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The Father Factor

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When It's Over But It's Not

People Magazine recently reported that the on again/off again engagement of Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston is…well, off again. Bristol asserted firmly in the article that “it’s over.” Apparently, the news that Johnston may have gotten another woman pregnant was the last straw. She said, “Levi was just like, ‘Bristol, there is a possibility that I could be a father of this other baby.’” Through tears she told the People magazine reporter, “The fantasy I had of us three being a family was a game to him. He’s never going to change.” Frankly, I am a bit surprised that Bristol is surprised. He posed nude for Playgirl for goodness sake…

I remember when I first saw Johnston on stage at the Republican National Convention. He looked extremely uncomfortable in his suit, a bit like a little boy someone dressed up for Easter Sunday. Looked to me like he couldn’t wait for the “service” to be over so that he could go and slide in the “mud” in his new suit. When you’re Levi’s age, this is usually a co-ed activity.

Now, I was a bit sympathetic to his plight. I even wrote this article in my Washington Times column to help folks get a better understanding of what I think is going on in a teen father’s head. You see, I have a some experience in this area. When I was about Levi’s age, I got my girlfriend pregnant. But, I married her because I knew instinctively that fatherhood means the death of boyhood. Indeed, the difference between boyhood and manhood is the ability to say “no” to the wrong things and “yes” to the right ones. I have a feeling that Levi has yet to learn this lesson.

And that’s the problem. By the time he does get “schooled” on the fact that his actions have consequences, chances are that Bristol will have built a nearly insurmountable wall of resentment that could make it very difficult for him to see his son. Moreover, his son too may have years of hurt and anger built up because his dad valued “reality TV” more than the reality that he needed to be an involved, responsible and committed father.

Alas, despite Bristol’s firm declaration to the contrary, when you’re a father, it’s never “over.” I have taken more than enough calls from fathers in his situation to know that this is just the beginning. And there is no fantasy about that.

Aniston-O'Reilly Fracas

Ok. I feel obligated to say something about the tiff between Jennifer Aniston and Bill O'Reilly. I hate to acknowledge these sorts of things with a response, but here goes...

If you haven't heard, Aniston was promoting her new film about a woman becoming a single mom, and she said, "Women are realizing more and more that you don’t have to settle, they don’t have to fiddle with a man to have that child."

To this, Bill O'Reilly, on his show, responded that Aniston is "throwing a message out to 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds that, ‘Hey! You don’t need a guy, you don’t need a dad. Daaaaad? Aggghhhh, you know!' That’s destructive to our society! Aniston can hire a battery of people to help her, but she cannot hire a dad, okay?"

To this, Aniston responded, "Of course, the ideal scenario for parenting is obviously two parents of a mature age. Parenting is one of the hardest jobs on earth. And, of course, many women dream of finding Prince Charming (with fatherly instincts), but for those who’ve not yet found their Bill O’Reilly, I’m just glad science has provided a few other options."

Aniston's last response was actually pretty good up until the point she talks about the "other options" that science has provided. Well, guess what? Those "other options" are the ones that intentionally place children in father-absent homes. And that is the problem. Aniston may not need a man, but that does not mean that the child does not need a father. Just look at the data.

So, even though she acknowledges that two parents is best, she tolerates something less than the best for a child? That doesn't really make sense. Should I be confused?

All in all, this is what NFI has to say about the notion that fathers are not necessary. We published this op-ed on CNN.com on Father's Day.

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.

The DC Sniper Story Revisited: Before the "Aftermath"

A few days ago, William Shatner, as part of his new A&E show called Aftermath, interviewed DC sniper, Lee Malvo. I have spoken and written about Malvo frequently over the years because his situation impacted me in several very personal ways.

First, at the time of the shootings, I had just moved from the Philadelphia area—the City of Brotherly Love—to the DC area. Now, Philly, despite the moniker, was no bastion of safety and security but at least we didn’t have to deal with snipers. I remember well that random activities like walking my dog, getting gas and loading groceries in the car became random acts of courage. It was indeed a very scary time that still haunts me a bit today.

