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The Father Factor

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The Spider-Man Sleep Solution

spider-manMy son has been sleeping in his own bed every night, all night since a new room “opened for business” in our house. Yes – he has his very own Spider-Man room, and it is the greatest solution to toddler sleep issues ever invented by a father, humbly speaking.

He is 3 now. From when he was an infant until about a year ago, he slept in his crib pretty much every night, but he never wanted to fall asleep in his crib. He would have to fall asleep on the couch with mommy and daddy nearby, or in our bed. Then when he fell asleep, we’d whisk him away to his crib. For the last several months, matters had been worse. Not only would he not fall asleep in his own bed, but when we would place him there, he would inevitably wake up in the middle of the night and come to our room, seeking a comfy spot right in the middle of mommy and daddy’s bed.

We didn't want this to continue. And I realized he not only didn't sleep in his room, but he never spent any time in there at all. He just didn’t like his room. We assembled it for an infant, with a soft yellow color and a nice Beatrix Potter mural on the wall. While relaxing for an infant, it just wasn't exciting to a three-year-old whose tastes have shifted to superheroes and Disney Pixar movies.

By far, his biggest fanboy obsession has become Spider-Man. Everything from the movies to the Disney XD cartoon, to books, to clothes, to toys, this kid loves Spider-Man. As a somewhat handy dad, I decided that I was going to convert our boring guest bedroom into our son’s very own Spider-Man bedroom.

I envisioned what I wanted the color scheme to be and that there would be a big Spider-Man Fathead® on the wall. It would be a regular Spider-Man bonanza and, in theory, he would actually enjoy spending time in his room, and thus, sleeping there.

spider-man roomBoy, was I right. This picture of his new Spider-Man room should capture the essence of what it is like. Hyper Blue and Real Red paint from Sherwin-Williams. Spider-Man Fathead® from Fathead.com. Spider-Man curtains and bedding ordered from various websites, etc. And, for old times' sake, my own bedroom furniture from when I was growing up – solid oak furniture that looks practically new at 25+ years old (my parents kept it well preserved).

Now, for the first time ever, Vinny actually asks to go to his Spider-Man room. He loves it there. The other day he said to me, “Look at my Spider-Man room, daddy. It’s so cool!” I was teeming with pride. Shows you what a little daddy ingenuity can get you...

Not only does he sleep in his own bed every night, he actually falls asleep in it. No more waiting for him to fall asleep somewhere else and then sneaking him into his room. And even when he wakes up in the middle of the night (which happens often, as we have to check his blood sugar due to his Type 1 Diabetes – another blog post on that soon), he seems so comfortable in his own Spider-Man bed that he stays there. No more wandering into mommy and daddy’s room at night seeking refuge. He has his very own superhero watching over him to keep him where he is.

These heroes really are pretty super.

What worked/didn't work in getting your child to sleep in his or her own bed?

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photo credit: dogwelder (comic cover)

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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Why? Whyyyyyyyy!!??

Last week, my two-and-a-half-year-old son started asking me “Why?” “I have to wash your face.” “Why?” “We have to eat dinner now.” “Why?” “We can’t watch TV now.” “Why?”

I am not sure what to make of it yet, other than that IT’S REALLY CUTE!

But as someone who works for a fatherhood organization, I try to reflect on these mundane parenting situations to make sure that a) I am making the most of them as a dad, and b) I have something interesting to write about on this blog.

So, to kill those two birds with one stone, I began waxing philosophical about what my role is in answering the “why?” for my son.

Why, daddy?I have often heard, and mostly agree, that dad’s primary role is teacher. In fact, you are your child’s first teacher. While mom is nurturing and loving, she is creating a “nest” to protect her child from the dangers of the world. But at the same time, a good dad is slowly and safely exposing his child to that same world and teaching him how to navigate it.

I am generalizing of course, but generally speaking, men and women approach things differently, and parenting is no different. In fact, another recent study confirmed this by showing that fathers stand further away from their children than mothers while the kids are playing in a playground. Moms want to protect, dads want to teach safe risk taking. Neither approach is better than the other; they are both necessary and important to child development.

So, my role is to start revealing the world to my child. When he is asking why, he is really saying, “I want to understand the world!”

Therefore, my balancing act is to give him just enough to understand the truth, but not too much to forego his using his own imagination to make sense of things. This can be tough, but I have to practice now while he is asking me “unimportant” things like why Spider-Man can’t come to the dinner table with us. Because one day, he is going to start asking things like, “Why do I have diabetes?” (he was diagnosed with Type 1 two months ago).

