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The Father Factor

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The Tie That Binds

I think most folks who know me wouldn’t dare commend me on my sartorial tastes although I’ve been known to look nice in a suit or two. I always admired watching my grandparents go out on their dates when I was much younger; my grandfather loved nothing more than a crisp button-down shirt and an expertly matched tie. I quietly envied his ability to always look sharp no matter the occasion.

I didn’t know how to put on a tie when I was a kid. For church, my mother gave me a array of clip-on ties to choose from and for a while, that’s all I knew. I didn’t learn how to wear a necktie until I was 22 years of age. I can even tell you the month. It was June of 1995. It was the day of my very first official job interview to work at a mailroom for a large corporation in Washington. I thought that it was time I graduated from clip-on ties to a real one. All of my friends were just as clueless as I was about ties, so I called my father in a long shot to ask for his help.

My father and I, to this day, are not close. We were especially estranged at this point although he lived just 2 miles north from me. I took a chance calling him, after so many disappointing days and nights he would promise to see me and wouldn’t show up. The pain of his absence and the longing for my father still exists today. However on a hot summer day, my father heeded my call.

He came to my mother’s house, beaming. I wanted my dad to be proud of me. I tried to tie the necktie myself, making a mockery of it. My father, with his big laugh, stood in front of me and said, “son, let me show you what to do.” He doesn’t know this but it was like being five years old again. When I was in kindergarten, my dad took me to see the classic Sci-Fi film Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. To this day, I’ll watch the movie and I’ll pretend I’m at the Landover Drive-In in his big sedan watching it with him.

Much like that moment, I hold on to the tie lesson because it was one of the few times my father showed he cared about me. He actually was close enough for me to hug him but I feared I would push him away with my emotions. I just held all of those feelings of wanting my dad deep inside. The lesson was a painful reminder of all the things I wish he taught me as a boy that I missed out on in the 17 years he left our home.

It’s been nearly 17 years since that moment. 17 years I’ve been putting on my necktie the same way my dad showed me on that day. I refuse to learn any other method for the most selfish reason in the world. It’s the only thing tangible of my father I have, the only proof that at some point my father may have actually loved me.

It doesn’t hurt as much these days to know all I have are brief memories and small moments with my father. I’m slowly trying to heal from the absence although I’m not out of the woods yet. For now, I find satisfaction in putting on my tie and knowing my dad taught me a skill that I’ll value for life.

Fatherhood By the Numbers

Greetings, Father Factor readers! My name is D.L. Chandler, a recent addition to the National Fatherhood Initiative staff in the capacity of Web Editor. I joined NFI officially on December 5, and it has been a wonderful experience so far. Everyone on the staff is not only committed to our core mission of increasing the viability and visibility of involved and responsible dads, but it’s such an inviting environment as well.

Steve Jobs and his search for the “iDad”

A few years ago, I was on an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show called “The Secret Thoughts of Fathers.” The show featured about 10 dads, most of whom had wives that were concerned about their fathering. In typical Oprah fashion, camera crews were sent to the family homes.

As we watched the video segments at the beginning of the show, there was one father who stood out from the rest because his family was in a real crisis. His wife was clearly frustrated with his lack of engagement with the family, and his young son, who clearly idolized his dad, was hurting badly from his dad’s rejection. It was evident that this dad's passion was elsewhere.

When the video clip ended, Oprah turned to me and said, “So, Roland, what do you have to say to this father?” Well, this was live TV and I was on the spot. But, fortunately, the right words came to me and I said, “Your son doesn’t want to know about you. He wants to know you.” Before I could say more, Oprah repeated what I said, and then said, “That’s good…I’m going to be quoting you on that one.” The father nodded in agreement.

He had a moment of clarity.

I was reminded of that moment recently when I read the below excerpt from a soon-to-be released book titled “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson.

“A few weeks ago, I visited Jobs for the last time in his Palo Alto, Calif., home…We talked about his childhood, and he gave me some pictures of his father and family to use in my biography. As a writer, I was used to being detached, but I was hit by a wave of sadness as I tried to say goodbye. In order to mask my emotion, I asked the one question that was still puzzling me: Why had he been so eager, during close to 50 interviews and conversations over the course of two years, to open up so much for a book when he was usually so private? “I wanted my kids to know me,” he said. “I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.”

As I read these words, I was stuck by the irony of two things. First, I am typing these words on a MacBook Pro, which I love, and plugged into it is my iPad, which I love even more.

