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11 Tips for Balancing Work & Family from the “Extremely Productive”

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.

Have you ever marveled at the person who seems to get a ton of work done and still has time for family? You know, the person who seems to "have it all.” The person who excels at work and at home and who even has the time to volunteer for their favorite cause.

ways to manage work and family balance work and family productive productivity how-to I’ve often struggled to balance work and family. That’s right. Even those of us dads who have dedicated their careers to family strengthening face the same challenges as any other dad. We have to toe a fine line of hypocrisy. I remember a day in 2007 when my oldest daughter, who was 12 at the time, was struggling emotionally. She was depressed. I returned home after a week-long trip speaking at a conference and training staff of organizations on how to help fathers be better dads. She started to cry after I walked in the door. We went into the backyard and talked for what seemed like a couple of hours. It took a while, but she finally revealed the source of her pain. It was me. I was traveling too much, and she missed me.  

One of the consequences of being an involved dad is that when you’re not around as often, your children miss you. This was a time when I traveled a lot speaking at conferences and training facilitators on our programs and on how to build capacity to effectively serve fathers. I knew that it was hard on my children and my wife, but I didn’t know just how hard it was.

Fortunately, my daughter had the courage to tell me that I needed to be home more, and I listened. I asked her what she thought was a reasonable amount of time for me to be gone. I negotiated for a maximum number of travel days each month based on her input.  

I’m known for being productive. Some people even tell me that I’m “extremely” productive. (I can only hope I’m just as effective.) I rise by 4:30 AM on the weekdays, work out for an hour to an hour and a half, start work by 6:00 AM, and usually get in a 10-hour day. That schedule allows me to care for myself, get a lot of work done, and still have time for family. I’m fortunate in that I work from home. I don’t have to struggle with long commutes that sap personal and family time. The biggest factor, however, in my ability to balance work and family is a flexible employer.  

Working for a flexible employer is one of many tips for balancing work and family offered by Robert C. Pozen in Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours. (Pozen is one of those people who is an answer to the question I posed at the start of this post. I pale in comparison.)

Here are 11 tips for balancing work and family, a combination of those offered by Pozen and offered in NFI’s 24/7 Dad™ program.  

    1. Look for employers that provide flexibility on when and where you work, and that offer paid leave for childbirth and other life events.
    2. Commit every day to leaving work early enough to have dinner or spend time with your family.
    3. Be assertive to obtain more flexibility. Assure your boss that you will get work done even if you take an hour out of the day to take your child to the doctor.
    4. Show your family commitment at work by displaying things like family photos and your children’s artwork. These displays will show your co-workers and boss that you’re committed to family.
    5. Make career decisions as a family. When you have an opportunity to change jobs or move laterally or up in your company or organization, talk with mom and your children (if your children are old enough) about the new commitments that will come with the opportunity, especially if those commitments will affect family time.
    6. Keep family commitments as sacred as work commitments—even more so. Avoid missing a family commitment because something comes up at work. The more often you keep your family commitments, the more likely your co-workers and your boss will be to respect them.
    7. If you and mom both work outside the home and can’t reduce your office hours (e.g. to spend more time with the children), look to friends and family to help out (e.g. watch the children when they come home from school).
    8. When you are with your family, avoid all but the most critical interruptions from work. Most work issues can wait until the next day.
    9. If you must bring work home, create a separate time and place to do the work. Your mind needs to move from you as a professional to you as a family member.
    10. Create a daily block of time for family called “family prime time.” Turn off your mobile devices, computers, and keep work off-limits during this time.
    11. Create and sign a “family contract.” Have your children and mom sign it, too. Put in writing that you’ll balance success at work with success at home. Read this contract at the start of every week to remind you of your commitment.
image: iStockPhoto

Parenting for the Next Century

The following is a post by Preston Parrish. Preston is the author “Finding Hope in Times of Grief,”  which he and his wife, Glenda, wrote following the 2006 deaths of his father and their 25 year-old son in the same week. He and Glenda have four children, four grandchildren and live in Charlotte, North Carolina. Follow Preston on Twitter and Facebook. Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

My wife Glenda and I dated in high school, married in college, and are now approaching our 40th wedding anniversary. God blessed us with four children, born in three different decades, with 18 and a half years between the first and the last.  

SymolicTreeParentingforNextCentury080513In the year 2000, I tried to convince Glenda to have another child, which would surely have put us in the Guinness Book of World Records for having children in four decades, two centuries and two millennia—but for some reason she just never got excited about going for that goal!  

