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The Father Factor

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Your Princess and Kissing Those Darn Frogs

I just finished reading a book called “A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue” by Wendy Shalit. Although the book was written in 1999, its wisdom is timeless. Indeed, it is quite remarkable to watch Shalit skillfully illustrate the troubling cultural messages being communicated to girls and young women about their bodies, sexuality and femininity. This book is still a must-read.

In any case, the book has caused me to think quite a bit about the role that fathers should play in protecting the innocence of their daughters and in helping them develop a healthy, resilient and positive self-image--a tall order indeed in a culture that increasingly seeks to sexualize our little girls. (We now have retailers that are making thong underwear for 11 year-olds and skinny jeans for toddlers.) My view has always been that a father’s role is to help his princess find her “prince” (i.e. her self worth) without “kissing all the frogs.” For sure, today the frogs are more plentiful and aggressive in their call…And the stakes are higher than ever and the consequences of poor decisions can be long lasting and quite dire.

A case in point is the recent situation that actor Lawrence Fishburne (Mystic River, The Matrix) faced with his 19 year-old daughter, Montana. She agreed to star in a pornographic video to help her become famous. She stated, "I view making this movie as an important first step in my career. I've watched how successful Kim Kardashian became and I think a lot of it was due to the release of her sex tape. I'm hoping the same magic will work for me.”

Clearly, Fishburne was not happy with this situation but Montana wouldn’t listen to him. In fact, to block the release of the video, Fishburne’s friends even offered the film producer what he apparently considered too “modest a sum” -- $1M for all of the copies. The producer distributed the film and it reportedly sold so well that he offered Montana a multi-picture deal.

Granted, Fishburne’s situation is somewhat unique but you have to wonder why a daughter whose dad is an accomplished actor would choose this route to fame. But, the script of Montana’s life is a familiar screenplay with a predictable narrative. It’s worth noting that Fishburne and his daughter’s mother divorced when Montana was very young. You have to wonder if he was "on location" when Montana was a little girl making the critical decision whether to embrace or reject the immodest “Kardashian type” messages and values celebrated daily in our culture. All dads should be mindful that if you “exit stage right” from your daughter’s life, you are bound to miss important “cues.”

Ironically, frogs can be quite alluring and very deceptive. But, outside of fairy tales, there is no “magic” in them. And, that’s why our daughters need involved fathers who have built strong enough relationships with them so that they will listen when he says “be careful what you wish and what you kiss.”

A Little Girl Named "Inspiration"

Last Friday was a tough day for me. I had just boarded a subway train heading to my first of three speaking engagements. I was already pretty tired because I had to take another early morning flight. To make matters worse, I wasn’t looking forward to a tough call about this year’s budget with our VP of Finance in preparation for an upcoming board meeting. As you can imagine, it’s very difficult "sledding" so far this year due to the fundraising environment. We need lots of help and it seems like I am working twice as hard to raise half the funds. Indeed, I was a bit discouraged.

Then, I saw her.

She couldn’t have been more than three years old and she was sitting right across from me next to her mother. She had just the cutest little face, which was framed with a flock of perfectly twisted braids. And those eyes. Well, they were like big brown shiny buttons and they were locked on me like a laser beam.

Now, anyone who knows me knows well that I am a “sucker” for little kids. But, since I was in a bit of a funk, I was stubbornly determined not to engage her. Plus, I had to prepare for my important speech about fatherhood. So, I turned back to my work.

But, she would have none of it. I looked up again. And, there she was staring at me. She was transfixed. So, I had no choice. I smiled. And she lit up like a Christmas tree and smiled back as if to say, “Gotcha.”

I looked at her mother—who seemed to be carrying a heavy burden—and noticed that she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. And, I could not help but wonder where this little girl's dad was and when was the last time he smiled at her. In any case, before I could consider this more, the train stopped and the mother grabbed the little girl’s hand and headed for the door and then they disappeared into the crowd.

I doubt that I will ever see those eyes again. But, I will never forget them. And, I doubt that I will ever know this precious little one’s name. But, I have given her one nonetheless. I will call her…Inspiration.

When It's Over But It's Not

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

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

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

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

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

Daddy's Home

While I was flipping through the radio on my way home from work recently, the lyrics of a song on a station I don’t normally listen to caught my attention, and I stopped to figure out what the song was about.

