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The Father Factor


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.

Even if you loved the style and color of your home when you first moved in, the most neutral of rooms can become eyesores over time. But with all the expenses of food, family and day-to-day living, it's hard enough to scraping together money for a new welcome mat, let alone remaking an entire living space. But, renovating a room doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. In fact, you can do quite a lot for less than $100.

for the busy parent room renovations under $100

Consider some of the following room renovation ideas, some of which cost nothing and others that will only lighten your wallet by a few bucks. You'll be surprised at what just a few simple changes can do.

Painting Outside of the Bucket
ebay paint ideas on a budget for parentPainting is the number one change you can make for the least amount of money, but have you considered going a step further and adding some interest to that new coat of Fisherman's Wharf blue? For a solid matte wall paint, consider adding texture by rolling stripes in a clear glaze or layering crinkled tissue paper between coats of paint for an old world look.

To apply:

  • Paint a small section of wall, then crumple a sheet of tissue paper, unfold it and press it against the wet paint, spreading it out with your fingers.
  • Paint over the tissue paper and repeat with the next section.
  • For added dimension, finish with an antiquing glaze.

What is that Accent?
Add interest around the room with repurposed accent pieces. It not only costs much less to use items picked up used at the thrift store or online, or even found around the home, it also impresses guests to see your creativity at work.

accent ideas from ebay for parents on budget

Some interesting repurposing ideas include:

  • an old crib railing attached to the wall for hanging pictures
  • an old louvered shutter attached to the wall as a letter holder
  • an old wooden ladder attached to the wall as a shelf
  • a wooden ladder as a long shelf by attaching shelving boards across the rungs
  • an antique wooden ironing board as a side table
  • spoons bent into hooks and screwed into to a 1 x 4 board attached to the wall for holding kitchen items
  • thin bookcases turned on their sides for instant benches with cubby space—cover with a strip of foam and decorative fabric for added comfort

Metal Works
From restoring old hardware to adding a touch of color here and there, a couple of small changes can make a big difference in a room. If you have a lot of hardware around your home such as door, cabinet and drawer knobs, hinges, light switches and socket panels, a layer of paint can clean them up quickly with little to no cost. But start with a fresh surface (and you may even prefer the bare look). 

how to remake doorknob ebay for parents on budgetAll you need to remove old paint is:

  • An old crock pot
  • Liquid laundry detergent

If you don't have a crock pot sitting around that you don't use anymore, you can usually find one for close to nothing at a thrift store. To remove the paint from your small hardware items, turn the crock pot on low, add water and a few tablespoons of liquid laundry detergent, and allow the hardware to sit in the solution overnight. In the morning, the paint will slip right off.

If your brasses are too bright, you could also use a matte black spray paint designed to work specifically with metal to turn your door knobs from bright brass to faux iron, or a brass darkening solution to give them an antique look.

Splashes of Color
Wall murals are another way to add a creative touch. Not only can you find free-form nature images that can add interest to a bare corner or wall, you can also use them to create temporary drawing stations for the kids. Removable chalkboards and whiteboards can be added to kids' rooms, kitchens and even the living room without worrying about how to cover it up when you have guests over.

writing on the wall how to make wall kids can write on ebay parent

Wallpaper can also add new life and character to a room, but enough to cover even one wall can get pretty pricey. Instead, you can add interest with small segments of wallpaper in eye-catching areas such as the back panels of bookshelves, the backsplash of a kitchen or framed and placed around the room in repurposed or upcycled frames.

Renovating a room doesn't have to mean shelling out big bucks for a few small changes. Instead, consider what you have and what you can repurpose to make a big difference with small changes.

What are some ways you've found to renovate a room at little to no cost? 

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 and on Twitter @hughosmith. Interested in blogging a father-son bonding article for us? Read our guest blog guidelines. 

At about 10:00pm on a cold February night I found out I was going to be a father. At 10:01pm, I was a wreck. My biggest concern wasn’t about bringing a baby into our small apartment, or how to pay for the endless procession of stuff a baby needs. It was that I might be a bad father. Every movie or talk show I’d seen with an out-of-control child came back to me in HD. 

Father playing with his happy and smiling baby daughterMy fears intensified a few months later when an ultrasound revealed we were expecting a healthy girl. I was happy she was healthy but the news brought with it a new dimension of worry. What did I know about girls? 

“Perhaps the father’s most difficult challenge today lies in being able to bond with his daughter,” says author Michael Gurian, in The Wonder of Girls.

