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The Father Factor

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When the Principal's Name is Dad

As a graduate of home education, I often get two common reactions when people learn that I was homeschooled through 12th grade.  "Wow, I would have never guessed - you don't act like a homeschooler!"  I believe this is meant to be a compliment on my social skills and fun, outgoing personality... I think.  Or, "How you did learn advanced math and science at home?!" 

The Father Factor in the Aurora Shooting

In four of the most recent high-profile mass shootings (the D.C. Sniper, Chardon High School, the Tucson shooting, and the Norway terrorist), we wrote about how the killers had damaged or nonexistent relationships with their fathers and how that factor contributed significantly to their horrific actions.

Are Dads Really Clueless About Their Own Health?

I was doing some browsing on the Web when I came across a blog entry from Dr. David Katz, founder of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. The entry focused on the fact that men, especially fathers, need to turn a deeper focus on health and weight control. At NFI, we’ve made several references to the importance of health in men throughout our variety of resources and content. However, the doctor’s blog featured a few sentences that made me question just how thickheaded are men about getting healthy.

“We know that women are the guardians of the family health. We know that women, wives, mothers tend to do the heavy lifting when it comes to medical care, preventive services and diet,” said Dr. Katz in his blog, no doubt sharing a sentiment long shared by many. However, I grew up around men like my grandfathers and uncles who were always on top of their health. I’m particularly worrisome about my own health for a variety of reasons, some of which are hereditary.

Much like the meme going around that fathers are clueless when it comes to caring for their babies, a lot of archaic notions about men continue to be perpetuated. I became especially aware of my health needs after becoming a father. In fact, my peers who became dads all followed suit. How some of us arrived to that point was actually simple: taking care of children is taxing! I remember feeling like everything was hurting while running after my toddler, saying to my doctor that I needed to feel whole again.

I do get Dr. Katz’s overall point. As a father of five children and the editor-in-chief of the medical journal Childhood Obesity, he has an obligation to preach to the masses the importance of health. His blog was more so a call to fathers to set better examples for their children. I truly enjoyed his stance on saying that men who find working out and eating better to be feminine traits are acting “un-guy like” – slamming the notion that men can eat and do whatever they want without repercussions.

Dr. Katz is simply urging dads to eat better so their kids will too. The rapid rise in stroke risks in children between the ages of 5 and 14 attributed to obesity is unacceptable. The old adage “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” certainly applies in this case. Good health has to start somewhere, and fathers have a responsibility to lead by example.

I may not have been exposed to many men or fathers who were reluctant about staying healthy, but I do know we can all do better in providing a pathway to healthier living for our children by starting with ourselves.

No Child Beauty Pageants For My Daughter, Please

Reality television is literally like a train wreck. On some shows, one can witness the worst in human behavior, yet people still watch faithfully. There have even been “viewing parties” held during some of the more popular programs, a fact that still baffles me to this day.

One such program I had the displeasure of watching was controversial TLC show “Toddlers & Tiaras,” which profiles child beauty pageant contestants and their families. Already in its fifth season since premiering in 2009, the show is popular for all the wrong reasons.

The mothers of the young pageant contestants all push their girls, some young as two, to emotional and physical limits. They parade the little girls around in makeup, big hairdos, and even bathing suits. In the few times I’ve watched the show, I’ve never seen a father be involved in the shenanigans. As a father of a daughter, it troubles me to see little girls be put through the rigors of a pageant. I wondered often if the fathers are in the lives of the girls and how they felt about seeing their child in that light.

Perhaps I have a narrow male perspective but there is something limiting in this preemie beauty pageant nonsense that suggests the only goals these mothers have for their little girls is a life of preening and primping. I don’t see how a beauty pageant, especially at such young ages, promotes anything other than vanity. I would be appalled to watch the mother of my child force her to do something that adds such little value to her life.

I’m not alone in this thinking, as recent news suggests that the trend of child pageants teeters close to indecency. In France, lawmakers have banned child beauty pageants; this after a 10-year old girl was featured on the cover of Vogue Paris in attire not fit for a child. I don’t know if such a ban could happen here but I’m taking a stand for fathers who would rather see other ideals promoted in their little girls. Beauty and fashion are fine things to aspire towards, but what message does this ultimately send?

