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For the Busy Parent > Room Renovations Under $100

The following is a post from Kristin Hackler. Kristin is a mother, author and journalist. She is also a regular contributor to eBay on home decoration, DIY and parenting-related topcis. Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.

Father-Daughter Bonding: Fears, Myths and Reality

The following is a post from Hugh O. Smith. Hugh is a proud dad, freelance writer and executive at a New York City consulting firm. You can find his blog at hughosmith.com and on Twitter @hughosmith. Interested in blogging a father-son bonding article for us? Read our guest blog guidelines. 

7 Tips for being a Great Dad—Even After January!

If you've been with us since the beginning of the year, you know we've provided readers with tips and tools for being the best dad in 2013! Now that "New Year, New Dad!" is coming to an end, we give you a few ideas to keep your goals this year! Here are seven tips for being a great dad, even after January!

5 Ways to Create a Memorable Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is here! Yeah, I can’t believe it either. It’s been a busy month and December is almost upon us. This month, we’ve shared ideas for raising a thankful child, showing thankfulness in your home, and now we have ideas for creating memorable Thanksgiving traditions! Check out our ideas and then read Thanksgiving traditions that NFI staff share with their family. After you read our traditions, tell us yours in the comment section!

14 Tips for Handling Stress

It’s not easy being a dad. With juggling busy schedules at work and home, you can easily neglect yourself. How we handle our mental and physical health is vital to us and our families.

Your mental health affects your physical health. And your physical health affects your mental health. We know this, but it isn't something we consider daily. If you have a problem with your mental health, it will show up in your body. Likewise, if you have a problem with the health of your body, it will affect your mind and how you see the world.

Parenting: You have a 50/50 shot!

This is a guest post by Maury Wood. If you would like to guest post on this blog, email us here.
  • ”If the new American father feels bewildered and even defeated, let him take comfort from the fact that whatever he does in any fathering situation has a fifty percent chance of being right.” --Bill Cosby

As National Fatherhood Initiative’s “The Dad Games” come to a close, it is time to step back, let out a deep breath, and say, “Whew!” It was tough, but wasn’t it fun? I can tell a difference in my household since the beginning of the games.

The first week, we were challenged to spend time with our kids. My son and I colored, went shopping for mama, visited my old college, played Batman and Joker, and many other things. Brighton is still talking about our coloring.

Fathering For A Lifetime

Last week, NFI’s Director of Military Program Support Services Tim Red sent out an email to our staff in where he bravely and candidly spoke of a moment shared with his oldest son, Travis. After attending the funeral of his son’s good friend, it gave Tim and Travis a moment to reflect and reconnect the bond between father and son. Inspired by his bravery, I too shared a bit of my own fears and concerns regarding fatherhood with the staff and felt enlightened by Tim’s ability to open up about such a private matter.

When I think of devoted dads like Tim, I always imagine they have all the answers and because of his background, I expected that he handled tough times with flair. With 30 years of military service, I was certain Tim had seen it all. I originally asked Tim if I could share his story on our blog and he was gracious enough to allow me to do so. I called Tim last evening and what was initially meant to be a quick phone call turned into a 30-minute conversation that changed my life.

Tim and I had an honest and open discussion, which allowed me to learn that part of being a father is also realizing your shortcomings and showing vulnerability. To hear from Tim that raising his oldest child had been difficult for him just astounded me. I was listening to this strong man admitting that even after being a dad of 21 years, he’s continuing to learn lessons about fatherhood.

I had to fight back my emotions hearing Tim tell his story of the trials he faced with Travis although I hung on to every word. Tim’s fearlessness inspired me to devote myself to what I do here at NFI, and to also apply the lessons he shared with me in my own life. Being an involved, responsible and committed father became an even greater responsibility to me by way of our chat.

Although tragedy had to happen in order for Tim and Travis to find a new way to reconnect, stories like this are precisely why I’m proud to be a part of the National Fatherhood Initiative family. As I grow as a father and as a man, I can always look back fondly to the chat Tim and I had, realizing that you can never learn it all in one lifetime. Dealing with the ups and downs of fathering can make even the mightiest of us feel stretched thin. However, it’s good to know that we have an entire lifetime to get it right.

Guest Post: Teaching Your Children the Power of a Dollar

This is a guest post from Luke Swygard, Financial Representative with Northwest Mutual Financial Network serving the Maryland/Virginia area. He is a married father with two children and lives in Richmond, VA. Visit his website at www.nmfn.com/lukeswygard for more information about his financial services.

The most precious moment of my day is walking in the door and hearing my boys racing to the door to see who can be the first to jump into my arms. Wow, what a feeling! Yes my boys are at the age where me coming home is still a cool thing, and I’m sure that will change over the years as it did for me and my father. Still today, I embrace excitedly some of the financial principles my father instilled in me and I smile each time I remember his wisdom.

