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The Father Factor

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What Makes a Parent a Smart Parent

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

"I think one of the true ways I've gotten smarter is that I've realized that there are ways other people are a lot smarter than me. My biggest asset as a writer is that I'm pretty much like everybody else. The parts of me that used to think I was different or smarter or whatever almost made me die." —David Foster Wallace

That quote from the American writer David Foster Wallace underscores one of the great lessons of life: There are plenty of people smarter than you, and you need to learn from them. This lesson applies to parenting.

WhatMakesaParentaSmartParent

When I joined National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) 15 years ago, my daughters were 5 and 2. I had only begun my parenting journey. I knew that I had things to learn about being a good father and parent. What I didn't realize was how much I had to learn. As the old saying goes, "You don't know what you don't know."

Fortunately, my boss was Wade Horn, the first president of NFI and a child psychologist. Wade is one of the smartest people I know. He's a smart father and parent who, as a child psychologist, knows a bit about how children are wired. The most important lesson I learned from Wade? Never project your consequences on your children. Just because I didn't have a negative outcome as a consequence of a decision to engage in a risky behavior doesn't mean that my children won't have a negative outcome if they engage in the same behavior. I've applied that lesson so many times I've lost count.

Wade helped me through several difficult parenting situations. One of those occurred about three years into my tenure at NFI. My oldest daughter had become an extremely picky eater. It drove me nuts because, since my mid-20s, I've focused on eating healthy and staying fit. The fact that I had a child who wasn't eating healthily signaled my failure as a parent. I had tried many of the tactics recommended by nutrition experts to get children to eat healthy. Not one of them worked!

I was at my wit's end when I asked Wade for guidance. He smiled and chuckled when I shared my frustration and concern for my child, which initially made the situation worse as he must have thought my concern to be ridiculous. But then he explained that a lot of young children are picky eaters because it's one of the few ways they can exert control over their lives. It's not necessarily the parents' fault.

He identified, however, one way that I might have indirectly contributed to my daughter's choice -- my own picky eating habits. He pointed out that my diligence in eating healthy is type of picky eating that my daughter had undoubtedly noticed at the dinner table and during conversations about eating healthy I'd had with her and my wife, and seen in several other ways I'd reinforced that form of picky eating. He encouraged me to keep trying to expand her tastes, but to also let the situation play out as many children's tastes expand, as they get older. (I'm happy to report that hers expanded.)

In my time at NFI, I've had the benefit of learning from many parents, especially fathers, who are smarter than me. These parents include NFI's second president, Roland Warren. Roland gave me more practical advice than I can share here. What was the most important thing I learned from him? Good fathers do three things well: provide, nurture and guide.

Other parents I've learned from include Stephen Bavolek, author of the internationally-acclaimed Nurturing Parenting Programs, who assisted me in developing the first editions of our 24/7 Dad® and InsideOut Dad® programs. I've applied much of the knowledge and many of the skills we teach fathers in those programs to parenting my own children. I've also learned from the countless fathers and mothers who have contributed their wisdom on parenting in this blog The Father Factor, and the many experts in parenting whose research on parenting effectiveness has informed the programs and other resources I've developed at NFI.

Don't wait until you're at your wit's end before seeking advice on how to be a better parent generally and in specific situations. Part of being a smart parent is realizing you're not as smart as you think.

Question > What's one thing you could use parenting advice on now? Share your answer in the comment section or on , or .

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

*The opening quote by David Foster Wallace is from Conversations with David Foster Wallace (Literary Conversations Series)

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

5 Mistakes Costing You and Your Family Money

As dads and leaders, we know that creating a habit of saving is important for our families’ long-term security. And the list of things to save for is never-ending, from retirement to kids’ education to replacing the water heater that dies in the middle of the night. But when it comes to actually putting money away for them…well, sometimes life gets in the way. If we are going to be the best leaders we can with our families and with other fathers, we need to be good examples when it comes to saving.

5 Mistakes Costing You and Your Family Money

However, the importance of having money saved for your families’ future cannot be overstated. So we’ve compiled some common mistakes people make when it comes to saving their money and ways to fix them to help you start achieving those savings goals.

Mistake #1: Not enrolling in your employer’s 401(k) plan.

