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The Father Factor

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5 Challenges Faced by Fathers in Responsible Fatherhood Programs

What are the primary challenges of fathers who participate in responsible fatherhood programs? The Fatherhood Research and Practice Network (FRPN) recently released a brief that attempts to answer that question. (I sit on the FRPN's advisory committee.) Answering that question is critical because these challenges may be, as the brief notes, strongly associated with lower levels of father involvement in children's lives and lower quality coparenting relationships.

5 Challenges Faced by Fathers in Responsible Fatherhood Programs

FRPN's Dr. Jay Fagan and Rebecca Kaufman interviewed fathers--from 9 responsible fatherhood programs in 5 cities in the northeast that serve primarily low-income, unmarried, non-residential fathers--about the challenges they face.

The top 5 challenges they mentioned in descending order of frequency were:

  1. Unemployment
  2. Lack of money to buy things for their children
  3. Inability to pay child support
  4. Difficulty keeping a job
  5. Inability to pay bills

The other challenges they mentioned were wide-ranging, from physical health problems to their living situation preventing their children from coming to see them to drug/alcohol use to being accused of abusing/neglecting their children. (The brief includes all of the challenges the fathers mentioned, the frequency with which fathers mentioned them, and the severity of those challenges.)

These challenges underscore one of the most vital pieces of guidance National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) has provided to organizations through the years: the importance of helping fathers meet their most immediate, pressing needs as part of or even before enrolling them in a responsible fatherhood program. Meeting these needs is often the hook that encourages fathers to enroll in a responsible fatherhood program and to maintain their participation rather than learning how to be a better father and parent (e.g. through increased knowledge of child development, child discipline, etc.). Indeed, helping fathers overcome these challenges should be a component of a responsible fatherhood program either through the provision of services (often called "wrap-around services") by the organization running the program or the organization's partners.  

The FRPN's findings are similar to the results of research that I conducted with Dr. Keith Cherry, a long-time colleague and friend, when NFI was part of the National Quality Improvement Center on Non-Resident Fathers and the Child Welfare System (QIC-NRF), a 5-year project (2006-2011) funded by the Children's Bureau in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through a contract with the American Humane Association. That research involved interviews with low-income, non-resident fathers involved in the child welfare system in four communities supplemented by interviews with fatherhood program practitioners who worked with these and other child-welfare involved fathers.

Like the fathers interviewed by the FRPN researchers, the fathers Keith and I interviewed also mentioned financial challenges as their most pressing needs. Our research (published in the journal Protecting Children) also involved delving deeper into the impact of these fathers' challenges on the fathers and their perceptions so that child welfare workers and fatherhood practitioners within and who work with the child welfare system could better understand these fathers and, as a result, work more effectively with them and develop better strategies to encourage enrollment in fatherhood programs offered by child welfare agencies.  

We recorded, transcribed, and conducted an in-depth content analysis of the interviews. We identified the following themes in the lives of these fathers:

  • The financial and emotional devastation caused by their own absence from their children's lives.
  • The belief that they are constantly extorted by the mother of their children with their children being bargaining chips in a constant tug-of-war between them and the mother in which the mother has the upper hand.
  • The loss of control over their lives and hopelessness about the future.
  • The belief that the judicial/court system fosters poor fatherhood.

This deep understanding of these fathers' lives is so critical to effective program delivery. Staff of responsible fatherhood programs must look not only at fathers' needs but how those needs affect fathers. It is those affects that drive fathers' behavior. Indeed, the most successful of the programs we studied during our participation in the QIC-NRF were those seen by fathers to meet fathers' needs and care about fathers' welfare. 

What are you doing to understand and solve the most pressing problems of fathers?

What are you doing to better understand the impact of father absence on the fathers you serve?

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Announcement > Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Requests Comments

The Office of Family Assistance at the U.S. Department of Human Services has asked us to share the following information with you. A new set of Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood performance measures have been proposed. Please review this post to learn more information on how to request the proposed measures as well as more information on how to comment on the proposal.

Screen_Shot_2015-04-07_at_11.13.03_AMThe Proposed Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Performance Measures and Additional Data Collection (Part of the Fatherhood and Marriage Local Evaluation and Cross-site [FaMLE Cross-site] Project) is seeking comments on the proposed set of data that will be collected around future grantee projects/programs.

The FaMLE Cross-site project will answer three main research questions: (1) What strategies did grantees use to design well-conceived programs? (2) What strategies did grantees use to successfully implement well-conceived programs? (3) What were the reported outcomes for participants in the programs? In order to answer these questions, they are considering a new set of data collection activities.

Background > For decades various organizations and agencies have been developing and operating programs to strengthen families through healthy marriage and relationship education and responsible fatherhood programming. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Office of Family Assistance (OFA), has had administrative responsibility for federal funding of such programs since 2006 through the Healthy Marriage (HM) and Responsible Fatherhood (RF) Grant Programs.

The federal government currently collects a set of performance measures from HM and RF grantees. The purpose of this previously approved information collection is to allow OFA and ACF to carry out their responsibilities for program accountability.

Current request > ACF is engaged in a learning agenda to increase their understanding of Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood programs. This means that they incorporate multiple opportunities and options for learning throughout a program's implementation that provide a range of insights and perspectives. These opportunities help programming constantly develop and advance. For example, data provide the opportunity to feed information back to decision-makers and leaders—both those on the ground and those in management—to inform program design, operation, and oversight.

On November 6, 2014, ACF published a Federal Register Notice (79 FR 65973) requesting public comment on a proposed new set of performance measures to be collected by all grantees, beginning with the next round of HMRF grants. These measures will collect standardized information in the following areas:

  • Applicant characteristics;
  • Program operations (including program characteristics and service delivery); and
  • Participant outcomes (will be measured both at initiation of programservices (pre-test) and completion (post-test)).

To learn more and comment on the proposed peformance measures, please see the full article on the Federal Register detailing comment submission guidelines here

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The Federal Funding Process and Engaging Fathers in Corrections/Reentry [Free Webinars]

Here’s the scoop: Back in January, NFI hosted a webinar titled "Responsible Fatherhood: What’s Mom got to Do with It?" (You can access the webinar recording here in case you missed it.) During that webinar, we surveyed participants on other topics of importance to their work, and learned of two highly requested webinars: 

1) Funding fatherhood programs and other related work

2) Working with fathers in corrections and probation/parole

Armed with these requests, NFI went to bat to find experts to partner with us on these topics. We think you’ll agree that we hit a home run with two, valuable (and free!) learning opportunities coming soon in April.

corrections_webinarNational Fatherhood Initiative is proud to offer the following webinars to anyone interested in the federal funding process and working with fathers in corrections and probation/parole. The two don’t necessarily go together - but they can!

On Thursday April 16th from 2pm-3:30pm EST > NFI is proud to present a funding-related webinar hosted by two staff members of Saint Wall Street: the first being a former federal Branch Chief for discretionary grants and the second, a federal grant reviewer, long-experienced with the federal funding agency. The webinar is titled:

The Federal Grant Proposal: Key Insider Perspectives 

Saint Wall Street is a non-profit organization that helps organizations achieve the highest good and the highest return. Saint Wall Street inspires changed behavior within organizations and helps nonprofit board and executive directors become change leaders who understand, communicate, and leverage the market value of their program’s impacts. This is also commonly known as “program return on investment” or PROI.

The timing of this free webinar is key - as millions of dollars in new federal funding for Responsible Fatherhood Opportunities for Reentry and Mobility and New Pathways for Fathers and Families (formerly titled "Responsible Fatherhood: Improving Relationships and Economic Outcomes for Fathers and Families") will be announced in days.

Learning how to submit a proposal that qualifies is imperative, as the federal Grant Process is highly competitive, has a limited amount of money to be awarded, and receives more qualified applications then can be funded. As you may already know, it doesn’t matter how great your program performs, your proposal will be eliminated from eligibility immediately if it fails to meet submission guidelines. The webinar will cover the following:

  • An overview of the federal grant-making process from the key insider perspectives of a former federal Branch Chief for discretionary grants and a federal grant reviewer long-experienced with the funding agency
  • Share common mistakes to avoid as you prepare your application
  • Provide tips on interpreting the funding opportunity announcement, and insight to prove your program investment-worthy. 

This webinar is a MUST for any fatherhood program interested in receiving federal grants – even those working in corrections and probation/parole. Click here to register.