Then, of course, he will inevitably ask the King of All Why Questions, “Why do I exist?” (or “What’s my purpose in life?”). If I can help him answer that question, then I will feel as though I am a successful father – even if I give him terrible answers to his questions about Spider-Man.

The Night My Son Came Home With Diabetes

Last Thursday night at around 7:30, my wife and I took our two-and-a-half year old son, Vinny, for a walk. It was a beautiful night, warm with a cool breeze. The sun was just starting to set.

We approached the neighborhood playground and Vinny asked to get out of his stroller so he could go play. His chubby little legs carried him over to the slide, which he promptly climbed and slid down.  He was having a blast.

As twilight progressed, the evening took on a magical quality. The air had a golden glow, the fireflies were coming out, and a few stars began appearing in the sky.

I stood next to one of those spiral slides as my son started to climb it. As he came around the bend, he saw me standing there and a big smile came over his face. He said, “Daddy? Daddy?” I answered, “What is it, baby?” He sat down right next to me and looked me in the eyes, still smiling. He just wanted “Daddy,” not something from Daddy.

Under normal circumstances, this would have been a great moment for me as a dad. But that night, it became a “remember-forever” moment that almost made me break down in tears. Because just an hour earlier, my wife and I had left the hospital after a three-day stay in which my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.

Let’s rewind back to last Tuesday. It had been at least a week during which my son was barely eating, was always thirsty, was constipated, and was wetting his diapers like never before. He was usually in a bad mood. It had really hit me that something was wrong when he was lying down on the changing table and I could see his ribs protruding.

So, I took him to the doctor that morning to see what was going on. They began doing a series of routine tests to see what was wrong. One of those “routine” tests was a blood sugar test that returned a result of 565.

vinny dbThis was when I heard “the word” for the first time. Diabetes. You know, that disease that your Aunt Bertha takes pills for because she’s eaten a few too many of her own apple pies. But in a healthy two-year-old?

At that point, our doctor told me that I should take Vinny to the emergency room so they could do some tests to confirm whether or not it was diabetes. I called my wife, and we met at the hospital 20 minutes later.

After a very short period of time, he was admitted and the diagnosis was confirmed – Type 1 Diabetes. The kind of diabetes that you just “get” and does not go away. The kind where you have to do blood sugar tests and insulin shots every day for the rest of your life.

My wife and I were in shock. It sounds cliché, but we really did not know how to react.

But the doctors were amazing. They immediately began preparing us for the new routine we would have to establish every day with our precious son. We learned carb counting, blood testing, and how to administer insulin shots.

By Thursday night, our new endocrinologist was comfortable enough with where we were in our knowledge and where Vinny’s blood sugar was to let us go home.

I can’t remember ever being so nervous in my life.

We were leaving the security of the hospital and left on our own. What if his blood sugar dropped and he passed out? What if his blood sugar spiked and something terrible happened? My wife and I never paid so much attention to our son’s mood, facial expressions, complexion, and demeanor in our parenting lives… But that is where the magic came from…

One of the best pieces of advice the nurse gave us as we left the hospital was to handle everything in a matter of fact way so that our son wouldn’t get upset. So, to ease our nerves, we went for that walk to the playground where he, in his own little 2-year-old way, showed his affection and appreciation for daddy.

I believe children are wired to crave connection with their parents – God makes them that way. My wife and I both work full time. We spend a lot of time with our son, but never three straight days, 24/7, in the same small room, playing with him, feeding him, reading to him, watching Disney movies together. While our stomachs were churning about his new disease, he was delighting in the fact that mommy and daddy were spending so much time with him.

So when we went for the walk, he was as happy as can be. He didn’t know that mommy and I were bundles of nerves. He just knew we were there, and he loved us for it.

The next few months are going to be tough. We are going to continue adjusting to the reality that our son has an incurable disease that needs constant management. But the silver lining – which I learned about on the playground that night – is that I will become closer than ever to my little boy. And every time he smiles at me, I will thank God that I have been given the opportunity to be the daddy to this wonderful boy, diabetes and all.