Second, they caught Muhammad and Malvo sleeping at a rest stop in Maryland on Route 70. It turns out that this stop is the next exit up from my wife’s office. She is a family practice doctor in a little town called Myersville. It’s a very isolated and rural place and her office is just a “rock throw” from the highway. There’s a little BP gas station across the street from her office where she often fills her tank. You get the point…I have thanked God often that an alert trucker spotted Muhammad and Malvo’s car that October night.

Finally, I remember well the morning that the news reported Muhammad and Malvo had been caught. What especially caught my attention was that they said that the suspects were a 38 year-old man and a 17 year-old boy. I instinctively looked over at my 17 year-old son and thought: What would it take to turn him into someone who would shoot a woman in the face with no remorse? There’s a fatherhood story in here somewhere. Sure enough, a few days later, the Washington Post reported that they had found Lee Malvo’s father who had essentially abandoned him years ago. And the rest, tragically, is history.

In any case, what makes the Malvo story “news” now is that a celebrity is interviewing him and that he has suggested that there were supposed to be other snipers involved. That’s fine. But what makes this story important for me is what made it important years ago. Malvo’s story is less about crime than about how crime is connected to father absence.

“He was a kid who was brainwashed. He was a malleable teenager and lacking love in his life," Shatner said. "John Muhammad supplies the love and influences him to become a killer, and he becomes a coldblooded killer at the age of 17.”

Shatner’s statement is on point but it’s incomplete. Malvo had a mom who seemed to care about him but what he didn’t have was a loving father. Indeed, Muhammad did more than “supply” love. He became the father that Malvo longed for much of his young life. Of note, psychiatrist Diane Schetky, who served as an expert witness for the defense at Malvo's 2003 trial, quoted him as saying of Muhammad, “Anything he asked me to do I'd do. He knew I didn't have a father. He knew my weaknesses and what was missing.”

I often talk about “what was missing” in a child’s life—it’s a hole in a kid’s soul in the shape of his dad. Unfortunately, still today, Malvo shares a potential “weakness” with millions of other kids who are more at-risk to become prey for the many “Muhammads” of this world. However, these guys don’t always come as sniper trainers but rather as gang leaders, pimps and drug dealers who encourage children to sell their bodies and their souls.

It’s worth noting that a disproportionate number of Malvo’s fellow inmates tend to grow up in father absent homes. Despite this fact, we have done too little to address father absence in our nation. Indeed, most of the fatherhood programs that are committed to addressing this issue are grossly underfunded. I know that in NFI’s case, despite that great work that we have been doing to educate and inspire dads and the many testimonials from fathers, mothers and, even kids about the good work we do, it is a daily challenge to raise the needed funds for our important work. But, we press on because the stakes are high and we don’t have a fatherless kid to spare.

I suspect that Shatner’s Aftermath show will do well. Sadly, it seems that time and again we are more interested in the entertainment of the “aftermath” than what needs to be done beforehand to prevent it.

Despicable Me: From Super Bad to Super Dad

It is no secret that movies, TV shows and media today often take a swing at fatherhood. Our President, Roland Warren, posted about this issue around Father’s Day when he struggled to find a Father’s Day card that did something other than portray Dad as ignorant or detached. The release of "Despicable Me" however, brings attention to a both humorous and heartwarming side of fatherhood: transformation.

The ultimate super villain, Gru (voice by Steve Carrell), adopts three orphans and, throughout the movie, transforms from super villain to super dad. Though his intentions for adopting the three girls is undoubtedly despicable, the consequences are both emotional and edifying as Gru slowly transforms from “Super Bad to Super Dad."

A recent article in USA Today discussed NFI’s InsideOut Dad program and the positive, transformative effect of reconnecting incarcerated fathers with their children. Children statistically benefit by having a relationship with their father, but as every father, parent and child knows, fathers benefit as well.

We at NFI will be cheering for more movies like "Despicable Me" and pushing for a greater focus on these heartwarming and realistic effects of fatherhood in media portrayals of fatherhood. Check out the movie trailer:

Going "Gaga" about Sex

I came across this interesting article about Lady Gaga’s pledge to be celibate and, although I am not supportive of everything that is Lady Gaga, I have to applaud her courage to take a public stand on such a controversial topic.