Second, and sadly, it is clear that Jobs, who poured his heart, soul, and passion into these and other wonderful devices, regretted his failure to bring to “market” something of more importance…the iDad. Alas, there is a common saying that people close to death generally do not wish that they had spent more time at the office. What matters most at that crucial time is not what you were working on, but rather whom you were working for. Steve Jobs, exceptional in many ways, was no exception.

I don’t say these things to be disrespectful towards a dad who has died, but rather, as a warning for the dads who are still here. As fathers, we are all susceptible to creating false dichotomies when it comes to balancing work and family. For example, there are some who would assert that in order for Jobs to become a transformational business leader, he had to sacrifice his children at the altar of success. Jobs could not be a legendary innovator and an involved father. That’s just the way it is, they would say.

But ironically, Jobs’ life and management style did nothing if not dispel the notion of false dichotomies. He was raised by working class parents, dropped out of college, and went on to become a master of complex technologies. In fact, he challenged Apple’s engineers to develop a phone that both a 50-year-old businessman and a 14-year-old girl would covet. And, he topped this feat by tasking them to develop a laptop that was as powerful as the best on the market, yet as light as air.

Alas, Jobs was never an “either/or” kind of guy. He was a “both/and” man who thrived on making the seemingly impossible possible. Yet, the excerpt above suggests that he may not have brought this characteristic to his role as a father. And in the end, he hoped to make things right with his children.

The problem is that his children didn’t want to know about him, they wanted to know him. And despite all of our wonderful technology, knowing someone is less high tech and more “high touch.”

Several years after I did the Oprah Show, a woman approached me after I finished a speech. She looked me straight in eyes and said, “You don’t remember me, do you?” And, I had to admit that I didn’t. Well, it turns out that she was the wife of the man on the Oprah show whose family was in crisis. She told me that the show was a turning point for her husband. In fact, he changed almost immediately, and became an incredibly engaged father. He had discovered his iDad.

Guest Post: The Courage to Forgive

This is a guest post from Jeff Allanach, a newspaper editor in Maryland. Jeff is a married father of two children, and writes about fatherhood in his weekly column. You can follow Jeff on his Facebook page, Adventures in Fatherhood.

I expected “Courageous” to give me a renewed sense of dedication to living the life of a great father and setting the right example for my children. After all, the movie emphasizes the need for fathers to play an active role in the lives of their children, which I already do.

But I felt a greater sense of a need for deep reflection as I looked inward and saw a character I did not expect to see: Nathan Hayes.

Nathan is the newest deputy in the sheriff’s office that is pivotal in the movie. He is a loving husband, and the dedicated father of three children, so much so that risks his life to save his
infant daughter.

He also grew up fatherless, and could have turned out to be another statistic were it not for the efforts of a mentor who kept him straight and introduced him to a life of faith.

I felt connected to Nathan because I, too, grew up fatherless. Nathan explained it to David Thomson, a young deputy who just finished his rookie year on the force, after David asked him if he really felt he had a messed up childhood because he did not have a dad.

“More than you know,” Nathan responds. He goes on to tell him about the scars he still lives with even though he is a loving and involved father in his children’s lives.

Men usually shrug at having grown up fatherless, unwilling to confront the raw feelings of abandonment that inevitably comes with it.

Yet regardless of the reasons for a father’s absence, the results are the same. A boy who has no father has no role model, and will search for one wherever he can find it. Some find a false one in gangs. The lucky ones find one in church, other reputable organizations, or a mixture of influential people in their lives.

Some never find one, and are at greater risk of poverty, drug use, and even jail.

I admit that some days I shrug less than others at my father’s absence, but the scars are always with me.

No one taught me how to catch a baseball, and I can still feel the ridicule of other kids after letting the ball fly past me in right field. If I search deeply enough, I can feel the envy of other Boy Scouts whose dads taught them how to tie a knot or build a campfire. And I still have a scar to remind me that my father wasn’t around to teach me not to drag a razor horizontally across my upper lip.

Nathan’s scars may have been different, but they were scars nonetheless. Yet he also did something I aspire to do someday. He forgave his father. With all of his heart and soul, Nathan forgave his father for abandoning him as a child.

But here is a key difference between Nathan and me. Nathan’s father is dead. He has no way of knowing if his father regretted abandoning him or not, yet Nathan forgave him anyway in a touching graveside scene.