Just this week, the father of JonBenet Ramsey, the murdered beauty pageant contestant, came forward this week and called the Toddlers & Tiaras show “bizzare” although he allowed his child to participate. Reading his story, John Ramsey showed serious regret in letting his daughter enter the contests. I am in no way suggesting that JonBenet’s participation in these events led to her passing. Instead, I am glad to see one father finally speak up against the practice.

I happen to think my daughter is beautiful and worthy of being a supermodel should she choose that life as she gets older. For now, she has a lot of growing up to do and I’m in no rush to speed her down that path. Fathers, it’s ok to speak up for your little girls in cases like this. We have to protect our princesses any way we can.

Devoted And Heroic Dads Should Inspire Us All

Once a man takes on the important task of becoming a father, it suddenly stops being just about his life from that moment. You are now responsible for an entire person, even as they grow from infancy into adulthood. When a father is involved, responsible and committed, the bond established with your child is unbreakable. Sometimes in times of danger or emergency, a father’s automatic instinct is to protect. Most fathers I know who have good relationships with their children all share this innate trait.

The story of Erik Chappell, the Michigan attorney who leapt into action to save his two boys after a car bomb attack, inspired me to recall other tales of fathers who became knights in shining armor for their children.

In 2010, David Anderson and his daughter Bridget, just two at the time, and their scare in New York was an example of a father thinking of nothing more than saving his child. His little girl fell into a cold East River after which a brave Frenchman and Anderson dove into the water to rescue the toddler.

Joe Gutierrez proved his heroic mettle after rescuing three babies from a burning fire in Texas last month. Treating his actions like another day in the office, Gutierrez responded coolly, “I’m a regular guy. I’m not a hero, I’m a father. That’s what fathers do.”

Although I didn’t leap into freezing waters or burning buildings, I received a call today from my daughter while she was at school. Calling from the nurse’s office, I could tell something was amiss with her. I immediately stood up, and began walking towards the door to leave, not even regarding that I had a lot more work to do for the day. Whenever I hear my child in despair, she’s no longer the tiny little person of 11 years ago. I harken back to holding her just out the womb. I don’t see a tweener, I just see my baby.

Even now when she coughs too loud or says ouch, I get right up to see what the situation is. I’ve been told by dads of older girls that eventually, she’ll tire of my doting ways and will want some independence. I know I can’t always don a cape and take care of her problems, but I can’t imagine being any other way for the rest of my life. I hope and pray that my daughter will always know that while I can’t fix everything, I’ll do anything I can in my power to give her the best and safest life.

Like Mr. Gutierrez said, that's what fathers do.

Tommy Jordan And The Path Of Parental Redemption

It was just a month ago when a entire nation was shocked to witness a gun-toting, cowboy hat-wearing Tommy Jordan unload nine shots from a handgun into his daughter’s laptop. The aftermath of the event led to visits from Child Protect Services and the Department of Social Services, online commentators calling Jordan everything but a child of God, and a surprisingly high number of supporters.

Clearly remorseful but still staunch in his reasons for his actions, Mr. Jordan and his family have rallied around each other despite many thinking their situation was much more explosive than it was. I dare say the Jordan family may be a tighter unit than any of us could have ever expected.

Jordan, his daughter Hannah Marie and his wife, Amy, all appeared on NBC morning program TODAY show with host Matt Lauer. When Lauer asked Hannah her feelings about her dad’s actions, she clearly has processed the moment far quicker than America has. “We went our separate ways for a while, but we were able to laugh about it afterwards,” she said to Lauer. Hannah did say her father overreacted but that she ultimately accepted his actions.

Jordan’s wife, a doctor, also supports her husband’s actions and apparently gave Tommy the green light to destroy their daughter’s laptop. “People may look at the video that don't know him or us and think we're just completely uneducated country people. That’s not the case. He’s very intelligent, very thoughtful. He rarely does anything without thinking it through or even consulting me on a lot of occasions. This wasn't any different,” she shared.