Interestingly, not only has she chosen this lifestyle for herself but she is also encouraging her fans to do so as well. In a recent interview she said, “So it's OK not to have sex, it's OK to get to know people. I'm celibate, celibacy's fine." Wow.

And, Lady Gaga is not the only “sex symbol” that is speaking out about a “better way” in our oversexed culture. Check out what Rachel Welch recently said during an interview about her new tell-all book, “Beyond the Cleavage”:

“Sex is being held up for the new generation as the be all and end all. It's supposed to be an expression of your regard for someone. It's in our faces every waking minute. We worship sex, but for most people it doesn't take that long. It has its place, but it's just too prevalent. I know I sound like a prude, but can't we have cheerleaders that don't do spread eagle and grinding? Britney Spears would remember that she was a lot more happening when she wasn't pushing it. I did some of it myself and at some point it wasn't productive.”


Even some folks on college campuses, which are one of the most active breeding grounds for the “hook up” culture, are getting into the act. For example, a group of students at Princeton University launched an organization called “The Anscombe Society” that is lobbying the university to establish a Center for Abstinence and Chastity to better support students who chose to “buck the trend” and be celibate.

Given the growth that we have seen in recent years in STIs, unplanned pregnancies and father absence, this vocal support is none to soon. But it seems to me that there is something else going on here. Indeed, Lady Gaga, Welsh and these Princeton undergraduates are remembering a lesson that many in our culture have long, and conveniently, forgotten. Specifically, sex is not just a physical act but it is also imbued with emotional, relational and spiritual aspects as well. And, physical and pharmaceutical barriers, while they may prevent pregnancy, etc., they don’t protect one’s heart, emotions and soul like chastity can. I think Lady Gaga said it best when she exclaimed, “Even Lady Gaga can be celibate…you don’t have to have sex to be loved.” Words both accurate and worth going “gaga” over…

Tiger and Nike...Really?

So while we're on the theme of of father-friendly or father-focused ads, Nike released a new Tiger Woods ad yesterday, featuring the voice of his late father, Earl Woods. Here are the pearls of fatherly wisdom that he shares during this commercial (in which Tiger is eerily still and silent):

Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion, I want to find out what your thinking was, I want to find out what your feelings are, and did you learn anything?

Oh, there are so many things we could say here - and many of those things are already being said. It's too soon, it's poor taste, it's ill-conceived, it's creepy. Not to mention the fact that who knows what Earl (with transgressions of his own) would say to Tiger.

You know what is interesting here? It's still all about Tiger. Flash back to his press conference a few months ago:

I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself.

And now an out-of-context quote from his late father asks to know what Tiger has learned and what Tiger is thinking? Has Tiger asked the same of his children? His wife?

No, I'm not saying I want an ad with Tiger and his family and no I don't think they should be followed around paparazzi-style as they work through these issues. But, Tiger's "indefinite leave" to focus on his marriage and family and recover from what would appear to be a pervasive, rampant sex addiction has not even lasted six months.

No one can know if Tiger's heart has changed or how his family is healing...but I have a hard time believing that everyone is already well on the road to recovery and ready for tournaments and ad campaigns...even ad campaigns that are selling shame and penitence.

Clearly, Nike has accomplished what it wanted/needed to. We're all taking about this ad...linking to it...blogging about it. Tiger and Nike are back in the spotlight, but who knows where his family will end up?

Team Apolo

P&G may be saying "Thanks Mom," but for Apolo Ohno, its his dad that has been there every step of the way. In fact, Team Apolo is a team of two: it's what the Olympic champion and his dad, Yuki, call themselves.

Like any parent of an Olympic athlete (and all parents on some level), Yuki Ohno has sacrificed so much to see his son succeed and is always present in the stands cheering him on every step of the way. Yuki is a great inspiration for dads everywhere - especially single dads. As this Good Morning America feature will tell you, things weren't always easy for Apolo and his father. But Yuki was committed and dedicated, and he inspired Apolo to achieve.

This father and son team have achieved Olympic greatness seven times and as short track wraps up this week, we're sure to see more pride beaming from Yuki's face.