As our youngest headed off to college last year, we calculated that we had been raising children in our home for over 37 straight years. “No wonder we’re tired!” we said.  

Having this somewhat unique, longer-term vantage point on childrearing in our society has put us in the position to see the progressive changes—and the deepening challenges—in families generally, and with fathers specifically. At this stage, though our children are grown, we now have four grandchildren whose future growth to personal maturity and wholesome family relations is of utmost concern to us.  

Increasingly, we see that the examples and nurture they need will not “just happen” for them. Rather, unless we and others who care about healthy families are intentional…purposeful…strategically active, these kids’ growing-up years will indeed pass, but likely not with the desired outcome. So to that end, and even after raising four kids of our own, we are now trying to take steps on a regular basis that, over the course of the coming years, can impact these precious children in our family.  

These include (but aren’t limited to):  

  • Praying daily for them—for help in the affairs of their young lives
  • “Hanging” with them as we’re able, just to be together but also to model how routine family time can look and feel
  • Taking them individually for special times and activities personalized to their particular interests
  • Sharing with them wholesome stories (for us it's Scripture) and songs to fill their minds and hearts with good “food” to grow on
  • Carefully selecting what entertainment they view, and engaging in it with them to help interpret its lessons
  • Attempting to consistently model for them kind, loving speech and behavior, as well as steady, reliable integrity, character and truth
  • Noting and complimenting their own “baby steps” of accomplishments and growth.  

Now, none of these steps in themselves may seem all that new or unusual. But what our long years of experience have shown us is that, in today’s American society, we can no longer take for granted that the majority of children, including the young ones in our own lives, will “get” the benefit of these positive influences automatically.  

As a father and now a grandfather, I see more than ever that I cannot default to the assumption that the females in their lives—their mother, grandmothers, and aunts—are the only ones who should “deliver these goods” to them. They should, and they do. But there is no substitute for males—fathers, grandfathers, and uncles—who accept the responsibility for doing the best they can to nurture and shape the young ones who are watching them. This is why NFI created Double Duty Dad, to call on men to step into the lives of fatherless children. NFI's Double Duty Dad™ Guide will equip you to invest in a child or another father's life.

About one-third of kids now don’t have the benefit of their biological father’s daily presence in their home. And even among those that do, it’s all too common for them to grow up with a father who is distant, distracted, self-absorbed, and emotionally dysfunctional. Let’s each of us make our children the ones who see something different, something better, something time-honored…something that can last for decades, centuries and millennia to come!

What's one thing you hope to pass down to your children and/or grandchildren?

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image credit: istockphoto

Why Do People Continue to Believe Children Don’t Need Fathers?

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

i <3 You

I continue to struggle with the fact that so many people in our country deny that fathers play a distinct, irreplaceable role in children’s lives. Despite reams of data to the contrary, people believe that fathers are replaceable—that they simply fulfill a role that any man or any woman can fulfill. Indeed, National Fatherhood Initiative’s Pop’s Culture and Mama Says surveys reveal that a majority of American men and women, respectively, believe that another man or a woman can replace a child’s father. The resulting conclusion that a majority of Americans have reached is that dads are dispensable. As W. Brad Wilcox pointed out in a recent article in The Atlantic, many scholars and writers have come to the same conclusion, which gives further credence to a view that is refuted by decades of research.  

Then why does this belief persist? Wilcox, who directs the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, says that it “has a lot of intuitive appeal in an era where millions of women have children outside of marriage, serve as breadwinner moms to their families, or are raising children on their own.” He goes on to point out that this belief ignores not only the evidence that fathers are indispensable, it also ignores the evidence that fathers parent differently than mothers and that the difference is good for children. In Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives, a new book that Wilcox co-edited, he covers four distinct ways in which fathers parent, each of which are supported by substantial evidence:  

  • Physical (“roughhouse”) play characterized by arousal, excitement, and predictability,
  • Encouraging risk through embracing challenges and encouraging independence,
  • Protection of children through physical size, strength, and “public presence” (a deterrent to would-be predators), and
  • More frequent and firmer discipline.

Moreover, Wilcox notes that these distinct forms of parenting lead to positive outcomes for children that are also supported by research. Children with involved fathers are, for example, less likely to engage in delinquent behavior and become pregnant (or get someone pregnant) as teens.  