On Thursday April 23rd from 2pm-3:30pm EST > 
NFI Vice President of Program Support Erik Vecere will be joined by Starlene Smith-Wright, Corrections Program Administrator for the Kentucky Department of Corrections to present a webinar titled: 

Corrections and Reentry: Engaging Fathers Inside and Out

The Kentucky Department of Corrections has long been focused on delivering sustainable fatherhood training to incarcerated fathers via NFI’s InsideOut Dad®, as well as partnering with community-based organizations, via the state’s Probation and Parole Division, to deliver NFI’s 24/7 Dad® program to fathers in transitional facilities and other community-based organizations in the re-entry field. Recently, Kentucky revealed exciting data they have collected around success in working with incarcerated fathers, particularly, a reduction in recidivism and improved behavior.

Kentucky’s data and other anecdotal accounts NFI has received over the years shows that lives are being changed in prison (and out) with father-specific programming and engagement. During this webinar, participants will learn the best approaches and resources for working with incarcerated fathers, including using evidence-based strategies like InsideOut Dad®. It will also cover engaging fathers for successful reentry and what works in Probation and Parole. It will also highlight:

  • Current national best practices—especially recent data from the KY DOC that shows fatherhood programming reduces recidivism and improves behavior
  • The data and rationale for reaching fathers pre and post-release
  • Guidance on specific father engagement strategies and tools. 

Anyone working with incarcerated or previously incarcerated fathers will benefit from this learning opportunity. Click here to register.

Federal Funding Webinar > Click here to register today.

Corrections Webinar > Click here to register today.

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Two Stories that Will Warm Your Heart

We receive a lot of phone calls and emails from dads and moms who seek guidance on father involvement and related issues. The vast majority of these calls and emails are associated with the negative effects of father absence. But every once in a while, a dad or mom, and sometimes a child, shares an uplifting story about how a dad stepped up to the plate to be a great dad and the positive impact of that action. Those stories drive our staff to never stop ensuring that as many children as possible experience the love of an involved, responsible, committed father.

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We also stay on the lookout for such uplifting stories that aren't directly shared with us because we know they can motivate individuals and organizations in their work to connect fathers and children. These stories are often shared by the organizations that use our resources, donors, and dads and moms across the country. (Click here for Stories of Impact shared by our organization partners.) Sometimes we find stories during the course of our work to provide the most useful information and resources. 

While conducting some research recently, I learned about StoryCorps, a nonprofit with the following mission:

StoryCorps' mission is to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives. We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations. 

In its more than 10 years of existence, StoryCorps has captured and archived more that 50,000 recordings on an incredible range of topics. Curious, I plugged "fathers" into their search function to see whether I could find stories to use in our work. The result produced a number of recordings that turned up a few gems, two in particular that I hope will uplift you as much as they did me.

The first recording is of a 9-year-old boy, Aidan Sykes, who interviewed his father, Albert, about being a dad. (Albert runs a nonprofit focused on mentoring children. He is not only in a great dad, he has stepped up to help children less fortunate than his own.) Click here to listen.

albert-sykes

The second recording is of Wil Smith telling his now adult daughter, Olivia, what it was like to raise her as a single dad while in college. He recorded the conversation shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, he died just a few months ago. Click here to listen.

wil-smith

We want to share more stories like these. Please let us know if you have one.

Do you have an uplifting story to share? 

Do you have a Story of Impact that resulted from the use of an NFI resource? If so, click here to learn more about how to share it with us.

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One Thing This Billion-Dollar CEO Does Every Week That You Should Too

I often feel inadequate at managing work and family. Sure, I get home at a decent hour each day. But, I have to start early to accomplish this. By evening, I'm tired or still have my mind on work. Then I read a story like this one. This guy sounds like he has managing work and family figured out. Forbes named him, "America’s Most Promising CEO Under 35." He started a company in his mid-20’s that raised $70 million in 2012. By 2014, he was known as "The Guy Who Turned Down $500 Million For His Startup." Now, with a $1 Billion valuation, Ryan Smith, CEO of Qualtrics, can teach us the one thing he does to be successful with work and family. 

One Thing This Billion-Dollar CEO Does Every Week That You Should Too fatherhood work family balance

After about a decade of bootstrapping, Qualtrics made its way into a profitable company generating $50 million in revenue. In 2012, they had 200 employees and 3,800 customers. Qualtrics helps companies perform employee and customer surveys in the cloud. It was created by Ryan Smith's dad, Scott Smith, a professor of marketing at BYU's school of business. My guess is that Qualtrics is a company that resembles the brands you'll find on our social good page—a brand who cares about fathers and families.

At 33 years old, a company offered to buy Ryan Smith's startup Qualtrics for more than $500 million, he asked his wife to take a drive. Smith ended up turning down the $500 million offer to sell his company. In 2014, Smith had 6,000 customers and 550 employees, and the company is expanding nationally and internationally opening an office in Dublin, Sydney, Seattle, and Washington, D.C..

After he and his wife talked, they felt strongly that earning so much money at once could "negatively impact the way they were raising their children." Smith and his wife had learned to manage work and family life.

"As a founder, you're either the type that gets invigorated with every milestone, or you get less interested. For me the bigger we get, the more scrappier we get, the hungrier I get," Smith told Business Insider in 2014. "I have to keep telling myself to look around and enjoy this," he said. "We sat in a basement and bootstrapped for 10 years so we can do this, be here. Now we have bunch of money, a ton of customers, and we're dominating our market." Together, the Smiths decided to keep their 800-person company private. Qualtrics is currently worth over $1 billion.

With the help of a CEO coach, Smith relates work-life balance to a plane that can "go lopsided and constantly needs to be stabilized." On one wing is his family, on the other is his work. When he's traveling for business, the work side of the plane tilts. Then, when he gets back home to his family, he knows to keep his schedule open for home and family life, in order to tilt the wings of his plane back up.

Smith's CEO coach taught him a strategy for success to be done every week. Smith's coach asked him what jobs he was responsible for in life. Smith replied the following:

  1. Husband
  2. Father
  3. Son
  4. CEO
  5. Boss
  6. Sibling
  7. Grandson
  8. Friend

I'm guessing your list looks like Ryan's. His coach then asked what he could do for each job that week to make him feel successful. For instance, if Ryan dated his wife and bought flowers, that could make him feel like a decent husband. Teach his daughter to ride a bike? Boom, instant better dad for the week.

Ryan found he could combine tasks on his list to achieve everything more efficiently. He learned quickly, if he was really productive, every task on the list starting Sunday could be done by Tuesday. If he took his daughter to his parent's house and taught her to ride a bike, he could be both a good father and son. Bam. 

Smith's weekly list started to look like this:

  1. Husband > Take wife to dinner and buy flowers
  2. Father >Teach daughter to ride a bike
  3. Son > Visit parents. Combine tasks 2 & 3.

Through all of this, Smith has learned people usually plan for one part of life ("I'm going to sell my company by the time I turn 30.") Most times, people "either don't know which steps to take to achieve that goal, or they don't plan what to do after the goal has been achieved."

While we know it takes quantity to ultimately get quality time, I think Ryan's plan of breaking done work and family life goals into weekly tasks is brilliant. We need to work against waking up one day and realizing our dreams and/or priorities have slipped from our radar. This takes a strategic plan. The truth is, what doesn't get scheduled, doesn't get done. This is true in work and with family.

Business Insider points out that after Smith explained this success tactic in an interview with them on Friday evening, he left the conference. While others stayed out late at a local pub, Smith drove three hours to Dublin and booked an early flight home to Utah. When his children woke up on Sunday morning, they spent all day with their father. This story illustrates in real life exactly the type of intention and focus we should have as husbands, fathers, sons, and leaders. It's the kind of focus I want to live out. Thank you, Ryan Smith, not only for having a great first name, but sharing a great strategy for us to follow.

Question > What's one thing you do to help manage work and family? Share your answer in the comment section or on , or  using #247Dad.

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24/7 Dad To Go App allows dads to customize time-sensitive checklists. These checklists can include items related to involved, responsible, and committed fatherhood. You can be an intentional dad too.

> Find the app and start being a better dad here.

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3 Ways to Leverage the Good News about Teen Dads

So much has been written and said about the problems created by teen pregnancy, particularly the problems it creates for teen moms and their children. Teen moms are, for example, much less likely to graduate from high school, or get a high school diploma by age 22, than are teen girls who don't have children. This disparity leads to other long-term disparities between these two groups including fewer employment opportunities and lower earnings for teen moms. And most of them receive little or no child support. These disparities place a burden on society as 63 percent of these moms rely on some kind of public assistance. Teen pregnancy places the children of teen parents at increased risk for a host of poor outcomes too numerous to mention here.

But what about teen dads? What do we know about their interactions with the mothers of their children? Do their interactions make things better or worse for the moms and children? Here's what we know.