Check out this ad where Apolo talks more about the inspiration and support his dad is for him:

Celebrity Dads Getting It Right

All too often we hear about famous dads who don't get it right. Lately, our news feeds have been buzzing with great celeb dads. And here is an interesting common thread: they all say their kids have made them more successful.

Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters frontman): It's changed everything that I do. When you have kids, you see life through different eyes. You feel love more deeply and are maybe a little more compassionate. It's inevitable that that would make its way into your songwriting.

Keith Urban (country music star): He thanked his little girl when he won his grammy. On being a father, he says, "It’s stretched my heart, is what it’s done."

Roger Federer (tennis prodigy): Upon winning his 15th grand slam in the Australian Open this week, Federer puts it all in perspective: "There is not only tennis...having kids and being a father now and being married enhances everything...It just makes me extremely happy, extremely relaxed and it allows me to play good tennis, and I couldn't ask for more."

Do you feel like your kids have enhanced your success? How have they changed you?

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!

French Laundry Father

Today's New York Times carries the poignant story of father absence and reconciliation. Noted French Laundry chef Thomas Keller was only five years old when his father left his family. Years later father Ed and son Thomas started a relationship that had been basically nonexistent.

When the elder Keller had a serious car accident that left him paralyzed, Thomas Keller and longtime companion Laura Cunningham embarked on a year of care giving alongside their busy lives as food industry celebrities and authors. The impact of that renewed relationship had remarkable effects on Keller's professional and personal life. I'd recommend reading the entire story, but I found this quote about Thomas and his father's reconciliation quite vivid:

"It turns out that genetics do matter. Thomas Keller discovered that he was like his father in many ways, not the least of which was his height. The two shared a strong sense of economy, an appreciation of routine and the understanding of how powerful teamwork can be..."

Jon and Kate Plus 8 Minus Jon = ?

Oh my. Where do we even start with this one?

How about with TLC, which, by the way, stands for The Learning Channel.

So what exactly what are we learning from the Jon and Kate saga? More importantly, what are the eight Gosselin children learing?

This week, Jon was cut from the show and now he is refusing to let film crews on to the property that he and Kate still share.

Well, I suppose TLC has reminded us of the time-tested truth that selfish pursuits like fame and money - pursuits that tempt all of us - can easily tear our families apart. If there is anything we can learn about the Jon and Kate saga, it's to reassess our priorities. Hopefully Jon and Kate will have the opportunity to do just that now that the cameras are off, and, while the Gosselin kids may have to give up exciting trips and photo-ops, they'll have the dad and mom they need.

Out of the Spotlight but Back into Real Life

The Washington Post recently profiled Kenny Anderson, former NBA star and also father of seven children. The millions of dollars from basketball paydays didn't stretch quite as far as child support payments and Anderson's formerly lavish lifestyle. But on the other side of a finished NBA career and bankruptcy, Kenny Anderson seems to have grasped the really important things:

"Anderson says nothing woke him up to the realities of his new, post-basketball life quite like seeking custody of Kenny four years ago, just as his own career wound down.

"That was the turning point in my life," he says. "He was a big savior. He changed me. I'd never had custody of any of my kids. I was like: 'All right, I got my son. This is real here. I gotta teach him how to be a man, how to be better than me.' Every time I look at him, I look at stability."

Good Player. Great Father. Take Two...

Following on the heels of the Brodrick Smith story, Tennessean.com reports that Vince Young stepped in to be dad to Trenton and Tyler, the two younger sons of the late Steve McNair. The boys' school hosted a Dear Dads event, and Young surprised Trenton and Tyler by showing up and having breakfast with them.

"Those are my boys," Young told the Tennessean. "I wouldn't say it was to pay anyone back; it was just out of love. Steve would do it for me. He pretty much did it for me when I was growing up. I have a history with the boys and I want to do anything I can. I am their big brother."

The one thing that seems absolutely clear here is that Trenton and Tyler need a father, and Young is willing to make the sacrifices necessary for the boys to have that. We need more dads (and father figures) like Vince Youngs, and not just for children whose fathers have been forcibly removed from their life by violence, but also for those children whose fathers are unable or unwilling to be involved. In any case, kudos to Young - for great performance on and off the field.

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