Nathan showed his courage by risking his life to save his infant daughter, but it takes infinitely more courage to forgive the man who so blatantly wronged him.

My father is alive, but has expressed no remorse for leaving his wife and four children 35 years ago. How does someone forgive another who has not asked for it?

Nathan did, and I wonder if I have the same courage inside of me.

So, is “Courageous” a movie about fatherlessness and the need for men to play an active role in the lives of their children? Or is it a movie about forgiveness, and a father letting go of the scars he feels having grown up fatherless?

It’s both. I just need to decide which one speaks more loudly to me.

Do involved fathers = smarter, better behaved children?

According to findings from a recent study from Concordia University, the answer to that question is yes. Compared to children whose fathers were absent, the study found that children who had present and actively involved fathers had higher IQs and demonstrated fewer behavioral problems.

Erin Pougnet, the study’s author, noted that programming for fathers is an important application of the findings of this study:
Programs that teach fathers positive parenting skills and that are attractive and accessible to families from a range of socioeconomic strata, "could go a long way to enhance children's later development."

Another expert in child research, Dr. Mariana Brussoni of the Child & Family Research Institute and University of British Columbia, noted that many programs neglect to specifically focus on fathers:
It is crucial for policies and programs to consider how they can support fathers to remain involved in children's lives. Many of the existing programs are more focused towards mothers and their needs, which is undoubtedly important. However, fathers cannot continue to be relegated to a secondary parenting role.

These statements are no surprise to us at NFI. We’ve long recognized that fathers take a different approach to parenting than mothers and need resources that are specifically designed for them. In fact, this matches what dads and moms are telling us in our national surveys, Pop's Culture and Mama Says:
  • Almost 50% of dads felt like they did not have the skills to be a father when they first became a dad
  • "Lack of knowledge about how to be a good father” ranked highly on dads’ list of obstacles to good fathering
  • 1 in 3 moms also agreed that the “lack of parenting resources specifically designed for fathers” is a significant obstacle to dads’ parenting

That’s where NFI comes in. NFI is the #1 provider of fatherhood resources and the #1 trainer of organizations and fatherhood practitioners. Here’s just a few of the highlights of our work to make sure dads have the resources they need to help them be involved fathers:
  • NFI offers over 100 resources designed specifically for fathers (brochures, fathering handbooks, curricula for fatherhood programs, etc.)
  • We have distributed over 5.8 million fatherhood skill-building resources
  • We have trained over 7,600 fatherhood program practitioners and over 3,500 organizations on how to deliver fatherhood skill-building programming to dads
  • Independent, third-party evaluations of our fatherhood curricula have shown statistically significant increases in pro-fathering knowledge, attitudes, and skills

You can learn more about the fatherhood skill-build resources we offer at our FatherSOURCE™ Resource Center. Ultimately, we strive to provide the very best skill-building resources for fathers because, as research like the Concordia University study have found, kids thrive when they have involved, responsible, and committed fathers. That is what is at the heart of NFI’s mission.

Are Good Dads Wimps? Fathers and Testosterone

This is from a recent New York Times article about an important new study: "Testosterone, that most male of hormones, takes a dive after a man becomes a parent. And the more he gets involved in caring for his children ... the lower his testosterone drops."

In other words, good dads are wimps.

I am kidding of course. We at NFI firmly believe that one of the most courageous, and therefore manly, things a guy can do is to take care of his children. The easy, and therefore wimpy, way is to not shoulder that responsibility and walk away. You may walk away with more testosterone coursing through your veins, but you are certainly much less of a man.

But what was more interesting to me about this new study was not necessarily the science of testosterone levels, but the interpretation of the results. Here are a few snippets from the story:
  • “The real take-home message,” said Peter Ellison, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard who was not involved in the study, is that “male parental care is important. It’s important enough that it’s actually shaped the physiology of men.”

  • “My hope would be that this kind of research has an impact on the American male. It would make them realize that we’re meant to be active fathers and participate in the care of our offspring.” (also from Peter Ellison; emphasis mine)

  • “But this should be viewed as, ‘Oh it’s great, women aren’t the only ones biologically adapted to be parents.’" (Lee Gettler, an anthropologist at Northwestern University and co-author of the study; emphasis mine)

  • Historically, the idea that men were out clubbing large animals and women were staying behind with babies has been largely discredited. The only way mothers could have highly needy offspring every couple of years is if they were getting help.” (also from Lee Gettler; emphasis mine)
I don't think I am overstating it when I say that these are truly remarkable statements about fatherhood.