…all I wanna hear
Is you say Daddy’s home, ohh home for me
And I know you’ve been waiting for this lovin' all day
You know your daddy’s home, it’s time to play
(“Daddy’s Home” by Usher)

I immediately had a flashback to my childhood. As a little girl, I used to drop whatever I was doing as soon as I heard the heavy flight boots of my father, who was an officer in the Air Force, walk through the door. I’d exclaim, “Daddy’s home!” and run up to the front door and jump in his arms.

My younger sisters liked to hide and make Dad find them. He always played along with the game – “Where’s Claire? Where’s Pamela?... she’s not behind the couch… oh there she is!”

Dad coming home was the highlight of our day, and we couldn’t wait to tell him all about the fun things we had done, show him the pictures we had colored, or drag him to come play with us. (Admittedly, we outgrew this stage after about age 6, to Dad’s disappointment.)

However, the song on the radio did not match these happy memories. The sexualized lyrics made it clear that the exclamation of “Daddy’s home” was not the joy of a child running into the safe and loving arms of a father.

Every little girl has a craving for the tenderness of a father who cherishes her, treats her like a princess, and protects her – Daddy is often her first true love. When there is no Daddy coming home, or Daddy coming home is a scary occasion and not a happy one, a young woman will often look to other men later in life to fill her need for a father’s affection. Unfortunately, the men who are all too eager to fill that void often don’t cherish her, treat her like a princess, or protect her – too often it’s quite the opposite.

Usher’s song gave me a new understanding of our culture’s father absence crisis, and made me sad for the girls for whom “Daddy’s home” never meant to them what it meant to me. Now, I am all the more grateful that I have a wonderful father who was just as excited to see me at the end of the day as I was to see him.

Renae and her siblings greet daddy at the door (c. 1992).

Aniston-O'Reilly Fracas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father Absence and Puberty?

Time magazine just published an article about young girls entering puberty earlier and earlier. The article is based on a study that was just published in the journal, Pediatrics.

The age of menarche (first period) in white girls has dropped steadily since 1997. During that same period, the age for black girls stayed at the same very low age -- researchers think they may have "bottomed out" already.

While there is still a lot of mystery as to why this is happening, doctors are starting to posit some answers. Increases in childhood obesity and exposure to certain chemicals are two possibilities.

But research also suggests that another factor is at play here -- the father factor (See the name of our blog! Clever, eh?).

I remember once reading about the connection between father absence and the early onset of puberty, so I did a little research and came across a 2003 study called, “Father absence, parental care, and female reproductive development" in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior. Basically, it found that the more time a young girl spends in a father-absent home, the more like it is that she will experience "early reproductive development."

Researchers are also not entirely sure why this happens either, but they posit that if a young girl spends significant time with non-related males, that could trigger menarche. A colleague of mine here at NFI who grew up without her father and had very early menarche thinks that it was a "survival instinct" based on needing to mature much earlier to deal with the added physical and emotional challenges that single-parent households can bring.

It is interesting that where rates of father absence are highest (in the African American community), the age of first period is already at a low point, and where rates of father absence have been increasing, the age has been getting lower.

I am not suggesting that father absence is the only reason for this phenomenon, but it seems to be one of them. And since doctors are concerned about early menarche (longer duration of puberty may affect cancer rates and fertility), they should be concerned about what is happening with fathers.

The DC Sniper Story Revisited: Before the "Aftermath"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Toy Story Dad…What's His Story?

This past weekend, my family and I went to see "Toy Story 3." Wow. What a great movie! The dialogue was clever and humorous. The characters and the plot were compelling and entertaining, and the movie has a wonderfully engaging blend of drama and comedy. My sense is that the Toy Story series has run its course. If so, the creators of the series ended on a very high note.

However, there was one aspect of the movie that left me a bit "animated." The plot builds around the fact that Andy, who is now 17, has lost interest in playing with Woody, Buzz and the gang. Accordingly, the urgent crisis for the toys is what would become of them now that Andy would soon be heading off to college.

At one point, there is a scan of Andy's desk and you see a picture from his recent high school graduation. There are three smiling faces: Andy, his sister and his mom. So, for me, the stuffed elephant in the living room was...Where is Andy's dad and what's his story?

Now, I know that this is just a movie, but, unfortunately, art can imitate life. With 24 million kids living in father-absent homes, Andy's family situation is too real and too common for too many children. Nonetheless, this was not an accident or an oversight. Somewhere during the creative process someone made the call to erase dad. Moreover, he was deleted and no reference was made to him. And, well, I am just not comfortable with this new normal.