March Madness: Friendly Competition for Dads and Kids

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

March Madness is one of our favorite times of the sports year because it affords three weeks of friendly competition between my three sons and I. We're a basketball family - all my kids play it, I coach it, and we follow it on ESPN. From the Jeremy Lin sensation to Duke's buzzer beater over North Carolina to sitting in the stands watching my ten-year-old twin daughters compete on Saturday afternoons, to say we like basketball would be an understatement. This March, like every other March, we'll be filling out brackets and tracking teams en route to the Final Four and National Championship.

As a dad, I've found this to be one of the ways to connect with my kids in a friendly, competitive environment. This works for both the teenagers still at home and those who are far from home - my 23-year-old son serving in the Air Force in Utah emails his bracket to us and calls home to join the pre- and post-game commentary. My sons are pretty competitive when it comes to researching teams as they fill out their bracket. The Monday morning USA Today newspaper with the full section on March Madness is passed around among the boys. My daughters, on the other hand, are more interested in watching the teams they like than in the bracket competition and will join their brothers around the TV at game time. (My 18-year-old daughter, however, did secretly make her own bracket last year.)

The lesson I've learned through this is that opportunities to have positive experiences with my kids, instead of always being in the mode of correcting attitudes and behavior, are valuable. Finding common interests and spending time together is important to building relationships, communicating love and value, and balancing the times when discipline and correction are required as a parent. It doesn't have to be basketball to successfully build an enjoyable experience between father and sons and daughters, but events that can be looked forward to and reoccur on a periodic basis (like March Madness) become a lifelong memory and something that both dads and kids can anticipate.

Dads, if you want to institute a family March Madness competition with your kids, download a bracket here. Sign-up for the Dad E-mail to get our latest March Dadness updates!

Gift of God: A Father's Reflection on the Birth of a Child

This is a post from Michael Yudt, NFI's Director of Program Support Services.

My third son, Nathanael Wayne, was born on February 18th at 8:25am. When my wife (Kelly) and I went to bed on Friday, February 17th, I was thinking we would awake the next morning just like we do on a typical Saturday. However, this was no typical Saturday.

Apparently, Kelly tried to wake me up a couple times at night to let me know she was having contractions. I have no recollection of that whatsoever… I eventually woke up around 4am and had this feeling that I was not going back to sleep. I noticed that I was alone in bed and figured that Kelly must have made her way to the couch, which is typical for her during the last trimester (she finds the couch to be more comfortable).

With my mind racing about a number of things, I made my way close to where I thought Kelly was sleeping to find her wide awake and having contractions. It became clear pretty quickly that this was the “real deal.” As a father and husband, I knew my job at that point was to “spring into action” (a favorite phrase of my near-4-year-old son, Caleb)

Our youngest son at the time (Joshua, nearly 2) is an early riser and this day was no exception. He was awake shortly after 5am and with the excitement of the day we knew he was up for good. When Kelly’s parents arrived at our house, we finished getting everything together, said our goodbyes, and headed for the hospital. Before leaving, I told our oldest son, Caleb, “Today is the day the baby is going to be born.” He responded with a sense of great joy in his voice: “That’s right, today is the day!” Excitement was welling up inside of me knowing that this was the day we would hold our newborn baby.

Upon arriving at the hospital, I knew that Kelly was disappointed when we were taken to the triage room, instead of the labor and delivery room. It’s rather funny, but the unspoken truth at the time was we both were hoping for an even faster labor than the rather quick one we had with Joshua (4 hours). With Kelly looking at the clock, I knew she wanted the baby to be born before 8:30am and she got her wish. Arriving at 8:25am, Nathanael Wayne was 8 lbs 7 oz and 20 ½ inches long. However, that’s not what defined him at that moment. When Nathanael first appeared, my wife and I shared his name with the medical staff that were present. Kristin, one of the nurses, didn’t miss a beat in sharing her knowledge of the name when she remarked that Nathanael means “gift of God.” Indeed, that’s exactly what he is and will always be!

As fathers, our job is to cherish each of our children as a precious gift. And that doesn’t end after the emotional high of the child’s birth. That is a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week role that lasts a lifetime. I wonder how our world would be different if we had more fathers that viewed and treated each of their children as a gift from God. Nathanael, just like my other sons, was a gift the day he was born, is a gift the day I am writing this, the day you are reading this, and he will always be a gift - each and every day of his life. My encouragement and challenge to all fathers is to look at each of your children regardless of how old they are (yes, even adult children) with the same sparkle that you did the day they were born. After all, every child needs and wants unconditional love from their father. And that is a gift that we can give our children that is truly priceless…

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.