Whether you're leading other dads or your family, it’s easy to think retirement is too far off in the future to worry about it now, or thinking that your money would be better off not locked up for retirement. But thinking like that can cost you lots of money (and your lifestyle) in the future. And when it’s so simple to save with your employer’s 401(k) plan, it’s a mistake to pass it up.

Instead: Take full advantage of it! The beauty of enrolling in your employer’s plan is that money can be automatically taken out of your paycheck and invested in your future. If your employer matches your contributions, it’s a good idea to consider contributing at least enough to take full advantage of their match—after all, it’s free money. Who can say no to that?

Mistake #2: Not paying yourself with each paycheck

A common practice is to save whatever is left over from each paycheck, but this can lead to over-spending and under-saving.

Instead: “Pay” yourself a designated amount each month to put in your savings account—if you can set up an automatic transfer, that’s even better. By “paying” yourself first you have a more realistic view of what you can actually spend that month and it’s not as tempting to skimp on the savings in favor of buying things you don’t need.

Mistake #3: Keeping your checking and savings accounts at the same bank

Sure, it seems pretty convenient to keep everything at one bank: easy to monitor, easy to set up, and (here’s the kicker) easy to transfer. When transferring money from your savings account to your checking account is as easy as the click of a button, it becomes much more tempting to spend that hard-saved money on non-emergencies.

Instead: Separate your accounts. If you keep your savings account in a different bank than your checking, the process of transferring funds from savings to checking becomes a tad more inconvenient—and that’s a good thing! That makes you really think about whether that money will be used for an emergency, whether it’s worth the transfer or not, and when the money should just stay put. As a bonus, if you separate your accounts, you can shop around to find the best interest rates for your savings account.

Mistake #4: Paying off your debts with your savings funds

While it’s great that you’re working to pay off debts, it shouldn’t be at the expense of your entire savings account. Depleting your savings in order to work off your debt puts you in a pretty vulnerable position. If your car breaks down or your roof leaks and you don’t have any savings, you may have to take on more debt and could be worse off than before.

Instead: Try to find other spots in your budget that money can come from—it may seem like a drag since the money is sitting right there in your account, but having an emergency savings account is important to ensure you and your family’s financial security. We recommend building up to have at least $1,000 in savings.

Mistake #5: Pretending to understand services (when you really don't)!

It seems like all these banks and financial institutions are always throwing offers your way that sound good but are littered with terms you just don’t understand. All that financial mumbo-jumbo can make your head spin and cause you to either accept an offer that’s not right for you or turn away from one that’s perfect.

Instead: If you’re not sure, just ask. It sounds simple but far too often people are paying way more than they should for something and they don’t even know it. If there’s a term you don’t fully understand, it’s worth a call or email to your bank, insurance agent, or other trusted financial source to ensure you know exactly what you’re getting and how much you’re paying.

5-mistakes-costing-you-and-your-family-money-brightpeak-fatherhood

 

 

Want more savings tips?

Get your free eBook > Ten Simple Ways to Boost Your Emergency Fund.

It’s full of insider information on how to set savings goals, tips to make saving money easier, and ways to watch your savings grow faster.



The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

The Best Way to Build Strong Children

Fredrick Douglas said, "It's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." This quote is well known in fatherhood circles, but it doesn't tell the whole story. It can even point in the wrong direction. I want to add, "And the best way to build strong children is to repair wounded fathers." Are we willing to look at our need for self-repair?

superman-boy


The Problem: The Profound Effects of Fatherlessness

24 million children will go to sleep tonight in a home where there is no father. Some of those children still have an engaged dad who loves them and is proud of them, even though he does not live with them. Although these fortunate children, such as my three teenage sons, may not have an ideal situation with two parents who live together and love each other, the reality is that many children who live with a mother and father don’t experience that ideal either. 

The striking and sad truth, however, is that most of those 24 million children are truly at risk, kids who do not have a caring father involved in their lives every day. The statistics are staggering.

Fatherlessness is linked to:

  • 63 percent of youth suicides;
  • 71 percent of pregnant teenagers;
  • 85 percent of all youth who exhibit behavior disorders;
  • 71 percent of all high school dropouts;
  • 75 percent of all adolescents in chemical abuse centers;
  • And 85 percent of all youths sitting in prison.

