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What Camping Can Do For You and Your Children

This is a post by Mike Yudt, NFI's Director of National Programming. Mike, his wife Kelly, and their two sons are avid campers. Mike shares his thoughts on camping with young kids as part of NFI's campaign to help Dads "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer."

I often hear many people say that they do not like the idea of camping and can’t understand its appeal. I’ll be the first to admit that camping is not for everyone. And among those who do camp, there can be a sense of competition as to what is really camping and what is not. To me, that whole discussion misses the point.

The beauty of the outdoors is that it's something that all can enjoy in some form or another. In a day and age when so many jobs keep people tied to an office, it is critical to impart a love for the outdoors into your children at an early age. It will bring balance to their lives and a sense of rejuvenation. After all, who doesn’t like a breath of fresh air after a long period of being indoors?

So, as a father of two young boys (three and one), I along with my wife decided to “break them into camping” at an early age. With both of them, their first camping trip came within their first five months of life. I’ll never forget those first camping trips and the ones that have followed. Children, especially very young children, have a way of expressing awe at the beauty of nature in ways that we as adults cannot fully understand or appreciate. My wife and I are getting glimpses of this as we watch our boys respond to every sound of nature, point to every animal, and pick up every stick or rock around them for a close examination.

The beauty of camping, especially for children, lies in this: it’s a break from the routine of sleeping inside in the comfort of a bed. It represents an adventure… An adventure that your kids will surely love if they are introduced to it at an early age and with a positive attitude.

If a child grows up camping, he or she will undoubtedly like it because they don’t know any different. I understand that for some adults camping is a stretch. The idea of roughing it in the woods apart from a bathroom facility, water or electricity just doesn’t sound like a good time. My encouragement is to find a form of camping that meets your needs. Maybe that’s pitching a tent in your backyard or in the yard of someone you know. Maybe you secure a camp site at a state park that has all of the amenities you need: restroom facilities close by, running water and the option of reserving a site with an electrical outlet.

Whatever you do… commit to exposing your kids to the outdoors as much as possible. If you do, I’m convinced that in the end we will have happier, healthier children who can someday be in a better position to find those quiet , peaceful places to turn to in order to decompress from all that is happening in the world around them. Just one dad’s thoughts….

Do your kids pass the "crash" test?

“Super” Motivated by Their Dads

It seems if you want to be a superhero these days, you need to have some “drama” with your father.

Saying Goodbye to My Last “Boy”

Are You Trying to Rob Your Kids?

This month’s focus at NFI is “Dad Cents,” and our plan is to give dads sound advice about ways that dads can improve their kids’ financial literacy.

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.

What Doesn’t Kill You? Being a Good Dad.

I just watched the film, “What Doesn’t Kill You,” with Mark Ruffalo and Ethan Hawke. Ruffalo and Hawke play childhood friends (Brian and Paulie) who get involved in Boston’s organized crime scene, landing them both in prison.

One Dad's Limerick in Praise of the Fanny Pack

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

What’s in a name? Everything.

This past weekend, disgraced financier Bernard Madoff’s oldest son, Mark, took his life in a dramatic fashion. He hung himself with a dog’s leash from a ceiling pipe in his living room, while his toddler son slept in a nearby bedroom. No doubt, Mark Madoff had been deeply troubled for some time since he turned his father over to law enforcement almost two years ago from the day of his death. Indeed, his dreadful end was yet another poignant example of how the sins of a father can impact his children and his grandchildren as well.

Ironically, a few weeks ago, I was reading a Wall Street Journal article about the problems that Mark encountered trying to find work in the financial services industry. Despite decades of experience and his considerable connections, no Wall Street firm would touch him. There is a proverb in the Bible that says, “A good name is more desirable than riches; to be esteemed is better than silver and gold.” Unfortunately, Mark was a “Madoff” and, in the minds of many, his name was now worthless, useful only as an expletive or the punchline of a late night comedian’s joke.

I think that there is an important lesson from the Madoff’s family tragedy that all dads should heed and consider daily, especially when they are tempted to behave immorally. The very first and most valuable gift that any father will ever give to a child is his name. But, his name only has worth to his child if it reflects of a life that is lived with integrity and good character. Remember, good character is more easily kept than restored. So too is a good name…

Dwayne Wade: More than a Championship

With the addition of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat are favored by many to win the NBA Championship this year. Wade is ranked as one of the top 5 basketball players, was contracted with the Heat for $14 million, and has over 750,000 Twitter followers. He certainly has a lot of pressure and high expectations riding on him. However, off the court Wade has much more on his shoulders -- the future of two little boys.

Wade has two sons and is in the middle of an extremely public and messy divorce. More important than any championship or million dollar salary, Wade has a responsibility to teach his boys about being good dads, good men, and about treating the most important woman in their lives with respect.

