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The Father Factor


March Madness: Friendly Competition for Dads and Kids

National Fatherhood Initiative recently launched March Dadness: Tips for Coach Dad on Leading Your Team to Victory , inspired, of course, by the March Madness NCAA tournament. Here at the NFI office, we'll be turning in our brackets for the office pool. At home, my dad and three brothers are finalizing their brackets. I asked my dad (father of seven) to share some fathering perspectives on this annual event. Here' s his thoughts...

Get Off The Couch, Get In The Game

I grew up in a time where I was able to witness home-based video games grow from their clunky infancy to the heights of technological wonder we see today. I don’t play video games as much as I used to. In fact, my father, 62 years young, knows more about video gaming than I do. As a dad of a young daughter, I’m not totally out the loop as we have the Wii gaming system.

Like most parents, I was drawn to the idea that you had to get off the couch to play many of the games for the console. However, a new study reported that the benefits of “active” video gaming might not boost physical activity in kids. I don’t find this particularly shocking, as there’s only so much you can do physically in front of the TV in the family room. I do disagree with the idea that active gaming isn’t helpful. If fathers and mothers played the active games with their children, it could become a bonding family routine.

My daughter is about as physically active as an 11-year old should be. She loves to play active games with me and we always have a great time. For me, the dual benefit is that we both get to move around a bit and raise our heart rate, and further, we get to bond a for a bit. With some of the sports simulations, I’m actually playing games that mimic activity my child wouldn’t normally do. Perhaps we’re not getting the same benefit compared to an outdoor activity, but playing games with your family can be engaging.

Even with the active games, getting outdoors is especially vital for families of young children. Your child may not be the next big star athlete but you can still introduce them to games that will inspire movement and activity. Playing catch, kickball, and even talking brisk hikes in your neighborhoods or trails are some fun ways you can get your kids off the couch a bit more. If your child isn’t that great at sports, you can still go outside and toss around a Frisbee or basketball.

Active video games are also evolving with the times, with some even featuring physical training. There are even studies that show active games can boost activity in kids. The bottom line is we shouldn’t think poorly of active video gaming, but fathers and families should certainly hit the power button at times and get active in other fun ways with their children as well.

Are you a video gaming dad? Do you play games with your child and family? Tell us more in the comments below or tweet to us at @thefatherfactor. You can also visit and "like" our Facebook page by clicking here.

Is Hollywood Helping Or Hurting The Case For Fatherhood?

I came across an article some days ago in the Los Angeles Times that reported on a rise in Hollywood films that featured parents in situations that led the moms and dads in the film to be stressed or anxious. Featured in the piece was Golden Globe Award-nominated film The Descendants starring Globe Best Actor winner George Clooney. In the film, Clooney plays a dad going through a tough time with a dying wife, betrayal, and attempting to get closer to his two daughters.

The film (which is excellent) takes the viewers through a lot of emotional ups and downs as Clooney exhibits the fear of having to raise his daughters without his spouse by his side. In the family film We Bought A Zoo, Matt Damon plays a widower with two young children struggling to stay close while Damon’s character navigates opening a zoo.

Another movie that was up for a few Golden Globe Awards, Carnage, also featured parents who argued with other parents over how to best deal with their fighting children’s issues. Although the film is billed as a black comedy, the core of the movie centers on how parents all have their own way of dealing with their children. The all-star cast of Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz delight in their roles, but the ugly war of words become the centerpiece instead of these adults finding a way to cope with one another.

Parents going through times in film, especially dads, is not a brand new concept although the recent slate of films would suggest this is the case. There is something about watching angst unfold onscreen that captivates and infuriates all at once; there’s always an end to the movie but never to the realities that exist outside of the theater.

As said by Dr. Alexandra Barvi of New York University, “In the past, people parented based on instincts and how they were raised, but now with technology and the ease of transmittable information, we know so much more about parenting. We do so much more thinking about parenting. You can't turn on a morning show without an expert talking about college anxiety, how to keep your kids busier.”

Is Hollywood and television making it so that fathers new and old are overloaded with what can be seen as poor parenting tactics? Is the portrayal of parents in harrowing situations inspiring to dads who want to combat the anxiety that goes along with raising their children? Are fathers and mothers looking for ways to stave off the sometimes bleak imagery of parenthood and offer a reversal of sorts?