Interestingly, there was a scene in the movie where I got a sense that Andy was not too comfortable with this either. Near the end of the film, Andy is holding Woody for what will probably be the last time and he says that Woody is his most special toy and that he has been with him for as long as he can remember. He added that Woody was always there for him and, best of all, Woody would never give up on him, no matter what.

Now, you can dismiss this like so much "psycho babble," but it seems to me that Andy, through his imagination and play, ascribed to Woody the attributes of an involved, responsible, and committed father. And, if you followed the Toy Story series, this is exactly how Woody behaved. He was always focused on being there for Andy regardless of the challenges and obstacles. Interestingly, the magic that made Woody a "real" toy was his commitment to Andy, just like what makes a man a real father is his commitment to his children.

In fact, if anyone ever questioned his priorities and purpose, Woody was quick to show them the word "ANDY" written on the sole of his shoe in permanent marker. What an amazing metaphor for what happens to a man when he becomes a dad. I have heard numerous times from fathers how something changed inside of them when they held their child for the first time. Well, I think that children are born with "magic" markers and when their dads hold them for the first time, they write their names on their dad’s souls to remind their fathers who they belong to.

I guess that's why I am a bit troubled by no reference or mention of Andy's dad. Because for all of the real “Andys” in the world, their history is linked to their destiny as men and as fathers. Accordingly, they have to come to grip with and make sense of their father's absence in a real way. And there is no erasing that.

See how National Fatherhood Initiative works with entertainment media projects to promote their fatherhood messages: www.fatherhood.org/entertainment

The Father Factor and The Barefoot Bandit

Research tells us that children without involved fathers are more likely to commit crimes and engage in risky behaviors. The recent apprehension of the "Barefoot Bandit" gives us a clear example of this statistic.

At the age of 19, Coulton Harris-Moore (known as the "Barefoot Bandit" for executing crimes sans footwear) is suspected of committing at least 100 burglaries. He was caught and brought into custody this weekend when he crash-landed a stolen plane in the Bahamas.

As news sources learn more and more about his troubled childhood, one thing becomes clear - this story definitely has a father factor. Gordon Moore, Harris-Moore's father, used drugs, was imprisoned, and even tried to choke his child before walking out on him at the age of two.

Clearly, there are other factors and variables at work here, but one thing is clear: even though he walked out when his son was only two years old, Gordon Moore had a profound effect on his child's life.

For more information about the father factor in crime, incarceration and risky behavior, check out www.fatherhood.org/fatherfactor

Going "Gaga" about Sex

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

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

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

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


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

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

Absent children?

I just read this on "Motherlode," the parenting blog of The New York Times: "A recent poll in Great Britain found that one in 10 adults speak by phone with his or her mother just once every four weeks... Why are grown children so absent?"

If grown children speak so infrequently to their moms, think about how little they speak to their dads! After all, we know that in both Great Britain and the United States, it is more often fathers who are absent from their children's lives than mothers.

So, at least with fathers, my guess is that absent fathers breed "absent" children. Makes sense. But what is the explanation for children being "absent" from their moms' lives?

Interestingly, we know from research that father absence can also play a role. Bear with me...

Studies have found that children whose parents are married, have, on average, better relationships with both their mothers and their fathers. Further, children of divorce, when they become adults, are less close to both their parents than children whose parents remained married. How about elder care? Yep - children whose parents divorced are less likely to offer their elderly parents co-residence.

So, it seems that at least part of the issue with children absent from their moms' lives is that their fathers were absent from theirs (in the case of my illustration, as a result of divorce, which impacts about 1 million children per year).

This may sound like a stretch. What do you think?

"Say Uncle"

As President of NFI, I speak quite a bit about the need for dads to intentionally reach out and be “father figures” and mentors for children in father-absent homes. So, inevitably, since I grew up without my father around much, I am asked if a dad reached out to me. Well, the answer is “yes.”

Can you hear his soul?

Recently, my wife, who is a family practice doctor, shared an interesting story with me. She was doing examinations on a 7-year-old boy and his 5-year-old sister. Because doctors visits, especially when shots are involved, can be a bit scary for kids, my wife at times lets the children listen to each other with her stethoscope before she examines them.


The little boy insisted on going first and he pressed the scope gently to his little sister’s chest. My wife explained the sounds that he would hear as he found his sister’s heartbeat. Now, it was his little sister’s turn. She quickly put the stethoscope on and pressed the listening device to her brother’s chest. As she listened intently, the little boy turned to my wife and asked, “What does my soul sound like?”