The biggest principle he taught me is to never spend more than I earn. Simple. To the point. Not so easy. We live in a world today that demands we please ourselves, our spouses, our children, and our image. It’s a challenge to walk into Target or WalMart today and get through the store without your children looking at you with hopeful eyes that they might get something “special”…something that quickly finds its way to the bottom of the toy box. But how do we say no to that look, and better yet how do we teach them the value of an earned dollar and the power that it has to control us or help us?

Today I want to unwrap that power of a dollar and how we can teach that to our children. It’s invaluable to know the difference between a need and a want and talking with our children in simple economic principles. A need is food, shelter, and clothing. Moving forward from that…do we buy ramen noodles for dinner, or do we go to the finest restaurant in town? Do we rent a small apartment or do we live in a mansion on the water? Do we shop at Salvation Army or do we go to the fine clothiers in the fancy shopping center? Help your children define in needs and wants how to know what is prudent and what isn’t is extremely important. Thinking through that from my father’s advice, it’s all based on your income. You make a little and you live on less. You make a lot and you live on less. Either way there is distance between your expense and income, and that distance is in your favor.

Practical ways to help your children understand your thought process when you purchase things is a really fun exercise. Surprisingly you start making better financial decisions when you have to justify it to your children. Say you are at McDonalds and you are trying to decide between the happy meal and the value meal and you explain that by ordering three items off the value meal (value fries, cheeseburger, and small drink) for $3.00 versus spending $4 on the happy meal, you have the power of another dollar still in your pocket. The next logical question is what is the power of that dollar!

It still amazes me the time value of money. Albert Einstein referred to compound interest as the eighth wonder of the world and it truly is amazing. Realize for a second that a dollar invested today is worth thirty two dollars just thirty-five years from now. (Average rate of return in the market is about 7% over that time period). I know it is not an easy thing to tell your son or daughter that you aren’t getting a happy meal with a toy, but if you help them understand that by you saving that one dollar and setting it aside later for them that when they are 40 it will be $32 or when they are 75 it’s $4,096. Truly a wonder. Just imagine if you didn’t go to McDonald’s and you got the ramen noodles!

In summary there are really two thoughts. Spend less than you make and save the difference. If you do that you’ll find yourself getting ahead financially. Take your children to the grocery store and talk to them about why you pick one thing off the shelf and not another. Just last night I asked my five year old as we were looking at red onions which one was a better buy. He looked at the price per pound and promptly answered correctly. Have fun with your kids, do math in the grocery store, but never forget to tell them why it is important to know where your money goes. We worked hard for that dollar and we can make that dollar work hard for us, but if you’re not careful, the longing for what the world tells us will creep in and we’ll soon find we are strapped too tight or we don’t have enough money left over each month to save.

I leave you with one last challenge, what legacy will you leave for your children?

The Intended Consequences of an Old Spaniard

A few days ago, I asked my father-in-law how he met his wife. He told me that he was in the Air Force stationed in San Antonio and a buddy invited him to go to dance. His wife, who was in nursing school, attended the dance as well along with some of her friends. He saw her. They danced. They talked. And, he was smitten instantly and they started dating.

He also offered that soon thereafter she finished nursing school and moved back home to live with her parents in a little south Texas town called Mission. Since he was still stationed in San Antonio, he would make the long ride to see her every weekend that he could. Well, after a few trips to her home, he received a long letter from her father, who he called, “the Old Spaniard.” Interestingly, the letter was written in Castilian, which is formal Spanish and, although my father-in-law was fluent in Spanish, he needed help to translate it. In any case, he told me that the letter—despite its length—asked him a simple question: “What are your intentions with my daughter?”

He told me that he was not surprised by the question and, actually, he expected to be asked it at some point. Therefore, he knew that he needed to answer this important question well and quickly if he was to continue to see his beloved. So, on his next trip to Mission, he was on a “mission,” and he sat down with the Old Spaniard and told him that he planned to marry his daughter. And, he did.

Since this conversation with my father-in-law, I have thought often about the power and the purpose of the Old Spaniard’s question and how it forced my father-in-law to be publicly accountable for his intentions. The Old Spaniard wanted to make sure early that my father-in-law didn’t think that his daughter was an “amusement park” and he had a free ticket to ride. Nope, there were not going to be any “unintended consequences” because admission to his daughter’s heart came with a specific price the needed to be paid in advance.

Sadly, today too many fathers aren’t “Old Spaniards” and I believe that their daughters and their sons are worse off for it. Consequently, if you ask dating couples about their relationships and intentions, they tend to use terms like we’re “hanging out,” “chillin,” or “just kickin’ it.” Or, they will say that “we are just friends with benefits.” One of the problems is that these “benefits” too often turn into children who need good parents with firm intentions about raising them. Just imagine how few unintended pregnancies and unloved children there would be if more fathers asked the simple question that the Old Spaniard did.