A good number of films with these sorts of plot tie-ins end with a happy moment of closure or triumph. There are even several films over the years that tell great stories about devoted dads who go through a lot of turmoil (and eventually joy) such as Big Fish and Finding Nemo. What we should focus on while viewing movies that feature dads and moms under duress is to make sure we’re talking about ways to avoid that struggle in our real lives.

Perhaps then, Hollywood can begin to tell a different story showing the endless possibilities of a blissful union between fathers, mothers, and their children.

Guest Post: Let the Video Games Begin!

This is a guest blog post by Chris Dahlen. Chris is the editor-in-chief of Kill Screen Magazine ( ), a quarterly magazine and website devoted to games and culture. He lives in Portsmouth, NH with his wife and his six-year-old son. Chris contributes his advice on choosing videogames for the family as part of NFI's campaign Let the Games Begin: Get Your Game Face on for Family Game Night .

Videogames are fun for the whole family—but how often does a whole family play them? From the console in your living room to the computer in your home office, you can find hundreds of games that are more fun if you experience them together.

Some parents view videogames as an unhealthy alternative to playing catch, or visiting a museum. But in our home, videogames are the perfect wind-down after all those other activities. My son and I regularly end a busy day with a game that stretches our imaginations and challenges us to solve problems, follow instructions, and work as a team. (I’ve also found that nothing motivates good behavior like granting game privileges—or taking them away.)

Look for games that invite two or more players to work together. If you grew up with games like King’s Quest or Zork, try playing Machinarium: you and your child can split time on the keyboard and work together to beat each puzzle. In Portal 2’s “co-op” mode, you’ll work together to solve a series of obstacle courses that test your brains and your reflexes. Even if one of you takes the lead, the other still plays an important role in completing each challenge. Other games encourage parents to stand back and assist: in Super Mario Galaxy, the parent can use a second controller to assist the child and to point the way to the next goal.

Most of all, find games that are good. Skip the low-quality movie tie-in games, and look for excellent $10-15 downloadables like Costume Quest or Flower. Read reviews, and if there’s a free demo, try it out yourself: is this a game that will be challenging, but not frustrating? Does it encourage co-operative play? Is it too violent, or scary? (ESRB ratings are also your friend: stick with games that have an “E” or “E10” rating and be sure to read the tags, and you should never stumble into anything inappropriate.) Even when your kid plays a single-player game, make time to watch and give advice and moral support. Children only bury their faces in their Nintendo DS’s if you let them: stay involved and they’ll look forward to having you by their side.

Like birthday cake and late-night ghost stories, videogames should be enjoyed in moderation. But they should be enjoyed—and beaten—by the whole family. At a time when too many families find themselves staring at separate screens, lost in their own experiences, a great game can bring the whole living room together.

Let the Games Begin! Ideas from NFI Staff

NFI's theme for the month of August is Let the Games Begin: Get Your Game Face on for Family Game Night! We're encouraging families to play games with their families on Wednesday nights, or another night of the week that works best. We got some great suggestions for family games from our Facebook and Twitter followers. Now, check out some of NFI staff members' favorite games to play with their families:

Elaine, mom of one son, has a favorite game that is shared across three generations in her family.

When I was 11 years old, my family and I visited New Zealand. While we were there, we played a British board game called "Crosshand Poker." It's like scrabble, but you make poker hands instead of words. (No betting though!) We enjoyed playing it so much that we brought a copy of it back with us. Over the years, we have continued to play together and have even kept every score card. It is always a good reminder of the trip of a lifetime that we took together. In fact, just last year, I decided to order my own copy online to play with my husband -- unbeknownst to me that my mom had ordered me one at the same time! A great family tradition to pass along to my own son when he gets older!

For Roland, father of two sons, playing games is an opportunity not only for laughs, but life lessons.

I used to love playing "chutes and ladders" with my sons. They took great delight in watching me slide down by landing on the unfortunate spot. The game also offered an excellent life lesson. Sometimes you will encounter obstacles that can set you back due to no fault of your own. Nonetheless, you have to persevere and keep moving forward.

