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Is Your Child a Match or a Torch?

match 0009 resized 600My son was sitting in his car seat as we drove home from day care at the end of a long day. He was holding his lunch bag in his hand. He always has to have something in this hand… Then, something about the lunch bag suddenly annoyed him, so he frantically threw it down, it landed on his legs, and he kicked vigorously to make sure it ended up on the floor of the car. Then he was quiet. We listened to music in silence for the rest of the 15-minute drive home.

This happens a lot with Little Vinny. He is a bundle of emotions, needing only the slightest prompt for him to erupt into an emotional – happy, sad, angry, annoyed – storm for the next… 5 seconds.

Yes, it is true. My son has the shortest emotional outbursts I have ever seen in a human being. He is a “match.” Doesn’t take much to light it, it burns bright and hot for a few seconds, and then it is out, with little sign that anything ever happened.

I have only had one two-year-old son in my life, and I have never spent more than a few minutes with any other two-year-old, so I am certainly not an expert on toddler temperaments. But my guess is that there are lots of two-year-olds like mine.

But I have also heard stories of two-year-olds who are not matches, but “torches.” They are not set off too easily, but when they are, they burn for a long time. They stew and fuss and are moody and unbearable for minutes or hours.

I am not sure what is “better,” a match or a torch. The good thing about my son is that he rarely is in a bad mood for more than a few minutes. But he can go from being in a good mood to a bad mood so quickly and for the silliest reasons. On the other hand, he can go from bad mood to good mood quickly, too.6910flaming torch

A torch on the other hand would be “easier” in that his or her moods would be more stable. No emotional roller coasters from minute to minute. “Oh, Johnny is in a good mood today. Great.” At our house, it’s, “Vinny is in a good mood right now. Great.” But with torches, I would imagine it could be stressful to know that your child is in “one of his moods” that may last for hours. We never have that problem with Vinny.

What is your child – a match or a torch? What do you think is easier to handle for parents?

Building Together with LEGO

If you haven’t seen them yet, you have to watch LEGO’s most recent TV commercials. They really sell the father-son connections that can be made through “building together" with LEGO products.

For me, these commercials strike several chords! First, I have always been a huge Star Wars fan (although the prequels have soured things a bit… or a lot…). Second, I loved playing with LEGOs when I was a kid.

And finally, I am a dad now, and my son is just starting to reach the age (he is 23 months old) where he is interested in LEGOs. My parents got him the Duplo LEGOs, which are larger than regular LEGOs so that younger kids (and less dextrous fingers!) can play with them.

My son -- Little Vinny as we call him -- calls his Duplos his “bocks;” he can’t quite get the "L" sound right, but he is close enough. He often walks up to me holding out his “bocks,” and we work together to piece a few of them together. He will then carry our little creation around the house with him for hours.

We haven’t actually built any recognizable objects yet, but we are building something much more important (and I think this is LEGO's point) – we are building a bond with each other that will be stronger than any physical structure we will come up with.

But don’t get me wrong – I am looking forward to the day when we get the Star Wars LEGO sets and build an awesome TIE Fighter or Death Star together. Then, we will rule the galaxy as father and son! (only Star Wars fans will get that reference)

If you have any great LEGO stories, share them with us here or on our Facebook page; photos of what you built together would be even better! In the meantime, go "build together" with your kids!

Vinny on the Rocks

In keeping with NFI’s July theme of hitting the Great Outdoors, I hit the Mediocre Outdoors with my 18-month-old son last week. We went into my backyard.

Being the thoughtful father that I am, I actually had a real goal in taking Little Vinny back there. It was a nice day out, he had been watching an Elmo video for a while, and I figured he needed some “free play” in the “fresh air” in order to develop properly.

So, there we were in my fairly large, fairly green backyard, and I just let him go to see what he would do. I had visions of him scurrying across the grass, wind blowing through his hair, giggling at the sheer joy of experiencing the wonders of suburban nature.

In addition, there was a dog in the backyard (his name is Junior and he is our dog), there were toys on the lawn, and the property has a few shaded corners under tall pine trees. Lots of great places for a curious kid to explore. This was going to be Great (or at least Mediocre).

Instead, Little Vinny decided to head right for the ugliest, most dangerous place in the entire yard – a small pile of sharp rocks underneath the deck.

This pile of rocks comes complete with a rusty iron rod sticking straight up out of the ground, whose purpose I have yet to determine in nearly three years of living in this house. There is also the rusty outdoor faucet sticking out of the concrete wall. And last but not least is the scramble of electrical wires populating said concrete wall. It would have been disastrous had he pulled on one of these dangerous, live wires – I would have lost my DirecTV service. But I digress.