On air, Tommy Jordan admitted to his mistakes which he and his wife said was inspired by his daughter’s initial mistake. Both mom and dad’s overall point: watch what you say online because it can come back to haunt you. “Don't post anything on the web you don't want the entire world to see. That was why we were upset with her in the first place and all of this has driven the point home,” said Mrs. Jordan.

Another moment that folks should notice was that of Mr. Jordan revealing he did indeed save Hannah’s hard drive from the same fate her laptop suffered. He looked his daughter in the eye and told her point blank that when she’s allowed to have a computer again, she can access her old files.

Like any other family, the Jordans aren’t perfect by any means. Tommy Jordan realizes that his shoot-em-up stunt has made for weighty consequences for he and his family. But together, it seems like they’re working it out just fine. Perhaps it’s time to let this story rest and allow a family to heal and find their path to redemption all on their own.

Father Absence And School Discipline

Before I joined NFI’s staff, I never heard of the term "father absence," but I was most certainly a product of it.

Raised by a single, African-American mother in a tough neighborhood, I had to navigate the dangers of my environment and still be a well-behaved student. My mother worked late five days a week, and I was left alone often. Naturally, I modeled my behavior after the tough guys in the neighborhood, carrying that attitude into school. I was in trouble frequently for insubordination and not following instructions. Mom attributed much of my actions to my father not being around to help guide me.

A national survey conducted by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) points to a glaring gap between the discipline students of color faced compared to their white counterparts. The numbers showed that while the collected data counted for just 18 percent of African-American students, Black males were shown to have nearly twice as many suspensions and even higher numbers for expulsion.

According to recent reports compiled using Census data and other sources, it was found that last year just 33 percent of Black children lived in a two-parent household compared to 85 percent of Asian children, 75 percent of White children and 60 percent of Hispanic children. Nearly all children living in single-parent homes lived with their mothers, with over half of those being Black children.

While the OCR survey is said to be expanding its research categories in the ongoing survey, it hasn’t been said to include data regarding the number of parents in the home. Education Secretary Arne Duncan addressed reporters in an open call on Monday ahead of the release of the data, asserting that the numbers are not directly a result of discrimination. Educators, obviously invested in what the data means ultimately, wisely noted that race, poverty and struggling school districts plays a part in what’s happening.

I scoured a lot of text while writing this blog entry, and not one person mentioned the family structure, at least in my searches. There is nothing said on whether these students of color are in two-parent homes or not. According to research, children from father-absent homes are more like to have behavioral problems. Why are commentators ignoring this reality?

In my own experiences, not having my father present in the home directly impacted how I behaved when I was not under my mother’s care. I’m not a statistician or researcher, but other numbers mesh with this report. 24 million children live apart from their biological fathers, with two out of three Black children and one of three Hispanic children dealing with father absence.

That alone points to something I’d like to see the OCR address in their further collection of data. While it’s not the Department of Education’s aim to offer a counter to the problem of father absence, I’m a living example of how the issue of academic failure could also be attributed to growing up in an unbalanced home environment.

Regardless of race and other societal factors, you can’t always expect well-behaved children in the face of father absence. In fact, the more the gap widens between fathers and children, the more we can expect numbers like this to spike even higher, and that’s truly a shame.

Does Chris Brown Need A Father Figure?

R&B singer Chris Brown burst onto the scene in the fall of 2005, and like the rest of America, I enjoyed his energetic dance moves and singing. Just 16 at the time, he was a fresh face poised for stardom. I knew some people personally at his label, and I rooted for his success.

His first two albums were full of puppy love talk, ballads, and up-tempo songs that captured his talent. In February 2009, however, my perception of Brown’s music and personality changed after the violent domestic dispute between he and ex-girlfriend Rihanna. Then 19, Brown assaulted the beloved pop singer after attending a party together earlier that evening. Naturally, Brown caught the wrath of both the media and his fans. The images of Rihanna’s swollen face still haunt me.

At the time, Chris Brown’s biological father, Clinton, defended his son, saying his son was remorseful. Chris didn’t grow up with his biological dad as his parents split when he was young. His mother, Joyce, remarried and Donelle Hawkins became his stepfather. In 2007, Chris revealed that his stepdad would beat his mother and that the situation filled him with rage, saying he even plotted to harm him. Although Hawkins denied striking Brown’s mother, he did confirm that it was a tense relationship.