Pregnancy_IconWe know they're much less likely to be involved in the lives of their children than are adult fathers. One primary reason is, quite simply, that a teen dad is rarely married to the mother. A whopping 88 percent of these parents are not married. Nevertheless, 20 percent of teen moms live with their "romantic partner" (most likely the father, but not necessarily a teen) within a year of giving birth. Even if all of these romantic partners are the fathers and are also teens, that's still a very low number of them living with their children. And that's unfortunate, because teen fathers who live with their children at the birth of their children are more likely to still live with them when these fathers become adults. 

Fortunately, there is good news about the involvement of teen dads not living with their children and the impact of their involvement.

  • Half of these dads visit with their children at least monthly with most of them spending time with their children frequently. Interestingly, this is about the same rate of visitation among older nonresident fathers. 
  • Some research has shown the quality of the father-child relationship does not differ when comparing teen and adult fathers, contrary to popular belief. Surprisingly, teen dads are more likely than adult dads to feel attached to their children.
  • Additional research finds a positive impact of teen fathers on teen mothers and their children when teen fathers are involved before and immediately after the birth of their children. These teen fathers have a protective effect by reducing the risk of depression of teen mothers and distress of infants.  

So when we take all of these facts into consideration, the picture of teen fathers' involvement in their children's lives is mixed. While the ability of teen dads to be involved in their children's lives is more challenging because of their lack of physical proximity, most of them are involved at some level and, when they are, have a positive impact on their children and the mothers. 

The question, then, for organizations and practitioners is: How can I increase teen fathers' involvement? There are several ways, and NFI's resources can help:

  1. Provide fathering education to teen fathers. NFI's 24/7 Dad® program is an excellent choice as organizations around the country have used it successfully with teen dads.
  2. Provide relationship education to teen fathers. NFI has partnered with The Dibble Institute to provide Love Notes, a program for teen dads (and couples).
  3. Provide education to teen moms on the importance of father involvement and how they can facilitate that involvement. NFI's Mom as Gateway™ workshop and Understanding Dad™ program are excellent choices.

Do you work with teen dads? Do you use a comprehensive approach that involves working with teen dads and teen moms?

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NFI Partners with fodada to Ask: What’s a 24/7 Dad?

For years, 24/7 Dad® Program leaders (including you amazing coordinators, facilitators, father participants and the like) have asked for a T-shirt to reflect your commitment to the 24/7 Dad® program, and to being an involved, responsible, committed father - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That’s why we’re excited to announce a partnership with the clothing line fodada to offer a trendy, high-quality, 24/7 Dad® T-Shirt and to ask a very important question: What’s a #247Dad?

Here's the deal: You buy the T-shirt; fodada donates $5 back to NFI. Boom. That's awesome. But wait, there’s a lot more…

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Why “24/7 Dad”?

Being a dad is a great thing when you know what being a dad is all about, and when you're equipped with the skills to be involved, responsible, and committed to your child. But not every dad knows these things, and that’s ok - we’re here to help.

NFI cares deeply about raising awareness, building knowledge, and increasing skills related to fatherhood. We’ve spent the last 20 years developing top-notch curriculum and resources just for fathers, with 24/7 Dad® being our flagship fatherhood program. We exist to help dads hone their fathering, parenting, and relationship skills 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

We’ve also trained thousands of fatherhood leaders who have helped thousands of fathers be 24/7 dads (as in, live it out every day). Decades of research show the important role fathers play in their children’s lives. We connect fathers to families through organizations across the country. 

That said, the new T-shirt not only reflects the 24/7 Dad® brand, but also the deep meaning of being a #247dad. Not only will the 24/7 Dad® T-shirt allow you to show your commitment to fatherhood, but the clothing brand fodada will donate $5 from each purchase back to NFI to continue our mission of ensuring every child has a 24/7 Dad®. BAM. A match made in the T-shirt gods’ heaven. 

Why fodada?

fodadaOver our 20-year history, we've partnered with many brands for social good. Why fodada? Because the clothing brand “for the best dada in the world,” cares about fatherhood. It’s in their DNA. It’s who they are. Visit their website and you’ll see the care and attention given to their causes and campaigns.

“We are excited to partner with NFI, who has supported so many dads and families throughout the years,” said fodada founder Bobby Barzi. “We are happy to help NFI serve more dads, while making dads feel comfortable and look their best.”  

Christopher A. Brown, President at NFI had this to say about the partnership with fodada:

"Given the severity of father absence in our nation, it's vital we partner with companies that understand the importance of social good. We're excited to partner with a company like fodada that not only understands dads and their importance, but also understands what it means to be a 24/7 Dad. Working with fodada will help our organization-partners more deeply connect the dads they serve to what it means to be a 24/7 Dad, and help dads across the country show just how proud they are to be an involved, responsible, committed dad around the clock."

All of you fine 24/7 Dad leaders > wear this unique t-shirt to show how proud you are to be a 24/7 Dad leader. Give it to dads who attend your program or as a graduation gift.

Dads, Moms, & Children > Wear this shirt to show your passion for fatherhood and inspire those around you to live as responsible fathers. Or, give as a gift to a dad you know.

So, now we’re left with, “What’s a 24/7 Dad?”

We’re glad you asked. Everything we know about being a great father is tied to one or more of the following 24/7 Dad qualities and skills. In the coming months, we’ll unpack the meaning of each of these traits in their very own Father Factor posts. But for now, let’s get started with a brief list to get you thinking:

1. The 24/7 Dad is Self-Aware > The 24/7 Dad is aware of himself as a man and aware of how important he is to his family. 

2. The 24/7 Dad Cares For Self > The 24/7 Dad takes care of himself.

3. The 24/7 Dad Understands Fathering Skills > The 24/7 Dad knows his role in the family. 

4. The 24/7 Dad Understands Parenting Skills > The 24/7 Dad nurtures his children.

5. The 24/7 Dad Understands Relationship Skills > The 24/7 Dad builds and maintains healthy relationships with his children, wife/mother of his children, other family members, friends, and community.

chris-brown-247dad-shirt national fatherhood initiative fodada

 

Share pics of yourself or the dad in your life being a 24/7 Dad on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using #247Dad for your chance to win this 24/7 Dad T-shirt for FREE. NFI president Christopher Brown shares a pic with his 24/7 Dad shirt to get you started - share #247Dad-worthy posts and you could win this epic shirt.

> Better yet, go here to buy the shirt!

Question > What's being a 24/7 Dad mean to you?

 

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6 Steps to Becoming the Dad You Wish You’d Had

In my twenty-five years of pastoral, prison, and personal transformation work, I have come face to face with this reality—the most difficult piece of assisting men to heal from the past is actually just recognizing the need. We men tend to be a proud and often stubborn lot. It is not fashionable (yet!) to admit that our dads wounded us and that the wound continues to affect us today.

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It’s a wildly popular theme in Hollywood films (note the recent impact of The Judge [2014], the touching film, Real Steel [2011], the powerful and painful, Warrior [2011], or a classic in this genre, Field of Dreams [1989]), but it’s dramatically unpopular to identify with the wounded son.

Instead, we were told as kids, “just suck it up,” “real men don’t cry,” or other critiques our dads likely heard as they avoided their own sense of inadequacy and shame. The result? Very few of our dads knew how to get close to us, say the loving and affirming things we wanted and needed to hear, or were able to be physically affectionate with us. That cycle has repeated itself long enough. It’s time for real healing and change. 

In my first post on this topic called The Best Way to Build Strong Children, I noted Fredrick Douglas who said, "It's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." Though this quote is well known in fatherhood circles, I suggested it may not tell the whole story, or point us ultimately in the right direction. In my first post, I proposed that, "The best way to build strong children is to heal wounded fathers." This post helps us implement practical steps we can all take to become more engaged, more emotionally present, and more loving fathers.

Implementing the Solution

In my book, How to Be a Great Dad: No Matter What Kind of Father You Had, I openly and honestly tell my own story of healing as one example. There is no one-size-fits-all pattern for how we men heal, but reading my story has proved helpful for many men who have commented since the book was published. 

In the book, I have space to explain, expand on, and tell real stories about the six important steps I took to overcome the pain in my past with my dad, and to finally become for my three sons (now all teenagers) the dad I always wished I’d had. In the limited space here, I’ll briefly share the steps and encourage you to go deeper.

1. Identify a Father Wound.

Begin noticing the feelings you experience regularly beneath the surface of your life. Are you often sad, anxious, or lonely? Is it difficult for you to identify what you are feeling or to connect with others in a sincere, open, even vulnerable way? Do your relationship patterns indicate something is amiss? Is it hard for you to feel or stay close to people, to your wife, to your children? If any of this feels true for you, there may exist a wound that likely traces back to how your dad fathered you.