Evelyn, mom of three and NFI's resident ping pong champion, points out that playing games can have helpful physical benefits too!

An easy way to get in shape and have fun is through playing ping-pong. Not only does it increase the heart rate, it improves hand-eye coordination, and burns an average of 175 calories per hour! Children and adults of all ages enjoy ping-pong. Personally, it is an investment paid for itself through active playtime spent with my family.

Melissa shares about life lessons she learned from playing cards with her grandfather.

When I was young, and visited my grandparents in Ohio, my favorite game to play with my Pap was the card game "Crazy 8's". I wasn't all that good at it for many years, but he taught me how to improve my game, amidst my frustration of him winning most of the time. He always seemed to have just the right "last card" to lay down… and somehow I always seemed to be playing right into his hand. But as I got older, I began to play better, and I started beating Pap more often.

However, winning wasn’t really what mattered to most to me about those Crazy 8 games with Pap. It was the time he was spending with me, investing in teaching me how to master something like a card game, that mattered most. He was also teaching me the valuable thought processes of planning and logic, and how to think ahead in order to make wise decisions in advance of taking action.

Now that Pap is no longer with us, I will always remember the time with my Pap and those games of Crazy 8's quite fondly. And that its not just about winning the game.
Erik, dad of two daughters, likes playing games that involve creativity.

We play a drawing game where everyone gets a stack of small sheets of paper and writes down a phrase, movie, song title, etc. Everyone passes their phrase with the stack of paper to the person next to them. The next person reads it, places it at the bottom of the stack and then draws a representation of the phrase. Everyone passes their drawing to the person next to them to write a phrase they think represents the drawing. This continues until each person has their original phrase back. Everyone takes turns sharing their stack of paper and it’s hilarious to hear how the end phrase is nothing like it started out. We also have 2 people in our family who are good at drawing and 3 who are not so we laugh at the pictures too.

We also like to play a series of improvisation games. One is where the family agrees on a scene to act out using an interesting job and 2 players act out the scene while 2 others provide the sound effects. Another one is where the family comes up with a scene using a kind of movie (western, romance, science fiction, etc.) and 2 people act it out while a third person says “new choice” anytime they don’t like what the person says. Then that person has to change their phrase until that person lets them continue with the scene. We also do one where someone writes down silly phrases on slips of paper and gives it to the rest of the family. We pick a scene and pull out the slips of paper to read the phrase randomly throughout the scene. Not only do we laugh hysterically during the scenes, but it creates memories that last a lifetime.
What are some of your favorite games to play with your family? Do you have any special memories attached to those games? What life lessons do you teach your kids through playing games?

Let the Games Begin! Ideas from Dads & Moms - Part 2

During the month of August, NFI is encouraging dads and moms to make Wednesday night Family Game Night this month. Through our weekly Dad Email, we are providing suggestions of games for all ages and tips on how to make Family Game Night fun for all.

We asked our Facebook friends and Twitter followers to tell us about their family's favorite games and we got an overwhelming response! We shared some of their stories here on The Father Factor last week. Check out the rest of their suggestions below and try some of these games at home with your kids!

  • We've had a Tuesday night "family night" for a couple of years now. We have played tons of different games, but two of the kids (10 & 11) favorites are a drawing contest (we do about five or six and the winner of each gets to pick the theme and winner of the next one) and plays (where two or three of us make up a play in about 10 or 15 minutes, then perform it for the other one or two).
  • With grown children we like Phase 10 and Sequence!
  • We sit around our dining room table and play Uno for the "Championship." The champion gets a kiss on the cheek from each loser. My two daughters and wife love the bragging rights and extra attention. :)
  • My girls and I enjoy geocaching. It is a great sport to get families outside and having fun. You use a hand held GPS to locate caches (i.e. boxes with a log book to sign and trinkets to trade) hidden by fellow cachers in fun and/or interesting places. Check it out at
  • Scrabble or any word game, helping the younger kids, allowing the dictionary until they get good enough to spell words on their own. Helps in building not only vocabulary and spelling skills but also healthy competitiveness and self-confidence. Some of the other word games could include Boggle, what we call fast Scrabble (now marketed as Bananagrams) where each person forms their own crossword puzzle with their Scrabble tiles, forming as many words as you can from a large word written on paper or a blackboard, etc
  • We love Twister - an oldie but a goodie!
  • I always loved the "alphabet game"...finding each letter of the alphabet in order from A to Z. first one wins! Played on a road trip to pass the time.
  • My daughter loves to play Minecraft with me. I love to build stuff and she loves hunting the monsters!
  • Table top role-playing games (like dungeons and dragons) because it encourages them to use their imagination.
  • Favorite family games are twister, Star Wars Monopoly, and Cadoo!
  • My daughter and I love to make forts! Turning the kitchen table chairs around and draping blankets off the sides of the table make a perfect start for dining room creative construction.
Thanks so much to all our Facebook friends and Twitter followers who shared their family memories and told us about the games their kids love to play! Hopefully these ideas and the ones shared last week inspire you to Let the Games Begin: Get Your Game Face on for Family Game Night Fun! Tell us how it goes on Facebook - we'd love to hear from you!