While I agree with Wilcox’s assertion for the persistence of the belief that fathers are indispensable, we have to dig deeper to further understand why so many people ignore the evidence and, frankly, the common sense that fathers are not replaceable. Two additional reasons, one cultural and the other psychological, contribute to this ignorance.  

First, American culture is individualistic rather than collectivistic. It is marked by rugged individualism, the belief that individuals can overcome almost any challenge and rise to greatness, and that people should focus on improving their own lives rather than improving society if doing so comes at their own expense. Our constitution and laws are primarily designed to protect and give freedom to individuals. The fact that our culture focuses on the individual does not mean that Americans don’t come together and sacrifice their interests for each other or the common good (e.g. to defend our country against invaders). But when push comes to shove, the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.  

As a result of living in such a culture, Americans tend to ignore population-based evidence. A body of evidence is necessarily population-based because it considers the impact of an issue on a large group of people to reach conclusions about the impact of an issue on the broader population, country, culture, etc. That’s the problem. It’s not a problem with the evidence—it’s clear. The problem is that we live in a culture that makes it difficult for people to accept even a large body of evidence, not to mention act on it. People rely instead on their own experiences (and, sometimes, those of family or friends) to draw broad conclusions about a variety of issues, not just this one. If their experiences don’t match up with the evidence, they simply ignore it and erroneously conclude that their experiences also apply to our society. They might also use “outliers” (exceptions) to ignore the evidence. If they are a child from a father-absent home and turned out fine, raised a child in a father-absent home who turned out fine, or know of someone from a father-absent home who turned out fine, then, clearly, fathers must not be important.  

Second, people are drawn to sources of information that confirm what they already believe and ignore information that doesn’t fit with how they see the world. Psychologists call this tendency “confirmation bias.” As Chip and Dan Health mention in their book Decisive, confirmation bias negatively affects decision-making. “Researchers have found this result again and again. When people have the opportunity to collect information from the world, they are more likely to select information that supports their preexisiting attitudes, beliefs, and actions…The tricky thing about the confirmation bias is that it can look very scientific.” The effects of confirmation bias increase with the emotional nature of the issue—the more emotionally-charged an issue is the more likely someone will experience this bias. When people search for evidence that supports the belief that fathers are irreplaceable, they seek out sources that support this belief, which further concretizes it in their minds. They become even harder to convince, especially because this issue is so emotionally-charged.  

National Fatherhood Initiative started nearly 20 years ago because its founders recognized and acted upon population-based evidence—evidence that has only continued to accumulate. We continue, and write blog posts like this one, because so many people ignore this evidence. Frankly, I wish this country didn’t need our organization. But we will continue as long as it does and, most importantly, as long as there are children who need their dads. 

image: http://flic.kr/p/4zvfEj

Building a Better Dad—Should We Start Earlier?

The following is a post from Tim Wright. Tim is Pastor at Community of Grace and author of Searching for Tom Sawyer: How Parents and Congregations Can Stop the Exodus of Boys from Church. A version of this post originally appeared in Huffington Post. Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

These are interesting days to be a dad. On the one hand, research overwhelmingly tells us that dads play an essential role in the lives of their sons and daughters. On the other hand, certain voices in culture not only question the necessity of a dad, but insist that dads are obsolete. This past Father's Day, CNN featured a debate on this question: Are some kids better off without a dad? (Can you imagine a similar debate about motherhood on Mother's Day?)

medium 8553474140Deadbeat dadsAbsent dads. Father wounds. Dumbed-down TV sitcom dads. The labels are not handsome. But increasingly, they seem to ring true. Too many dads have dropped the fatherhood ball. Perhaps we need to start the process earlier -- in fact, much earlier, when potential dads are still boys.

Much of what a father does or does not do is "built" into him as he grows into manhood. The values he embraces, the parenting he receives and the decisions he makes are the materials of future fatherhood. Denny Coates (Conversations with the Wise Uncle) reminds us that the thinking, reasoning, critical part of the brain develops in kids in their teen years. How they use their brain and what they put into their brain during those years will set the course for the rest of their lives, including parenting.