So this is where my child decided he wanted to play.

My first instinct was to pick him up and move him into the middle of the lawn. I did this. He promptly turned around and returned to the dangerous pit in the darkness of the deck’s shade.

Then he started picking up the sharp rocks and throwing them. Some of them were hitting the concrete wall and bouncing back in his direction, missing his bare (chunky, adorable) legs by inches.

Then he started walking around the perimeter of his private quarry with one of the larger rocks in hand. I pictured him opening his fragile little hand, revealing a deep, bloody gash across his palm, smiling sinisterly at me and asking me to perform some tribal rite. Although that didn’t happen, I continued to operate under the illusion that he just hadn’t yet noticed the big, beautiful backyard.

So, I once again picked him up and placed him in the middle of the grassy yard. The sun was shining in his light brown curls. There was a glimmer of hope. I even recruited the dog into my effort to make the grassy part of the lawn fun. I did this by pointing at the dog and then pointing at Vinny. The dog looked at me stupidly. As I contemplated his dumb look, Vinny returned to his pit.

At this point, I gave up.

But after a few moments of reflection, a peace came over me. I reminded myself that if I was really interested in him exploring and having free play, then I would have to deal with whatever it was he decided to do. I saw that he probably liked walking on the rocks because it was a very different surface than what he is used to – uneven, a little shaky, and the rocks made neat sounds as they scraped together under his feet. He also likes to touch things, and the rocks would actually be sort of interesting from a toddler’s point of view. They were black, cold, and fit perfectly in his eager hand.

He was happy. So, I decided to be happy, too. I just sat back and watched him start his mining career. “So, this is what it is like experiencing the great outdoors with your child,” I thought to myself. As I thought this profound thought to myself, I also said, “Myself, are those mosquitos biting you?” I then came to a sudden realization that my legs were an itchy mess. I was getting killed by mosquitoes, so I decided to cut our excursion short and take Vinny back inside.

When I picked him up, he still held one of his rocks in his hand. I made him put it down on the deck before we went inside, and it is still lying there, a week later, as a reminder.

A reminder of my wonderful time in the backyard with my son?

No, a reminder that, for unknown reasons, I have a pile of sharp rocks under my deck! Why are those even there?! While I look into this, I wish you many grand adventures in your little piece of the outdoors, wherever, or however dangerous, it may be.

Losing Grandpa

Two weeks ago, my father-in-law passed away unexpectedly from heart failure. My wife is terribly saddened by the loss of her dad, who was only 52 years old. I am certainly sad in my own right, as I will miss my father-in-law. But much of my sadness stems from how his passing will affect other people, especially my wife and our son.

My father-in-law, who went by Meco (his real name was Arquímedes), was a very loving and fun-loving man. My wife, Claudia, has been telling me how his childhood was not all that great because his parents were not very affectionate people – they did not show their children much love. So, my father-in-law decided that when he had children, he was going to be different than his own parents. He was going to make sure his kids knew every day how much he loved them.

He made good on that promise - he used to call my wife nearly every day just to see how she was doing, and he would always ask about everyone else – me, our son, my parents, even my dog. My wife has told me several times since his passing how much she misses his hugs and kisses and him simply saying, “I love you” to her.

Meco was also the kind of guy who never said “no” to anyone who needed help. In fact, his immediate family would often get frustrated that he spent so much of his time, energy, and even money lending a helping hand (or two, or three!) to friends and extended family in need.

It was easy to predict that a man with so much zest for life and love of family would also be a very proud grandfather. He would often joke with my wife when she was only in her early 20’s that she was “getting old” and needed to give him grandkids soon. To say the least, he was elated when our son, Vinny, was born last January. Other than my wife and me, he was the first family member to hold our son. The pictures we have of him on that day are priceless; he was on cloud 9.

In fact, only 4 days before he went into the hospital (6 days before he died), Meco took Vinny on a long walk – just him and his grandson. One of my wife’s cousins saw him across the street from his house, walking Vinny in his stroller. He asked him, “What are you doing by yourself out here with Vinny?” Meco replied, “I just wanted to spend some time with him.”

This is what causes me the most sadness when I think about Meco’s passing – that my son will not get to know his mommy’s daddy. It breaks my heart to think of all of the wonderful times that they won’t get to spend together. I know they would have had so much fun (and made a lot of trouble!).

