light and tapping into that aspect of men’s lives in order to be successful.

I agree with both of those points and I wholeheartedly celebrate them. In fact, I have said as much on Fox News and HLN.

However, there is a caveat that many stories of this nature ignore. While it is true that among middle-class families, father involvement is looking very good, it is also true that America has record levels of father absence, a crisis that mainly affects lower-income families. In fact, 24 million children, 1 out of every 3, lives in a home in which their biological father does not live. That rate is closer to 2 out of 3 in the African American community. And among those children living in father-absent homes, 1/3 have no contact with their dads, and another 1/3 have contact once per month or less.

So, the picture is actually quite bleak in too many communities across the country. 

Furthermore, from our standpoint at Care Net, much more needs to be done to involve fathers in a positive way in pregnancy decisions. Too many women are convinced to have abortions (directly or indirectly) by men not ready to be dads to their unborn children. And too many dads who would like to be fathers are left out of the conversation by a culture that says they have nothing to contribute to a mother’s decision to abort or not.

That is why Care Net started the Joseph Project to help individuals and organizations in the pro-life movement more proactively engage dads. We are also working with other organizations, such as National Fatherhood Initiative, to add more focus to the family-strengthening aspect of our work.

There is much to celebrate when it comes to the state of fatherhood in America today. But there is also a lot of work that needs to be done, and I thank God for the opportunity to be part of it. I hope that when I attend the 2016 Dad 2.0 Summit here in Washington, D.C. one year from now, we will have even more reason to celebrate.

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

This post originally appeared at Care Net's blog.

How a Man Named Emil is Helping Fathers in Torrington, Connecticut

It's been over a year, but I can still sense the silent, awkward pause on the other end of the phone. When I talked with Emil, he spoke excitedly about his work with fathers in Torrington, CT. When I asked him "the why" behind his work with fathers, his tone changed from excited to convicted. In 40 minutes of conversation, I learned what's happening with dads in Torrington while being reminded of the conviction it takes to lead. 

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In 2000, there were 676,467 married households—52 percent of the state population in Connecticut. By 2010, that number had dipped to 672,013—49 percent. That's even considering the overall population of the state having grown from 3.41 million to 3.57 million. We have talked about Connecticut and fatherhood in the past, but another story is worth sharing. 

Family Strides is an organization located in northwest Connecticut, who helps families and communities to ensure healthy pregnancy outcomes and positive parenting practices in order to strengthen families and reduce the incidence of child abuse and neglect. Family Strides has seen the above pattern of marriage and fatherhood take place in its community. In fact, the only place in the entire county that was serving fathers was the child support system, and the only place to send fathers who were not paying child support was prison. That is, before Family Strides came along.

Thirty-five minutes from Hartford is Torrington. For this county, there's a different option, besides jail, for dads who need help. A man named Emil is helping dads see that the role they play in their children’s lives is much more than just paying child support. Through our 24/7 Dad® Program, we have helped Family Strides teach dads to be better fathers.

Where does Family Strides find dads to help?

Whereas some organizations may find it difficult to recruit dads to attend a fatherhood program, Family Strides doesn't recruit. How do they get dads to attend? "Every father thinks he knows what he’s doing," says Emil, "There's so many programs for mom. But dad has nothing." He continues, "We ended up going into court system in the county, into the child-support court systems. They had no place to send dad but prison, or anger management."

The county magistrates, before Emil and his group came along offering something different, had nothing but prison for dads who didn't pay child support. "If the dad doesn't pay child support, you warn him...you warn him..you warn him...then you lock him up.", Emil explains. Emil has been in that court system for 10 years. Now, he doesn’t spend time recruiting dads. He works only from referrals like: family courts, hospitals, employment agencies, head starts, and other community-based organizations.

“I’ve worked with over a thousand dads, ” says Emil. The biggest issue? "Many men feel their job is to put roof over head and feed them (kids)—and that's where it ends. Nothing more..." says Emil. Emil asks dads he meets, "When was the last time you went to a parent-teacher conference?" Emil explains, "Most dad's will answer: isn’t that her (mom's) job?" Emil will also ask, "Who's your child's first teacher?" He recalls from years of experience, dads will always give the name of their child's teacher at school. Emil will then say, "No, dad, you are...you are the teacher.”

What happens in the fatherhood program?

Must dads think they are the only ones to ever make a mistake. But something magical happens when I dad gets with other dads in a group. He starts to realize, "Yeah, I screwed up, but so did he." For maybe the first time ever, this dad learns that we all make mistakes. Emil explains, "You can make a 30-minute mistake. But, you can’t make a 30-minute mistake daily." At some point, we have to find a reason to live better stories. For some, the child is that reason.

Emil explains: 

There is nothing more valuable than your child. Nothing. Not the size of your house, how much money you make, what kind of car you drive, or what kind of vacation you take. Every decision you make has to place your child first. 

Dads who attend Emil's group learn everything related to fatherhood, from relationships and communication, to discipline. Emil points out, when all a dad knows to "teach" a child is yelling—dads must learn that they have other options. For a topic as seemingly simple as discipline, understand you're only gonna do, as a dad, what you were taught and what was done to you.

Sadly, most dads Emil sees don't want to be like their own dad. But, as Emil explains, "they are 50 percent their dad and 50 percent of mom." You are the sum of your experiences and education. How you were parented is often how you parent. This is all fine and good unless you had less-than-perfect parent models. Emil explains, "Alcoholism is a big issue. Drug abuse is an issue. Economy and jobs is an issue." He often asks to meet the dads' kids. Experience shows, "I can’t help everyone..but, when the father starts seeing how much he can help his kid, he can change..." says Emil.

Emil often meets the children of the dads he works with, "I ask them, 'what do you think of this guy?'...when they say, 'He’s my daddy. I love my daddy. He’s my world...' These fathers break down. They haven’t heard that before. A light-bulb goes off.." recalls Emil. It's a 13-week fatherhood course. Emil says, "I don’t throw guys out of the class after 13 weeks. They are all welcome to keep coming. They come back occasionally. I have gentlemen that come back for the last six years at least monthly." 

The Why Behind the What 

Emil started helping dads in Torrington 10 years ago. At the time, he had a 12-year-old daughter and an infant soon. Emil had a strong relationship with his Dad, recalling over the phone how his dad used to tell him, “I love you so much it hurts.” Emil recalls the first person he called upon having his son was his father, simply to say, “Now I understand what you mean.”

Emil's son, Emil Jr, was born with an intestinal problem. At three days old he was transferred to a special teaching hospital in Connecticut. It was 10 days later, Emil's son was diagnosed as having Down Syndrome. His son got some better as time went on, but they lived in children's medical center. After a few years, Emil lost his son to leukemia. “As a dad, there is nothing worse than being helpless.” I listened as Emil recalled those helpless times of walking the hallways of the hospital. I listened to Emil's voice shake as he shared with me. 

Emil explained, with conviction, why he cares so much about fathers. He says, "I still use my son in teaching the group." When a dad says “I stay away because 'she' (the mother) won’t let me...” Emil will reply, “I’d love to trade with you. You are choosing not to see them. I can’t choose...You can get on a phone and call at least. You can make your visits. I can't see my son anymore. I go to a stone."

How does Emil know his work with fathers matters?

At his son’s wake, over 200 dads attended. As we closed our conversation, Emil has a message he wanted all dads to understand about having kids:

They need you all their life…be there. You need to be the man you want to see your daughter with. You don’t want to see your son brutalize girls. So you don't need to brutalize the child's mom. Be there for your child. Nothing is more important.