2. Embrace Your Father Wound.

Once identified, one of the most challenging steps for us men is to live with it instead of avoiding it. It is sometimes excruciatingly difficult for men to admit, “My relationship with my dad was not all I hoped it would be.” Or in some cases, much worse and more wounding. This step of embracing is one we often tenaciously avoid because it is so damn painful. But it is the key to healing. Alcoholics Anonymous brilliantly places an admission of the addiction as its very first step to overcoming and healing. Until we honestly embrace our wound and admit the difficulties it’s ongoing pain cause us, we cannot move forward. But when do this, healing and freedom are not only possible, they’ve already begun.

3. Grieve the Father Wound.

I wanted to bypass grieving, and did for many years. I was afraid of being overwhelmed by my own sadness. Grieving is not a skill I learned as a child, nor as an adult. Who teaches men to grieve our losses? We avenge them, ignore them, replace them, drown them in booze, sex, or success, but rarely do we feel our way through the pain to the other side. The only way to the other side of grief is through it. I had to learn how to grieve. It’s one of the skills I teach other men in my coaching. Once a man starts to grieve, he is well on his way to the healing and freedom that will allow him to emotionally engage with and stay close to his children.

4. Forgive Your Father.

Though we intuitively know the importance of forgiveness, few of us are good at practicing it. We were taught otherwise in the world of hard knocks. Its substitutes were often modeled by our dads—revenge, anger and outrage, cold neglect or rejection of the offender, or simply ignoring the offense and pretending it doesn’t matter. None of these work. So we attempt to forgive, usually too early in the process, because we know we should, or because we believe God wants us to, but it usually isn’t deep or restorative of relationship, or healing of our own soul because we are not forgiving from the real place of pain. How can we if we haven’t yet identified it, embraced it, and grieved? We try to forgive but it doesn’t do much, and often doesn't last. We stay angry, resentful, cold, or distant. It’s hard to love our children well when we are stuck in this place. We aren’t ready to forgive and move on until we have properly identified the wound and its effects in our life, and until we have grieved. Then forgiveness isn’t all that hard. It grows from a place of empathy and compassion. I illustrate this in my book as I tell my story of forgiving my father.

5. Love Your Children and Heal Yourself.

I teach men how giving the love to our children we may have not received from our dads is actually an extremely powerful means of healing our own wounded hearts. It is exceedingly difficult to give away what we do not possess, but when we reach beyond our past to choose to love our kids, while working out the first four steps above, it truly is remarkable how that act of giving brings healing in our own hearts.

6. Father Yourself.

This may sound a bit strange at first, but I tell my story to men who are moving through this journey that as we re-build a sense of ourselves as men who are healing, and as we learn to give away to our own children what we may not have received from our dads, we can actually learn to father ourselves in ways that we needed and bring further healing now. It’s remarkable. And it’s one of the key pieces of the coaching I do with dads who want to grow.

Has your relationship with your dad affected the way you father your children today? Do you see any impact or perhaps repetitions? Feel free to comment below and I'll respond.

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Post by Keith Zafren, founder of The Great Dads Project > Men who want to be great dads love the stories Keith Zafren tells, the practical skills he teaches, and the personal coaching he offers. Keith has spent seventeen years learning firsthand how to raise three great teenagers and stay close to them, no matter what. He coaches busy dads to not repeat the mistakes their fathers made, but instead, to create fantastic relationships with their kids. Check out his free video training course for men who want to be great dads.

What Makes a Parent a Smart Parent

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

"I think one of the true ways I've gotten smarter is that I've realized that there are ways other people are a lot smarter than me. My biggest asset as a writer is that I'm pretty much like everybody else. The parts of me that used to think I was different or smarter or whatever almost made me die." —David Foster Wallace

That quote from the American writer David Foster Wallace underscores one of the great lessons of life: There are plenty of people smarter than you, and you need to learn from them. This lesson applies to parenting.

WhatMakesaParentaSmartParent

When I joined National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) 15 years ago, my daughters were 5 and 2. I had only begun my parenting journey. I knew that I had things to learn about being a good father and parent. What I didn't realize was how much I had to learn. As the old saying goes, "You don't know what you don't know."

Fortunately, my boss was Wade Horn, the first president of NFI and a child psychologist. Wade is one of the smartest people I know. He's a smart father and parent who, as a child psychologist, knows a bit about how children are wired. The most important lesson I learned from Wade? Never project your consequences on your children. Just because I didn't have a negative outcome as a consequence of a decision to engage in a risky behavior doesn't mean that my children won't have a negative outcome if they engage in the same behavior. I've applied that lesson so many times I've lost count.

Wade helped me through several difficult parenting situations. One of those occurred about three years into my tenure at NFI. My oldest daughter had become an extremely picky eater. It drove me nuts because, since my mid-20s, I've focused on eating healthy and staying fit. The fact that I had a child who wasn't eating healthily signaled my failure as a parent. I had tried many of the tactics recommended by nutrition experts to get children to eat healthy. Not one of them worked!

I was at my wit's end when I asked Wade for guidance. He smiled and chuckled when I shared my frustration and concern for my child, which initially made the situation worse as he must have thought my concern to be ridiculous. But then he explained that a lot of young children are picky eaters because it's one of the few ways they can exert control over their lives. It's not necessarily the parents' fault.

He identified, however, one way that I might have indirectly contributed to my daughter's choice -- my own picky eating habits. He pointed out that my diligence in eating healthy is type of picky eating that my daughter had undoubtedly noticed at the dinner table and during conversations about eating healthy I'd had with her and my wife, and seen in several other ways I'd reinforced that form of picky eating. He encouraged me to keep trying to expand her tastes, but to also let the situation play out as many children's tastes expand, as they get older. (I'm happy to report that hers expanded.)

In my time at NFI, I've had the benefit of learning from many parents, especially fathers, who are smarter than me. These parents include NFI's second president, Roland Warren. Roland gave me more practical advice than I can share here. What was the most important thing I learned from him? Good fathers do three things well: provide, nurture and guide.

Other parents I've learned from include Stephen Bavolek, author of the internationally-acclaimed Nurturing Parenting Programs, who assisted me in developing the first editions of our 24/7 Dad® and InsideOut Dad® programs. I've applied much of the knowledge and many of the skills we teach fathers in those programs to parenting my own children. I've also learned from the countless fathers and mothers who have contributed their wisdom on parenting in this blog The Father Factor, and the many experts in parenting whose research on parenting effectiveness has informed the programs and other resources I've developed at NFI.

Don't wait until you're at your wit's end before seeking advice on how to be a better parent generally and in specific situations. Part of being a smart parent is realizing you're not as smart as you think.

Question > What's one thing you could use parenting advice on now? Share your answer in the comment section or on , or .

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*The opening quote by David Foster Wallace is from Conversations with David Foster Wallace (Literary Conversations Series)

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

5 Mistakes Costing You and Your Family Money

As dads and leaders, we know that creating a habit of saving is important for our families’ long-term security. And the list of things to save for is never-ending, from retirement to kids’ education to replacing the water heater that dies in the middle of the night. But when it comes to actually putting money away for them…well, sometimes life gets in the way. If we are going to be the best leaders we can with our families and with other fathers, we need to be good examples when it comes to saving.

5 Mistakes Costing You and Your Family Money

However, the importance of having money saved for your families’ future cannot be overstated. So we’ve compiled some common mistakes people make when it comes to saving their money and ways to fix them to help you start achieving those savings goals.

Mistake #1: Not enrolling in your employer’s 401(k) plan.

Whether you're leading other dads or your family, it’s easy to think retirement is too far off in the future to worry about it now, or thinking that your money would be better off not locked up for retirement. But thinking like that can cost you lots of money (and your lifestyle) in the future. And when it’s so simple to save with your employer’s 401(k) plan, it’s a mistake to pass it up.

Instead: Take full advantage of it! The beauty of enrolling in your employer’s plan is that money can be automatically taken out of your paycheck and invested in your future. If your employer matches your contributions, it’s a good idea to consider contributing at least enough to take full advantage of their match—after all, it’s free money. Who can say no to that?

Mistake #2: Not paying yourself with each paycheck

A common practice is to save whatever is left over from each paycheck, but this can lead to over-spending and under-saving.

Instead: “Pay” yourself a designated amount each month to put in your savings account—if you can set up an automatic transfer, that’s even better. By “paying” yourself first you have a more realistic view of what you can actually spend that month and it’s not as tempting to skimp on the savings in favor of buying things you don’t need.