Let the Games Begin! Ideas from Dads & Moms - Part 1

This week, NFI kicked off a new campaign called Let the Games Begin: Get Your Game Face On for Family Game Night Fun! We are encouraging dads (and moms too!) to make Wednesday nights during the month of August Family Game Night and play a game with their kids. Through our weekly Dad Email, we will be providing suggestions for games to play with kids of all ages and tips for engaging kids in family game time. (If you're not already receiving the Dad Email, you can sign-up by clicking here.)

We started the Let the Games Begin! campaign by asking our Facebook friends and Twitter followers - dads and moms across the country - to tell us about their family's favorite games to play. We got a ton of great ideas - so many, in fact, that I have to split this into two separate blog posts to share everything! Take a look what they shared with us and try some of these ideas with your family:
  • Oh, man. My family is super competitive and we love words, so we have a traditional Scrabble tournament at Thanksgiving that usually lasts 2-3 days...we pair up in brackets and winners play winners. Pre-set family rules apply: 1) one dictionary for the entire tournament, 2) 9 letters per person, 3) timed 3 minute turns. :)
  • Dance Central on the X-box. Gets the kiddos off the couch and moving around. Also gives them a chance to laugh at their old man as he tries to dance.
  • My boys love completing stories. For example, I'll make up a beginning, then my oldest will add some details, then the youngest goes and so forth. It gets their creative juices flowing and it's fun to see how differently their minds work.
  • Monopoly - My daughter recently got into the facebook game and so we started playing the original board game. Thanks for all you do for fathers, we appreciate it so much! I find it is hard to have a network of single fathers that can work together to find ways to enhance relationships with our children. Thank you again!
  • We have an annual Family Fishing Derby. Kids vs Dad. Winner gets ice cream on the way home.
  • My dad would always take me outside after dinner and play HORSE in our makeshift basketball court, aka, the driveway. Not only did it keep us active, but it allowed us to talk for an hour or so before the sun came down. I felt comfortable telling him anything, and he knew everything that was going on in my life.
  • I have 2 little girls, 5 & 8. We have tons of outdoor activities at our house (playhouse, sprinkler, trampoline) and several indoor activities (board games, legos, wii, etc.) but the thing everyone laughs the hardest at and enjoys the most is the Balloon game. Just blow up a balloon lay on the floor and don't let it hit the ground. That's it!
  • Mine are 7, 4, and 2. They are nuts for hide and seek. I will try the balloon game. Thx 4 the idea.
  • Apples to Apples byMattel - really FUN during the "defend your answer" part of the game. Kids LOVE as do parents.
Stay tuned for a blog post next week with the rest of their ideas. If you have a game that your kids enjoy playing with you, tell us about it by posting on our Facebook wall and I'll include it!

Boogie Board Memories and Sandy Snacks

This is a blog post by Jason Katoski, NFI's Jr. Staff Accountant. Jason shares his memories of beach vacations with his dad and now with his two kids as part of NFI's campaign to help dads "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer."