Minnie Driver And The Curious Case Of The Hidden Father

Image courtesy of Splash News

I became a fan of English actress Minnie Driver after her star turn in Good Will Hunting in 1997. Driver’s good looks and charm had her seemingly poised for stardom. She then starred in the box office flop Hard Rain, and while she kept acting in smaller films and TV, nothing came close to the fame she gained working on Good Will Hunting.

I read a story from British newspaper The Observer which featured Driver offering a revealing look into her private life. Before now, Driver had been mum about the identity of her three-year old son’s father. She was still vague in her revelation during her interview, only opting to say there isn’t much to the story.

"We weren't together and he wasn't directly in the business," she said. “So I chose to protect him and not have a rain of publicity. I know, but it's ridiculous. He's not famous. There's no big story. I don't need to protect him anymore. He can fend for himself. He's a grown-up.”

The unnamed mystery dad was a writer on short-lived television series The Riches of which Driver was a co-star. Driver shared some opinion of the father’s parenting duties. “He's figuring it out. I mean, he hasn't been that involved; his choice. But he is now,” she said.

Driver’s cavalier decision to keep the father out of the limelight may be a manifestation of her own upbringing. Driver’s father was a married man with a family who had no idea that Minnie and her sister existed. Although Driver’s mother was her dad’s mistress, she doesn’t seem to hold any ill will towards her father for his choices. She even compared herself to her father, neatly saying he “lived his life.”

For Minnie's son, Henry, one can only hope that his mom and dad will become effective co-parents and allow a relationship to build as it should. Driver has seen many mistakes up close when it comes to fatherhood. It would make sense for her to include her son’s father in raising their child. While I find it curious that Driver shared the news after hiding the facts for three years, perhaps this is her attempt in giving Henry a chance to know his father in the best ways possible.

Father Factor readers, what do you think about Minnie Driver’s decision to speak openly about her son's father? Tell us in the comments below or tweet to us at @TheFatherFactor. You can also like and comment on our Facebook page by following this link.

‘Eagle Daddy’ Should Change His Name To ‘Bad Daddy’

Earlier this week, I came across a news item that I am still trying to process days later. A four-year old boy Chinese boy by the name of Ho Yide was videotaped by his father (only known as ‘eagle daddy’) as the child shivered in freezing temperatures in his underwear on Chinese New Year’s Eve. I defy anyone to look at young Ho’s face and not feel sadness for the boy.

The eagle daddy’s assistant referred to this cruel treatment as “training” for the boy as the father claimed was born several months prematurely. Eagle Daddy says he’s making Ho endure these trials in order to build up his physical and mental toughness. To make matters worse, Ho’s mother can be heard laughing in the background as he cries out from doing push-ups in the cold.

To the father, you should be ashamed of yourself. Not only are you crushing your boy’s emotional spirits, you also put him at risk for hypothermia and other illnesses as well. What father would take pride in toughening up their son by making them crawl around on a snow-covered New York street? Even on its cleanest day, no child should be walking on a city street without shoes and socks, no matter the weather. Take into account vermin and trash and whatever else hidden under the snow, it just makes the instance more heinous.

Eagle Daddy seems to care less what the outside world thinks. He’s already relayed a defiant message via his assistant that he ‘doesn’t care what others say.’ As his father, he has a right to voice to the public that what he does with his child is not our business. However, filming your son crying in the cold as part of a regimen to improve the child’s heath makes Eagle Daddy an unfit father.

I happen to think Eagle Daddy is a bad daddy. This is my opinion and one I’m sticking to although I doubt few will disagree with that assertion. This is not fathering, this is pure physical torture. Looking at the body of evidence, what of Ho Yide’s despair caught on tape displays the making of a good father? How does physical and mental abuse inspire greatness in a growing child?

I hope that the Eagle Daddy stops the abuse and realizes he’s doing far more harm than good. For now, I pray that Ho doesn’t grow into becoming a broken young man due to the cruel iron hand of his father. Ho Yide deserves better treatment from his father. It is truly too bad his daddy doesn’t see the error in his actions.

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.

Lessons From My Grandfather

I joined the National Fatherhood Initiative in early December as a recently married man of five months. Coming to work for NFI as a newlywed has given me a pretty unique experience. Before getting married, my wife and I had talked about our hopes for a family and being parents. Working in an environment that affirms and builds up the role of the father, I’ve had time to “think ahead” and prepare for my hopefully growing family.