For Fatherhood Program Leaders > Learn more about Emil's work with fathers in Connecticut.

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

The Opportunity Costs of Absent Fathers

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

There are 24 million children (1 in 3) who will go to sleep tonight in homes in which their fathers do not live. That's a staggering number. But the problem of father absence doesn't only affect those 24 million children. It also affects the children living with fathers who are spiritually and emotionally absent from their children's lives.

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Research
shows that children with absent fathers are more likely than their peers growing up with their fathers to suffer from a range of ills, such as poverty, poor school performance, drug and alcohol abuse, and the list goes on. But, once again, it's not just physical absence or presence that makes a difference. Children who live with fathers who are but a mere presence in their homes suffer as well. The level of involvement matters; for example, a landmark study by the U.S. Department of Education found that children whose fathers are more involved in their education have better grades than fathers who are involved in their education to a lesser degree.

The costs of father absence matter, a lot. These costs have a name -- opportunity costs. An opportunity cost is any cost that results from a person's decision to do something instead of something else. From another perspective, it's the benefit a person sacrifices to do something else. When fathers are absent from their children's lives -- physically, emotionally, or spiritually -- it costs them dearly. They give up the benefits of being involved, responsible, committed dads -- such as the love of their children and the joy of seeing their children grow into adults -- and the benefits of mothers' love in raising children together.

To be fair, there are some rare instances of father absence in which fathers don't choose to be absent. Fathers' levels of involvement must also be understood within the context of how they provide for their family. A father, for example, who must work two jobs to support his family has only so much bandwidth to be physically present. The vast majority of instances of father absence, however, involve fathers who choose to do something other than be present -- to be somewhere else physically or in their minds than where they should be.

What makes father absence as a choice so incredibly heinous are the opportunity costs of it for children, the mothers left to care for absent fathers' children on their own, and our society. If the costs only accrued to absent fathers, the National Fatherhood Initiative wouldn't exist. But the costs don't only accrue to these fathers. Like the ripples that result from the rocks fathers and children throw into and skip across ponds, the impact of father absence is felt far and wide. Children, mothers, and our society need involved fathers. We can't spare a single one.

To all those fathers who have made a choice to be absent, I implore you to reverse course. Think about the opportunity costs to you. More importantly, think about the opportunity costs of your choice to your children, the mother of your children, and our society.

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The costs of father absence is high. Visit our Father Facts Page to learn more and support NFI’s work to connect father to child.

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Research to Application: The Power of the "Deviant Dad"

As the nation’s #1 provider of fatherhood skill-building programs and resources, NFI provides guidance for practitioners and organizations on how they might be able to use to use the latest research on human behavior to enhance the effectiveness of their work with fathers. NFI provides this guidance in a series of blog posts called Research to Application: Guidance for Practitioners and Programs. The series is also available in the form of quick reference guides that you can download by clicking on the button at the end of the posts.

deviant-dadThe series offers a platform for generating dialogue among NFI, organizations, and practitioners on ways that research can be applied to addressing pain points in serving fathers. This post is the second one in the series. (To access the first post, click here. To access the second post, click here. To access the third post, click here.) It provides ideas on how you might integrate research on positive deviance into your work with fathers. Integrating this research can help you identify model fathers who have overcome great odds to become involved, responsible, committed fathers, models you can share with other fathers who struggle to do the same.

If you implement any of the ideas in this post, or develop and implement your own ideas, please share them with us at info@fatherhood.org. We’ll use your experiences to update this guide so it is even more useful.

The Research
In the Power of Positive Deviance (1), Richard Pacale, Jerry Sternin, and Monique Sternin chronicle the research and share many diverse examples of how professionals have used positive deviance to create positive behavior change in populations across the globe. Don’t be thrown by the negative connotation that the word “deviance” might have for you. As the authors point out, positive deviance refers to “outliers who succeed against all odds.” Furthermore,

Positive deviance (PD) is founded on the premise that at least one person in a community, working with the same resources as everyone else, has already licked the problem that confounds others. The individual is an outlier in the statistical sense—an exception, someone whose outcome deviates in a positive way (emphasis added) from the norm.

They share examples of how professionals have created programs to address such wide-ranging subjects as improving child nutrition (Vietnam), reducing female circumcision (Egypt), reducing hospital infections (United States), and reintegrating abducted girls—turned into soldiers after abduction—back into the community (Uganda).

What links all of these examples, and is a hallmark of using positive deviance, was the use of ethnographic research methods, primarily observation, to identify outliers who engage in positive behavior (i.e. the innovation in the community) to produce the outcomes the professionals sought (e.g. children who were well nourished and girls who weren’t circumcised), and then to understand the steps (process) that the outliers followed to produce the outcomes. The professionals used what they learned to design programs that had community involvement—indeed that were primarily community run—that spread knowledge and skill development related to the behaviors that led to the positive outcomes.

Another example in the book, which is relevant to working with fathers, involved the use of positive deviance by the international non-profit Save the Children to reduce infant mortality among the Pashtun-speaking people who live in the remote mountains of northwest Pakistan. The following description uses excerpts from the book. (Pardon the length of this example. The length provides the breadth necessary to grasp the power of using positive deviance.)

The Pashtun-speaking people in the remote mountains of North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan, endure one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates. One of every twenty newborns dies within the first year of life. A fiercely independent people, their communities have a long history of rebuffing the efforts of health authorities to address this problem. Recognizing these inhibiting features as conditions in which positive deviance often flourishes, Save the Children resolved to give the process a try.

So how does one coax a community into tackling a problem it has never acknowledged as such? Most were aware that infant mortality was among the highest in all of Pakistan (85 deaths in every 1,000 births). Yet leaders and villagers were inured to all this as “Allah’s will.”

It was agreed that a good initial step would be to create reliable maps of recent village experience with newborn survival. That very evening, the first of what was to become a number of such efforts took shape with improvised materials representing houses, streets, mosque, and market-place. Hunkered on the ground, using colored felt-tipped pens to code stones into categories (e.g. families with no children, families that had lost a newborn since the previous Ramadan, etc.) the men created an epidemiological map. A green dot on a village home denoted a newborn who had survived. Black denoted less fortunate households. Orange, yellow, brown, and purple indicated cause of death—umbilical chord infection, asphyxia, diarrhea, hypothermia, or extremely low birth weight. Participants became wholly engrossed. Why had some newborns, born under exactly the same conditions as those who died, survived and flourished? These conversations would ultimately pierce the shroud of “Allah’s will."

As the men were compiling census data, a parallel endeavor unfolded among the women. In their case, beans were the artifact of choice for the mapping process. Analogous to the Eskimos’ proverbial twenty-three words for “snow,” Pashtun women traffic in the currency of beans, a staple of everyday diet. Differences between beans are subtle to the untrained eye but as distinct as words in a dictionary for the literate. The women’s maps had deeper texture. They understood precisely what went on in the first two to three weeks after each child was born. Considerable care was devoted to creating these epidemiological maps. They captured who was born, who died; babies that had diarrhea, were underweight, or experienced respiratory difficulties or umbilical cord infections but survived. The end result was a composite picture of the men’s and women’s efforts. 