Case and point, a few years ago, I counseled a couple who had gotten pregnant as college seniors. They were having big problems because the father was essentially abandoning his responsibilities and moving on with his life, while the mother was at risk to not graduate. Not surprisingly, the mother was furious.

As I began having conversations with them separately, it quickly became apparent that there was not, and never been, an Old Spaniard involved. You see, they were having premarital sex. However, she always believed that the father was the kind of guy who would marry her and build a family if they got pregnant, but this was never his intention. And, he thought that she was the kind of girl who would quickly get an abortion if she got pregnant, but this was never her intention. Now, they were both in a difficult long-term parenting relationship that neither wanted--whether they intended to have it or not.

Lessons Learned: Giving to Receive

One of the first Bible precepts that I learned in Sunday School as a small boy was that it is better to give than to receive. Now, as a little guy, I wasn’t a big fan of this concept, especially around my birthday and Christmas. In any case, a few days ago, I was thumbing through a recent copy of Forbes magazine and I came across an article by Michael Norton provocatively titled “Yes, Money Can Buy Happiness…If you give it away.”

Norton is a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and he has been researching how changes in income impact well-being. For example, he recently asked 315 Americans to rank their happiness on a 100 point scale and predict how happy they would be if they made ten different incomes, ranging from $5,000 up to $1,000,000. So, for example, he found that those who made $25,000 a year predicted that their happiness would double if they made $55,000. But when he measured their actual happiness, the change was about 7%. Moreover, he found that once people reached the US median income (about $60,000), the happiness return on additional income was very small.

Ironically, he did discover one way to “buy” more happiness with your money: Give it away. He hypothesized that although making more money helps us accumulate more material things, it does little to give us what the research shows makes us happier—quality relationships with others.

To test his theory, he and his team did a little experiment. They approached strangers on the street and gave them different sums of money ($5 or $20) and told them that they had to spend the money by the end of the day. But half were instructed to spend the money on themselves while the others were told to spend it on someone else. At the end of the day, Norton’s team learned that those who had to spend the money on themselves bought stuff like coffee and food. However, those who had to spend the money on others did things like donate to the homeless or buy a gift for a loved one.

So, who was happier? Yep, those who gave the money away. Interestingly, there was no difference in reported happiness between those who had to give $5 away verses those who gave $20 away. I guess when it comes to giving, it truly is the thought that counts.

So, why I am sharing all this? Maybe because it’s fundraising season and NFI needs you to give to us until you are in a state of joyous glee. Good guess, but nope. (Although, we certainly need the support and you can donate here. And, no gift is too large. :-))

Well, it is because I vividly recall that one of the early words that each of my kids uttered was “mine.” I seems that children are genetically wired to be self-focused and it’s a dads job to model and teach their children the joy that can be received from giving. And, you don’t need to wait until Sunday to start teaching. That is, if you can spare $5 bucks.

A Tiger in the Rough

The "Sorry" Language of Love

In 1970, the buzz in Hollywood was about the romantic movie Love Story. The movie was nominated for 7 Academy Awards and made stars and household names of the young actors Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw. Even if you haven’t seen the movie or don’t have it in your Netflix queue, you have most likely heard the famous line that MacGraw’s character uttered early in the film: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Now, I was preteen when I first heard this line and even then it didn’t sound quite right. Granted, I didn’t know much about relationships and romance but I had done enough wrong to those that I loved to detect a flaw in the logic—despite the poetry of the line. Sadly, I must dispute the words of philosopher William James who once said: “There’s nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it.” Unfortunately, given the power of pop culture and pop psychology, I think that many have embraced this absurd and convenient retort, especially those who have trouble with mea culpa.

I was reminded again of this line a few days ago when I came across a book by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas called: The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationship. You may be familiar with Chapman from his many books on “the five love languages” where he asserts that we generally like to receive love in one of five ways: acts of service, receiving gifts, words of affirmation, quality time or physical touch. The problem is that we usually give love in the manner that we like to receive it and this may not be the right love language for one that we are seeking to love. In short, it’s the receiver, not the giver, who determines if an act is loving.

In any case, Chapman and Thomas have developed a similar model for the language of apology. They argue, rather convincingly, that an apology, just like giving love, is not really effective unless it’s expressed in terms appropriate for the receiver. Below are the languages of apology that they have discovered:
  • Expressing regret: “I’m sorry” may be the first words expressed in this apology language but you will need to clearly express what you are sorry for. For example, if you inappropriately spoke harshly to one of your kids and this is their language, you will need to be specific and say, “I am sorry that I lost my temper and raised my voice at you.”

