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The Father Factor


What Kind of Dad Are You?

“He does not need a commanding officer; he needs a father.” —Faia Raige, Wife of Cypher Raige, Mom of Kitai Raige in the new film, After Earth.

At NFI, we often talk about discipline. It comes with the territory. It’s worth pointing out that “discipline” comes from the Latin word discipulus meaning “to teach; to guide.” Dads often mistake “discipline” for “punishment”, which means to “penalize” for doing something wrong. In the new film After Earth, we get a glimpse of what happens when a dad must learn how to connect with his son.


In the film, under Cypher Raige’s (Will Smith) command is a young recruit named Kitai (Jaden Smith), a rebellious teen. Kitai is also Cypher's son, and the father is frustrated at what he thinks is a lack of discipline.  

Cypher's wife, Faia, urges Cypher to see Kitai's behavior as a plea for his father's love and attention. At her request, Cypher takes Kitai along with him on a mission, but an asteroid storm interrupts their course and a crash landing leaves teenage Kitai and his legendary father stuck on earth.  But “Earth” isn’t as you may think. This is Earth 1,000 years after cataclysmic events have forced humanity’s escape.  

This film forced us to think about what kind of fathers we are and what kind we should be. If we’re being honest, most dads think that discipline means “to control” rather than “to teach or to guide.”

As a result, we use fear when we punish. Our role as a dad is to be a model. Modeling is one of the most important ways we dads teach our children. Dads who say one thing but do another confuse their children because they don’t “walk the walk.” Dads, we must understand what kind of parent we are so we can make the correct adjustments. Chances are, you’ll fall into one of five fathering styles:

1. The Dictator.
This Dad is always strict and never nurtures. He leads with control and enforces rules with an iron hand. His children know what he doesn’t want them to do, but rarely what he wants them to do. This Dad says, “My way or the highway.”

2. The King.
This Dad is strict and nurtures when needed. He leads by example. His children know what he doesn’t want them to do, as well as what he wants them to do. This Dad says, “Let me show you the way.”

3. The Joker.
This Dad is never strict and rarely nurtures. He jokes a lot and makes fun of his children. His children don’t know what he doesn’t want them to do or what he wants them to do. This Dad says, “Let’s just have fun.”

4. The Follower.
This Dad is sometimes strict and sometimes nurtures. He lets Mom take the lead on discipline and backs her up when needed. His children know some of things he doesn’t want them to do and some of the things he does want them to do. This Dad says, “Do whatever Mom says.”

5. The Dreamer.
This Dad is never strict and never nurtures. He lets Mom take the lead on discipline and doesn’t get involved with it. His children don’t know what he wants them to do or what he doesn’t want them to do. This Dad says, “Whatever. Just leave me alone.”  

When considering which discipline style you most associate with, ask yourself, “Is this the best style for my children/my family/my involvement?”  

In After Earth, we see a glimpse of a “dictator” dad who learns to be a “king”. We are reminded that even if we aren’t perfect fathers, we can be better.  

Question: What style of discipline did your father use? What style do you use? Why? 

Visit NFI’s After Earth page for the trailer and more information. See the new film in theaters May 31.

Great Commercial. Bad tagline.

I love the pro-fatherhood imagery in this commercial. Take a look:

Everything is perfect until the tagline. I think it should say the opposite, “It’s good to be a friend. It’s better to be a dad.”

Kids have plenty of friends (usually), but they only have one dad. There is something unique and irreplaceable about being a dad, and while being a friend to your child can certainly be part of that, there is so much more to it than that.

You are their teacher, their guide, their protector, their provider, their nurturer. I don’t think we typically expect all of that from our friends. Furthermore, one could even argue that kids don't need another friend in their dad; they need a parent. I’ve heard more than one story of a dad trying to be his child’s “friend” and finding out the hard way that the child needed a lot more than that, especially in the area of discipline.

Anyway, maybe I am splitting hairs on this one. The “feeling” that the commercial gives me is great. I just wish they had come up with a better tagline. This tagline almost ruins the commercial because it makes fatherhood out to be less than what I think it really is.

