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The Father Factor:
Fatherhood Matters

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5 Questions Every Working Father Should Ask

Gone are the days where working fathers spent most of their time in the office. Today, there is increasing demand, both on the part of working fathers individually and on the part of society, to find more work-life balance.

The Heart of NFI’s Work

As NFI adds more and more followers, blog readers, and “fans” via our social media tools, it often occurs to me that many of you may only have a very vague idea of what constitutes the core of NFI’s work as a nonprofit organization. Many of you may simply think of us as "those folks who write stuff online about fatherhood."

So, this morning, I headed over to the local hotel’s meeting room to gather some physical evidence of the “real” grassroots work we do to strengthen fatherhood across the country.

This morning, NFI’s Senior Director of Program Support Services, Mike Yudt, is delivering a full-day training session on our InsideOut Dad® program for incarcerated fathers. The folks we are training are a dedicated group of professionals who work in communities around the country (we even have a guest from Hawaii!) and are striving to ensure that their agencies offer programs for fathers.

Will you join the 12 Dollars, 12 Months, 12 Dads challenge?

We have exciting plans for 2013 to reach more dads, help more families, and advocate on behalf of responsible fatherhood - with the ultimate goal of improving child well-being and creating a world in which every child has a 24/7 Dad ℠.  But we need your help.

As we start 2013, will you join our 12 Dollars, 12 Months, 12 Dads challenge?  

It costs $12 to provide a dad with one of NFI's evidence-based fatherhood handbooks to help him build his fathering skills.  We are looking for 100 people to commit to donate $12 a month to help one dad every month.  If we reach that goal, together we will equip 1,200 extra dads in 2013 with resources to help them connect with their children heart-to-heart!

Fatherhood: An Act of Valor that Takes Zeal and Knowledge

Last night, Justin, my 26 year old son and I were having a conversation about how father absence is affecting his generation. He told me that many of his friends who grew up without fathers are very committed to being good dads. However, he offered that they don’t know how to be good fathers. He said that they have “zeal without knowledge.”

Zeal is an old English word that you don’t hear often these days, especially from a 26 year old. But, it’s a concept that is very contemporary because it means to have an intensity for a cause, an eager desire and enthusiastic diligence. Alas, there is zeal aplenty in our culture today, so having a bit of it for fatherhood is certainly a good thing. That said, I think that my son was on to something by linking zeal with knowledge. Here’s why…

Early in the week, I spoke at an event and when I finished a guy about Justin’s age approached me. He told me that he had grown up without a father and he recently had gotten married and was going to be a father soon. He then got a very strange look on this face and said, “Everyone keeps telling me that I am going to be a great dad and I really want to be…But, honestly, I’m struggling with how they can know this or how I can do this… I never had a dad.”

He had zeal without knowledge…

So, I sent him an email with links to several of NFI’s low cost products for new dads like, “When Duct Tape Won’t Work”, an interactive CD designed to improve his understanding of how to help his infant through the toddler years, and “24/7 Dad Interactive”, an interactive CD designed to help him with everything a good dad needs to know, from maintaining a strong relationship with mom to effectively disciplining his children.

I was delighted that this new dad-to-be had the wherewithal to understand his problem and proactively seek help. But, frankly, I am amazed at how many dads, especially ones older than this father, will spend $50 bucks or more to watch a pay-for-view sporting event but won’t invest less than $20 for resources, like the ones that I mentioned above, to help themselves become better dads. And, some dads who will spend hours researching and drafting the perfect fantasy football roster—as if it was “real”—but would consider it a fantasy to join a small group of other dads for just an hour a week for 6 weeks and use the "24/7 Dad Power Hour" to hone their fathering skills. Of course, these fathers say that they want to be good dads. But, discipline, not just desire, determines a dad's destiny. Indeed, they have zeal but they lack the discipline to get the knowledge.

And, that’s a real problem. Let me give you an example to better illustrate this point.

A few weeks ago, a movie called “Act of Valor,” which featured the heroics of real Navy Seals, hit movie theaters nationwide. The film was an instant box office hit. In fact, it was the top grossing movie during the opening weekend and continues to do well. No doubt, thousands of dads lined up to see the film. And, I can see why. Here you have a bunch of guys, many who are fathers, doing amazing things that make us proud to be Americans. Plus, lots of stuff gets blown up!

However, here’s the interesting thing about the Navy Seals in this movie. They have zeal…lots of it. But, they also have knowledge. Why? Because a Navy Seal without both is dangerous. He’s the type of guy on the mission who would kick a door in, guns blazing, and shoot the hostages and rescue the terrorist! In fact, others in his unit can’t count on him to have their backs. So, no one wants this guy on their team. It’s too risky. They would just as soon do the mission one man short.

So, am I saying the untrained dads are dangerous? Of course not. But, I am saying that these dads are less effective and are not prepared for the most important “mission” of their lives--raising their children. This is unacceptable. But, it is also fixable because a guy can learn to be a better dad. Accordingly, if you are a dad with zeal, like that young unprepared dad that I spoke to, I want to encourage you to do as he did. Zealously seek knowledge. Get the resources and training that you need to be the best dad that you can be. After all, being a good dad is the ultimate act of valor.

Is Hollywood Helping Or Hurting The Case For Fatherhood?

I came across an article some days ago in the Los Angeles Times that reported on a rise in Hollywood films that featured parents in situations that led the moms and dads in the film to be stressed or anxious. Featured in the piece was Golden Globe Award-nominated film The Descendants starring Globe Best Actor winner George Clooney. In the film, Clooney plays a dad going through a tough time with a dying wife, betrayal, and attempting to get closer to his two daughters.