Unsurprisingly, the ensuing process was not conducted as “interviews” but informed through stories. Pashtun life is captured in oral tradition. While there are no written diaries or civic records, memories provide an astonishing wealth of detail. When a baby is born, neighboring women visit, discuss, observe, and commit to memory what happened and how. To accommodate this tradition, tactile objects such as homemade stuffed dolls were employed to capture what people do, not what they know. This impelled the classic shift from the “what” to the “how.” Enactment confirmed that many households delivered the baby in an animal shed because delivery was regarded as messy. Some sessions evoked stoic accounts of tragedy as mothers-in-laws, new mothers, and traditional birth attendants (dais) elaborated on infants that had turned blue and died a few hours after a winter delivery. Reenactment with rag dolls and crude material substituting for umbilical cord and placenta revealed how the dais attention switches from the newborn to the mother as soon as the baby is born. Miriam, one of the oldest and most respected dais in the village, enacted the common practice of placing the naked newborn on the mud floor so those present could blow prayers over it. In the cold Haripur winter (with no source of heat and insulating blanket between baby and damp earth), hypothermia was the unintended result.

Once common practices had been captured, it was time for the PD inquiry itself—the search of PD’s. Earlier mapping helped the group identify families who had “at risk” newborns who had survived against all odds. Small groups of male volunteers joined Shafique and his team to visit and chat with the male members of these families to find out what they had done. A similar process took place among the women. Pashtun tradition is exquisitely sensitive to not awarding social recognition to one person at the expense of others. It was understood that “heroes” would not be singled out—rather, discoveries would highlight successful practices, not individuals.

One mother-in-law mentioned using a gadeya (pillow). “Why?” the visitors asked. “Before the baby arrives,” she answered, “I make a special pillow of rages to put on the floor and to cover the baby when it is born.” “Show us,” the visitors requested. She did. A member of the visiting team, a mother-in-law herself, interjected: “I do something similar. I immediately put the baby to the mother’s breast and put a blanket on it.” 

The men’s visits with male relatives shed light on the PD practice of using a clean razor blade to cut the umbilical chord. One PD husband had created a “clean delivery kit.” Another took his wife to the clinic for a prenatal exam. The list of practical and successful expedients gradually expanded.

In parallel conversations, men and women discussed their findings. At times this triggered heated debate. Vetting ensured the most relevant strategies and practices would gain ascendance. Convergence wasn’t always easy. 

It was time to share discoveries with the larger community. Separate male and female community meetings were carefully choreographed to share the findings from the home visits. Eager villagers came together to hear about some of the secrets that could save newborn lives. The design of this phase gave testimony to the villagers’ latent creativity, confirming yet again that a community knows best how to engage its own.

Dissemination workshops tended to follow a trajectory. They led off with an introduction of technical PD practices (e.g. clean razor blades) but turned inevitably to the importance of the husband’s involvement and support of his wife. One violated a cultural taboo by giving his pregnant wife special food (trespassing on the mother-in-law’s authority). Then questions began: “What do you think of this?” “How about a husband taking his wife to the prenatal clinic?” “Where do you draw the line?”

At the conclusion of the community meetings, volunteers gathered to develop a strategy to enable the whole community to practice the successful but sometimes controversial strategies that had resulted in newborn survival. It was decided that the men should gather once a month at the tea shop in their mohallahs (neighborhood meetings), recount stories of recent newborns, discuss what they should do, learn more about pregnancy and delivery, and perhaps practice some new behaviors. Women developed a similar plan for monthly mohallah sessions where more elaborate new behaviors were practiced as well as stories of deliveries where the new behaviors were adopted.

The point, of course, was to reinforce the focus on the effect of PD practices and to highlight the importance of the participation of both mothers and fathers in the survival and well-being of their children.


The point, of course, is not that this example has direct application to increasing father involvement in this country. It shows, however, that even in a culture in which fathers were involved only at the margins in an aspect of child well-being that the use of positive deviance can overcome extremely challenging barriers to greater father involvement.

Ideas on Application
The PD approach the authors outline involves much more than simply finding outliers. It involves getting a community to own a problem and then mobilizing the community to solve the problem. Nevertheless, you can use the “finding outliers” portion of this approach to identify models of fathers who have overcome great odds to become an involved, responsible, committed father that you can share with other fathers. You might also be able to involve fathers in developing an approach that will help other fathers to overcome great odds. Involving model fathers to influence other fathers will increase buy-in from other fathers because the solutions come from and are delivered by fathers like them. Here are some ideas to consider.

  • If you work with a father (one-on-one or in a group setting) who is involved, responsible, and committed in the lives of his children, ask him how he became a good father. Ask him questions, such as:
    • How did you become involved in the lives of your children?
    • What barriers did you face in becoming involved?
    • What steps did you take to overcome that (those) barrier(s)? (Or) How did you solve the problem(s) that (those) barrier(s) presented?
    • What advice would you give to a father who faces the same barrier(s)?

Keep an open mind to how the father overcame the odds. Resist judging his solutions. Pay particular attention to uncommon or unusual solutions the father developed. If after he shares his experience you think he provides a good model for you to share with other fathers, ask him whether he’d be willing to share his story. He could share through you via a case study you could write on his story. If he is part of a group of fathers you work with, ask him to share during a group meeting/session.

  • If you don’t work with such a father, commit now to finding such a father so you can eventually apply the idea above.
  • If you’re fortunate enough to work with several fathers who have overcome great odds, ask them whether they will volunteer to develop an approach to sharing their experience with other fathers, and whether they will share their experience. (Some or all of these model fathers will act as spokespersons, so they must be reliable and credible. Be careful in your choice of them.) If they are willing, gather them (e.g. in a focus group) and ask them the kinds of questions identified above. Then have them design an approach that focuses on strategies and tactics (i.e. specific behaviors rather than simply sharing knowledge) for overcoming barriers that will help other fathers become involved in their children’s lives. Focus them on the “how to” of transferring these behaviors to other fathers. Consider asking the fathers to not only develop an approach for transferring behaviors to fathers served by your organization, but to include ways to transfer those behaviors to fathers they can access in other parts of the community. You will probably have to hold several meetings to use this approach.

Regardless of how you apply positive deviance, approach your effort as an experiment. Keep track of what works with fathers in general and with specific kinds of fathers (e.g. custodial and non-custodial) so that you can apply what works in future work with fathers one-on-one or in groups, and avoid what doesn’t work. And last but not least, share your results with NFI at info@fatherhood.org so that we can improve future versions of this guide.

Resources
As you apply positive deviance to identify models of fathers who have overcome great odds to become an involved, responsible, committed father, consider reading The Power of Positive Deviance. We also recommend the book Switch, which discusses a similar idea the authors call following the “Bright Spots” (i.e. find what’s working and “clone it.”). This similar idea is part of a larger framework (the Switch Framework) that you might find useful in your work.

FREE SAMPLE Get the full PDF version of this study today!


Don’t forget to look for more posts and reference guides with post 1, post 2, and post 3 in this series!

[1] Pascale, R., Sternin, J., & Sternin, M. (2010). The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems. Boston: Harvard Business Press. 

Richmond County Fatherhood Initiative is Reaching Fathers & Families (Video)

Poverty. Behavioral issues. Drug abuse. Becoming pregnant as a teen. Prison. Local leaders have come together to form the Richmond County Fatherhood Initiative, which hopes to reach fathers of all backgrounds throughout the Northern Neck of Virginia. Their goal? Make sure fathers are there for their children, their families, their community.

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If you've seen our post on The Father Absence Crisis in America, then you know the issues that can arise when a child grows up in a home without a father. For Richmond County, these statistics are likely realities. In a news story on the Richmond County Fatherhood Initiative, we read how dads are learning to connect with family—and how this is helping the community.