Mistake #3: Keeping your checking and savings accounts at the same bank

Sure, it seems pretty convenient to keep everything at one bank: easy to monitor, easy to set up, and (here’s the kicker) easy to transfer. When transferring money from your savings account to your checking account is as easy as the click of a button, it becomes much more tempting to spend that hard-saved money on non-emergencies.

Instead: Separate your accounts. If you keep your savings account in a different bank than your checking, the process of transferring funds from savings to checking becomes a tad more inconvenient—and that’s a good thing! That makes you really think about whether that money will be used for an emergency, whether it’s worth the transfer or not, and when the money should just stay put. As a bonus, if you separate your accounts, you can shop around to find the best interest rates for your savings account.

Mistake #4: Paying off your debts with your savings funds

While it’s great that you’re working to pay off debts, it shouldn’t be at the expense of your entire savings account. Depleting your savings in order to work off your debt puts you in a pretty vulnerable position. If your car breaks down or your roof leaks and you don’t have any savings, you may have to take on more debt and could be worse off than before.

Instead: Try to find other spots in your budget that money can come from—it may seem like a drag since the money is sitting right there in your account, but having an emergency savings account is important to ensure you and your family’s financial security. We recommend building up to have at least $1,000 in savings.

Mistake #5: Pretending to understand services (when you really don't)!

It seems like all these banks and financial institutions are always throwing offers your way that sound good but are littered with terms you just don’t understand. All that financial mumbo-jumbo can make your head spin and cause you to either accept an offer that’s not right for you or turn away from one that’s perfect.

Instead: If you’re not sure, just ask. It sounds simple but far too often people are paying way more than they should for something and they don’t even know it. If there’s a term you don’t fully understand, it’s worth a call or email to your bank, insurance agent, or other trusted financial source to ensure you know exactly what you’re getting and how much you’re paying.

5-mistakes-costing-you-and-your-family-money-brightpeak-fatherhood

 

 

Want more savings tips?

Get your free eBook > Ten Simple Ways to Boost Your Emergency Fund.

It’s full of insider information on how to set savings goals, tips to make saving money easier, and ways to watch your savings grow faster.



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The Best Way to Build Strong Children

Fredrick Douglas said, "It's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." This quote is well known in fatherhood circles, but it doesn't tell the whole story. It can even point in the wrong direction. I want to add, "And the best way to build strong children is to repair wounded fathers." Are we willing to look at our need for self-repair?

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The Problem: The Profound Effects of Fatherlessness

24 million children will go to sleep tonight in a home where there is no father. Some of those children still have an engaged dad who loves them and is proud of them, even though he does not live with them. Although these fortunate children, such as my three teenage sons, may not have an ideal situation with two parents who live together and love each other, the reality is that many children who live with a mother and father don’t experience that ideal either. 

The striking and sad truth, however, is that most of those 24 million children are truly at risk, kids who do not have a caring father involved in their lives every day. The statistics are staggering.

Fatherlessness is linked to:

  • 63 percent of youth suicides;
  • 71 percent of pregnant teenagers;
  • 85 percent of all youth who exhibit behavior disorders;
  • 71 percent of all high school dropouts;
  • 75 percent of all adolescents in chemical abuse centers;
  • And 85 percent of all youths sitting in prison.

The Root of the Problem Lives in Us Dads

You might be surprised to learn that one of the significant factors producing these disturbing statistics of father absence is the deep wound that many men still live with from their relationship with their own father. This is especially true among the poorer communities in our nation. I worked with over 600 incarcerated fathers in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system over a period of six years. I can count on one hand the number of men who told me they had a good, strong, and loving relationship with their dad. Instead, most shared heartrending stories with me about being belittled, ignored, or abandoned by their fathers. Some were abused. Their broken hearts, messed up lives, and often non-existent relationships with their children revealed a tragic legacy of father-wounding relationships. 

How about you? Can you relate in any way to some of what these men so honestly shared with me? I sure did. Sadly, many dads can. 

In my work with men over the last fifteen years, many dads on the “outside” have shared similar stories of neglect, pain, rejection, and abandonment. Very few “free” men seem to be able to tell stories of loving relationships with their dads, of knowing and feeling their dad was proud of them, and of hearing words of praise and affection throughout their childhood. If you had a dad who gave you these gifts, you are blessed. Many of us didn’t experience a relationship like this with our dads.

Without being fully conscious of it, at least not on a day-to-day basis, many of us still feel the void, wishing we felt loved by our dad, knowing deep within that our dad felt and still feels proud of us, and being able to talk with our dad about anything. This yearning for our father’s approval, attention, and affection is a common result of a father wound.

The father-wound hurts, and we avoid the pain. The father yearning seems endless, and we avoid feeling hopeless. That is natural. I don’t blame anyone for avoiding pain. I tried to do it for many years. The problem is that our kids pay the price. So many men—myself included—struggle with feelings of inadequacy, not measuring up, not being good enough, and not feeling loved. There is hope. But when we check out—and that is the easiest way to go—we turn on the TV, or grab a beer, or get lost in technology, then we are just not present. We may go further into damaging or even dangerous activities and relationships.

As this happens, we substantially lose time with our children, our emotional capacity to connect with them, and our hope to become the dad we wish our father had been for us. As we avoid our pain, our kids miss a dad they’re sure loves them, a dad they know is proud of them, a dad they can talk to about anything. 

I have no doubt you love your kids. But do you help them know it and feel it every day? That's hard to do when much of our energy and attention is going to avoiding the pain of a father-wound. As long as we avoid our pain, we pass it on to our kids. I wish I could offer a simple fix. I can tell you that there is a solution—but it is not easy.

The Solution: Self-Healing

When wounded fathers stop avoiding our pain, we begin to heal. It hurts to heal, but it also has immediate benefits, for our kids and for us. When we are free to love our children, to easily affirm them, and to openly show affection for them, we aren't just reducing the risk of theoretical statistics, we are filling them with security, giving them a strong self-esteem, and helping them feel truly happy as kids. And it feels fantastic for us as dads. It is so fun to have this kind of closeness with our kids.

What would the world be like if every dad did this? When dads who did not have great relationships with their fathers find freedom from pain and resulting issues of the past, the next generation—our children—are strengthened. We give them a gift that will produce the kind of legacy we all wish for every child. This is what halts and even reverses the staggering statistics of father absence. This is the path to healing the next generation and our society. As fathers, we must heal our own wounded hearts to fully enjoy and raise our children well.

Frederick Douglas may well be right that it's easier to build strong children than to repair broken fathers. But fathers are the ones who can best build strong children. We become free to do that with joy when we face our own father wound.

What do you think? Please share your reflections about how a father wound affects being close to your kids. And what you think about the need to heal our wound in order to be great dads to our kids.

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Keith Zafren is the founder of The Great Dads Project. Men who want to be great dads love the stories Keith Zafren tells, the practical skills he teaches, and the personal coaching he offers. Keith has spent seventeen years learning firsthand how to raise three great teenagers and stay close to them, no matter what. He coaches busy dads to not repeat the mistakes their fathers made, but instead, to create fantastic relationships with their kids. Check out his free video training course for men who want to be great dads.

4 Steps for Making Tough Parenting Decisions

How many times have you faced a tough parenting decision and wished you had a tool or process for helping you make that decision? In Engage the Fox, authors Jen Lawrence and Larry Chester describe a four-stage process that, while taught to students of business to help them make better team-based decisions, can help anyone, including parents, make better decisions regardless of setting or situation.  

  1. Gather
  2. Generate
  3. Evaluate
  4. Agree
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Let's say your child is having a difficult time with a teacher. Your child believes the teacher is unfairly treating your child, but your child won't confront the teacher out of fear of retaliation. What advice do you give your child? Several other questions might quickly pop into your mind, the answers to which will help you answer that ultimate question. These questions might include:

  • What evidence does my child have for the unfair treatment?
  • What about the treatment is, exactly, unfair?
  • Is that treatment really unfair?
  • If it is unfair treatment, is the teacher singling out my child or is this how the teacher typically treats students?
  • Will I have to confront the teacher?
  • Might I eventually have to go to a school administrator to resolve the issue?

The list of questions could go on and on. Clearly, this decision is a tough one.

Lawrence and Chester's process can help you critically think about this kind of decision and avoid a knee-jerk reaction that doesn't do you or your child any favors. If possible, bring your child's mom into this process from the very beginning. Because this is a process that improves team-based decision making, it's ideal for decisions made by families.

First, gather as much information about the situation as possible. Ask your child some of the questions that you can reasonably expect her or him to answer with accuracy. Your child can probably provide evidence for the unfair treatment and whether the teacher treats other students in the same way. If you know the families of some of the other students in the class, you could contact them to determine whether the teacher has unfairly treated their children. You might also have to talk with the teacher to get the full picture, even though your child might be adamantly opposed to that action. If you (and mom) decide the teacher is unfairly treating your child, move on to the remaining steps.