What do you think? Is it better to be a “dad” or a “friend” to your child?

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End Father Absence: Give a Second Chance to Dads Like Steven

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NFI’s fiscal year ends on September 30 and we are celebrating the end of an impactful year by sharing stories of real-life dads and their children who have found second chances through our work in their communities. 

Steven Gonzales of Sacramento, California, is one of those dads.  Photographer Lewis Kostiner met him as he traveled around the country at his own expense photographing and interviewing dads who participated in NFI’s fatherhood programs in local communities.  Mr. Kostiner shared his impressions of Steven’s relationship with his son in his book Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance.

describe the imageSteven Gonzales worked fourteen-hour days, seven days a week.  He lived amongst the ghosts of bygone eras of vintage cars.  Steven was the owner of the body shop that consumed him.  He also was a father who taught his children by example.  He told me that he regretted not being home for dinner every night, sometimes having to run out to give an estimate.  He told him his heart hurt when he had to do this.  Steven and his son took me on a tour of the body shop.  We visited the paint shop, rich in the aroma of the freshly sprayed paint.  His son was so proud of his dad.  My presence with the camera made the young boy feel important.  He knew his father to be a very special person and that I was sent there to take this famous person’s picture.  Steven and his son posed so proudly in front of the blue, beat-up Cadillac.  I envied that boy and the life he had with his father.  When I was done, they gave me a red t-shirt with the name “RED STAR California Original” [the name of the body shop] on the front of it.  I felt as special as the son when I left.

NFI is active in communities like Steven’s, helping dads in all walks of life build their fathering skills and connect with their children.  In some cases, the support and inspiration these dads find through our presence in their communities is the second chance they and their families need.

Your financial support is crucial to reach more families like Steven’s.  As we end the fiscal year on September 30, will you make a donation to help us finish this year and start next year strong?  We have almost reached our fundraising goal for the year, and your contribution will get us across the finish line and help even more dads and families next year.

describe the imageAs a special “thank you,” we will send a FREE copy of Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance to anyone who donates $100 or more.  Of course your gift of any amount helps us reach our goal for the fiscal year and start our next year of work strong.

Thanks for your help!

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Learning From A Kindergartner

Writing in the Huffington Post, Dr. Ricky Choi tells of an "interview" he had with his daughter about starting kindergarten. Turns out, there was a big difference between his answers and his daugthers. Reading the conversation between Dr. Choi and his daugther may remind us dads to be more perceptive and listen to our child more intentionally. Whether your child is entering kindergarten or college, the lesson this parent learned is worth memorizing. 

sfo terminal 2Dr. Choi writes his most recent column that he learned some things on his "last-hurrah-before-kindergarten-daddy-daughter trip." After waiting in Terminal 2 of the San Francisco Airport on a flight delay and knowing that kindergarten was fast-approaching, he was filled with new thoughts and emotions. He puts in words what so many have gone through or are going through as parents, the idea of "coming to terms with seeing my daughter as a more independent person." Choi then decides to take a break in the airport terminal and ask his daughter some questions about starting school. 

Dr. Choi is not only a dad, he is a pediatrician. He spends his day tossing out parenting advice and telling parents to listen to their children. But Choi is honest and says, as a father, "his assumptions about his daughter's capabilities and view of what is best for her can put me out of touch with her actual day-to-day concerns." Isn't this true dads? Don't we often get sidetracked into what we THINK we know rather than what we really know about our kids.

Take time and read Dr. Choi's dialogue with his daughter. Choi asks his daughter honest questions about her feelings of starting school. He asks questions like:

What are you most excited to learn about?
What is the most important thing to remember in order to do well in kindergarten?

Read Choi's article and see how different each perspective is in the answers. For each question, Choi offers what he thought his daughter would say and what his daughter actually said. Armed with this new perspecitve, dads may learn to gain insight by listening first, then offering whatever is best needed; whether it be comfort or praise. This sounds elementary doens't it dads? But oh how difficult it is to listen!