The Root of the Problem Lives in Us Dads

You might be surprised to learn that one of the significant factors producing these disturbing statistics of father absence is the deep wound that many men still live with from their relationship with their own father. This is especially true among the poorer communities in our nation. I worked with over 600 incarcerated fathers in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system over a period of six years. I can count on one hand the number of men who told me they had a good, strong, and loving relationship with their dad. Instead, most shared heartrending stories with me about being belittled, ignored, or abandoned by their fathers. Some were abused. Their broken hearts, messed up lives, and often non-existent relationships with their children revealed a tragic legacy of father-wounding relationships. 

How about you? Can you relate in any way to some of what these men so honestly shared with me? I sure did. Sadly, many dads can. 

In my work with men over the last fifteen years, many dads on the “outside” have shared similar stories of neglect, pain, rejection, and abandonment. Very few “free” men seem to be able to tell stories of loving relationships with their dads, of knowing and feeling their dad was proud of them, and of hearing words of praise and affection throughout their childhood. If you had a dad who gave you these gifts, you are blessed. Many of us didn’t experience a relationship like this with our dads.

Without being fully conscious of it, at least not on a day-to-day basis, many of us still feel the void, wishing we felt loved by our dad, knowing deep within that our dad felt and still feels proud of us, and being able to talk with our dad about anything. This yearning for our father’s approval, attention, and affection is a common result of a father wound.

The father-wound hurts, and we avoid the pain. The father yearning seems endless, and we avoid feeling hopeless. That is natural. I don’t blame anyone for avoiding pain. I tried to do it for many years. The problem is that our kids pay the price. So many men—myself included—struggle with feelings of inadequacy, not measuring up, not being good enough, and not feeling loved. There is hope. But when we check out—and that is the easiest way to go—we turn on the TV, or grab a beer, or get lost in technology, then we are just not present. We may go further into damaging or even dangerous activities and relationships.

As this happens, we substantially lose time with our children, our emotional capacity to connect with them, and our hope to become the dad we wish our father had been for us. As we avoid our pain, our kids miss a dad they’re sure loves them, a dad they know is proud of them, a dad they can talk to about anything. 

I have no doubt you love your kids. But do you help them know it and feel it every day? That's hard to do when much of our energy and attention is going to avoiding the pain of a father-wound. As long as we avoid our pain, we pass it on to our kids. I wish I could offer a simple fix. I can tell you that there is a solution—but it is not easy.

The Solution: Self-Healing

When wounded fathers stop avoiding our pain, we begin to heal. It hurts to heal, but it also has immediate benefits, for our kids and for us. When we are free to love our children, to easily affirm them, and to openly show affection for them, we aren't just reducing the risk of theoretical statistics, we are filling them with security, giving them a strong self-esteem, and helping them feel truly happy as kids. And it feels fantastic for us as dads. It is so fun to have this kind of closeness with our kids.

What would the world be like if every dad did this? When dads who did not have great relationships with their fathers find freedom from pain and resulting issues of the past, the next generation—our children—are strengthened. We give them a gift that will produce the kind of legacy we all wish for every child. This is what halts and even reverses the staggering statistics of father absence. This is the path to healing the next generation and our society. As fathers, we must heal our own wounded hearts to fully enjoy and raise our children well.

Frederick Douglas may well be right that it's easier to build strong children than to repair broken fathers. But fathers are the ones who can best build strong children. We become free to do that with joy when we face our own father wound.

What do you think? Please share your reflections about how a father wound affects being close to your kids. And what you think about the need to heal our wound in order to be great dads to our kids.

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

Keith Zafren is the founder of The Great Dads Project. Men who want to be great dads love the stories Keith Zafren tells, the practical skills he teaches, and the personal coaching he offers. Keith has spent seventeen years learning firsthand how to raise three great teenagers and stay close to them, no matter what. He coaches busy dads to not repeat the mistakes their fathers made, but instead, to create fantastic relationships with their kids. Check out his free video training course for men who want to be great dads.

4 Steps for Making Tough Parenting Decisions

How many times have you faced a tough parenting decision and wished you had a tool or process for helping you make that decision? In Engage the Fox, authors Jen Lawrence and Larry Chester describe a four-stage process that, while taught to students of business to help them make better team-based decisions, can help anyone, including parents, make better decisions regardless of setting or situation.  