It’s no stretch to see that Chris Brown modeled behavior he grew up seeing. He wasn’t given an opportunity to witness a man treat his wife with respect and honor. His violent reaction to Rihanna was reportedly sparked by an accusation of Chris sneaking around with other women, leading to the fight. It was nearly the same pattern of events he would have to endure between his mother and stepfather. Instead of learning to resolve conflicts sensibly, Brown’s propensity to fly off the handle continues to this day.

Brown has since gone into the gutter with his lyrical content. Moonlighting as a foul-mouthed rapper and morphing into a sex-crazed singer, he has lost all of the innocence in his music that once defined him. Another evolution of Brown’s character is his caustic online persona. Gone is the man who was subdued and reflective after his appearance on the Larry King show months after the 2009 incident. On his popular Twitter account, Brown is often profane and pushed into rage easily once anyone mentions his violent past.

Rihanna and Chris Brown are reportedly together again; with some saying they never split officially. Disappointing fans and opponents of domestic violence, they have also recorded new music together that’s unfit for young ears. Rihanna herself lived with an abusive father in her native Barbados, who she has since forgiven. To his credit Brown has tried to address the issue but while he begins with his heart in the right place, he is easily moved to anger. Even entertainers on Twitter have pushed Brown to the edge and even challenging him to fights.

Had Chris Brown been closer to his dad, a corrections officer, would he have received better guidance? Is it possible that Brown still needs a father figure or a mentor that can steer him away from this downward spiral? In other words, Chris Brown has a lot of growing up to do and may need a guiding hand along the way.

Make Mine A Maxima: A Nissan Fan's First Auto Love

Although NFI is wrapping up its “Innovation For Fatherhood” partnership with Nissan, I’m really thankful to know that a car brand I’ve loved for years has shown a deep commitment to being an automaker dads can trust. Although I wasn’t a father when I made my first car purchase, I do want to share a story on how Nissan won me over thanks in part to my dad’s love for cars.

I’m not exactly what you would call a car buff, but my father was a bit of a collector. One of his favorite cars was his Datsun 280ZX, which he called “Tammy” for reasons still unknown to me. I always liked the sporty look of the car, and I remember playing a lot of “that’s my car” games with my brother whenever we saw one on the road. However, the car that first stole my heart was the 1988 Nissan Maxima.

When I finally got to high school and the reality hit that I could soon be driving, I crafted an ambitious plan that I was going to work at the local fast food joint, cut grass in the summer, and do house paintings in my neighborhood for money. I truly believed I’d save enough money to buy a Maxima but the time I graduated from high school.

My dreams were dashed and car ownership eluded me until I was around 19 years old. The 90s were upon us and while the Maxima underwent a change into its third generation shape at the time, I still wanted the boxier ’88 model. Luck would have it that a man who lived in my neighborhood was selling his sky blue Maxima. My father was skeptical, saying I shouldn’t buy a used car but everything checked out.

I loved this car so much that I even learned how to do maintenance and I’m not the handiest guy around. The engine was the same as another favorite car of mine, the Nissan 300Z, and it was zippy! I pushed the car to the limit, racking up well over 100,000 miles in five years. Because of my loyalty to the brand and a higher income bracket, I was able to upgrade my car to the fourth generation version in 1996. It was all black and it was customary to see me in the summer cleaning and waxing my car every weekend.

An accident some years later (which wasn’t my fault) totaled the car and I’ve missed it since. I’ll admit that I’ve owned other cars since then, but I still want a Maxima. It’s amazing how sleek the car looks now in its seventh generation, coming a long way from its inception in the late 70s. Should good fortune shine upon me in the near future, I can say without hyperbole that a Maxima will be the car that I’ll buy.

Chardon High Shooting: Symptoms of the Father Factor

Image by Aaron Josefczyk, Reuters.

Are you an Angry Dad? If not, well maybe you should be!

A few nights ago, while I was doing my P90X workout (yes, that’s a shameless plug.), I decided to check out the latest “The Simpsons” episode on Hulu. Ironically, the title of the show was “Angry Dad: The Movie,” so I knew that I was in for a treat…not. You see, The Simpsons show has made millions for decades “buffoonorizing” dads in the form of Homer Simpson. Thanks to the show’s handy work, when millions of adults and kids are asked to name a TV dad, Homer is sure the top the list. Not Cliff Huxtable. Homer.