Second, identify possible solutions. Assuming that the teacher is unfairly treating your child, sit down with your child (and mom) and think through the possible solutions. These might include everything from letting the situation play out before taking more decisive action to confronting the teacher. Generate as many solutions as possible without initially judging them. Write down the solutions as you and your child (and mom) generate them.

Third, evaluate the options and select the best solution. Use a critical thinking tool, such as a list of pros and cons, to evaluate the options. Using such a tool will help you and your child (and mom) arrive at a decision that is as objective as possible. If your child's mom is the more analytical of you two, ask her to lead this step. 

Before you move on to the final step, it would be a good idea to step back and gain some distance from the situation before making the final decision. In their book Decisive (another great book on critical decision making), authors Chip and Dan Heath recommend that people "attain distance" before making a final decision because short-term emotion can lead to poor decisions (e.g. by clouding judgment). Attaining distance can involve taking a few days or more to let the options sink in before making a final decision. It can also involve asking questions that shift your perspective, such as, "If I had a friend in the same situation, what would I tell my friend to do?"

Finally, you and your child (and mom) should agree on the final solution. It's possible that your child won't agree and you (and mom) will have to make a unilateral decision in the best interest of your child. But hopefully, by following this process, your child will see that the decision you see is the right one.

Parenting is full of tough decisions. Having a process in your parenting toolbox that can help you critically identify and evaluate options and decisions will make you a better parent and enhance the relationship you have with your child (and mom).

What's the toughest parenting decision you face today?

How do you make the tough parenting decisions?

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For Fathers in Prison > Fatherhood Training Impacts Recidivism and Behavior [KY DoC]

When dad’s in prison, his child is more likely to go to prison. Eighty-nine percent—that’s almost 9 out of 10 of Kentucky’s inmates—are male. Most of these inmates are fathers. We know most inmates aren't serving life sentences. Meaning, the father in prison is returning to his community and to his family at some point. Sadly, most inmates are released ill equipped to face the problems that put them in prison. The Kentucky Department of Corrections (DOC) is addressing this problem through fatherhood programs, and it’s working. 

KYDOCShowsFatherhoodTrainingReducesRecidivismandImprovesBehaviorThe Kentucky DOC has used NFI’s fatherhood programs since 2012. We wrote about the progress of the DOC training 381 dads and counting. Now we’re excited to share some insightful statistics—beyond the progress in training dads—on how effective our programs are to inmates and the DOC both while inmates are in prison and upon release. We know our fatherhood programs work, but we get excited when others conduct their own research and learn how much impact our programs have. 

InsideOut Dad® is Effective > Here’s the Data

Here are the exciting statistics, compiled by the Kentucky DOC, on the recidivism rate and rate of in-prison disciplinary actions (e.g. behavioral infractions) for 575 dads who participated in the program for the two year period 2012-2014. Of 575 fathers who completed in the program:

  • 318 were released
  • 52 of those 318, or 16 percent, returned to prison as a result of a new charge or a parole violation which is 57 percent lower than the two-year statewide recidivism rate of 37 percent

Moreover:

  • Prior to entering the program, participants averaged 1.836 disciplinary actions per inmate compared to only .32 actions per inmate while they participated in the program and .26 actions per inmate after they completed the program. This is a whopping 86 percent reduction in disciplinary actions.

It’s vital to note that NFI’s programs help fathers in Kentucky’s DOC not only while in prison (using the InsideOut Dad® Program) but upon release (using the 24/7 Dad® Program).

Training Fathers While In Prison

According to feedback from a representative at the Kentucky DOC, the state has seen a clear shift in the inmate population from an egocentric attitude, to a focus on their families and children, even from inside prison. In addition to the fathers benefiting from the program, the DOC is meeting their goal of offering a cognitive, behavioral, and therapeutic approach to inmate rehabilitation (since they are using NFI’s InsideOut Dad® Program while a father is in prison and the 24/7 Dad® Program upon release from prison). Using both fatherhood training programs is helping the Kentucky DOC address their top four criminogenic concerns related to fathers: 

  1. Criminal and family history
  2. Family (marriage and parenting) relatationships
  3. Education and employment
  4. Leisure and recreation

Training Fathers After Release

Research shows that fathers who learn to connect to their children and family before being released are more likely to successfully integrate back into the community and less likely to return to prison.

NFI has worked with the Kentucky DOC to create a reentry program to help dads continue building their fathering skills once released. Kentucky's DOC works with community-based organizations, via the state’s Probation and Parole Division, to deliver NFI’s 24/7 Dad® program to fathers in transitional facilities and other community-based organizations in the reentry field. 24/7 Dad® addresses fathering from a holistic perspective and continues to build on pro-fathering behaviors. (For a report on the effectiveness of 24/7 Dad® in a reentry setting, click here.)

While the statistics on recidivism and disciplinary actions are vital to understanding the widespread impact NFI’s programs can have on inmates and corrections systems, behind every statistic, as they say, is a person. To truly grasp the life-changing impact of NFI’s programs, it’s important to capture that impact in the words of the dads who participate in them. Here is one Kentucky inmate’s story. Please take a moment to reflect on his words. See what happens when a father goes to prison and is then shown the tools for how to connect with his child through NFI’s programs. 

How Training Changed One Father > Read His Story


Dear NFI

I've always heard the old adage a carpenter is only as good as his tools. That's why I would like to thank you and your volunteers for giving me the opportunity to have experienced and to have graduated your IoD class (InsideOut Dad® Program). With so many dynamics I have facing me in having six children I have a large task ahead of me, but I have some of those tools I need to start building and mending those relationships I so long to have with my children and vice versa. 

First of all I will tell you a little about myself, because change has to start with me. I am 45 years old and have six children ranging from 27 to 8 years of age. In 11 days I will serve out a 15-year sentence, but it is not the first time I have been incarcerated. Altogether, it will make 22 years I have served in sentences in the state of Kentucky which lets you know I haven't been in my children's lives very much over the years. 

Through God and this class I have actually started mending some of these relationships I have either destroyed or never gave a chance to develop in the first place. Since 1988 I've been in and out of jails and prisons only to stay out long enough to start a relationship and ultimately having children and then to leave them behind again. This time I served out my 15-year sentence and then seven years and four months with educational and other good time. I know I've done everything this time to turn my life around, but in order to do so I had to finally face my demons and look at myself for who I really was. If we don't know it's broke we tend not to fix the problem.

All in all I've left a lot of damaged lives behind in my wake of destruction. With IoD (InsideOut Dad® Program) I've been able to salvage some of these relationships and prepare to face the challenges of starting a relationship with my children.

The first tool I’ve learned to use is communication. I have six children by four different mothers which I'm not proud of, but ultimately it seems I had fallen into my father's footsteps (learned behavior), so in the seven years there's been no telephone calls because of the high cost to make telephone calls from prison. I wish I could start a fund just to help with that cost of future fathers could stay in touch with your children, especially the ones going through this program. 

Through writing I had mended my relationship with my oldest daughter Sheena. We have been corresponding on a regular basis for a while now. She followed my footsteps and committed a crime two years ago, but was put on a diversion program, which included six months of in-house rehabilitation.

During our time of writing I've used several tools I've learned through IoD (InsideOut Dad® Program) such as getting to know who she is, her personality traits, so I would be able to have more to talk to her about. Of course I have apologized many times over the years that I was absent from her life. 

I knew she blamed me for the way her life had turned out so I used another tool (empathy). I put myself in her shoes and realized this was true because I too blame my parents as well for my life being messed up. Now we have something in common that we can share and build on. I let her know I can relate to her, because I had been on my own all of my life as well. I told her how I finally located my mother at the age of 15 years old and how it didn't go over so well. Ultimately I moved in with her and my step-father to pay $55 a week for my part-time job that I had that summer just to sleep on the couch. I moved out on my own after two months and it actually was cheaper for me that way. I also told her I had to stop blaming them, because as an adult I knew wrong from right now. I couldn't blame them for my mistakes any longer. Like her, my rough childhood resulted in drug use to numb the pain from the past.

Now here's the miracle I want to share with the world. This is better than the fact I get to leave prison here in 11 days. After the fact she did six months rehab she decided she wasn't ready to leave so she signed up for another six months which I supported 100%. I told her that she needed to take this time to be there for herself and not worry about anyone else because she does have four children of her own which her mother has now. I told her I have learned by experience if you can't be there for yourself you can't be there for anyone else either. If you don't love yourself how can you expect anyone else to love you in return? This one time it was all right to be selfish, because it was for all the right reasons.