  1. Gather
  2. Generate
  3. Evaluate
  4. Agree
tools


Let's say your child is having a difficult time with a teacher. Your child believes the teacher is unfairly treating your child, but your child won't confront the teacher out of fear of retaliation. What advice do you give your child? Several other questions might quickly pop into your mind, the answers to which will help you answer that ultimate question. These questions might include:

  • What evidence does my child have for the unfair treatment?
  • What about the treatment is, exactly, unfair?
  • Is that treatment really unfair?
  • If it is unfair treatment, is the teacher singling out my child or is this how the teacher typically treats students?
  • Will I have to confront the teacher?
  • Might I eventually have to go to a school administrator to resolve the issue?

The list of questions could go on and on. Clearly, this decision is a tough one.

Lawrence and Chester's process can help you critically think about this kind of decision and avoid a knee-jerk reaction that doesn't do you or your child any favors. If possible, bring your child's mom into this process from the very beginning. Because this is a process that improves team-based decision making, it's ideal for decisions made by families.

First, gather as much information about the situation as possible. Ask your child some of the questions that you can reasonably expect her or him to answer with accuracy. Your child can probably provide evidence for the unfair treatment and whether the teacher treats other students in the same way. If you know the families of some of the other students in the class, you could contact them to determine whether the teacher has unfairly treated their children. You might also have to talk with the teacher to get the full picture, even though your child might be adamantly opposed to that action. If you (and mom) decide the teacher is unfairly treating your child, move on to the remaining steps.

Second, identify possible solutions. Assuming that the teacher is unfairly treating your child, sit down with your child (and mom) and think through the possible solutions. These might include everything from letting the situation play out before taking more decisive action to confronting the teacher. Generate as many solutions as possible without initially judging them. Write down the solutions as you and your child (and mom) generate them.

Third, evaluate the options and select the best solution. Use a critical thinking tool, such as a list of pros and cons, to evaluate the options. Using such a tool will help you and your child (and mom) arrive at a decision that is as objective as possible. If your child's mom is the more analytical of you two, ask her to lead this step. 

Before you move on to the final step, it would be a good idea to step back and gain some distance from the situation before making the final decision. In their book Decisive (another great book on critical decision making), authors Chip and Dan Heath recommend that people "attain distance" before making a final decision because short-term emotion can lead to poor decisions (e.g. by clouding judgment). Attaining distance can involve taking a few days or more to let the options sink in before making a final decision. It can also involve asking questions that shift your perspective, such as, "If I had a friend in the same situation, what would I tell my friend to do?"

Finally, you and your child (and mom) should agree on the final solution. It's possible that your child won't agree and you (and mom) will have to make a unilateral decision in the best interest of your child. But hopefully, by following this process, your child will see that the decision you see is the right one.

Parenting is full of tough decisions. Having a process in your parenting toolbox that can help you critically identify and evaluate options and decisions will make you a better parent and enhance the relationship you have with your child (and mom).

What's the toughest parenting decision you face today?

How do you make the tough parenting decisions?

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child  

For Fathers in Prison > Fatherhood Training Impacts Recidivism and Behavior [KY DoC]

When dad’s in prison, his child is more likely to go to prison. Eighty-nine percent—that’s almost 9 out of 10 of Kentucky’s inmates—are male. Most of these inmates are fathers. We know most inmates aren't serving life sentences. Meaning, the father in prison is returning to his community and to his family at some point. Sadly, most inmates are released ill equipped to face the problems that put them in prison. The Kentucky Department of Corrections (DOC) is addressing this problem through fatherhood programs, and it’s working. 

KYDOCShowsFatherhoodTrainingReducesRecidivismandImprovesBehaviorThe Kentucky DOC has used NFI’s fatherhood programs since 2012. We wrote about the progress of the DOC training 381 dads and counting. Now we’re excited to share some insightful statistics—beyond the progress in training dads—on how effective our programs are to inmates and the DOC both while inmates are in prison and upon release. We know our fatherhood programs work, but we get excited when others conduct their own research and learn how much impact our programs have. 

InsideOut Dad® is Effective > Here’s the Data

Here are the exciting statistics, compiled by the Kentucky DOC, on the recidivism rate and rate of in-prison disciplinary actions (e.g. behavioral infractions) for 575 dads who participated in the program for the two year period 2012-2014. Of 575 fathers who completed in the program:

  • 318 were released
  • 52 of those 318, or 16 percent, returned to prison as a result of a new charge or a parole violation which is 57 percent lower than the two-year statewide recidivism rate of 37 percent

Moreover:

  • Prior to entering the program, participants averaged 1.836 disciplinary actions per inmate compared to only .32 actions per inmate while they participated in the program and .26 actions per inmate after they completed the program. This is a whopping 86 percent reduction in disciplinary actions.