We often talk about the national epidemic of father absence. However, the realities can and should be broken down into state by state (community by community) levels. If you read our post on what's happening in Richmond prisons titled When Dad's in Jail, you will no doubt understand the stats related to father absence are realities that we must work to make more and better fathers. 

Philip Belfield, the Branch Executive of the Richmond County YMCA, has said of the father absence problem:

“When I saw the statistics of the results, what happens to kids and families that don’t have fathers that participate, it’s really staggering...And to see that is happening right here in our area in the Northern Neck, where more and more fathers are not participating in their families’ lives, I feel like that’s something that 1) personally, but 2) [with] my role with the YMCA, we can play a positive role in that area.”

The Richmond County Fatherhood Initiative grew out of a forum conducted by Claudette Henderson, the former Director of Richmond County Social Services. The forum centered on the need for a fatherhood presence in the local area.

“When I heard about this program, I had to join,” said Davis Roberts, principal of Richmond County Elementary.

“If dads are present, you reduce dropouts; with dads being present, kids are less likely to be in poverty; with dads being present, [it results in] better self-esteem for the kids.” —Davis Roberts (Principal, Richmond County Elementary)

Coming together to kickstart the program were local community leaders including

  • Davis Roberts, Principal, Richmond County Elementary
  • Philip Belfield, Branch Executive, Richmond County YMCA
  • Wendy Herdman, Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent overseeing 4-H Youth Development

Another helping hand came from Virginia Delegate Margaret Ransone (R-99th) who, according to Davis, played a key role in gathering advertisement for the community support group.

“As a woman and a mom, it was eye opening for me to recognize the impact fathers have on their children,” Ransone said. “It’s easy to get on a routine and forget what our Dads really mean to a family.” Virginia Delegate Margaret Ransone (R-99th) 

The Rest of the Fatherhood Story in Greater Richmond
NFI has been working to help fathers and families in Virginia for years. For instance, First Things First of Greater Richmond received a capacity-building grant from NFI in 2007 to start building the foundation it needed to create a sustainable fatherhood program. With the foundation in place, they began adding the elements that would make up an effective fatherhood initiative across the city and surrounding counties like you're starting to see today.

First, they began using NFI curricula to meet the community’s needs. They partnered with AmeriCorps and Richmond City Human Services for a grant to hire two part-time staff to deliver NFI’s InsideOut Dad® Program in the Richmond City Jail. They also partnered with the Henrico County Public Schools Fatherhood Initiative - Man Up, which was not using a curriculum, to begin offering NFI’s 24/7 Dad® program.

All of this work helped raise public awareness in the community about the importance of serving fathers. For example, NFI’s Fatherhood Resource Kiosks, filled with brochures for dads, were a public, visible sign that services were being provided to dads. First Things First also worked with the Richmond Family and Fatherhood Initiative to help them diversify their resources and provide instructors to deliver various programs.

Want to see First Things First in action in Richmond City Jail? Watch testimonials from participants in (Richmond, VA): In this video, see how InsideOut Dad® is helping teach men to be better husbands and dads and connect to their families. 


First Things First has also promoted their story well—using publicity to ensure that the community knows the positive work they are doing, such as working with the jail to promote the use of InsideOut Dad®, which resulted in a story in the Richmond Times Dispatch. Additionally, they are using various resources at their disposal to educate and inspire their partners and their community about the importance of providing services to fathers. Here are just a few services provided by other groups or companies First Things First partners with various organizations and entities to carry out its work:

  • Richmond City Sheriff’s Office
  • Henrico County Public Schools Fatherhood Initiative – Man Up
  • U Turn Ministries
  • Central Library 

We are proud to be helping the Greater Richmond area reach fathers and are excited about what we've seen can happen when a group of leaders see the problem and work toward a solution. Go Richmond, and go dads.

Here are a few resources you will find helpful for more information:

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image > istock

 

350 Practitioners on the Challenge of Maternal Gatekeeping

Have you ever struggled to convince a mother to allow the father of her child to be more involved in the child's life? Maternal gatekeeping is one of the primary challenges practitioners face when encouraging moms to allow dads into their children's lives. Maternal gatekeeping refers to a mom’s protective beliefs about the desirability of a dad's involvement in their child’s life, and the behaviors acted upon that either facilitate or hinder effective co-parenting. Maternal gatekeeping occurs regardless of whether parents are married, divorced or unmarried, and regardless of the parents’ satisfaction with the relationship between them. But, clearly, it presents the greatest challenge when the relationship between the parents is poor.

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NFI surveyed more than 350 practitioners who attended NFI's free What's Mom Got to Do With It webinar on December 9th, 2014, and asked them the following question related to maternal gatekeeping: What are the most important problems the moms you work with have with involving dads in their children's lives? (To access a recorded version of the webinar, click here.) The most important problems (in descending order of importance) are:

  • History of domestic violence or other abuse
  • Poor past or current experiences with/perceptions of the dad
  • Mom doesn't like dad or is angry with him
  • Mom doesn't see dad as important in the life of her child
  • Dad isn't a good parent
  • Mom doesn't want to give up control over the life of her child (i.e. if dad becomes involved, she perceives she'll lose control)
  • Mom has no contact/relationship with the dad

The research on maternal gatekeeping supports these practitioners' experiences. The motivations for maternal gatekeeping vary widely. They depend on individual, couple, and familial circumstances and situations. Mothers might have a difficult time relinquishing familial responsibility, might want to validate their identity as “the mother” and garner recognition for their “maternal” or “feminine” contributions to the family, or might view the father as incompetent or even dangerous to the child. This latter view might be based either on actual evidence, the father’s past behaviors, or her personal perceptions of him and his failures in the male familial role. 

Helping Practitioners 

One of our primary jobs at NFI is to help practitioners to more effectively do their jobs. Accordingly, we asked those same 350 practitioners the following question related to how to help moms involve fathers: What are the two most important topics moms need help with around involving dads? The biggest topics (also in descending order of importance) are:

  • Why dad is important to their child's life 
  • Communication
  • Co-Parenting
  • Importance of putting the well-being of the child first
  • How to trust dad
  • Mutual respect (i.e. important of mom respecting dad and vice versa)
  • How to keep the dad engaged
  • Conflict resolution

The good news is NFI already has a number of low-, medium-, and high-intensity resources that address these and other challenges presented by maternal gatekeeping (e.g. the impact of the mother's history with men and her own father). These resources include the Understanding Dad™ program, Mom as Gateway™ workshop, downloadable eguidespocketbooks, and tip cards for moms. And we've already started to identify additional resources to develop that will help practitioners address the other issues because, well, that's our job and commitment to practitioners: Supporting You. Supporting Fathers. Supporting Families.™ Stay tuned. 

Have you reviewed our resources that address maternal gatekeeping?

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The Critical Role a Nonprofit Business Model Plays in Guiding Your Fatherhood Program

I receive many phone calls and emails from people looking to either partner, provide a service, solve a problem, or address a father-related crisis. These people can range from state-level administrators, to social service agency directors, to program facilitators, to a struggling father. The challenge that I face on any given day is the same that we all face: how do I prioritize the requests and opportunities and make decisions that will most effectively accomplish the mission of my organization?

The Critical Role a Nonprofit Business Model Plays in Guiding Your Fatherhood Program

Fortunately, National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) has developed a very specific nonprofit business model that drives our decisions on a daily basis. I can review our nonprofit business model canvas (here's one example of a business model canvas) throughout my day to gauge how well the opportunities and tasks line up with our customer/partner value propositions, customer/partner segment focus, key resources, key activities, key channels, and revenue streams. 