I knew this all too well. As “only” a dad, could I compete with a mother’s natural bonding mechanisms? Built during pregnancy, this bond would intensify after birth, especially during breastfeeding. According to the New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding, 2002 American Academy of Pediatrics, “This emotional bond is as vital as the nutritional benefit. Breastfeeding promotes a growing attachment that will continue to play an important role in your baby’s development for years to come.” 

One night as I lay awake my wife stirred as the baby moved and kicked. Instinctively, I placed my hand on her stomach and spoke to my daughter. Amazingly, her restless kicking and moving stopped. That night marked a turning point. I realized that I was far from being “only” the dad. There were things I could do, even at this early stage, to ensure there would be a bond between my daughter and I. It was a huge relief to realize I had only to be myself, love my daughter and the bond would take care of itself.

Bonding myth #1: You’re “only” the dad.

The reality: “A father’s love can make or break a girl,” says Mr. Gurian. A daunting statement made less so when you examine the research. According to Dr. Meg Meeker, author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters;

  • Girls who are close to their fathers exhibit less anxiety.
  • Girls with doting fathers are more assertive.
  • Girls with good fathers are less likely to flaunt themselves to seek male attention.

Myth busting strategy: Spend time with her. The proof of how important dads are is on your daughter’s ecstatic face when you return home after a long day and in her hugs when you tell her you love her.

Bonding myth #2:
You have to be perfect.

The reality: You don’t have to be a perfect parent in order to bond. There’ll be times when your child drives you crazy and it seems like you can’t do anything right. Step back and give yourself some breathing room. Realize this is a small blip in the vast radar screen of your lives together. After all, your parents weren’t perfect and you turned out fine.

Myth busting strategy: The intimidating job of parenting becomes easier once you realize mistakes are inevitable. Once I realized that it freed me to be the best father possible and not be so hard on myself.

Bonding myth #3:
I don’t have enough bonding time. Mom gets to stay home with the baby for months and I only get a couple of weeks. I can’t compete.

The reality: Moms and dads often bond on different timetables. While it’s true that the mother-child bond may be facilitated by breastfeeding and a greater amount of time together, the fact is the father-child bond is no less strong or relevant. Bonding takes effort and time, there’s no magic that speeds the process. 

Myth busting strategy: Don’t try to recreate the relationship your daughter has with mom. Dads bring a particular set of skills to the relationship. By creating daddy time early on, your daughter will recognize your unique gifts and come to love them. Walks and errands are great ways to get time alone and serve the dual purpose of giving mom a much-deserved break. Mundane tasks may seem, well, mundane but changing diapers or wiping her face (and yours) when the food goes flying is invaluable in the bonding process.

As dads, we don’t have mom’s soft touch or graceful finesse. We might not know how to make waffles just so, or soothe a boo-boo in mom’s magical way. Often, when we’re out with our daughters, socks are mismatched, colors clash and the hair…well let’s just say it’s good that afros are back in style. Still, a father’s love is no less beautiful. As a dad, I know that I am the most important man in my daughter’s life, her first love, guide, and protector. Our daughters need our strength and wisdom to help navigate the long-winding road from the little girl who squeals with delight when you throw her in the air, to the poised, confident woman she will become. If we support and love them unflinchingly, there is nothing our amazing girls cannot accomplish.

The Father Factor Blog


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!

NewYearNewDad banner

1) A Great Dad Stays Focused
When you are at work, remember your goals you identified for what you want to improve in your family this year. By staying focused at work, you can begin to minimize time away from your family. Part of being focused is being in the moment and not being distracted. Determined for yourself that this is the year you keep work at work and when you come home, you keep working! By remembering your goals at home, you will be eager to work on them when you return. 

2) A Great Dad Finds an Ally
Whether it's sharing with your spouse, ex-spouse, or another dad; be intentional about discussing your goals and any progress toward the finish line. By sharing what you want to work on, you can hold each other accountable. 

3) A Great Dad is a Role Model
Pay attention to what you say and how you act around your children, even if you aren't directly talking to them. By being a good role model, you are teaching them how men should act and how they are to take care of their family. For dads with daughters, you are modeling, for good or for ill, how every other man should treat your daughter. 

4) A Great Dad Makes Meals Important
Whether it is breakfast or dinner, sit down to eat at the table with your family and focus on connecting as a family. We know from countless research, but we also know from our own families, that there simply isn't a better time to connect as a family. It's a built-in time if we are intentional and use it as such. 

5) A Great Dad Earns the Right to Be Heard
Take time to listen to your children's ideas and problems. Try to keep from answering questions and allow your kids to open up to you. The more you do this, the more you will learn about your family.