Hearing and sharing stories in the NFI office of our experiences at home, and also of our fathers, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my youth and childhood. I had a very happy childhood and am blessed with the parents I have. But there is one thing that I keep to myself mostly—how much I wish I could have known my grandfather better.

I only had the privilege of seeing my grandfather a couple times before he passed away. He was, as I remember, a quiet man. Not serious, but quiet. He had experienced a lot in his life. In hindsight, what I thought was a serious grandfather was more a man, who in seeing his son happy with his children, found peace in reflecting on his own life.

Perhaps he found consolation or healing in seeing his son carry on a tradition. I think he found joy and was proud of my dad for all that he had accomplished. He was a man who knew that it was not the material things that make a man wealthy, but the richness in his love for and from his family. I’m sure my grandpa was proud of my dad.

I owe a lot to my grandfather. Listening to my dad talk about him, I can see that he showed my father how to be a man, how to be a father, and how to love. My grandfather taught my dad everything that my father has passed on to me. Because of my father's example and his daily service to his children, I learned what fatherhood is. My father laid down his wants, desires, needs, and sacrificed his own life for us. I hope I can be the same kind of father to my children as my dad was to my brothers and I.

The most important thing my father taught me was how to love my wife. Yes, like all families, my parents disagree from time to time. But there has never been a doubt about just how much my father loves my mother. I’ve heard it said, "The greatest thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother." I believe that to be true. My dad showed me how to love my wife by his loving and steady example. And again, I hope I can love my wife, Lacy, as well as my dad has loved my mom.

While I give great thanks to my dad and grandpa, I also am deeply grateful to my mother. Witnessing her gentleness, mercy, and care for my father, I have learned how to be loved. My mother "completed the picture" and witnessed to me how I should accept love from my wife. I saw how happy she made my dad, and she showed me that as a husband, I too one day deserved to be loved in the same fashion.

I am excited for what lies ahead. With the great examples my parents have given me and by God’s will, I feel that I will be ready and prepared to be a father for a growing and loving family.

Fathering For A Lifetime

Last week, NFI’s Director of Military Program Support Services Tim Red sent out an email to our staff in where he bravely and candidly spoke of a moment shared with his oldest son, Travis. After attending the funeral of his son’s good friend, it gave Tim and Travis a moment to reflect and reconnect the bond between father and son. Inspired by his bravery, I too shared a bit of my own fears and concerns regarding fatherhood with the staff and felt enlightened by Tim’s ability to open up about such a private matter.

When I think of devoted dads like Tim, I always imagine they have all the answers and because of his background, I expected that he handled tough times with flair. With 30 years of military service, I was certain Tim had seen it all. I originally asked Tim if I could share his story on our blog and he was gracious enough to allow me to do so. I called Tim last evening and what was initially meant to be a quick phone call turned into a 30-minute conversation that changed my life.

Tim and I had an honest and open discussion, which allowed me to learn that part of being a father is also realizing your shortcomings and showing vulnerability. To hear from Tim that raising his oldest child had been difficult for him just astounded me. I was listening to this strong man admitting that even after being a dad of 21 years, he’s continuing to learn lessons about fatherhood.

I had to fight back my emotions hearing Tim tell his story of the trials he faced with Travis although I hung on to every word. Tim’s fearlessness inspired me to devote myself to what I do here at NFI, and to also apply the lessons he shared with me in my own life. Being an involved, responsible and committed father became an even greater responsibility to me by way of our chat.

Although tragedy had to happen in order for Tim and Travis to find a new way to reconnect, stories like this are precisely why I’m proud to be a part of the National Fatherhood Initiative family. As I grow as a father and as a man, I can always look back fondly to the chat Tim and I had, realizing that you can never learn it all in one lifetime. Dealing with the ups and downs of fathering can make even the mightiest of us feel stretched thin. However, it’s good to know that we have an entire lifetime to get it right.

Cute Baby Videos And Cruel Comments Don’t Go Well Together

The Internet, especially the fast moving realm of social media, has given thousands of people a voice they once never had. The Web grants us access into a person’s life by way of keeping tabs on the various social media tools, to homepages, and the ever-present pool of words known as blogs. The voiceless can now be heard or seen without fear of censorship or retribution. In the case of folks leaving comments on blogs and YouTube sites, this could be seen as both a gift and a curse.