This canvas is a strategic management and entrepreneurial tool. It allows you to describe, design, challenge, invent, and pivot your business model. But as nonprofit leaders, we have an added complexity. Grant Smith, of Innovative Nonprofit, describes it this way:

Regular for-profit business has one main type of customer or client, one that receives products or services in exchange for payment. The business then uses the revenue to pay for administrative expenses, marketing, salaries, etc., and everything else production related. In a regular for-profit business, the person who pays is also the person who receives the product or service. But, in a nonprofit the traditional client is split into two: the donor client and the beneficiary client. One pays and the other receives the product or service. This division creates a business logistics problem. You now have two people for every one that a regular business has.

In a regular business, the client or customer has one reason for dealing with you, to satisfy their wants and needs. However with a nonprofit, that client is now split in two, each desiring to have their individual wants and needs be satisfied. To achieve that, a nonprofit needs to incur differently oriented costs, perform different activities, market to each differently and measure the success of each relationship differently. In essence, nonprofits need two different, yet complementary, business models.

When you look at it that way, it is easy to see why we struggle to implement and sustain effective fatherhood programs. On the one hand, we have to translate the importance of responsible fatherhood into clear examples of how it will address the focal areas of the funders, while on the other manage the delivery of services in a way that meets the fathers’ critical issues.

This dynamic also highlights how important a nonprofit business model canvas is to the life of your organization. A canvas provides a clear and objective benchmark to quickly test whether you and other staff are putting the right amount of time, energy, and resources in the right partnerships and activities. You can learn more details about the process and some great examples of how to create a Nonprofit Business Model Canvas here.

Once your canvas is set, you can then focus on the integration of it into your own daily tasks and those of your direct reports. This tool can help you and other staff avoid getting caught up in the wave of demands and activities that may seem important at first glance, but upon further examination don’t tie in directly to your organization’s goals and priorities.

In our line of work, we usually err on the side of saying “yes” to every opportunity that comes our way. However, the most important and powerful word we can learn to use is “no.” Your canvas will help you know when to use it.

Start creating your Nonprofit Business Model Canvas using the examples here.

Question: As a leader, how do you know when to say "yes" and when to say "no"? 

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Adrian Peterson’s Child Abuse Situation—Did We Learn the Right Lessons?

Recently, USA Today published at story titled, “Peterson’s Remorse is Real.” The article was the result of 90-minute interview the Minnesota Viking player Adrian Peterson about how to address his September 11, 2014 felony indictment for severely disciplining his 4-year-old son with a switch. 

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What struck me as ironic about this situation was how much it resembled a typical penalty call on an NFL play. Society's "referee" blew the whistle and said, "We have a penalty on number 28 of the Minnesota Vikings... Roughing a 4-year-old... Illegal use of the hands... Loss of salary and the ability to play for the rest of the season." And, then we were on to the next play. After all, Peterson was remorseful and said that he learned his lesson because he "won't ever use a switch again..."

However, despite Peterson's remorse, as a fatherhood "coach," I am compelled to throw a red challenge flag. We desperately need to review the tape again, because buried in the USA Today article was an important point that too few talked about. 

But, as a fatherhood coach, I have to throw a red challenge flag on this one and suggest that we review the tape again. You see, buried in the USA Today article was a point that few talked about.  

Peterson has six children with six different women—five of which are not in his home. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying the Peterson is not sorry for what he did to the child that he switched that day. My issue is what he is doing to his other children that he didn’t switch. You see, father absence is a form of abuse and neglect, especially when a father creates children where he’s absent by design. And this is exactly what Peterson has done.  

Indeed, there are sins of commission and there are sins of omission. I believe that a child has a hole in his or her soul in the shape of a dad and that God whispers to a child in a mother’s womb that there will be a special one who will be present and love like no other. If a father is unable or unwilling to do this, it can leave a wound and a sense of abandonment that will leave a mark more severe and long lasting than a switch. 

Moreover, I suspect the fact that Peterson doesn’t live with his 4-year-old son contributed to the likelihood of abuse. Why? Because a father can’t really know a child’s temperament and needs well without spending “quality and quantity” time with his child. Like a football play, a child develops and changes quickly. And, like Peterson needs to be in the huddle to hear a play, a father needs to be in the home to understand a child’s way. Otherwise, a father will discipline from the wrong playbook. Alas, in Peterson’s case, it was a playbook full of “switch play” that was passed down to him from his absent father.

Interestingly, the USA Today article said Peterson must now prove that he is not an absent parent. But, he is an absent parent, by his own design, to most of his children. Why? Because he failed to truly consider how his actions would impact his children. When one pursues short-term sexual pleasure, there can be long-term consequences on others, especially children. And, although Peterson may now have a desire to be a present father, he cannot be for most of his children. Discipline, not just desire, determines a father’s involvement and what needs to be disciplined most is a father’s sexual appetite. That’s why it’s not surprising that children do best across every psychological, social, educational, and economic measure of child well being, and are less likely to be abused, by fathers who are married to their children’s mothers. Good fathering is like good real estate. It’s about location, location, location. 

Think about it this way. Let’s suppose that when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reinstates Peterson, he gives him a special type of privilege that allows him to play simultaneously for six different teams in six different cities. And suppose that Peterson assures each team that he cares about and is totally committed to each team’s success. Now, consider what would happen. Each team and its fans would be livid. Why? Because wherever Peterson plays, his teams need him every play, and on a given Sunday, some teams will suffer. Well, Peterson’s children need him every day. He may be fast but he can’t transcend the space and time continuum to kiss and tuck all of his children into bed at night. Alas, some children will suffer. 

And here’s the sad part. No doubt, there would be more outrage about what Peterson would be doing to NFL football if he tried to play for six teams than has occurred regarding what Peterson is doing to his children. Unfortunately, our culture has a higher standard for football than it does for fatherhood. Scandals and bad actions of players are quickly forgotten when the product on the field -- a highly electrifying, exciting sport - continues to distract society from important off-the-field issues. Case in point - the New England Patriots exciting Super Bowl win for now has likely put an end to most of the talk of domestic violence and cheating allegations flying around the league. 

In my view, there are two lessons that Peterson needed to learn, and both involve discipline: How to discipline his children and how to discipline himself. Did he learn them? Only time will tell. But, better yet, did we learn anything? Unfortunately, I fear not. It's on to the NBA plalyoffs...

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5 Tips to Help Your Children Maintain A Healthy Weight

As I turned the "big 5-O" a couple of weeks ago, and chuckled as I received my first invitation in the mail to join AARP, I reflected on the importance of health and fitness in my life and that of my children, and on how much it pains me to see so many children these days who are overweight and obese. It also got me thinking about the ways in which dads can make a difference in the fight against childhood obesity.

help_child_maintain_healthy_weight

Being active has been a vital part of my life since I can remember. I played baseball, football, and golf as a child. I'm not sure where the drive to be so active came from. Neither of my parents were active, and they didn't encourage me to be either. I just loved being outside all day, getting dirty, and playing pick-up games in the neighborhood. 