6) A Great Dad is a Teacher
Your child will look to you for guidance and direction. Take some time to teach your children about something you care about, either a topic you are intrested in or something they bring up. Use something from what they are already learning about in school as something you can use to expereince with your child. This will not only form a bond with you and your child, but will also peak your son or daughter's interest in a given subject. For example, as hard as it might be, don't sleep in on Saturday morning, but head to a museum wear you can be a part of making a school textbook come to life.

7) A Great Dad Disciplines with Love
One of a father's most important roles is to discipline his children. Discipline is about teaching and setting reasonable limits. Remind your children that there are consequences for their actions. Remember to affirm their good behavior, too!

What would you add to this list?

We hope you've enjoyed our "New Year, New Dad!" campaign. These are just a few of the tips we'll continue helping you with in the coming year, stay tuned for more tips and tools this year to help you be the best dad you can be in 2013!

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!

Be Thankful

Here are five ideas to get you started:

  1. Get Active: One of the things we often take for granted is our health and ability to engage in physical activity. Being active together as a family is a great way to create a memorable time together. You know you’re going to watch football at some point during the day. You also know you’re going to consume great portions of turkey and dessert. Consider getting outside and throwing the football during commercials or halftime to be little more active this year. You can always take a nap between games later!
  2. Get Creative: I’ve heard of families having their kids make handmade place cards for every person at the table or letting your kids act out a skit to say thanks to those who made the meal. The point here is to get creative and to get the whole family involved. Consider having everyone (parents and kids) draw a picture of the things they're thankful for this year and then post drawings in a high-traffic location. Make it competitive by offering two categories for best drawing awards; one for kids and one for the parents’.
  3. Get Alone: Okay, maybe this step is over-reaching, but if at all possible, try and get a moment to yourself…just to think! Yes, even if it’s only a few minutes, take time to reflect on what is truly important. Seriously consider the question: What do I have to be thankful for this year? If you can make this step happen, you’ll be ready to lead your family from a deeper perspective. Perhaps it’s your family’s tradition to spend a few minutes before or during the Thanksgiving meal to take turns sharing what you are thankful for or to express thanks for a specific person at the table. No matter your tradition, be sure you take time during all the busy schedules to be grateful!
  4. Get REALLY Traditional: There is no need to reinvent the wheel during the holidays. Keep it old school. You can learn a lot from your parents about traditions! What made the holidays special when you were a kid? Consider incorporating those traditions into your family’s list this year. Continuing traditions from the past is a great way to help connect your children with previous traditions that your kids may not have experienced.
  5. Get Your Mind Off Yourself: There’s no greater time than the holidays to consider ways you can serve and help others. Whether you spend time buying gifts or serving food, find a cause or opportunity to serve with your whole family. Serving as a family can make for a very memorable family tradition.

NFI Staff Answers: What Makes a Memorable Thanksgiving?
Now that you have five ideas for how to create meaningful family traditions, take a look at how some NFI staff answered the question, “What makes Thanksgiving memorable to your family?

 “We take out a bit of our furniture and lay 3 long tables end to end to accommodate about 18 people (in my small house). Everyone brings something and it is quite noisy. Before we pray we go around simply to say what we are thankful for. Many feel a little embarrassed to share- but everyone is smiling when done. This year for sure - we will think of my mom and how we will miss not only her, but her cole slaw!”  Ave, program support consultant

“The girls give the turkey a name and then break the wish bone together. Grandfather plays the piano and we sing hymns before sitting down to eat.” Kayla, project specialist

“Each family member has a wooden acorn at their place setting and we pass around a little basket for everyone to put in their acorn as say what they are thankful for. Mom often makes cinnamon rolls for breakfast and then we enjoy the traditional American thanksgiving dinner. Every year my family watches the Dallas Cowboys play football… another American tradition!” Renae, outreach manager

“Watching football. Roasting chestnuts.” Vince, vice president

“Sharing around the table what you are thankful for. Going to see a movie (Bond, this year) then dessert afterward.” Melissa, vice president 

“We like to watch ET after the dinner is finished and everything is put away. Its a good family movie that everyone enjoys.” Connie, senior graphic designer

“Each family member has three kernels of corn at their seat and shares three things he or she is thankful for, putting them into a basket as they share.” Michael, programming director 

“We have dinner, go bowling, come back for dessert, and then play a family game of Pictionary so that members of all ages can play.” Lisa, programming director

You can see by reading our staff traditions that creating memories means a lot of different things to different people! Whether it's the classic American festivities of food, football and movies, or something unique and special to your family, establishing traditions and creating memories are a great way to make the Thanksgiving holiday meaningful for you and your children. The most important part of the holidays is that you spend time together as a family. That's what will make the holidays memorable and special for your kids - time with you!