  • Accepting responsibility: This apology begins with the words “I was wrong” and then explains what was wrong with your behavior. For example, you would say to your spouse that you were wrong for not planning well enough to get home in time to pick up your children from school.

  • Making restitution: This apology language is focused on “making it right.” So, if you forget someone’s birthday, and this is his or her language, you can’t just say that you’re sorry. With a person who speaks this language, what they really want to know is “Do you still love me? and making restitution helps assure them that you do.

  • Genuinely expressing a desire to change your behavior: This apology needs to be linked to a plan to keep the behavior from occurring again. If this is a loved one’s apology language, in their world, apologizing without a sincere desire and demonstrated behavior to change is not apologizing at all.

  • Requesting forgiveness: For someone who speaks this language, the words “Will you please forgive me?” are critical. In their mind, if you are sincere, you will ask to be forgiven.

I really believe that Chapman and Thomas are on to something here. A “love story” without apologies only happens in the movies. Indeed, love means always having to say you are sorry. Ironically, the title of the Love Story theme song, which won an Academy Award for best musical score, is “Where Do I Begin?” If you want to restore and/or maintain relationships with your spouse, the mother of your child, or your children, I suggest that you begin with an apology.

Don't Fumble the Baby...

Last week, I had an opportunity to speak at a briefing hosted by Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL). The purpose of the briefing was to present these findings of the Commission on Paternal Involvement in Pregnancy Outcomes, a project of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. A key aspect of the commission is to determine ways to reduce infant mortality, which is surprisingly high in the US.

As a member of the commission, I had an opportunity to share a pretty personal perspective on how, as a very new dad, I first learned just how important fathers are to the health and well-being of infants. A reporter wrote this story about my remarks. Are you ready for some football?

Keeping the Father in the Family & Keeping the Scholar in Scholar-Athlete

It was good to see that an NFL team was smart enough to draft Myron Rolle. Despite being the top high school recruit in his class year and an All-American at Florida State, many pro teams were lukewarm and questioned his commitment to football because Rolle choose to forgo playing his senior year to accept the Rhodes Scholarship, thus keeping the “scholar” in scholar-athlete. (Check out the video here to see just how impressive this young man is.)

With the considerable money at stake, I certainly understand concerns that Rolle’s skills may be a tad rusty after taking a year off but some of comments by NFL prognosticators were just nonsensical. For example, former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick said Rolle's intellect could be a hindrance on the field: "If you want to create hesitation on a guy, make him think. This guy can't help but think." Huh???

I played football in college at Princeton and I raised a son who was a scholarship football player at the University of North Carolina. One thing that I remember vividly is that whenever I made a “bone head” mistake, my coach would admonish me to get my head out of my—shall we say—hindquarters and get it in the game. That’s “coachspeak” for think. So, it makes me wonder if there is not something else going on here. Could it be that some don’t want other college players to follow Rolle’s lead and take full advantage of their scholarships by making their studies a priority? That would certainly make life more difficult for college coaches because practice times usually conflict with biology lab times. Well, I hope this is not the case, especially given the dismal graduation rates in many top college football programs and the need for more African American men--football players or not-to earn college degrees.

Interestingly, it’s not hard to see why Rolle has taken the path that he has. On hearing Billick’s comments, Rolle’s father, Whitney, said, "These people, they feel as though you can show commitment in only so many ways. We have taught all our kids if you're going to do something, do it 100%, so to hear these people say that they question his commitment to football, it's a disgrace.”

I couldn’t agree more…Fortunately, Rolle has gotten some good coaching at home over the years.

The 10 Worst Fathers?

So Men Health's recently published a list of what they consider the top ten worst fathers. The line of reasoning was, "Well, even if you aren't perfect - at least you aren't this bad." The list includes everyone from Michael Lohan to David Hasselhoff to Eliot Spitzer to Woody Allen. It also includes some less well-known folks who beat up their kids' Little League coaches or produce 78 kids (to date).

This is interesting on multiple levels. First, it's good to know there is still some sort of standard for what it means to be a good father. Granted, after this list, the bar isn't too high but if you did the opposite of everything on this list (ie: care about your kids more than yourself and don't physically or emotionally harm them), you're headed in the right direction.

Secondly, I think Men's Health might have forgotten another entry on the list: the intentionally absent father. Obviously there are situations where a father cannot, for various reasons, play an active role in his children's lives. But in the majority of cases, as difficult as the father's presence might be, a father's absence certainly doesn't make for a painless childhood either. It's simply a different category of pain.

Perhaps we and Men's Health can agree on one point - fathers do need encouragement. Not perhaps from the legacy of outrageously ridiculously bad fathers, but from working on their fathering skills and knowing that their presence is an irreplaceable wonderful benefit to their children!

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