Sadly, the building process for boys is often counter-productive to equipping them for great manhood, let alone fatherhood:

  • 70% of all D's and F's are given to boys
  • 85% of stimulant addressing drugs prescribed throughout the world are prescribed to US boys
  • Boys have fallen behind girls in virtually every area of education
  • One in three boys is now considered a "heavy" porn user, with the average boy watching nearly two hours of porn every week.
  • Boys spend 13 hours a week playing video games. As a result, boys brains are being digitally rewired in a totally new way to demand change, novelty, excitement, and constant stimulation...That means they are becoming totally out of synch in traditional school classes, which are analog, static, and interactively passive.
  • According to Kathleen Parker, author of Save the Males, young men now in their twenties have never experienced a culture in which men were respected or expected to be gentlemen.
  • One in three U.S. children live without a father.
  • Some 40% of boys will spend at least a part of their growing up years without a dad.

The good news: We can reverse that storyline. In addition to giving men the tools they need to be great dads, we can start building great dads now by training our boys in the art of fatherhood.

Here are a few ways to get started:

Give boys a heroic vision for manhood. A vision built on honor, courage, commitment, sacrifice, love, compassion, forgiveness, wisdom and grace. This happens through mentoring, teaching, correction and rites of passage programs.

Give boys purpose. As we see a boy's emerging gifts and talents, affirm them in him. What he's good at is a powerful clue to his purpose for life. (See Michael Gurian: The Purpose of Boys)

Give boys masculine energy. In their report, Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Labor Markets and EducationThirdway.org looks, in part, at the impact of boys being raised without dads. In addition to listing the often cited downsides for boys without a dad, the authors offer this unique perspective: If children aim to emulate adult roles of their same-sex parent, then girls may increasingly expect to fully support both themselves and their children, whereas, conversely, males may come to anticipate a less central or more transient role. (p. 47). In other words, girls being raised by mom see that raising children and working outside of the home are what women do. Boys raised by moms see no role for the male in the family and more often than not live down to that level. Dads are built by dads. So, the key to building great dads is to surround our boys with great dads -- their own dads and/or other men -- who can model responsibility, love, compassion, and fatherhood to these dads in the making.

Give boys the chance to interact with children. When age-appropriate, give boys the chance to mentor younger children, either by helping out in a church Sunday School class or nursery, or through connecting with local organizations that offer kids clubs.

Imagine a world where deadbeat dads are replaced by life-enhancing dads; where absent dads are replaced by fully-engaged dads and where fathers are no longer the source of deep wounds, but the source of strength, affirmation, love and hope.

The secret to that kind of a dad: Start building him early, when he's still a boy.

Is the answer to creating a better dad 'starting earlier'? Why or why not?

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photo credit: the UMF

6 Summer Reading Tips for You and Your Child

Summer is a great time to slow down and connect with your kids. Stop laughing, I'm serious! You can slow down! Whether it's a vacation or evenings at home, Summer is a great time to connect with your child through reading.

My oldest daughter reads on her own now, so she rarely wants me to read aloud to her. In fact, when I try to read aloud to her, she quickly takes the book and starts reading aloud herself! Realizing how quickly she's growing up, this Summer may be the last one my other daughter (just a little younger) is young enough to need me for reading.

BookSummerReadingMediumPNG-5

I am determined to make the most of reading to my girls this Summer. Hopefully, they will learn how important reading is from watching me. If you read my list and think of something I missed, tell me in the comment section.

"The man who does not read good books is no better than the man who can't." —Mark Twain

Here's my plan for connecting with my kids through reading during the Summer break...

1.  Be the Example.
When your kid sees you reading, he will understand reading is important and fun. The younger your child, the better this works. This doesn't mean you have to be seen walking around the house with an encyclopedia (remember those?). But, be sure you can be found reading the newspaper (remember those?) or a magazine on your iPad. The important thing is to model to your child the importantance of reading.

2. Read Aloud with Your Child.
This probably won't work if you have older kids, but if you have young kids, be sure to red aloud to them. Reading together brings you and your child close and allows for a connection unlike any other. Reading usually opens opportunities for conversation as well. Simply asking questions like, “Why do you think he did that?” or “What else could she have said?” can create meaningful conversation between you and your child. For the older kid, try reading the same book as your teen and seek out ways to talk about the book together. 

3. Make Books Easily Available.
No brainer? Not really. Think about this: Are your child's books on the low self where he can reach them? Simply having books around the house with all kinds of topics may help your child get curious about a topic he wouldn't have otherwise considered. Be sure you have several topics of possible interest around the house, from space and flight to geology and geography. In general, the more pictures the better. Remeber, you're developing curiosity for reading, the books need not be all text!