As they finished the visit, my wife spent some time speaking with the children’s mother. She likes to do this to get a better understanding of how her little patients are doing at home. For example, she asks if the children are eating and sleeping well and if there are other situations happening at home that could impact their health. Their mother quickly offered that their father, who she never married, recently moved out and moved on.


I suspect that my wife told me this story because I am fond of saying that kids have a “hole in their soul” in the shape of their dad and when a father is unwilling or unable to fill that hole, it can leave a wound that is not easily healed. Kids say the darndest things and I could not help but wonder if this little boy with his seemingly nonsensical question was saying something more profoundly about himself and expressing a more deep-seated need than hours and hours of therapy could ever reveal.


Several years ago, I came across this article, which I highly recommend that you read as well. It features an interview with Dr. Diane Schetky who served as an expert witness for the defense at the trial of DC sniper, Lee Malvo. In any case, when Schetky asked Malvo why he blindly followed Muhammad’s instructions, he said, “Anything he asked me to do I'd do. He knew I didn't have a father. He knew my weaknesses and what was missing.”


It’s worth recounting a bit of history about Malvo. He was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1985 to Una James. His father, Leslie, reportedly doted on his young son. However, Leslie Malvo worked off-island, and during his long absences, Malvo was“ inconsolable.” Over time, James suspected Leslie of infidelity and moved with her son to a small, rural part of Jamaica without telling him where they had gone. “Lee was devastated by the loss of his father,” according to Schetky.

Malvo met Muhammad when he was just 15 and was immediately drawn to him. So much so, he quickly began calling Muhammad “dad.” In fact, Malvo told Schetky “I was desperate to fill a void in my life…” And the rest, unfortunately, is history.

It doesn’t take much to see some similarities between Malvo and the little boy in my wife’s office. Am I saying that this boy and others who get disconnected from their fathers will grow up to be emotionless killers? Of course not. But what I am saying is that Malvo was once a young fatherless boy with a “soul” that few seemed to hear except a man who would eventually convince Malvo to be “heard” in a tragic way that ruined his life and ended the lives of so many others.

The 10 Worst Fathers?

So Men Health's recently published a list of what they consider the top ten worst fathers. The line of reasoning was, "Well, even if you aren't perfect - at least you aren't this bad." The list includes everyone from Michael Lohan to David Hasselhoff to Eliot Spitzer to Woody Allen. It also includes some less well-known folks who beat up their kids' Little League coaches or produce 78 kids (to date).

This is interesting on multiple levels. First, it's good to know there is still some sort of standard for what it means to be a good father. Granted, after this list, the bar isn't too high but if you did the opposite of everything on this list (ie: care about your kids more than yourself and don't physically or emotionally harm them), you're headed in the right direction.

Secondly, I think Men's Health might have forgotten another entry on the list: the intentionally absent father. Obviously there are situations where a father cannot, for various reasons, play an active role in his children's lives. But in the majority of cases, as difficult as the father's presence might be, a father's absence certainly doesn't make for a painless childhood either. It's simply a different category of pain.

Perhaps we and Men's Health can agree on one point - fathers do need encouragement. Not perhaps from the legacy of outrageously ridiculously bad fathers, but from working on their fathering skills and knowing that their presence is an irreplaceable wonderful benefit to their children!

Is Everybody Really Fine?

Everybody's Fine, a new Robert DeNiro movie, opened a few weeks ago. Here are the details.

Here is a synopsis of the film: A widower who realized his only connection to his family was through his wife sets off on an impromptu road trip to reunite with each of his grown children.

The title of the movie is a reference to what his late wife used to say to him whenever he asked about how his kids were doing. She would say, "everybody's fine," and he would move on without getting more details.

I had the opportunity to pre-screen the movie before it came out. For the most part, I thought it did a terrific job of showing how fathers, through their emotional absence, can let their children's lives pass them by. DeNiro's character, despite providing materially for his four kids, knows little about them, they know little about him, and he has no real relationships with any of them.

There were some very poignant moments throughout the film that realistically show the pain and problems that father absence causes both children and their dads.

However, the final moments of the film contradict the message that the first 90 minutes so effectively communicated. His surviving children all show up to his house for Christmas, and as they are all sitting around the dinner table, DeNiro's character says, "For the first time, I can honestly say that everybody's fine."

The problem is that two of his grandchildren were sitting at the table facing the exact same problem his four children had - they were growing up in situations that would not allow them to know their fathers!

So, they establish throughout the film that when children and their fathers lack a good relationship, it causes problems. But then at the end, we are told that two children growing up without their fathers are "fine."

I don't get it... If you have seen the film, I would love to get your thoughts.

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