It’s vital to note that NFI’s programs help fathers in Kentucky’s DOC not only while in prison (using the InsideOut Dad® Program) but upon release (using the 24/7 Dad® Program).

Training Fathers While In Prison

According to feedback from a representative at the Kentucky DOC, the state has seen a clear shift in the inmate population from an egocentric attitude, to a focus on their families and children, even from inside prison. In addition to the fathers benefiting from the program, the DOC is meeting their goal of offering a cognitive, behavioral, and therapeutic approach to inmate rehabilitation (since they are using NFI’s InsideOut Dad® Program while a father is in prison and the 24/7 Dad® Program upon release from prison). Using both fatherhood training programs is helping the Kentucky DOC address their top four criminogenic concerns related to fathers: 

  1. Criminal and family history
  2. Family (marriage and parenting) relatationships
  3. Education and employment
  4. Leisure and recreation

Training Fathers After Release

Research shows that fathers who learn to connect to their children and family before being released are more likely to successfully integrate back into the community and less likely to return to prison.

NFI has worked with the Kentucky DOC to create a reentry program to help dads continue building their fathering skills once released. Kentucky's DOC works with community-based organizations, via the state’s Probation and Parole Division, to deliver NFI’s 24/7 Dad® program to fathers in transitional facilities and other community-based organizations in the reentry field. 24/7 Dad® addresses fathering from a holistic perspective and continues to build on pro-fathering behaviors. (For a report on the effectiveness of 24/7 Dad® in a reentry setting, click here.)

While the statistics on recidivism and disciplinary actions are vital to understanding the widespread impact NFI’s programs can have on inmates and corrections systems, behind every statistic, as they say, is a person. To truly grasp the life-changing impact of NFI’s programs, it’s important to capture that impact in the words of the dads who participate in them. Here is one Kentucky inmate’s story. Please take a moment to reflect on his words. See what happens when a father goes to prison and is then shown the tools for how to connect with his child through NFI’s programs. 

How Training Changed One Father > Read His Story


Dear NFI

I've always heard the old adage a carpenter is only as good as his tools. That's why I would like to thank you and your volunteers for giving me the opportunity to have experienced and to have graduated your IoD class (InsideOut Dad® Program). With so many dynamics I have facing me in having six children I have a large task ahead of me, but I have some of those tools I need to start building and mending those relationships I so long to have with my children and vice versa. 

First of all I will tell you a little about myself, because change has to start with me. I am 45 years old and have six children ranging from 27 to 8 years of age. In 11 days I will serve out a 15-year sentence, but it is not the first time I have been incarcerated. Altogether, it will make 22 years I have served in sentences in the state of Kentucky which lets you know I haven't been in my children's lives very much over the years. 

Through God and this class I have actually started mending some of these relationships I have either destroyed or never gave a chance to develop in the first place. Since 1988 I've been in and out of jails and prisons only to stay out long enough to start a relationship and ultimately having children and then to leave them behind again. This time I served out my 15-year sentence and then seven years and four months with educational and other good time. I know I've done everything this time to turn my life around, but in order to do so I had to finally face my demons and look at myself for who I really was. If we don't know it's broke we tend not to fix the problem.

All in all I've left a lot of damaged lives behind in my wake of destruction. With IoD (InsideOut Dad® Program) I've been able to salvage some of these relationships and prepare to face the challenges of starting a relationship with my children.

The first tool I’ve learned to use is communication. I have six children by four different mothers which I'm not proud of, but ultimately it seems I had fallen into my father's footsteps (learned behavior), so in the seven years there's been no telephone calls because of the high cost to make telephone calls from prison. I wish I could start a fund just to help with that cost of future fathers could stay in touch with your children, especially the ones going through this program. 

Through writing I had mended my relationship with my oldest daughter Sheena. We have been corresponding on a regular basis for a while now. She followed my footsteps and committed a crime two years ago, but was put on a diversion program, which included six months of in-house rehabilitation.

During our time of writing I've used several tools I've learned through IoD (InsideOut Dad® Program) such as getting to know who she is, her personality traits, so I would be able to have more to talk to her about. Of course I have apologized many times over the years that I was absent from her life. 