The film (which is excellent) takes the viewers through a lot of emotional ups and downs as Clooney exhibits the fear of having to raise his daughters without his spouse by his side. In the family film We Bought A Zoo, Matt Damon plays a widower with two young children struggling to stay close while Damon’s character navigates opening a zoo.

Another movie that was up for a few Golden Globe Awards, Carnage, also featured parents who argued with other parents over how to best deal with their fighting children’s issues. Although the film is billed as a black comedy, the core of the movie centers on how parents all have their own way of dealing with their children. The all-star cast of Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz delight in their roles, but the ugly war of words become the centerpiece instead of these adults finding a way to cope with one another.

Parents going through times in film, especially dads, is not a brand new concept although the recent slate of films would suggest this is the case. There is something about watching angst unfold onscreen that captivates and infuriates all at once; there’s always an end to the movie but never to the realities that exist outside of the theater.

As said by Dr. Alexandra Barvi of New York University, “In the past, people parented based on instincts and how they were raised, but now with technology and the ease of transmittable information, we know so much more about parenting. We do so much more thinking about parenting. You can't turn on a morning show without an expert talking about college anxiety, how to keep your kids busier.”

Is Hollywood and television making it so that fathers new and old are overloaded with what can be seen as poor parenting tactics? Is the portrayal of parents in harrowing situations inspiring to dads who want to combat the anxiety that goes along with raising their children? Are fathers and mothers looking for ways to stave off the sometimes bleak imagery of parenthood and offer a reversal of sorts?

A good number of films with these sorts of plot tie-ins end with a happy moment of closure or triumph. There are even several films over the years that tell great stories about devoted dads who go through a lot of turmoil (and eventually joy) such as Big Fish and Finding Nemo. What we should focus on while viewing movies that feature dads and moms under duress is to make sure we’re talking about ways to avoid that struggle in our real lives.

Perhaps then, Hollywood can begin to tell a different story showing the endless possibilities of a blissful union between fathers, mothers, and their children.

A day in NFI's programming world

A key part of National Fatherhood Initiative’s work is to equip fathers to be the best dads they can be. Our staff in the National Programming department travel around the county training facilitators at community-based organizations, correctional facilities, and military bases on how to use NFI’s programs -- like 24/7 Dad™, InsideOut Dad™, and Doctor Dad™ -- to help dads.

I am a step or two removed from this work, because my role is to provide administrative support to the organization’s president, and I don’t normally work closely with the programming staff.

However, last week I had the privilege of spending a day in “programming world” by attending a 24/7 Dad™ Training Institute. It was great to see that side of NFI and hear first-hand stories from men and women who work directly with fathers.

A very diverse group of people participated in the training – from suburban moms running a domestic violence prevention program in Northern Virginia to guys working with men in urban St. Louis. People came from as far away as Georgia and Texas to learn how to use 24/7 Dad™. Some of the attendees worked with incarcerated men, some ran Head Start programs for families, and some worked at a church.

Despite the diversity of backgrounds, these 20 or so men and women became a community for the day, united by a shared passion to see fathers become more involved, responsible, and committed. The attendees were excited to find others engaged in the same challenges and to learn about a resource to help them and the dads in their community. They questioned each other between training segments on ways to handle certain situations, shared success stories and innovative ideas, and swapped contact info so they could stay in touch afterward.

At the end of the day, the participants were asked to describe in one word their experience at the 24/7 Dad™ training. “Equipped,” “inspired,” and “encouraged” were just a few of the words shared.

That described my day at the 24/7 Dad™ training, too. It was wonderful to get away from my cubicle and get a glimpse of the tremendous impact that fatherhood programs around the country are making in the lives of children, families, and communities. It gave renewed meaning to the day-to-day tasks I do and reminded me how grateful I am to be part of an organization devoted to such an important mission.

Ending the Baby Blues

I tend to be a pretty outspoken person about the things I care a lot about. Working at NFI has only made me more passionate about responsible fatherhood, resulting in my friends occasionally being subjected to a spontaneous rant or soapbox speech from me when the issue comes up in conversation. They must not mind too much, because they will sometimes send me news stories or songs about fatherhood, which gets me talking even more.

Case in point: one of my friends sent me this Baby Blues comic recently, and I knew there was a lot I could say about it:

This could be the official comic for National Fatherhood Initiative. The dad’s statement that “Dad school” is a 7-days-a week, 24-hours-a-day program is exactly why NFI’s flagship curriculum to help fathers build their fathering skills is called 24/7 Dad™ - being a Dad is a 24/7 job.

Even though fathers who enroll in 24/7 Dad™ have a graduation ceremony at the end of the program, Darryl, the Baby Blues dad, is right – you never graduate from learning how to be the dad your kids need. It’s a lifelong process that changes as your kids grow – and the good news is, if you keep doing your “homework” like Darryl, you should always get better at it as you go.

Darryl’s comment that being a Dad is what he really wants to do reminded me of something that Dave, a dad who went through NFI’s 24/7 Dad™ program, said about the impact it had on him:

"My kids didn’t want anything to do with me. Dope was more important to me than anything, including them … After inpatient treatment, I completed outpatient. Then I learned about the 24/7 Dads group. Then other things started to change … I got to see [my daughter] more and more. Now she’s home for good. I married her mother and we are really happy. Sometimes I think about the old days. But … I know I’d rather be a 24/7 Dad.”

So, friends, keep those news stories, songs, and comics about fatherhood coming. The Father Factor blog exists in part to give a platform for positive portrayals of fatherhood in our culture, and we need all of you to be on the lookout for good things we can shine a spotlight on. Not to mention that it’ll make my day when other people get involved in this issue.

But feel free to tell me you "get the point" if my enthusiastic soapbox speech starts getting a little long...

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