This girl completed 14 months of rehab dad being your number one supporter and biggest fan. A recovery center in Kentucky has hired her on full-time as part of the staff now. She is in a good place now and loves her job. A month ago she sent me her phone number. The fact that I'm leaving here on the 31st gave me an opportunity to get an institutional phone call to see if she would be at the bus station when I'm dropped off that morning. By the way I will be spending the morning with her and my four grandchildren whom I've only met the oldest as of yet. This is the first conversation I've had with my daughter in over seven years.

She answered and said hello and I said hi baby girl. She said who is this and I said it's your daddy. All she could do is cry. After she got her composure she finally said the words so longed to hear. I love you and I forgive you for not being there for all those years. She said through God she had so much peace that she was finally able to forgive me. In our conversations through writing God had been our main subject of discussion. The way I see it, whether you believe in Jesus or not, which I do, there are good morals to be learned from the Bible. Just as the tools I've gained from IoD. With these tools and the wisdom and patience of my instructor Mr. X, I've built relations with two of my children.

Nikki my 21-year-old daughter is who I am moving in with on the 31st. She just had her first baby on the 18th of this month. She truly loved and forgives me as well. My 25-year-old daughter and whom I've only seen four times while incarcerated since her birth has expressed a need to know me as well, because she has talked to her siblings and has noticed a change in my life and relationships I've built with them. IoD (InsideOut Dad®) is contagious. 

My 19-year-old son doesn't respond, but I still send him letters, just to let him know I still love you. He may be a little angry, but in time even water dissolves the biggest and hardest of rocks.
My children 10 and eight years of age don't know me, but they soon will. I have written them over the years so they do know I exist and that I put forth the effort. All in all I would like to think NFI for IoD (InsideOut Dad®) for the programs put forth to help us fathers and children. Like I told my oldest daughter Sheena it's up to us now to stop this vicious cycle that's been handed down to us from generation to generation. It's time to plant new seeds.

Thank you for giving me the tools to do so. I don't know by putting my children needs before mine and getting to know them and giving them the chance to know me that we can turn things around. I believe now that I can turn things around. I believe now I can lead by example, to teach my children that they can live a morally ethic life by watching me to do it in love. I have for myself and them as well now. If I can't fix myself how can I even possibly think of fixing my relationship with them? Thank you for your time in the tools I needed to rebuild the relationships I so desire to have with my children. Your work and efforts have not been done in vain. 

Sincerely, 
B


This is only one inmates’ story. There are hundreds just like it in Kentucky alone. We at NFI are thankful for the leaders at the Kentucky DOC. We are so excited about their commitment to rehabilitating inmates through programs like InsideOut Dad® and 24/7 Dad® so that corrections is part of the solution rather than just another step in the criminal justice process. The state, the fathers, the families, and the children of Kentucky are seeing the benefits of this solution-based approach.  

For more information on the products and services the Kentucky DOC is using along with the organizations they are partnering with, view the full case study and visit our Corrections Programs page for more program successes.

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Learn more about fatherhood and corrections > Fathers Behind Bars [Infographic]
 

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The Opportunity Costs of Absent Fathers

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

There are 24 million children (1 in 3) who will go to sleep tonight in homes in which their fathers do not live. That's a staggering number. But the problem of father absence doesn't only affect those 24 million children. It also affects the children living with fathers who are spiritually and emotionally absent from their children's lives.

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Research
shows that children with absent fathers are more likely than their peers growing up with their fathers to suffer from a range of ills, such as poverty, poor school performance, drug and alcohol abuse, and the list goes on. But, once again, it's not just physical absence or presence that makes a difference. Children who live with fathers who are but a mere presence in their homes suffer as well. The level of involvement matters; for example, a landmark study by the U.S. Department of Education found that children whose fathers are more involved in their education have better grades than fathers who are involved in their education to a lesser degree.

The costs of father absence matter, a lot. These costs have a name -- opportunity costs. An opportunity cost is any cost that results from a person's decision to do something instead of something else. From another perspective, it's the benefit a person sacrifices to do something else. When fathers are absent from their children's lives -- physically, emotionally, or spiritually -- it costs them dearly. They give up the benefits of being involved, responsible, committed dads -- such as the love of their children and the joy of seeing their children grow into adults -- and the benefits of mothers' love in raising children together.

To be fair, there are some rare instances of father absence in which fathers don't choose to be absent. Fathers' levels of involvement must also be understood within the context of how they provide for their family. A father, for example, who must work two jobs to support his family has only so much bandwidth to be physically present. The vast majority of instances of father absence, however, involve fathers who choose to do something other than be present -- to be somewhere else physically or in their minds than where they should be.

What makes father absence as a choice so incredibly heinous are the opportunity costs of it for children, the mothers left to care for absent fathers' children on their own, and our society. If the costs only accrued to absent fathers, the National Fatherhood Initiative wouldn't exist. But the costs don't only accrue to these fathers. Like the ripples that result from the rocks fathers and children throw into and skip across ponds, the impact of father absence is felt far and wide. Children, mothers, and our society need involved fathers. We can't spare a single one.

To all those fathers who have made a choice to be absent, I implore you to reverse course. Think about the opportunity costs to you. More importantly, think about the opportunity costs of your choice to your children, the mother of your children, and our society.

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The costs of father absence is high. Visit our Father Facts Page to learn more and support NFI’s work to connect father to child.

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This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Research to Application: The Power of the "Deviant Dad"

As the nation’s #1 provider of fatherhood skill-building programs and resources, NFI provides guidance for practitioners and organizations on how they might be able to use to use the latest research on human behavior to enhance the effectiveness of their work with fathers. NFI provides this guidance in a series of blog posts called Research to Application: Guidance for Practitioners and Programs. The series is also available in the form of quick reference guides that you can download by clicking on the button at the end of the posts.

The series offers a platform for generating dialogue among NFI, organizations, and practitioners on ways that research can be applied to addressing pain points in serving fathers. This post is the second one in the series. (To access the first post, click here. To access the second post, click here. To access the third post, click here.) It provides ideas on how you might integrate research on positive deviance into your work with fathers. Integrating this research can help you identify model fathers who have overcome great odds to become involved, responsible, committed fathers, models you can share with other fathers who struggle to do the same.

If you implement any of the ideas in this post, or develop and implement your own ideas, please share them with us at info@fatherhood.org. We’ll use your experiences to update this guide so it is even more useful.

research-to-appllication-4-1The Research
In the Power of Positive Deviance (1), Richard Pacale, Jerry Sternin, and Monique Sternin chronicle the research and share many diverse examples of how professionals have used positive deviance to create positive behavior change in populations across the globe. Don’t be thrown by the negative connotation that the word “deviance” might have for you. As the authors point out, positive deviance refers to “outliers who succeed against all odds.” Furthermore,

Positive deviance (PD) is founded on the premise that at least one person in a community, working with the same resources as everyone else, has already licked the problem that confounds others. The individual is an outlier in the statistical sense—an exception, someone whose outcome deviates in a positive way (emphasis added) from the norm.

They share examples of how professionals have created programs to address such wide-ranging subjects as improving child nutrition (Vietnam), reducing female circumcision (Egypt), reducing hospital infections (United States), and reintegrating abducted girls—turned into soldiers after abduction—back into the community (Uganda).

What links all of these examples, and is a hallmark of using positive deviance, was the use of ethnographic research methods, primarily observation, to identify outliers who engage in positive behavior (i.e. the innovation in the community) to produce the outcomes the professionals sought (e.g. children who were well nourished and girls who weren’t circumcised), and then to understand the steps (process) that the outliers followed to produce the outcomes. The professionals used what they learned to design programs that had community involvement—indeed that were primarily community run—that spread knowledge and skill development related to the behaviors that led to the positive outcomes.

Another example in the book, which is relevant to working with fathers, involved the use of positive deviance by the international non-profit Save the Children to reduce infant mortality among the Pashtun-speaking people who live in the remote mountains of northwest Pakistan. The following description uses excerpts from the book. (Pardon the length of this example. The length provides the breadth necessary to grasp the power of using positive deviance.)

The Pashtun-speaking people in the remote mountains of North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan, endure one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates. One of every twenty newborns dies within the first year of life. A fiercely independent people, their communities have a long history of rebuffing the efforts of health authorities to address this problem. Recognizing these inhibiting features as conditions in which positive deviance often flourishes, Save the Children resolved to give the process a try.

So how does one coax a community into tackling a problem it has never acknowledged as such? Most were aware that infant mortality was among the highest in all of Pakistan (85 deaths in every 1,000 births). Yet leaders and villagers were inured to all this as “Allah’s will.”