When asked about divorce, 76% of children think it should be harder to obtain. It comes as no surprise when you look at the impact of divorce on children. Financial status aside, children who are the product of divorce are three times more likely to divorce themselves in their adult lives. Additionally, children of divorce suffer from increased emotional and behavioral problems.

Dwayne Wade’s $14 million salary will not be a solution for the future of his sons. More importantly, he has to model what an involved, responsible, and committed father looks like, and he has to treat his sons’ mother with respect, regardless of what they may think of each other. How both mothers and fathers model their parenting and relationships before, during, and after divorce is what their children will learn and pass on themselves.

Parents owe it to their children to treat each other with respect and to cooperate in the best interests of their children. With that task ahead of him, Dwayne Wade has something more important than an NBA championship to focus on.

The Thankful Campaign: Thankful for the Example

Author Michael McQueen shared with us what he is thankful for in this guest blog post. Micheal's book, Memento, is a great resource to help fathers pass down their legacy to their children. Learn more about Michael and the Memento story here.

My dad was one of most organized people I have ever met. He started every day with a task list numbered in descending order of importance, along with a carefully orchestrated schedule with hourly breakdowns. As a family of 7, I guess dad needed to be as organized as he was – there was always someone who needed to be dropped off at soccer practice, swimming lessons, or scouts.

What I loved and respected most about my dad though is that in the midst of all this busyness and his drive to make the most of every hour of the day, he was never too busy for me, my brothers, and our mom. Sure, he’d have times of being distracted and ‘unavailable’ like every father (and human being), but when it mattered, he was there – physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I am so thankful for the priority he placed on family and the things that mattered.

I am so thankful for the example he set.

He may not be with us any longer, but the example of his lived-out priorities, not the checklist of this accomplishments, is what I remember and am thankful for most.

To join the campaign, visit www.fatherhood.org/thethankfulcampaign or tweet with the hashtag #thanksdad.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of National Fatherhood Initiative.


Dads must help deal with bullies...

There has been quite a bit in the news lately regarding the impact of bullying on our nation's children. Accordingly, I thought that you would find of interest this article that I wrote about my personal experience of being bullied as a kid as well as how I handled a situation when my son was bullied. Dads have a key role to play on this issue.

The Intended Consequences of an Old Spaniard

A few days ago, I asked my father-in-law how he met his wife. He told me that he was in the Air Force stationed in San Antonio and a buddy invited him to go to dance. His wife, who was in nursing school, attended the dance as well along with some of her friends. He saw her. They danced. They talked. And, he was smitten instantly and they started dating.

He also offered that soon thereafter she finished nursing school and moved back home to live with her parents in a little south Texas town called Mission. Since he was still stationed in San Antonio, he would make the long ride to see her every weekend that he could. Well, after a few trips to her home, he received a long letter from her father, who he called, “the Old Spaniard.” Interestingly, the letter was written in Castilian, which is formal Spanish and, although my father-in-law was fluent in Spanish, he needed help to translate it. In any case, he told me that the letter—despite its length—asked him a simple question: “What are your intentions with my daughter?”

He told me that he was not surprised by the question and, actually, he expected to be asked it at some point. Therefore, he knew that he needed to answer this important question well and quickly if he was to continue to see his beloved. So, on his next trip to Mission, he was on a “mission,” and he sat down with the Old Spaniard and told him that he planned to marry his daughter. And, he did.

Since this conversation with my father-in-law, I have thought often about the power and the purpose of the Old Spaniard’s question and how it forced my father-in-law to be publicly accountable for his intentions. The Old Spaniard wanted to make sure early that my father-in-law didn’t think that his daughter was an “amusement park” and he had a free ticket to ride. Nope, there were not going to be any “unintended consequences” because admission to his daughter’s heart came with a specific price the needed to be paid in advance.

Sadly, today too many fathers aren’t “Old Spaniards” and I believe that their daughters and their sons are worse off for it. Consequently, if you ask dating couples about their relationships and intentions, they tend to use terms like we’re “hanging out,” “chillin,” or “just kickin’ it.” Or, they will say that “we are just friends with benefits.” One of the problems is that these “benefits” too often turn into children who need good parents with firm intentions about raising them. Just imagine how few unintended pregnancies and unloved children there would be if more fathers asked the simple question that the Old Spaniard did.

Case and point, a few years ago, I counseled a couple who had gotten pregnant as college seniors. They were having big problems because the father was essentially abandoning his responsibilities and moving on with his life, while the mother was at risk to not graduate. Not surprisingly, the mother was furious.

As I began having conversations with them separately, it quickly became apparent that there was not, and never been, an Old Spaniard involved. You see, they were having premarital sex. However, she always believed that the father was the kind of guy who would marry her and build a family if they got pregnant, but this was never his intention. And, he thought that she was the kind of girl who would quickly get an abortion if she got pregnant, but this was never her intention. Now, they were both in a difficult long-term parenting relationship that neither wanted--whether they intended to have it or not.

Fatherhood Stories from the Chilean Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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