First is the "who." The fact that academia is drawing these very strong conclusions about the necessity of fathers is a positive sign that our culture is getting closer and closer to giving a real "stamp of approval" to the irreplacability of fatherhood.

Since fatherhood (or so we thought until this study came out!) is largely "constructed" by the culture - in other words, dads get cues from the culture (not their bodies) about what they are supposed to do - it is critically important that the culture send clear messages about the importance of dads. If we expect good fathering, we are more likely to get it.

Second is the "what." As I stated above, we have largely believed that fatherhood is a cultural imperative - if the culture says we need good fathers, we get them. If the culture says fathers are not important, then we are less likely to get them. This is less true with moms, since their biology is so intimately tied with their having (pregnancy and childbirth) and caring for (breastfeeding, female hormones) their children.

But now, the gentlemen quoted above are suggesting that, much like motherhood, there is a clear biological imperative to fatherhood - that men's bodies "tell" them to be good dads. This is huge. We don't have to "make up" reasons for dads to get involved. Clearly there are tons of good ones; research has been abundantly clear that children are much better off when they have involved fathers.

But now that we can point to biology and say that dads are meant to be involved, and perhaps even more importantly, that moms are meant to have male help, the argument is all the stronger for it. At a time when 1 out of every 3 children in the country is growing up without their biological father in the home, we need all the help we can get to show that kids need their dads.

And there is nothing wimpy about that.

Flash Mobs and Absent Dads

Many of you have probably heard about the recent spate of crimes that were driven by "flash mobs" organized via social media and mobile devices.



In case you don't know, a flash mob is "a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, or artistic expression."



Interesting that this definition (from Wikipedia) does not (yet) include "for the purpose of committing a crime."



But that, sadly, is just what is happening. In fact, a very high profile case just happened in the very town in which NFI is headquartered, Germantown, MD. CNN.com had front page coverage of the incident here: http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/08/18/flashmobs.police/index.html?hpt=hp_c1



The county where NFI sits, Montgomery County, is, on the whole, a thriving community with great schools and safe neighborhoods. But a gang problem is starting to emerge in communities where rates of father absence are higher. These flash mobs are a symptom of that same trend.



Now, you are going to get all kinds of commentary about these crimes, but, as you can suspect, we here at NFI have a very simple question: where are the dads?



We already know that a disproportionate number of gang members and prisoners are from father-absent homes. This is no different; the youth causing this mayhem lack fatherly guidance at home. Sure there are other factors, but if there were involved, responsible, and committed fathers in these homes, these reckless teens would not be engaging in such senseless acts. In fact, most of the dads I have spoken to would not even let such troubled youth have a private cell phone, let alone use one to organize a crime.



So, is there a "father factor" in flash mob violence? You bet there is.

"Tiger Mom" and "Panda Dad"

A few months ago, I blogged about the "Tiger Mother" phenomenon and the lack of discussion about dads in all of the hullabaloo.

Fatherhood is Like Real Estate

A new study has found that one in five American moms have kids with more than one birth father. This is disheartening news for a number of reasons, but the analysis provided by the MSNBC story in which I read about the study ignores the most important reason.

Are Your Kids Sleeping with the Enemy?

This past summer, my 15-year-old niece spent about 2 weeks with me. I always look forward to spending time with her. She lives with her mother—my sister—full time. Since her dad has not been around as much as she would like, I, as her uncle, have become a “Double Duty Dad” to her.

When 2-1/2 = 1-1/2

I have avoided the easy target of Charlie Sheen for a few days now, because it is quite obvious to most people that he has been a terrible father. I don’t feel the need to “pile on.” However, there are a few things I would like to point out, especially as it relates to his show, Two and a Half Men.

Where's her daddy?

Kristy Choby, NFI's Research and Development Specialist, shares an observation from her wise-beyond-her-years daughter.

Who Needs Marriage?

From Renae Smith, NFI's Special Assistant to the President.

Time
magazine’s recent cover article titled "Marriage: What's It Good For?" poses an interesting question. In an age when marriage has become much less important for both men and women to have companionship, security, professional success, respect, sex, or to conceive children, then who needs it?