4. Let Your Child Pick the Book.
Ask your child what her favorite topic is; after discussing it, spend some time together shopping for the best book on that topic. You could search and buy online or simply visit your local library. The point here is to be simple and be together. This doesn't have to cost you anything other than time. And I'm pretty sure you won't regret the time spent!

5. Make Reading a Habit.
Depending on your schedule, the best time to read may be morning, evening or at bed time. Whatever time you pick, try and create a routine over the Summer. If you're child is human, he will probably say, "I'm bored!" over the long Summer days. Try setting a daily time to read so you avoid telling your kids, "Oh, you're bored, read a book!" Let's work to not equate boredom with reading! Evening tends to work at my house. Mornings are busy and at night, well, my kids are wild at night. It's often difficult to get my girls settled down before bed enough to pay attention and read a book. However, Kids love routine, even if they hate it at first, trust me!

6. Connect Books to Life. 
Going camping or to the beach this Summer? Find a book that talks about camping or the ocean and read it a few days before traveling. I promise, the book will come alive to your kid. Then, while on the trip, you can refer back to the book to create more interest in reading and learning.

Try these places for age-specific books and activities related to reading:

What are you and your child reading this Summer?

photo credit: Simon Cocks

(Video) Putting Fatherhood Back in The Picture

Recently on FoxNews Live, Lewis Kostiner and Juan Williams spoke to Jonathan Hunt, host of "On the Hunt", on how men from all walks of life are working to be great fathers, all because of NFI's programming.

If you can't see the video, click here

The interview centered around the book titled, "Choosing Fatherhood: America's Second Chance" which contains photographs from Lewis Kostiner's travels and meeting with 150 fathers from all walks of life in 17 states and 39 cities who had at least one thing in common – they were all working hard to be the best dads they could be.  

Kostiner says he became aware of the national crisis of father absense while attending a luncheon with NFI. He then decided he would take photographs and illustrate how NFI's Programming was helping change the father absence problem in America. 

Juan Williams wrote the introduction to the book and calls father absence, "the human tradegy of our time". He writes in the introduction, "No government can hold a child's hand or read to him at bedtime. No child will ever call a government "daddy". Regardless of a man's job status, or the struggles inherant in every romantic relationship, a child ideally needs two parents."

Juan continues, "we need to be child-focused...let's put the dad back in the picture...that's what Mr. Kostiner's book does."

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Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance

KostinerCover resized 600At NFI, one of the most common questions we get is “So, what do you guys do?” This question often follows a long explanation of what we do. That was a joke…  

But the question is a fair one, because we are not a “direct service” organization that can simply show you our office’s “underwater fathering” workshop. Instead, we enable direct service organizations to work with fathers. Therefore, it is always a bit harder for the public to visualize how we are strengthening fatherhood across the country.  

But thanks to a new book, our job just got a lot easier. It is called Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance, a photography collection (and much more) from renowned photographer Lewis Kostiner.  

In 2007, Kostiner began traveling around the country with NFI staff members to document the stories of real dads who had been through NFI’s programs at community-based organizations around the United States. We would choose a city, find out which community-based organizations in that city were using NFI resources, and then go meet with the dads at their homes, places of work, and with the service providers to capture the images and words that would do justice to their fatherhood journeys.    

When all was said and done, Kostiner had photographed more than 150 fathers from all walks of life in 17 states and 39 cities who had at least one thing in common – they were all working hard to be the best dads they could be.  

The visually stunning book tells their stories, and, as a result, NFI’s story. These are dads who were going through NFI’s 24/7 Dad® curriculum at their local social services agency. They are formerly incarcerated fathers learning how to be great dads through NFI’s InsideOut Dad® program. They are “regular guys” benefiting from community resources that NFI helped create.  

Several prominent figures contributed to the book to round out these compelling stories. The foreword is by journalist Juan Williams, who urges our nation and its leaders to take seriously the need to strengthen fatherhood for the sake of our children. The book also includes an essay by NFI board member Roland Warren, who provides practical steps that dads can take to help themselves and others be the kinds of dads our children deserve. David Travis, Shipra S. Parikh, and Derrick M. Bryan also lend their voices to the book.  

Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance should have come with a box of tissues, as it is hard to keep your eyes dry as you see these dads and hear their voices and their children’s voices. What those voices are telling us -- or, more accurately, screaming to us from the mountaintops -- is that every child needs a great dad.  