When I stopped playing organized sports after high school, I continued to be active in college through intramurals. Because I was fast, several of my fraternity brothers who played soccer in high school recruited me to play on our fraternity's soccer team, which kindled a passion for the sport that remains today. In graduate school, I engaged in what was the beginning of the health and fitness craze of the 1980s. (Are you old enough to remember Physical -- as in "Let's get physical, physical!" -- by Olivia Newton-John?) I ran, swam, biked, and lifted my way to my master's degree. I continued to regularly exercise after graduate school, got married, and had kids. 

As soon as I started my fatherhood journey, I committed to not let any grass grow under my daughters' feet as far as being active was concerned. Perhaps what drove me more than anything else to ingrain in them the importance of health and fitness was the memory of the struggles my parents and my younger brother had maintaining a healthy weight. I desperately wanted to break that cycle. I placed a soccer ball at their feet soon after they started to walk and enrolled them in organized soccer by age 4. I took them to watch my road races and entered them in races soon thereafter. As someone who understands the importance of self-awareness -- the first characteristic of a 24/7 Dad -- it's been difficult for me to encourage them to be active in their own way and to let go of the process. I only hope that the model of my dedication to health and fitness has rubbed off. Fortunately, my girls have maintained a healthy weight throughout their childhood and, for my oldest, into early adulthood.

I'm sure it's not news to you that childhood obesity is a major problem in this country. You've undoubtedly seen its consequences in some of the families you know--perhaps even in your own family. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 17 percent of children -- some 12.7 million -- are obese. Many more (around 1 in 3 or 4) are overweight and on the road to becoming obese. Obesity is one of the primary drivers of the rise among children in type 2 diabetes, which typically doesn't develop until adulthood. Obesity places children at risk for a lifetime of poor health.

What might be news to you, however, is that your simple presence and involvement in the life of your child is one of the most potent weapons in the fight against childhood obesity. Research shows that family structure matters a great deal when it comes to the prevalence of childhood obesity. Children from single-mother families are at higher risk for obesity than children living with two parents. Moreover, studies show that a father's body mass index (BMI) -- the primary and, somewhat controversial, metric for determining whether someone is at a healthy weight -- predicts his children's BMI. Obese dads are more likely to have obese children. Other studies reveal that how well fathers eat and their level of activity directly affects their children's weight. When fathers (and mothers) create an environment that promotes obesity, their children are more likely to become obese.

Here are 5 tips to help your child maintain a healthy weight. (If you're a professional who works with families, encourage fathers to use these tips.)

1) Examine your eating habits and level of exercise and improve them if necessary. You must model good eating habits and regular exercise. Otherwise, your children, especially if they're in their teens, will see you as a hypocrite if you tell them to improve their eating habits and become more active.

2) Get involved in an active way in your child's life. There are many ways to get involved, but to directly affect your child's activity level, you must do things together that require regular physical activity. Find things you and your child enjoy doing that you can repeat often.

3) Eat meals together. Studies show that simply eating meals as a family lowers the risk of childhood obesity. But you must eat at least three meals together on a weekly basis to make a difference.

4) Enroll your child in a team or individual sport. Studies show that children who play organized sports are less likely to be overweight.

5) Encourage mom to examine her eating habits and level of exercise and improve them if necessary. It's better to have two good models than only one. Applying this tip might be easier said than done, but it's vital you have the courage to challenge mom if she doesn't set a good example in this regard.

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For more tips on raising healthy kids, check out our downloadable guide Tips for Raising Healthy Kids


Question > When was the last time you talked with your child about the importance of regular exercise?

How Three Consumer Brands Helped Dads and Kids Score a Touchdown on Super Bowl Sunday

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Three consumer brands helped dads and kids score a touchdown on Super Bowl Sunday. Nissan, Toyota, and Dove Men+Care focused their annual Super Bowl campaigns on celebrating dads.

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Nissan's #WithDad campaign was its first Super Bowl campaign in 20 years. The fact that they jumped back into the frenzy of consumerism associated with the most widely watched TV event in the world was a huge undertaking in and of itself, but their choice to focus on dads' struggles to balance work and family made it even more remarkable. On the other hand, Nissan's ads have had a strong focus on dads for several years, so this campaign was a somewhat natural extension of that focus.

Toyota's #OneBoldChoice campaign was one of the best father-focused campaigns I've seen. What made it unique is the range of emotions it invoked. The ads (a series of varying length that don't resemble typical commercials) not only invoked feelings of warmth and love, they invoked sadness as viewers learned of the everyday challenges many dads face in raising children. These current and former NFL players and working dads (e.g. a construction worker and a fireman) appeared with their children and discussed the bold, difficult choices dads have to make daily for their families.

Dove Men+Care is, of course, a brand that focuses on men. So it's not as surprising that their campaign focused on dads. What made their #RealStrength campaign unique, however, was its use of "Real Dad Moments" that challenge the macho male stereotype prevalent in advertising. It was also unique in its reach into communities. The brand sponsored workshops for dads on January 17th at Sam's Club locations in approximately 20 states during which dads received materials on how to be a better dad.

Going Against the Grain

As I've written elsewhere in this blog, consumer brands often portray fathers in a negative light. They often portray dads as bungling, incompetent parents in need of rescue by nurturing, competent mothers. So perhaps we should be surprised that three well-known brands independently arrived at a decision to celebrate dads with extremely positive portrayals that emphasize dads' competence as parents and the importance of dads in children's lives.

On the other hand, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. Many companies now recognize that dads are a major buying force, especially in certain areas, such as automobile purchases. A recent study by ESPN Research and Analytics found that men almost always outspend women during holiday seasons. The percentage of men who are the primary buyers in their households has jumped from 14 percent in 1985 to 33 percent today. Men are buyers rather than shoppers, an important distinction to a company's bottom line. The business case for a focus on dads has indeed arrived.

The Next Step

Regardless of whether we should be surprised, the next step for brands is to build on the business case for marketing to dads and help combat, through their social responsibility efforts, of one of the most consequential social problems of recent decades -- widespread father absence in the lives of children. Approximately 1 in 3 children (some 24 million) in America will sleep tonight in a home without their father, and 9 in 10 parents agree that there is a father absence crisis. Father absence has devastated communities across the country. Some of the hardest-hit communities have father absence rates above 50 percent. Many of the dads, kids, and moms affected by this problem don't have the buying power of the consumers portrayed in advertising. Toyota's campaign is the first I've seen that touches on this problem. Many of the fathers in the ads discussed the impact of being raised without their own fathers in their lives or by present fathers who were poor parents. Some of the children discussed the impact on their lives of having involved fathers.

Unfortunately, none of the campaigns included a social responsibility component that would have made them truly remarkable. To take the next step in promoting the importance of involved, responsible, committed dads, brands must provide resources that help fathers in whatever circumstance they find themselves (e.g. living with or without their children) to be as involved as possible in their children's lives. They must provide these resources directly to disenfranchised families and through the thousands of organizations that serve them in communities across the country.

This next step would not only help these families and communities, it would help companies respond to the belief among 75 percent of Millennials -- the largest generation of consumers the U.S. has ever seen who represent most of today's new and young parents -- that corporations should create economic value by addressing society's needs, and for their preference to do business with socially-responsible companies. The vast majority of Millennials, 4 in 5, are more likely to do business with a company that supports a cause they care about. And they care about parenthood. More than half of them say that parenthood is one of the most important things in life.

Question: Did you see any of the Super Bowl campaigns mentioned in this post? Which one was your favorite?

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This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Fresno Dads Are Getting Help Thanks to 'POPS'

Research tells us kids raised in fatherless homes are four times more likely to grow up in poverty. The group called "POPS" is reversing this awful statistic by changing fatherhood in Fresno County, California. There is good things happening in Fresno. Watch the video to see how Fresno Dads are learning to connect with their families. 