But my wife and I will do everything we can to make sure Vinny knows what kind of guy his abuelo (Spanish for grandfather) was. That he was a man who truly loved his family and lived his life for them.

And I will be proud to tell my son one day that one of the last things your abuelo did while he was still with us was to take you for a nice, long walk because... well, he just wanted to spend some time with you.

Vinny with his grandpa, Meco

Rear-Facing Blues

As many of you may already have heard, the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued new guidelines on car seats. The new guidelines state that a toddler should be in a rear-facing car seat until they are two-years-old or they outgrow the height or weight limit for the car seat.

Putting the safety issues aside for a moment, that sounds a little extreme to me. By the time my son was 9 months old or so, he was becoming extremely bored facing the nothingness that is the back of the car. He was getting fussy and impatient during just a 15-minute car ride. Can you imagine what would happen with a two-year-old in an even longer car ride? There would be mutiny!

Now that my son (who is 14 months old) faces forward, he has something to look at. He can watch where we are going through the windshield, he can see the back of my head, and he can see out the side windows easier, too. And it is easier for me to see him. I don't have to use that awkward mirror that faces the front of the car.

I understand that rear-facing is safer, but according the the number crunching I have seen, the number of injuries that would have been avoided over the last several years looks like a rounding error, not some huge number.

What do you think? Is this safety tyranny or good policy?

Fathers Are Shoppers, Too

A series of events this past weekend nicely illustrated a “quiet revolution” that is taking place in supermarkets across America. Let's call it the FAST! Movement (Fathers Are Shoppers, Too!).

My wife and I have a 13-month-old son, who, like many 13-month-olds, loves bubbles in his bath. We did not actually have a bubble bath product, so we were using soap and some aggressive sloshing in the water. So, this weekend we decided to buy actual bubble bath.

My wife got to the baby aisle in the grocery store before me, so when I approached her, she already had two bottles of bubble bath in her hand. “Which one should we get?” she asked.

I could not have staged this better myself.

Earlier that week, NFI president Roland Warren and I had a conversation with the real-life guy at Johnson & Johnson who was literally responsible for bringing a baby bubble bath product to the company! As a dad, he knew that bath time was one of those activities that dads often enjoy with their children, and that bubble bath makes it an especially fun time. However, bubble baths can be very harsh, and may even lead to urinary tract infections if used too often. So, he directed J&J to develop a product that is both fun and mild enough for every day use.

Armed with this 'insider' knowledge, I suggested to my wife that we get the J&J brand, given that I had heard directly from the company – I really did! – about how great it is. We found J&J’s pretty, blue bottle of baby bubble bath on the shelf, placed it in the cart, and it is now part of our routine with our little one.

So, what’s the point?

The point is that this small transaction is indicative of what is happening in families all over the country. There is an oft-cited statistic that women make 85% of household purchasing decisions. The problem with this stat is that no one knows where it came from. Furthermore, new data, whose source is actually known, suggests that men have become much more involved in what families buy. Specifically:
  • One-third of men (33%) are the primary shopper in the home
  • 7 in 10 dads disagree that mom does most of the shopping for the kids
  • Dads control purchasing decisions in home electronics, travel, sporting goods, and entertainment options
  • Dads are considerably more likely than moms to be asked for advice on a purchase.*
This data paints a very different, more nuanced picture than the one painted by “women control 85% of household purchase decisions.”

Now, let’s not get carried away. Moms still do quite a bit of shopping – more still than dads do. But the point is that things are changing, they are changing rapidly, and now, more than ever, moms are not making decisions in a vacuum (or about vacuums for that matter!). Even when mom makes the actual purchase, like my wife often does, she makes it in consultation with dad – he is a “key influencer.”

This should make perfect sense. Moms may want to control the purchase decision, but they also want to nurture their families, which involves getting, not ignoring, their input on what she should buy for them.

This presents a huge opportunity for marketers - they can capitalize on the shift in how families make purchases. Even with the new research available, many marketers are acting as though nothing has changed in the last 30 years; thus, they still almost exclusively make their pitches to moms. Why not include dads, too? Companies that can stay ahead of the curve on this (like J&J) could grab significant market share from their competitors who are still stuck in what we feel is an outdated model.

Dads - are you part of the FAST! Movement? Do you do much or most of the shopping in your family?

Editor’s note: NFI can help you figure out how to reach dads – we have been doing it for 17 years. Contact Vince DiCaro at vdicaro@fatherhood.org for more information.

*All research taken from "Marketing to Dads - US - August 2010." Mintel.

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