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of July is the beach. As a child, my family would go to the beach every year (typically the week that the MLB had their Home Run Derby Contest and All-Star Game) and it was always the highlight of my summer. My favorite memories from the beach were when I would be on a boogie board in the water and my dad would try to set me up to catch the waves. Sometimes this didn’t work so well and a wave would wipe both of us out. That was always the best.

Now as a father of two kids (my daughter is 2 and my son is 7 months old) I have continued the tradition and we have been going to the beach with them every summer since 2009. We usually go for one weekend early in the summer to Ocean City and then later in the summer we go to Myrtle Beach for a week. It’s great to play with my daughter who likes to run to the waves crashing on the beach and then run back before the waves get her. My son loves the beach so much that he has decided his favorite food is sand!

Get Out, Try New Things, Make Memories

This is a post by Tim Red, NFI's Director of Military Programming . Tim served 30 years in the U.S. Army and now heads NFI's efforts to help the U.S. military add fatherhood programming to its work to support military families, pre-, during, and post-deployment. Tim and his wife have four children and live in Texas. Tim shares his memories here of trying new things while camping with his children as part of NFI's campaign to help Dads "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer."

One of the best times I have ever had with my three youngest kids (at the time, ages 15, 12, and 9) was when I took them (just me and them) on a trip to Lake Texoma. Sheppard Air Force Base has camping grounds and cabins on this lake (by the name you can gather that it sits on the border of Texas and Oklahoma). We got a cabin for two nights (arrived on a Friday evening and left on a Sunday morning). The memories we made in those 48 hours will last a life time.

The kids wanted to make smores and I have never done that but we went up to the little store and bought the ingredients. We started a fire in the barbecue pit behind the cabin, untwisted coat hangers, and started cooking marshmallows. They were having so much fun doing this that they were even preparing them for these three young couples (without kids) that were in the cabin next door.

I cooked breakfast for the kids and I had so much smoke from the bacon grease that we had to open up the doors to let it air out (but it was a great breakfast and they loved it).

We rented a pontoon boat (and I don’t know a dang thang about boating – I was in the Army, not Navy, but the kids wanted to do this), packed up sandwich stuff and drinks and headed out on the lake. We'd stop and the kids would jump in the lake and go swimming. I let them take small turns driving the boat (don’t tell Sheppard AFB) and we made sandwiches and floated on the lake while we ate lunch. We took lots of pictures!

We played Uno, watched the deer feeding, played basketball/tennis, scared each other, and slept on bunk beds. There was a TV in the cabin that picked up 3 network channels – no cable – and I think that it may have been on for a total of one hour (if that long) – nobody could have cared less. They were either too happy doing something else or too tired to keep their eyes open.

Then when we had to leave Sunday morning, we cleaned up the cabin before leaving (it’s a military requirement). Everyone pitched in and did that with a smile on their face.

The smiles, the laughter, the fun, the wonder of new things were so special. And as a father, I enjoyed watching their faces light up from all of the different experiences. Just writing this makes me want to go again (but I will wait until it gets a little cooler). Next time, we will have to go star gazing…

What Camping Can Do For You and Your Children

This is a post by Mike Yudt, NFI's Director of National Programming. Mike, his wife Kelly, and their two sons are avid campers. Mike shares his thoughts on camping with young kids as part of NFI's campaign to help Dads "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer."

I often hear many people say that they do not like the idea of camping and can’t understand its appeal. I’ll be the first to admit that camping is not for everyone. And among those who do camp, there can be a sense of competition as to what is really camping and what is not. To me, that whole discussion misses the point.

The beauty of the outdoors is that it's something that all can enjoy in some form or another. In a day and age when so many jobs keep people tied to an office, it is critical to impart a love for the outdoors into your children at an early age. It will bring balance to their lives and a sense of rejuvenation. After all, who doesn’t like a breath of fresh air after a long period of being indoors?

So, as a father of two young boys (three and one), I along with my wife decided to “break them into camping” at an early age. With both of them, their first camping trip came within their first five months of life. I’ll never forget those first camping trips and the ones that have followed. Children, especially very young children, have a way of expressing awe at the beauty of nature in ways that we as adults cannot fully understand or appreciate. My wife and I are getting glimpses of this as we watch our boys respond to every sound of nature, point to every animal, and pick up every stick or rock around them for a close examination.