For instance, Dr Choi asks his daughter, "What will be the hardest thing about going to kindergarten?" He expected her to say something like, "Challenging school lessons, homework, missing my family and the demands to be independent." Instead, her answer was, "Figuring out who will be my best friend."

Choi reveals a "telling difference" between what he expected to hear and what his daughter actually said. He observes, "I'm focused on her academic performance and meeting expectations. She is concerned about relationships with her friends and teacher."
He describes his conversation as a "humbling reminder to really pay attention -- and address what she cares about especially if I want to effectively impress on her the things I view as important." If we are honest as dads, we think we know what we are doing sometimes by offering advice or trying to "fix" things. The best approach may be offered after listening to what our child's actual concerns really are. Thanks, Dr. Choi, for making us dads see from a different angle...the angle of our child. We need this reminder in our busy lives.
We agree with Dr. Choi, parenting may have its ups and downs, but in the midst of all the emotions and expectations of a new school year; slow down, relax and listen to your child.

Parents: Where do you go to "get away" from everything, and listen to your son or daughter?  

Read Dr. Choi's full daddy-daughter interview
Connect with The Father Factor by RSSFacebook and on Twitter @TheFatherFactor.
photo credit: Marcin Wichary
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Climb Mountain, Get Water: The Father Factor in Kenna's Cause


I recently attended the 10th annual Cause Marketing Forum (CMF) conference in Chicago to learn about how non-profits and corporate brands can support important causes together. During the conference keynote, musician Kenna made a special appearance to share about Summit on the Summit – a campaign he created raising awareness and funds to provide clean drinking water by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. 

Working at NFI has given me “fatherhood glasses” and what stuck out to me from Kenna’s story was that it was his dad who inspired him to create this campaign.

Kenna is an Ethiopian-born American musician. He told the audience at CMF that he attempted to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro to celebrate his second album but could not finish due to a reaction to anti-altitude medication.

kenna and dad

When his dad asked him why he wanted to climb the mountain, Kenna replied that he felt like he hadn’t reached his life’s mountain yet. His dad reminded him that he had been born at 19,000 feet altitude and perhaps he didn’t need the anti-altitude medication. “You were made to climb that mountain, Kenna,” his dad said. “Maybe you have added something artificial to your life, like the medication, that is keeping you from reaching your life’s mountain.”

Kenna’s dad told him he wanted to dig a well in his native country, Ethiopia, to provide clean drinking water. Though he was born in Ethiopia, Kenna grew up in the United States and he took clean drinking water for granted.

Then, he learned that his dad had almost died from a waterborne disease that left him in great pain through his teen years. This disease killed many others in his community. Around the world, over one billion people lack access to clean, safe drinking water.

Kenna says his father’s experience with this global crisis made him realize his dad did not come to America and provide a good life for his family just so his son could walk a red carpet and be famous. His father’s story and his close relationship with his dad motivated Kenna to help his dad fulfill his dream of providing clean drinking water to his native community and others in need around the world.

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Kenna created Summit on the Summit to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with a team of celebrities (including Lupe Fiasco, Emile Hersch, and Jessica Biel), humanitarian workers, corporate brands like HP, and the United Nations.

The extreme nature of their effort was intended to raise awareness of the extreme need for clean water. Watch a video about this project here.

The campaign was successful! Months later, Kenna returned to Ethiopia, which includes some of the driest parts of the earth, to dig a well 50 yards from where his father had contracted a waterborne illness years before. Kenna continues to campaign for access to clean drinking water even though his climb is done.

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Kenna says, “Everything I wanted to accomplish as an artist I had done. I wanted to do something that would impact the world, but I never thought I’d do that by impacting my own family. It’s been the most meaningful existence.”

At NFI, we say “fathers change the world one child at a time.” In this case, Kenna’s father truly made an impact on the world. His relationship with his son motivated his son to devote himself to a cause close to his father.

While your children may not have the celebrity status Kenna was able to leverage for an important cause, you are making a difference everyday by shaping what your children care about and value. You never know what they will be motivated to do because you invested in their life.

How have you been inspired by your dad?

The Father Factor Blog > Where Fatherhood Leaders Go To Learn.

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