I knew she blamed me for the way her life had turned out so I used another tool (empathy). I put myself in her shoes and realized this was true because I too blame my parents as well for my life being messed up. Now we have something in common that we can share and build on. I let her know I can relate to her, because I had been on my own all of my life as well. I told her how I finally located my mother at the age of 15 years old and how it didn't go over so well. Ultimately I moved in with her and my step-father to pay $55 a week for my part-time job that I had that summer just to sleep on the couch. I moved out on my own after two months and it actually was cheaper for me that way. I also told her I had to stop blaming them, because as an adult I knew wrong from right now. I couldn't blame them for my mistakes any longer. Like her, my rough childhood resulted in drug use to numb the pain from the past.

Now here's the miracle I want to share with the world. This is better than the fact I get to leave prison here in 11 days. After the fact she did six months rehab she decided she wasn't ready to leave so she signed up for another six months which I supported 100%. I told her that she needed to take this time to be there for herself and not worry about anyone else because she does have four children of her own which her mother has now. I told her I have learned by experience if you can't be there for yourself you can't be there for anyone else either. If you don't love yourself how can you expect anyone else to love you in return? This one time it was all right to be selfish, because it was for all the right reasons.

This girl completed 14 months of rehab dad being your number one supporter and biggest fan. A recovery center in Kentucky has hired her on full-time as part of the staff now. She is in a good place now and loves her job. A month ago she sent me her phone number. The fact that I'm leaving here on the 31st gave me an opportunity to get an institutional phone call to see if she would be at the bus station when I'm dropped off that morning. By the way I will be spending the morning with her and my four grandchildren whom I've only met the oldest as of yet. This is the first conversation I've had with my daughter in over seven years.

She answered and said hello and I said hi baby girl. She said who is this and I said it's your daddy. All she could do is cry. After she got her composure she finally said the words so longed to hear. I love you and I forgive you for not being there for all those years. She said through God she had so much peace that she was finally able to forgive me. In our conversations through writing God had been our main subject of discussion. The way I see it, whether you believe in Jesus or not, which I do, there are good morals to be learned from the Bible. Just as the tools I've gained from IoD. With these tools and the wisdom and patience of my instructor Mr. X, I've built relations with two of my children.

Nikki my 21-year-old daughter is who I am moving in with on the 31st. She just had her first baby on the 18th of this month. She truly loved and forgives me as well. My 25-year-old daughter and whom I've only seen four times while incarcerated since her birth has expressed a need to know me as well, because she has talked to her siblings and has noticed a change in my life and relationships I've built with them. IoD (InsideOut Dad®) is contagious. 

My 19-year-old son doesn't respond, but I still send him letters, just to let him know I still love you. He may be a little angry, but in time even water dissolves the biggest and hardest of rocks.
My children 10 and eight years of age don't know me, but they soon will. I have written them over the years so they do know I exist and that I put forth the effort. All in all I would like to think NFI for IoD (InsideOut Dad®) for the programs put forth to help us fathers and children. Like I told my oldest daughter Sheena it's up to us now to stop this vicious cycle that's been handed down to us from generation to generation. It's time to plant new seeds.

Thank you for giving me the tools to do so. I don't know by putting my children needs before mine and getting to know them and giving them the chance to know me that we can turn things around. I believe now that I can turn things around. I believe now I can lead by example, to teach my children that they can live a morally ethic life by watching me to do it in love. I have for myself and them as well now. If I can't fix myself how can I even possibly think of fixing my relationship with them? Thank you for your time in the tools I needed to rebuild the relationships I so desire to have with my children. Your work and efforts have not been done in vain. 

Sincerely, 
B


This is only one inmates’ story. There are hundreds just like it in Kentucky alone. We at NFI are thankful for the leaders at the Kentucky DOC. We are so excited about their commitment to rehabilitating inmates through programs like InsideOut Dad® and 24/7 Dad® so that corrections is part of the solution rather than just another step in the criminal justice process. The state, the fathers, the families, and the children of Kentucky are seeing the benefits of this solution-based approach.  

For more information on the products and services the Kentucky DOC is using along with the organizations they are partnering with, view the full case study and visit our Corrections Programs page for more program successes.

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Learn more about fatherhood and corrections > Fathers Behind Bars [Infographic]
 

  The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

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:

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

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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?

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

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"? 

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

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. 

adrian peterson child abuse discipline

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...

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

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.

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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?

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