The article, citing a new Time/Pew Research Center poll, reported that 39% of people think that marriage is becoming obsolete. That seems a little contradictory to their strong opinions about the importance of marriage to parenting.
  • 69% said it’s bad for society that more single women are having children without a male partner. (Only 4% said it was good.)
  • 43% said it’s bad that more unmarried couples are raising children (compared to 10% who thought this trend was good.)
  • 77% think it’s easier for married people to raise a family than single people.
People also think that the link between marriage and parenting is important for them personally.
  • 90% of men think that being a good mother is an important quality for a good wife; 93% of women think that being a good father is an important part of being a good husband.
  • 74% of men think that a good wife should put family before anything else; 82% of women think that a good husband should prioritize family first.
This is encouraging news, but forget, for a moment, about what the adults think is good for society or good for them personally. Let’s talk about what’s good for the ones who are affected most by the presence or absence of marriage – children.

Research clearly shows that children who live with married parents fare better, on average, than children in other family structures on measures of child well-being – academically, financially, emotionally, physically, and socially. Why? The data on the impact of father involvement on the well-being of children holds part of the answer. The number one way to guarantee that a father will be consistently present in his children’s lives is for him to be married to their mother.

Jennifer Braceras’s response in the Boston Herald to Time’s question “What is marriage good for?” tells us that “we have forgotten that marriage is not just about adult happiness, but also about the responsibilities of parenthood and preparing future generations to thrive and succeed.”

Roland C. Warren, president of National Fatherhood Initiative, answers a similar question, "Are fathers necessary?", by saying “ask the kids.”

Before dismissing marriage as obsolete, we need to ask who needs it most. The answer: children. Children’s profound need for the daily, long-term presence of their own mothers and fathers in their lives will never become obsolete.

Is There a Father Absence Crisis?

With the release of the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse's new series of ads, bloggers and news sites have been buzzing about the need for these ads and the fact that there is a father absence crisis in America. "Do we really need to 'sell' fatherhood?" is the question of the hour.

Several individuals have cast doubt on a statistic from our Pop's Culture and Mama Says surveys, which state that 9 out of 10 fathers and mothers believe there is a father absence crisis in America today.

But that is the wrong statistic on which to focus.

The real issue is not what we see in our circles of influence or what we believe about whether or not there is a problem. The real issue is that 1 out of 3 children - 24 million - are growing up without their biological father in the home.

When millions of fathers aren't involved in their children's lives, that's a crisis. Especially when you consider that children from father-absent homes are more likely to face depression or commit suicide, drop out of school, experience a teen pregnancy, and experiment with risky behaviors.

There is a place for these ads. Even for the many dads who are involved and present, these ads are a reminder that your kids need you and you have an irreplaceable role in their lives.

For more information about the facts of father absence, visit www.fatherhood.org/fatherfactor or www.census.gov.

Fatherhood Stories from the Chilean Mine

The entire world is celebrating the amazing ongoing rescue of 33 miners in Chile who have been trapped underground since August 5. Listening to the news reports of the first miners brought to the surface nearly brought tears to my eyes this morning. I spent a summer in Chile during college, so that country has a special place in my heart and I am sharing in the joy over the safe rescue of these men.

It’s incredibly moving to watch the live news feed of the reunions of the miners and their families. Many of these men are fathers, with wives, children, and parents who have camped outside the mine for the past two months to be as close as possible to their loved ones. One miner became a first-time father when his wife gave birth to a baby girl on day 40 of the entrapment. He watched the birth by video and asked his wife to name their daughter Esperanza, which means “hope.”

My heart especially goes out to the children of these men. I can’t even imagine the emotional turmoil that they’ve been through, unsure of their fathers’ fates and anxiously hoping for their rescue. The BBC posted a diary kept by the adult children of one of the entrapped miners, describing their emotions, their communication with their dad, and their experiences as they wait at the camp. The videos and pictures of the rescue proceedings show touching images of a little boy on the brink of tears awaiting his father’s rescue, of another boy led by rescue workers to the capsule to be the first to greet his dad before he even stepped out, and of a child happily taking pictures of his father in the medical clinic a few hours after his rescue.

For these children, the painful waiting is finally over. But I can’t help but think of the thousands of children around the world who are still waiting for their fathers to come back – from military deployments, from incarceration, or from business trips. Sadly, for many children, dad doesn’t come back.

But today is a day for rejoicing with the 33 Chilean families whose fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers have been miraculously rescued. My thoughts and prayers are with them as the miners recover physically, mentally, and emotionally from their ordeal and adjust to a new life with their families.

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