What traditions make Thanksgiving memorable for your family?  

Thanks DadVisit our "Thanks, Dad!" page for more on how you can connect with your family and other dads just like you! Don't forget to say, "Thanks, Dad!" by recording a video, sharing a picture, or writing a short note on on this blog, Facebook or Twitter @TheFatherFactor. Use the hashtag #ThxDad to tell the world why the dad in your life deserves thanks!

photo credit: rustiqueart

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.

stress face

Stress and its warning signs can take weeks or months to reveal itself. But, you can take steps today to handle stress better.

Here are 14 tips to help you handle stress:

1) Exercise: Oh yes, the "E" word. We said it. Working out increases your strength and stamina. 

2) Eat Right: Stress and diet are closely linked. You know what you should eat. The key is eating it and not settling for unhealthy, fast foods. One Big Mac may not kill you, but a Big Mac every meal? It may be time to consider changing your diet.

3) Get Enough Sleep: Get at least six to eight hours sleep a night. Take naps during the day if you can’t get enough sleep. Even “power naps”—15 to 30 minutes of rest where you close your eyes—help reduce stress.Think you're too good for naps? Winston Churchill took naps. He claimed naps allowed him to get twice as much accomplishment in one day. Churchill said of naps, “Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.”

4) Be Flexible: Be less rigid and competitive. Be more patient. 

5) Get Real: Think about all the “shoulds,” “woulds, “coulds,” and “musts” in your life. Figure out which are worth keeping and which to get rid of.

6) Be Happy: This is easier said than done. Try to look at the good instead of the bad in the world. When you always look for the bad in everything, you develop an unhappy view of people and their actions. Don’t complain about stuff. Our words have power. Note to the complainer, a simple adjustment of our words could be revoluntionary to our happiness. Consider the one-word difference of this sentence: "I have to go to work today." or "I get to go to work today." The difference in this sentence is more than one word, it is a completely different mindset.

7) Laugh and Have Fun: Laugh and have fun with your kids. Laugh and have fun with others and yourself to reduce stress. This is a little different than being happy like number six. Truly developing a sense of humor goes a long way in how you think and see the world, but how others see you. Think about it: who would you rather be around? The complainer or the person who likes to laugh? 

8) Communicate Better: Share your feelings when it’s safe to do so and don’t keep things bottled up inside. Getting problems out in the open, talking about them, and solving them reduces stress. At NFI, we have a principle that flows throughout our organization: Speak the truth with compassion. This changes how we interact with co-workers. Work to create an envirnoment with your co-workers and family that is one of love and respect; we are not talking about blatant disregard of others' feelings here. But we are talking about a true sense of honesty and being about to share what's on your mind, even at work, instead of bottling things up inside to take home to your wife and children. 

9) Get Rid of Clutter: Life can get so busy that it gets out of hand. Make a list of things that need to get done and knock them out. Don’t worry about the small stuff. Leave it alone and focus on what’s most important. Recall the Stephen Covey strategy of "big rocks first." Clean your office, your garage, and anything else that’s messy. Don't wait for someone else to do it. It's your job as dad (I'm repeating this one as I write!)

10) Leave Work at Work: Get away from work and leave it behind. Bringing your work home is a sure way to stress yourself and your family. Keep in mind that you can bring work home in your head as well as your hands. Leave your thoughts of work at the door and focus on your family. Stop your car in your driveway or do something to separate your mind from work before jumping into the house. Home has it's own work. Once you're home, it's time to switch gears and focus on your family.

11) Date your wife: What's the saying? Happy wife, happy life. Well, this holds true for handling stress too. Think about it, if you want to add stress to your life, simply stop communicating and spending time with your wife. 

12) Spend Time with Friends: Friends have a way of making things seem better. They can help you get real and tell you when you’re full of it. If you have a choice to spend a night alone or with friends, choose friends. If you don’t have a lot of friends, be intentional about making some.

13) Volunteer: Helping others is a good way to reduce stress because it builds self-worth. It also has a way of showing us that our lives are not as bad as we think when we help someone in worse shape.

14) Find a Hobby: A hobby can help you get away from life’s pressures and relax. A hobby helps you focus your time and energy on something you really enjoy. Consider prioritizing your hobby based on interaction with family and friends. For instance, one of my hobbies is photography. Some of my most relaxed weekends from work happen when I'm with my family out somewhere simply taking photos of our kids playing. 