The letters P-O-P-S stand for "Proving Our Parenting Skills" and as part of the Responsible Fatherhood Program it's a collaborative that provides resources to Fresno County, California fathers in need of economic stability, employment services, activities to promote or sustain marriage and healthy relationships, and activities to promote responsible fatherhood/parenting.  

The POPS program uses NFI's 24/7 Dad® Program and Love Notes™ (the program young adults who are married or considering marriage). This picture is of a recent graduating class from our popular 24/7 Dad® Program. 

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Watch the video below for more details, but what follows is one story from this helpful group of dads. 

Here's one story from POPS in Fresno, you can view the full article here:

Gaeta, a 20-year-old father is making up for lost time with help from the Proving Our Parenting Skills (POPS). Fresno Housing Authority, First 5 Fresno County, and Marjaree Mason Center are only a few of the collaborative partners in the POPS program. Fathers like Gaeta are encouraged to participate in parenting skills and relationship-building classes.

Gaeta works fulltime with the Fresno EOC Local Conservation Corps. He's also a fulltime student at Fresno City College, where he is studying electrical engineering. "They (Fresno EOC) have quite a bit of stuff to offer people who need things, but there's a lot of things out there for mothers, but not a lot for dads," said Gaeta, father to 2-year-old Natalia Emilia.

Gaeta wants create a better future with his daughter and her mother. Gaeta's past of skipping school and neglecting his studies are in the past. "I used to miss about 10 days (of school) a month," said Gaeta, "but I know I want her (Natalia) to go to college..." Aside from the parenting skills, Gaeta voluntarily signed up for anger management courses from the POPS program. The program, he said, has strengthened his relationship with his parents.

"I know I had an anger management problem. I've been learning to have a little bit more patience; and learn how to cope with everything better. Anything that irritated me or frustrated would grow into anger," said Gaeta, "I've always talked about it. It was something that I was always aware of." Gaeta was inspired when his daughter and bride-to-be Teresa witnessed his graduation last from Fresno EOC's YouthBuild Charter School of California. "That was really good," he added. Gaeta hopes to graduate from Fresno City College, then transfer to California State University, Fresno.


Fresno POPS has also helped Gaeta with the cost of childcare by giving clothing, diapers and other needs. The program can foster up to 1,500 individuals. We are thankful there are men and women willing to serve dads in Fresno like this. Fresno POPS is changing fatherhood and families in Fresno and beyond. 

If you live in the Fresno area, visit Fresno POPS for details. If you're interested helping dads in your area, download How to Start a Fatherhood Program

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Teach the Magic of Learning to Your Preschool Children

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


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

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

Customary but Important Preparation Activities 

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

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

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

Magical Activities to Prepare Young Children for Learning 

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

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

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

Social Preparation 

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

Summary 

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

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

What your child knows is secondary to their curiosity.

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


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

 

Locked Up in Jacksonville Florida: How One Corrections Dept is Correcting Fatherhood

The average cost to incarcerate a person for one year is $29,000. I hate this expense so much. Hear me out, I'm all for criminals doing the time. But, since "doing the time" is costing college tuition, I think inmates should learn something for that kind of money. We should at least teach inmates how to get out of prison instead of how to stay in. If you find yourself locked up in Jacksonville, Florida, look for a man named Rickie Shaw. Mr. Shaw can help.

We know all about the father absence crisis in America. A major part of this crisis is sitting behind bars. We wrote Fathers Behind Bars a few months ago, but allow me to remind of some stats related to fathers in prison:

  • There are 2.7 million children with a parent in prison or jail.
  • Ninety-two percent (92%) of parents in prison are fathers. 
  • 650,000+ ex-offenders are released from prison every year.
  • Two-thirds of ex-offenders, or 429,000, will likely re-offend within three (3) years.

This problem is the one Adam Causey, writing for Jacksonville.com, covered a while back. It's still one of the best videos I've seen for showing why rehabilitating inmates is vital and how NFI helps.

Rickie Shaw, a Community Outreach Development Specialist with Family Support Services, teaches weekly sessions of NFI's InsideOut Dad® program, the fatherhood program for inmates to learn the skills they need to be a better father. He teaches at the James I. Montgomery Correctional Center in Jacksonville, Florida.

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As you might imagine, prison inmates make for a tough crowd. But, Rickie Shaw has learned what it takes to connect. He says in the video that follows,"I am man. I am dad. So are they. That's a natural connection. But, they have to understand, I'm genuine. That my motivation is not to collect my two-week check. I'm here to make sure these men make a difference in their children's lives."  

 Can't see the video? Click here to view.

Please take time to watch this video. Rickie Shaw gets it. He'll be the first to tell you parenting is a learned skill. If you find yourself at Jacksonville’s Montgomery Correctional Facility on a Monday or Wednesday, you'll find a group of inmates learning how to be men.

From discussions on relationships, communication, and discipline, there's nothing out of bounds when it comes to preparing inmates for release from prison. It's all part of the InsideOut Dad® program.

Family Support Services of Northeast Florida is the nonprofit that handles local adoptions and other state-funded social services. They expanded the program to Duval County after it worked well in other parts of Florida.

Adam Causey, the writer of the aforementioned article, recalled upon visiting an InsideOut Dad® class, that men were learning about developmental stages of children. He recalls inmates "laughing as they read about babies as young as two months being able to mimic smiles..." Inmates also learn, that by ages 1 and 2, kids grow inches in just months and add four to six pounds a year.

Have you ever been locked behind bars? Hopefully you haven't. But, consider this, the physical changes of a child happen fast. When you're locked up, one year can mean missing out on a lot in a child’s life. 

Rickie Shaw talks on the video about the inmates and how he can see them start to process the information in the class. He says:

I can see the wheels start turning in their head...they start to bring back conversations that they've had with their mates through letters and visitations. They start processing things that happened in their past with their moms and dads when they were kids. They're looking for answers and solutions to things that shaped their lives That's when I know I'm being effective.

Rickie continues discussing the biggest misconception about the inmates he works with:

The biggest misconception about inmates is that whatever got them here, they have to be punished and no rehabilitation. I think the original thought behind imprisoning someone was that they would have the time to rehabilitate—maybe change the behaviors that got them bars. Classes like InsideOut Dad® and GED programs and various drug abuse programs and domestic violence classes, those are the rehabilitative devices that are definitely needed in a place like this so that they can come out with skills that they didn't have when they came in. I see this as a true opportunity to help rehabilitate someone and help put them in a better place.

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Two separate attendees had this to say about the InsideOut Dad® Program:

"I can say I've learned a lot since I've been in the class. I'm thankful for him (Rickie) coming. Whoever made this program up, it's a good help, a real good help." —InsideOut® Dad Attendee

"I'm happy with the topics we discuss. I think it's [InsideOut Dad® Program] gonna help me when I get out to be a better father and better husband." —InsideOut® Attendee

I don't live or have family in Jacksonville, Florida. But, I sure hope that if you or someone you know is behind bars, they have access to someone like Rickie and NFI's program. This kind of education may just be more valuable and life changing than a college degree.

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Download the free sample > InsideOut Dad®


InsideOut Dad® is the nation's only evidence-based fatherhood program designed specifically for incarcerated fathers.

Is It Finally Time to Put Marriage in the Dustbin?