But it is one thing for us to tell you that. It is another to look into the eyes of a child and really see that. That is the gift that Choosing Fatherhood gives you.

Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance will make a great addition to your coffee table or, if you work in a community-based setting, your waiting room. It can be purchased here.

 

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My Apology to My Junkyard Dawg Dad

This is a guest post by Larry Elder. He is author of Dear Father, Dear Son now available for order on www.larryelder.com. If you would like to blog for us, email here.

Heard of Tiger Moms? I had a Junkyard Dawg Dad. 

For a very long time, I hated him. His anger. His volatility. His surliness. Today, they’d use the term “emotionally unavailable.” 

Larry Elder

“Dear Father, Dear Son,” my new book, is a 247-page apology to this very special, WWII retired Marine, my father. I knew virtually nothing of his life, and never had a conversation with him, until I was 25.

From the time I was fifteen -- when my father and I had a big, long-time-coming fight -- until ten years later, we did not speak to each other. I wanted nothing to do with this volatile person who, for reasons that escaped me, managed to marry my mother. Our little home, where my two brothers and I slept in the same bedroom, instantly became a place of tension the moment Dad set foot in the front door. Was it supposed to be like this?

After ten years I sat down and talked to the man -- for eight hours. 

Why, I wanted to know, were you so damn angry all the time? Why did you whip the three of us -- my two brothers and me -- so furiously? Did you know that the three of us were scared to death of you? Did know that this fear crossed into hatred? Did you care? Does this even matter to you?

An only child, my father was a black boy born to an illiterate single mom in a rented room in Athens, Georgia. He was a child on the eve of the Great Depression in the Jim Crow South. He did not know his birth date, and used the one arbitrarily written down by a teacher when he started school.

He never met his biological father. His mom raised him with a series of boyfriends, one of whom was a man named Elder. That man never married my dad’s mother. Worse, he was an alcoholic who beat both my dad and his mom. 

One day my dad came home from school and made too much noise for his mother and her then-boyfriend. They all quarreled, his mom siding with the boyfriend. My dad was thrown out of his house at age 13 -- never to return. A year later the Great Depression began.

He dropped out of school and looked for work wherever he could find it. After a series of jobs as a yard boy, shoeshine boy, hotel valet and cook, he finally landed a prestigious job as a Pullman porter, then the largest private employer of blacks in the country. It was as a Pullman porter that Dad first visited California. He thought of it as a less prejudiced place, loved the climate, and made a promise to someday return. 

After Pearl Harbor, he joined the Marines. Why the Marines, I asked? “I liked the uniforms,” he told me, “and they seemed to always go where the action was.” So they made him a cook. 

He trained at Montford Point, the segregated Marine base next to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He was soon put in charge of food services, and became a staff sergeant, stationed on Guam in the south Pacific. 

But when discharged, he could not find work as a cook despite his now-considerable experience. He went to an unemployment office in Chattanooga, Tennessee where he was instructed by a white clerk to walk through the “proper door.” So he goes out into the hall, goes through the “colored only” door to the very same clerk who told him to go through the "proper door.” “Now, how may I help you?” she said.

There has to be better place than here, he thought. Dad left for California.

Restaurants in Los Angeles did not tell him -- as they did in the South -- that he’d not be hired because of his race. Instead, they refused to hire because, as he was told, “You have no references.” 

He worked two full-time jobs as a janitor, and attended night school to get a G.E.D. He averaged less than four-and-a-half hours of sleep for years. Pressure, lack of sleep, “running from job to class,” he told me, makes a man a little grumpy and impatient -- especially when raising three loud boys with a stay-at-home wife. 

He worked so hard, he said, because he never had a father, a secure home and “food in the icebox” to come home to after school. “So,” he said, “I did my best to give you kids what I never had.” He told me that growing up without “a real father in the house” was not a death sentence. If you work hard, and people “see you struggling,” they will help. But it’s up to you to play the cards you are dealt the best way you can. And the best way is through hard work.

Randolph Elder lived to see the completion of this book. He died two months before what we believe would have been his 96th birthday. I got a chance to read “Dear Father, Dear Son” to him. His verdict? “I have no idea,” he laughed, “why anyone would care about my little life.”

They care, Dad. For those born and raised in tough circumstances, you show the path: While we cannot control our circumstances, we are in complete control of our effort.

What would you tell your dad if you could sit down with him like Larry did his father?

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