It was agreed that a good initial step would be to create reliable maps of recent village experience with newborn survival. That very evening, the first of what was to become a number of such efforts took shape with improvised materials representing houses, streets, mosque, and market-place. Hunkered on the ground, using colored felt-tipped pens to code stones into categories (e.g. families with no children, families that had lost a newborn since the previous Ramadan, etc.) the men created an epidemiological map. A green dot on a village home denoted a newborn who had survived. Black denoted less fortunate households. Orange, yellow, brown, and purple indicated cause of death—umbilical chord infection, asphyxia, diarrhea, hypothermia, or extremely low birth weight. Participants became wholly engrossed. Why had some newborns, born under exactly the same conditions as those who died, survived and flourished? These conversations would ultimately pierce the shroud of “Allah’s will."

As the men were compiling census data, a parallel endeavor unfolded among the women. In their case, beans were the artifact of choice for the mapping process. Analogous to the Eskimos’ proverbial twenty-three words for “snow,” Pashtun women traffic in the currency of beans, a staple of everyday diet. Differences between beans are subtle to the untrained eye but as distinct as words in a dictionary for the literate. The women’s maps had deeper texture. They understood precisely what went on in the first two to three weeks after each child was born. Considerable care was devoted to creating these epidemiological maps. They captured who was born, who died; babies that had diarrhea, were underweight, or experienced respiratory difficulties or umbilical cord infections but survived. The end result was a composite picture of the men’s and women’s efforts. 

Unsurprisingly, the ensuing process was not conducted as “interviews” but informed through stories. Pashtun life is captured in oral tradition. While there are no written diaries or civic records, memories provide an astonishing wealth of detail. When a baby is born, neighboring women visit, discuss, observe, and commit to memory what happened and how. To accommodate this tradition, tactile objects such as homemade stuffed dolls were employed to capture what people do, not what they know. This impelled the classic shift from the “what” to the “how.” Enactment confirmed that many households delivered the baby in an animal shed because delivery was regarded as messy. Some sessions evoked stoic accounts of tragedy as mothers-in-laws, new mothers, and traditional birth attendants (dais) elaborated on infants that had turned blue and died a few hours after a winter delivery. Reenactment with rag dolls and crude material substituting for umbilical cord and placenta revealed how the dais attention switches from the newborn to the mother as soon as the baby is born. Miriam, one of the oldest and most respected dais in the village, enacted the common practice of placing the naked newborn on the mud floor so those present could blow prayers over it. In the cold Haripur winter (with no source of heat and insulating blanket between baby and damp earth), hypothermia was the unintended result.

Once common practices had been captured, it was time for the PD inquiry itself—the search of PD’s. Earlier mapping helped the group identify families who had “at risk” newborns who had survived against all odds. Small groups of male volunteers joined Shafique and his team to visit and chat with the male members of these families to find out what they had done. A similar process took place among the women. Pashtun tradition is exquisitely sensitive to not awarding social recognition to one person at the expense of others. It was understood that “heroes” would not be singled out—rather, discoveries would highlight successful practices, not individuals.

One mother-in-law mentioned using a gadeya (pillow). “Why?” the visitors asked. “Before the baby arrives,” she answered, “I make a special pillow of rages to put on the floor and to cover the baby when it is born.” “Show us,” the visitors requested. She did. A member of the visiting team, a mother-in-law herself, interjected: “I do something similar. I immediately put the baby to the mother’s breast and put a blanket on it.” 

The men’s visits with male relatives shed light on the PD practice of using a clean razor blade to cut the umbilical chord. One PD husband had created a “clean delivery kit.” Another took his wife to the clinic for a prenatal exam. The list of practical and successful expedients gradually expanded.

In parallel conversations, men and women discussed their findings. At times this triggered heated debate. Vetting ensured the most relevant strategies and practices would gain ascendance. Convergence wasn’t always easy. 

It was time to share discoveries with the larger community. Separate male and female community meetings were carefully choreographed to share the findings from the home visits. Eager villagers came together to hear about some of the secrets that could save newborn lives. The design of this phase gave testimony to the villagers’ latent creativity, confirming yet again that a community knows best how to engage its own.

Dissemination workshops tended to follow a trajectory. They led off with an introduction of technical PD practices (e.g. clean razor blades) but turned inevitably to the importance of the husband’s involvement and support of his wife. One violated a cultural taboo by giving his pregnant wife special food (trespassing on the mother-in-law’s authority). Then questions began: “What do you think of this?” “How about a husband taking his wife to the prenatal clinic?” “Where do you draw the line?”

At the conclusion of the community meetings, volunteers gathered to develop a strategy to enable the whole community to practice the successful but sometimes controversial strategies that had resulted in newborn survival. It was decided that the men should gather once a month at the tea shop in their mohallahs (neighborhood meetings), recount stories of recent newborns, discuss what they should do, learn more about pregnancy and delivery, and perhaps practice some new behaviors. Women developed a similar plan for monthly mohallah sessions where more elaborate new behaviors were practiced as well as stories of deliveries where the new behaviors were adopted.

The point, of course, was to reinforce the focus on the effect of PD practices and to highlight the importance of the participation of both mothers and fathers in the survival and well-being of their children.


The point, of course, is not that this example has direct application to increasing father involvement in this country. It shows, however, that even in a culture in which fathers were involved only at the margins in an aspect of child well-being that the use of positive deviance can overcome extremely challenging barriers to greater father involvement.

Ideas on Application
The PD approach the authors outline involves much more than simply finding outliers. It involves getting a community to own a problem and then mobilizing the community to solve the problem. Nevertheless, you can use the “finding outliers” portion of this approach to identify models of fathers who have overcome great odds to become an involved, responsible, committed father that you can share with other fathers. You might also be able to involve fathers in developing an approach that will help other fathers to overcome great odds. Involving model fathers to influence other fathers will increase buy-in from other fathers because the solutions come from and are delivered by fathers like them. Here are some ideas to consider.

  • If you work with a father (one-on-one or in a group setting) who is involved, responsible, and committed in the lives of his children, ask him how he became a good father. Ask him questions, such as:
    • How did you become involved in the lives of your children?
    • What barriers did you face in becoming involved?
    • What steps did you take to overcome that (those) barrier(s)? (Or) How did you solve the problem(s) that (those) barrier(s) presented?
    • What advice would you give to a father who faces the same barrier(s)?

Keep an open mind to how the father overcame the odds. Resist judging his solutions. Pay particular attention to uncommon or unusual solutions the father developed. If after he shares his experience you think he provides a good model for you to share with other fathers, ask him whether he’d be willing to share his story. He could share through you via a case study you could write on his story. If he is part of a group of fathers you work with, ask him to share during a group meeting/session.

  • If you don’t work with such a father, commit now to finding such a father so you can eventually apply the idea above.
  • If you’re fortunate enough to work with several fathers who have overcome great odds, ask them whether they will volunteer to develop an approach to sharing their experience with other fathers, and whether they will share their experience. (Some or all of these model fathers will act as spokespersons, so they must be reliable and credible. Be careful in your choice of them.) If they are willing, gather them (e.g. in a focus group) and ask them the kinds of questions identified above. Then have them design an approach that focuses on strategies and tactics (i.e. specific behaviors rather than simply sharing knowledge) for overcoming barriers that will help other fathers become involved in their children’s lives. Focus them on the “how to” of transferring these behaviors to other fathers. Consider asking the fathers to not only develop an approach for transferring behaviors to fathers served by your organization, but to include ways to transfer those behaviors to fathers they can access in other parts of the community. You will probably have to hold several meetings to use this approach.

Regardless of how you apply positive deviance, approach your effort as an experiment. Keep track of what works with fathers in general and with specific kinds of fathers (e.g. custodial and non-custodial) so that you can apply what works in future work with fathers one-on-one or in groups, and avoid what doesn’t work. And last but not least, share your results with NFI at info@fatherhood.org so that we can improve future versions of this guide.

Resources
As you apply positive deviance to identify models of fathers who have overcome great odds to become an involved, responsible, committed father, consider reading The Power of Positive Deviance. We also recommend the book Switch, which discusses a similar idea the authors call following the “Bright Spots” (i.e. find what’s working and “clone it.”). This similar idea is part of a larger framework (the Switch Framework) that you might find useful in your work.

FREE SAMPLE Get the full PDF version of this study today!


Don’t forget to look for more posts and reference guides with post 1, post 2, and post 3 in this series!

[1] Pascale, R., Sternin, J., & Sternin, M. (2010). The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems. Boston: Harvard Business Press. 

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