Daddy blogs, such as the clever Fatherhood Is, clearly knows how to poke fun at the learning curve of a new dad with comedic flair. The man behind the blog, Adam Brown, is a new dad of twins Greyson and Charlotte. His blog is possibly my favorite of the many daddy blogs around.

One particular funny video Brown placed on his site features his baby girl Charlotte. In the video, Brown makes a razzing noise that frightens little Charlotte, thus causing her eyes to cutely and comically widen. In just a scant two weeks since the video’s release, it has garnered over a million and a half views on YouTube (the clip is definitely a family favorite in my home).

While nothing more than a harmless game of dad being silly with his baby (which some dads do), it appears that the Internet-famous and now-viral clip is subject to mean critics who seem to relish in levying nasty and offensive comments. Using the cover of the keyboard, these individuals have heaped on opinions about Brown’s parenting style and even resorted to calling his baby unattractive.

Brown doesn’t seem bothered by the comments, but was self-aware enough to put up a following post that highlighted some of the mean remarks people made. Sidestepping the negativity, Brown even pondered on his post whether or not Charlotte’s twin brother would be jealous of his sister’s growing fame. Humor is a great shield for one to wield in this world we live in. Learning how to laugh when most would resort to defensive anger diffuses negativity much easier than meeting it head on.

I love a cute baby video just as much as anyone else. I really enjoyed this video of the babies tasting lemons for the first time. However, it pains me to witness people using words to hurt a dad who simply wanted to share the world a precious and cute moment between he and his newborn. Cute baby videos and cruel comments don’t go together and if you can’t say something nice, to borrow from the old adage, try not saying anything at all.

Cleveland Indians Player Chris Perez Is Lucky To Have His Dad

It seems par for the course that fathers seek to bond with their kids – especially boys – playing the age-old game of catch, whether with a football or baseball. There’s something innate about that activity between fathers and sons; perhaps it’s an instinctive reminder for Dad that he once did this with his own dad – or at least wished he had. It’s something I definitely wished I shared with my own dad.

When I read the tale of MLB All-Star pitcher Chris Perez, and how he and his dad Tim bonded over Chris’ inclusion in the big name lineup last year, I confess I felt a tinge of envy. However, I’m glad to see that there are sons who look up to and value their dads even as they trudge along into adulthood and families of their own.

Perez shared with sports website The Bleacher Report on how he gifted his father with his 2011 All-Star ring, making it five sizes larger so that his dad could wear it.

Perez on the trying to surprise his father with the ring:

“Before entering the brunch, they handed out All-Star rings. When I picked mine up, they asked me to try it on. (I already had planned to give the ring to my Dad, so I had told them to make the ring 5 sizes too big for me.) My Dad was right next to me and noticed how big it was on me. I tried to play it off, but he kept making a deal about it.

Flash forward to after the game, my family and I are relaxing back in the hotel, and I pulled out the ring and gave it to him. He was shocked/surprised/happy/speechless. I couldn't think of anyone else that deserved the ring more than him; he's the reason I love the game, and the reason I became an All-Star.”

Chris Perez didn’t enter the game last year at the Midsummer Classic, but it’s a neat story showing that no matter how old you are as a son, you always want to please and gain the respect of your dad. Sometimes it’s tough to show our dads how much we love and adore them as adults, but I know as I speak for myself and other fathers that it never gets redundant to know that your children love you.

Tim Perez summed up his feelings about getting the ring from his son in a quick interview last summer. “I wasn't expecting it. We were in the room, and Chris just said 'I want to give you something,'" Tim Perez said to the Bradenton Herald. "My first reaction was, 'Son this is your ring. And he says 'No, dad, I wouldn't here without you.' I wasn't expecting anything. I was just a dad supporting his son.”

Tim Perez and his amazing humility is the very reason why fatherhood has to return to the forefront of the conversation when talking about combating societal ills. When a father does the right thing for his children, they become adults who respect the value and importance of what it means to be a dad when their time comes to be handed the torch.

Sure, I may pine for a time for my dad and I to have a similar bonding experience and I still have my baseball glove and ball from when I was 12 years old at the ready. Hopefully one day soon, my dad and I will have a moment to share and call our own just like Tim and Chris Perez.

Until then, I can only admire them from afar.

The Father Factor Blog: News, tips, and tools for dads and those helping dads.

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