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Recently, economist and long-time promoter of marriage Isabel V. Sawhill made a surprising about face with the release of her book Generation Unbound. As Brigid Shulte wrote in the Washington Post, Sawhill has reversed her position as an unlikely marriage advocate. She's a Democrat, works at the non-partisan, centrist Brookings Institution, and based her support of marriage not on traditional values but on the data that shows children raised by married parents fare better, on average, than children raised in other family forms.

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Sawhill's staunch evidence-informed support of marriage earned her broad-based praise among proponents of marriage. So many marriage advocates, including me, were shocked when she said, as Shulte points out, that it's time to give up. It's time to stop trying to save an institution that's been in decline for so long it's irretrievable. Better to identify what can replace it as a better alternative to stopping and reversing the rise in single parenting which, almost everyone agrees, is bad for children and leads to spending billions of dollars on social programs that address its consequences.

Where to Hang Your Hat

Does she have a point? That depends on where you hang your hat in terms of the argument for or against giving up on promoting marriage. If you hang your hat on trends in marriage rates, you'd be hard pressed not to agree with Sawhill. Consider that:

  • The number of adults who are married has been on a steady decline from 72.2 percent in 1960 (it's peak in the past 100 years or so) to 50.5 percent in 2012.
  • There's a widening "marriage gap" between college-educated adults and those without a college education. Among 35- to 39-year old college-educated adults, for example, 81 percent had ever married compared to 76 in 1950. In contrast, 73 percent of 35- to 39-year-olds without a bachelor's degree had ever married compared to 92 percent in 1950.

So, we're a less-married nation, but some of us are getting married at higher rates than ever before while others of us are less likely to get married. And this decline continues even though the federal government and some state governments have been doing everything they can since the mid 2000s to promote marriage by funding marriage-promotion programs.

If, however, you hang your hat on the impact of the state of marriage -- and depending on the kind of impact that's your focus -- your answer might or might not support Sawhill's new position.

The decline in marriage and the marriage gap has received quite a bit of recent attention and generated some debate about their impacts. Most of the debates focus on the impacts on adults, children, or both. Those that focus on the impact on adults are mixed. (See this piece by the Brookings Institution as an example.) Those that focus on children, however, overwhelmingly conclude that the impacts are not good, especially for the poorest children.

The impact on children is where I have always hung my hat, and is where, not surprisingly, National Fatherhood Initiative hangs its hat when it comes to the negative effects of father absence. What hasn't changed since we started collecting data on marriage rates is the ream of data on the impact on children when they grow up without their married parents that shows these children, regardless of socio-economic status, don't fare as well, on average, as children who grow up with their married parents. Moreover, it's not just children who suffer. Communities also suffer. As I've written elsewhere in this blog, family structure is the most important factor in the upward economic mobility of families. Economic mobility is not only more difficult for children living in single-parent homes. Communities with large percentages of single-parent homes make economic mobility more difficult for everyone in the community.

Can We Afford to Give Up?

These facts, based on boatloads of evidence, should cause everyone to stop and ask whether we can afford to stop attempts that seek to reverse the decline of marriage. While renewing marriage is not a magic bullet that will cure all of the ills related to child poverty and other issues of child well-being, it's the most vital part of the prescription.

So how can we, as Sawhill has concluded, just give up on marriage? She suggests that there is another answer that makes it okay to give up -- that there is a better alternative to stopping and reducing the rise in single parenting, and that it's just a matter of figuring out which one it is.

She offers some ideas, such as marriages with "time limits." They'd end, say, after 5, 10, 15 years. Like moving from one job to another. (Unfortunately, too many people already treat marriage in this way.) Would these contracts create an institutionalized form of a new kind of friends with benefits? Would we call these marriages "contracts without consequences?" Could they be "terminated by either party for any reason with 30 days advanced written notice?" If we go this far, marriage would certainly be dead as it would be reduced to nothing more than a contract stripped of the characteristics that make marriage work, such as love and commitment in the best and worst of times.

She also mentions Scandanavian-style long-term cohabiting. While that might work in Scandanavian countries, that rent-to-own experiment has been underway in the U.S. for some time, so long, in fact, that cohabitation is now the most common pathway to marriage. But it has done nothing to stem the tide in single parenting. The rapid rise in single parenting has kept rolling along despite the just-as-precipitous rise in cohabiting -- no inverse correlation there.

Shulte notes that Sawhill hasn't given up, fortunately, on the need to reduce the impact of single-parent homes on child well-being. So perhaps, to use language borrowed from the Lean Startup movement, she's only "pivoting" on her position, instead of reversing it, when it comes to addressing the problem of child poverty. Just as many technology and consumer product companies have adopted rigorous and rapid testing of products that often result in pivots (i.e. changes) on their features and functions to achieve their ultimate goal of meeting consumers' needs, Sawhill might be suggesting the answer lies in experimenting with and tweaking approaches to solve our nation's need to reduce child poverty.

Where to Start

To identify approaches to solving any problem, it's vital to start with a desired outcome or goal. Her suggested goal is to establish an "ethic of responsible parenthood," which is ironic given that the creation of that ethic is a primary function of marriage. She recommends establishing this ethic through, in part, the use of long-acting, reversible contraceptives (e.g. IUDs) that couples would use until they are ready to have children. Much more effective than the pill or condoms, their use could reduce the likelihood of poorly timed and unwanted pregnancies.

While there are many ideological and practical hurdles to overcome implementing such an experiment and taking it to scale, I seriously doubt it would ever gain enough traction -- short of a mandate that smacks of mass sterilization -- to have a measurable effect on reducing single parenting. Despite the success of efforts to reduce teen pregnancy (the focus of most calls for long-acting contraceptive use), the rise in out-of-wedlock births has continued unabated largely because of the rise in out-of-wedlock births to twentysomethings that is now at an all-time high. It would also require massive amounts of government and private funding to make these contraceptives affordable to the poorest Americans.

The answer to addressing the rise in single parent homes and all of its consequences, not just child poverty, is not to give up on marriage. The answer starts with acknowledging where the problem lies.

The problem is with changing beliefs in America about family: specifically, about the function of marriage and its impact on child bearing. Most Americans now believe the function of marriage is to satisfy their desire for meaningful, life-long connection instead of as an institution for raising children and what children need to thrive. So it shouldn't be surprising that a majority of Americans today don't see anything wrong with unmarried childbearing.

To be clear, my problem with this belief is not that marriage should not satisfy someone's desire for meaningful, life-long connection -- I can't think of a better way to create such a connection. But focusing on that aspect of marriage to the detriment of marriage's primary function of raising healthy children has become a recipe for disaster.

I not only believe the problem lies in Americans' beliefs. I also believe the answer lies in Americans' beliefs: specifically, the belief that children deserve the best chance to succeed. It is that widely held belief that connects to Sawhill's spot-on contention that the institution of marriage is evolving and must evolve. It must evolve by expanding to include two functions, the new and the old. Marriage's function isn't a zero-sum game. It can and should be a "both-and" game. Marriage can serve its new function of providing individuals with deep, life-long connection and be renewed as the primary institution in which to raise healthy children.

If we can agree to focus on the goal of ensuring that children deserve to be raised in an environment that the research shows gives them the best chance to succeed and in which their parents can also thrive, then perhaps we can also agree that the answer to improving child well-being lies somewhere in this expanded function of marriage. To do so, we must challenge our tendency to look at controversial issues as a zero-sum game and collaborate to identify, test, and iterate approaches that respect the evolving function of marriage and redirect its gaze back toward children's well-being.

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

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