Consider these tips today, whether you are stressed out now or not. As a dad, it's not a matter of "if" the stress is coming, but "when!" It's how you handle the stress that will change everything, from yourself to those around you. 

What is one way you handle stress? Share your tips in the comment section below; your comment may help other dads.

This post was excerpted and adapted from NFI's 24/7 Dad resource.

photo credit: Amy McTigue

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.

dad games

The second week we were to give our wives and mother of our children the time and attention she deserves. My wife is expecting our second child. Communicating with mom is very important because she needs to know you love her more than you did the day you met her, especially now that kids are in the picture. So many times, we both forget we were husband and wife before we were mama and daddy.

On our third week, we were challenged to Affirm our Kids. I am an English teacher, so I looked up affirm in the dictionary. I absolutely loved the definitions. The first one was, “state as a fact; assert strongly and publicly.” The second one was, “declare one’s support; uphold or defend.” Did you do that? Better yet, are you doing it now?

Since participating in the Dad Games, I have seen my affection and affirmation toward my son increase exponentially. Just today, we were lying on his bed and looking at his fish. He was on my back with his arms around my neck. He said, “Daddy, I love you,” and then he kissed the top of my head. Pretty sweet indeed.

We need to be sure we are affirming our children. We need to make sure we are expressing our love the way the second definition states…publicly. You can affirm your kids all you want in your own house and that is great and essential. However, doing it in front of people is a big deal to them. Brag on them. I am a school teacher, and bragging on my kids at school in front of other teachers makes their day and puts a smile on their face every time.

The Dad Games also challenged us to balance our family and careers. I think so many times, Daddy is looked at as the provider of the physical needs of the family while mommy provides the emotional needs. That might have been what you remember growing up, but you have to be a chain-breaker. You have just as much influence on your child’s emotional development as mommy does.

As a daddy, balance and communication is essential. Take it from my wife:

  • "I don't ever feel like Maury takes anything out on me because of a bad or good day. I never know if he had a good or bad day unless he tells me. He has a good work ethic, which is bad at times. When he was in retail, he wasn't able to contribute anything at home because of his workload and his need to finish his job. That was one of the reasons he had to leave; he was out of balance as far as home and work. Since becoming a teacher, he is able to compartmentalize and balances family and work a lot better."

I used Bill Cosby’s quote to inspire you. I know being a daddy is intimidating and scary. If you are at least working toward the goal, messing up and learning will be a blast. When Brighton was born, I was scared out of my mind. Now, I am getting scared again with the next one coming. I tell my students one important thing. The only way you will have 100% failure is if you never attempt it in the first place. So, in parenting, dwell on the fact that you have a 50/50 shot of getting it right the first time!.

EmptySchoolChair resized 600

I see many kids in classrooms with absolutely no positive male role model. They have role models, but honestly, they are showing them what not to do. I knew a third grade kid that would come up to me at the end of the day and tell me bye, and stand next to me and then slowly make his way down the hall.

Finally, at the end of the year, he came up to me and said, “I wished I could go home with you.” It broke my heart. If it wasn’t for me, who would he talk to? Most men only concentrate on their world. Don’t be that dad. Consider how you can help other children in the community by being the father figure they may not have. Learn more about being a Double Duty Dad.
This is a guest post by Maury Wood. He and his wife, Karen, have a son and are expecting their second child in March. Maury is an english teacher and enjoys writing in his spare time. You can find Maury on his blog and on Twitter.
photo credit: faungg
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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 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

There are at least two myths that are generally accepted as truth within the community of men. The first is amusing. It’s that fantasy football is real. Look, I know some guys who prepare for the “real” fantasy football season with the determination, focus and secrecy of General Eisenhower planning for D-Day.

The second myth is that men have mastered the art of “compartmentalizing” their emotions so that they don’t affect a guy's performance. Well, if you have been following Tiger Woods play recently, this myth is being dispelled before your eyes. Tiger is indeed in a "rough" and it’s going to take more than his trusty sand wedge to get him out of it. Make no mistake that men are “whole” people and what happens in Vegas never stays there. The consequences always follow you home.

That said, I think that the writer of this article makes some valid points when he suggests that Tiger needs to focus more on straightening out his fathering than trying to hit a straighter and longer shot from off the tee. Ironically, fathering is a lot like hitting a tee shot on the PGA tour. There are no mulligans. You only get one chance to get it right.

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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