The beauty of camping, especially for children, lies in this: it’s a break from the routine of sleeping inside in the comfort of a bed. It represents an adventure… An adventure that your kids will surely love if they are introduced to it at an early age and with a positive attitude.

If a child grows up camping, he or she will undoubtedly like it because they don’t know any different. I understand that for some adults camping is a stretch. The idea of roughing it in the woods apart from a bathroom facility, water or electricity just doesn’t sound like a good time. My encouragement is to find a form of camping that meets your needs. Maybe that’s pitching a tent in your backyard or in the yard of someone you know. Maybe you secure a camp site at a state park that has all of the amenities you need: restroom facilities close by, running water and the option of reserving a site with an electrical outlet.

Whatever you do… commit to exposing your kids to the outdoors as much as possible. If you do, I’m convinced that in the end we will have happier, healthier children who can someday be in a better position to find those quiet , peaceful places to turn to in order to decompress from all that is happening in the world around them. Just one dad’s thoughts….

Lessons Learned: Giving to Receive

One of the first Bible precepts that I learned in Sunday School as a small boy was that it is better to give than to receive. Now, as a little guy, I wasn’t a big fan of this concept, especially around my birthday and Christmas. In any case, a few days ago, I was thumbing through a recent copy of Forbes magazine and I came across an article by Michael Norton provocatively titled “Yes, Money Can Buy Happiness…If you give it away.”

Norton is a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and he has been researching how changes in income impact well-being. For example, he recently asked 315 Americans to rank their happiness on a 100 point scale and predict how happy they would be if they made ten different incomes, ranging from $5,000 up to $1,000,000. So, for example, he found that those who made $25,000 a year predicted that their happiness would double if they made $55,000. But when he measured their actual happiness, the change was about 7%. Moreover, he found that once people reached the US median income (about $60,000), the happiness return on additional income was very small.

Ironically, he did discover one way to “buy” more happiness with your money: Give it away. He hypothesized that although making more money helps us accumulate more material things, it does little to give us what the research shows makes us happier—quality relationships with others.

To test his theory, he and his team did a little experiment. They approached strangers on the street and gave them different sums of money ($5 or $20) and told them that they had to spend the money by the end of the day. But half were instructed to spend the money on themselves while the others were told to spend it on someone else. At the end of the day, Norton’s team learned that those who had to spend the money on themselves bought stuff like coffee and food. However, those who had to spend the money on others did things like donate to the homeless or buy a gift for a loved one.

So, who was happier? Yep, those who gave the money away. Interestingly, there was no difference in reported happiness between those who had to give $5 away verses those who gave $20 away. I guess when it comes to giving, it truly is the thought that counts.

So, why I am sharing all this? Maybe because it’s fundraising season and NFI needs you to give to us until you are in a state of joyous glee. Good guess, but nope. (Although, we certainly need the support and you can donate here. And, no gift is too large. :-))

Well, it is because I vividly recall that one of the early words that each of my kids uttered was “mine.” I seems that children are genetically wired to be self-focused and it’s a dads job to model and teach their children the joy that can be received from giving. And, you don’t need to wait until Sunday to start teaching. That is, if you can spare $5 bucks.

Let Your Kids Be All-Stars

Some of us were chatting in the lunch room the other day and I was impressed (and amused) with the ingenuity of one of my colleague's kids, so I thought I'd share their brilliant idea for a little inspiration.

Dave, one of the dads here at NFI, was called down to his basement by his three energetic boys - Pierce, age 10, Luke, age 8, and Jeremy, age 6 - to observe their very own NBA skills challenge. His boys love the NBA all-star game and decided to create their very own event.

These budding basketball stars transformed the basement with elevated toy basketball nets, roaming spotlights (provided by an energetic use of flashlights), and a charismatic announcer to present awards and even interview the winners. They even created a skills course with stations like in the real NBA contest by, for instance, cutting a hole in some cardboard as the target for the passing accuracy test. Dave and his wife had front row seats for the all star event.

Next time you're wondering what to do with your family on a rainy day, take some inspiration for Dave's creative kids and make an all star even of your own!

The all stars after their event(clockwise from L to R) Pierce, Luke, and Jeremy.

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