Let’s face it. When it comes to TV dads, we have gone from “Father Knows Best” to father knows nothing. The vast majority of dads on TV, in series or commercials, are portrayed as dumb, dangerous or disaffected. Generally, fathers are not just the butt of the joke, they are the butt…

In any case, in the episode, an executive visited the Simpson home because he came across an animated cartoon that Bart created titled “Angry Dad,” which chronicled Homer’s immature antics. The executive thought this cartoon was great, so much so that he convinced a Hollywood studio to make it into a movie. So, the family headed to Hollywood to get it done. Interestingly, as Bart and the executive were heading in to see the movie producers, the executive assured him that the movie had real potential. In fact, he said, “Everyone has an angry dad…even me.” And then the scene showed a flashback 'thought bubble' of the executive’s dad yelling at him as a small boy.

Well, it turned out that the executive was right. The Angry Dad movie won a Golden Globe and an Oscar, of course, with Homer playing the part of the angry and inconsiderate dad through each award show.

Now, I like a good joke as much as anyone. After all, I recently blogged about my deep affection for the much-maligned fanny pack. But, I really think that there is a problem here, especially since the show's success is built upon the notion of the “idiot” dad that is so prevalent and damaging in our culture. Indeed, media has power to shape norms, attitudes and behaviors. (Just think about how many glee clubs have formed recently due to the success of “Glee.”) Also, it’s worth noting that in our recent national survey of fathers called “Pop’s Culture,” dads cited media/pop culture as the second biggest obstacle to good fathering.

Moreover, as I have watched the show over the years, I have detected a very clear pattern. If you rank the characters based on who is responsible and competent, the list goes like this:

1. Marge
2. Lisa
3. Maggie (a non speaking infant)
4. Bart
5. Homer
6. Abe (Homer’s father)

Interestingly, in a non-fiction book called “The Psychology of The Simpsons: D'oh!,” which analyzed the psychological themes in the show, authors Alan Brown, Ph.D. and Chris Logan described Abe Simpson as follows:

“Abe has the least amount of "power" in the Simpson family, and he is treated as little more than a child and is often ignored.”

D’oh! Indeed. And, come to think of it, the one dad on the show that really cares about his kids, Ned Flanders, is often made to look like an idiot as well, even by Homer.

So, before the legions of The Simpsons fans tell me that I am overacting and “Don’t have a cow, man,” I need to hear from the fathers. Are you an angry dad? I wasn’t before watching this The Simpson episode. Now…I am not so sure.

One Dad's Limerick in Praise of the Fanny Pack

There once was a dad named Roland
Whose name sounded a bit like Holland

The Father Factor in the Tucson Shooting

"The family was contemptuous. It wasn't the son. It was the father."

Those are the words of a female neighbor of alleged Tucson shooter, Jared Loughner. As details about the Loughner’s family begin to emerge, a not unexpected picture is coming into focus. Apparently, Loughner’s father, Randy, was far from a positive force in the life of his son and family.

Another individual who used to spend a lot of time with the Loughners said the family's home was "cold, dark and unpleasant" and that he always felt "unwelcomed."

Most importantly, this same former friend said he never observed “a particularly loving relationship between the Loughners.” Finally, and sadly, Loughner once told this friend that he loved his dog more than his parents. More details are here.

This is not entirely different than what we learned about the D.C. sniper after his shooting rampage in the fall of 2002. As details of Lee Malvo’s family life emerged, it became clear that he did not have a close relationship with his father – he was, in fact, desperately yearning for a close relationship with his father and tragically chose John Muhammad to replace him.

Decades of research show that boys who have fractured or nonexistent relationships with their fathers are more likely to act out violently than sons who are close to their fathers. Unfortunately, our nation’s prisons are filled with men who had poor relationships with their dads.

Clearly, there were a number of factors that led to Jared Loughner’s heinous act, but to ignore the “father factor” is to ignore an important root. We will continue to monitor this situation as more details of his family life emerge. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.

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