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The Father Factor

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How to Be the Hero Like Paul Blart

Officer Blart says, "A hero is never off duty." At National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), we agree, fatherhood is never off duty. Earlier this week, we presented Kevin James with NFI’s Fatherhood Award at a special NYC screening with other great moms and dads. Let me tell you about the great event and tell you what it takes to be the hero like Paul Blart. 

NFI co-hosted a special screening in New York City of Columbia Pictures' upcoming film Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 with Paul Blart himself, Kevin James. After NYC moms and dads enjoyed the screening, they were treated to a Q&A with Kevin James and the film's director, Andy Fickman (an NFI Fatherhood Award recipient for Parental Guidance, the 2012 Fatherhood Movie of the Year), followed by a special presentation of the NFI Fatherhood Award to Kevin James.

Check out pictures from the special event and NFI Fatherhood Award presentation.

nfi-fatherhood-award-nyc-event kevin james ryan sanders andy fickman the moms paul blart

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 13: Actor Kevin James, director Andy Fickman, attend 'Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2' Screening co-hosted by The Moms [Denise Albert (L) and Melissa Musen Gerstein (R)] and Ryan Sanders of National Fatherhood Initiative at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 on April 13, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by J. Countess/Getty Images)

I was struck by the father-daughter story in this film. Between laughing at Paul Blart on screen, I was reminded of the struggle I face as a dad of two young daughters. It’s the contradiction of fatherhood…you raise your child to learn and grow and be independent…but how do you teach yourself to let go once you start succeeding? You’re basically raising your child to leave. Sad, right? I know.

I love my daughters and want the best for them. However, like Paul Blart and his relationship to his daughter in the film, where does the balance of training and love move from discipline and protection to freedom and life lessons? 

Paul Blart is a prime candidate for the loving-but-over-protective dad. Is he a good dad? Yes, he will do anything for his daughter. He loves her. And that’s awesome. But how much protection is too much? I struggle with it. You struggle with it. Where’s the balance between concerned and supportive and over-protective father?

I was reminded as I watched the film of our fatherhood training and resources on discipline. When we understand our role as a dad in relation to discipline, we can learn to model and teach the values we want to see from our children. Many Dads think that discipline means “to control” rather than “to teach or to guide.”

The Hero Knows His Style

pbmc2coverMuch like Superman wears his trademark suit and an officer has a uniform, you must know your discipline style if you're going to get this parenting thing right. We talk about the styles of discipline in our 24/7 Dad® Program. We train leaders and dads to understand the styles and model the proper actions in word and deed.

In case you’re new to this site, here’s a crash-course on the styles of discipline. You most likely exhibit one of these styles more than the other. 

Style #1: Dictator > This dad is always strict and never nurtures. He’s clear about his morals and values. 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.”

Style #2: King > This dad is strict and nurtures when needed. He is clear about his morals and values. He leads by example. His children know what he doesn’t want them to do and what he wants them to do. This dad says, “Let me show you the way.”

Style #3 Joker > This dad is never strict and rarely nurtures. He isn’t clear about his morals and values. 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.”

Style #4: Follower > This dad is sometimes strict and sometimes nurtures. He lets mom take the lead on discipline and backs her up when needed. He is sometimes clear about his morals and values. His children know some of the 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.”

Style #5: Dreamer > This dad is never strict and never nurtures. He lets mom take the lead on discipline and doesn’t get involved with it. He is never clear about his morals and values. His children don’t know what he wants them to do. This dad says, “Whatever. Just leave me alone.”

The Hero Knows What To Do in Any Situation

I can’t leave you with only the styles of discipline. I have to give you some tips to help you model the correct behavior. Like Officer Blart, you can succeed at your mission. Here are tips you need to be sure you're teaching and guiding instead of being over-protective and simply punishing your child.

Say You’re Disappointed > Tell your children you expect more of them, and that you expect them to behave the right way. Just be careful to not overuse this one. It can be powerful. Use sparingly.

Pay it Back > Tell your child to make up for bad behavior, such as paying for breaking something, doing the behavior they were supposed to do in the first place, or saying they’re sorry to someone they hurt. 

Time Out > Tell your child to sit in a corner, on the couch, or go to their room for a short period of time. Time out works best with younger children under the age of 10. 

Grounding > Don’t let your child leave the house for some period of time. Grounding works best with older children, such as teens.

Take Away a Freedom > Remove a freedom for a period of time. Note: Make sure the punishment fits the crime. Don’t take away a freedom, for example, when a child does something minor and telling them that you expect more of them the next time will do the trick.

Remember these tips the next time you want to punish the wrong-doer in your house.

Which tip could you use today that would make the most difference in how you discipline your child?

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 was as entertaining as I remember the first one. Yes, it’s a comedy, but with a deep father-daughter story. It’s a fun family film that will have you leaving the theater thinking about how to connect with your child.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 releases in theaters nationwide Friday, April 17th. 

While watching the movie offers lots of opportunities for dads to laugh with their kids, Columbia Pictures also developed a very engaging and highly informative safety program Paul Blart’s Safety Smarts for children ages 7 to 11 that shows kids how to stay safe.

> Visit and share the safety video with the dads you serve. Encourage dads to watch the video with their kids and then participate in the accompanying activities designed to sharpen your dads’ and children’s safety smarts with role-playing, peer-to-peer learning, and critical thinking. There is also a take-home safety quiz that parents and kids can take together to reinforce these important safety topics.

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

More Helpful Resources

> Safe Kids Worldwide

> FBI Safety Tips

> National Children’s Advocacy Center

5 Challenges Faced by Fathers in Responsible Fatherhood Programs

What are the primary challenges of fathers who participate in responsible fatherhood programs? The Fatherhood Research and Practice Network (FRPN) recently released a brief that attempts to answer that question. (I sit on the FRPN's advisory committee.) Answering that question is critical because these challenges may be, as the brief notes, strongly associated with lower levels of father involvement in children's lives and lower quality coparenting relationships.

5 Challenges Faced by Fathers in Responsible Fatherhood Programs

FRPN's Dr. Jay Fagan and Rebecca Kaufman interviewed fathers--from 9 responsible fatherhood programs in 5 cities in the northeast that serve primarily low-income, unmarried, non-residential fathers--about the challenges they face.

The top 5 challenges they mentioned in descending order of frequency were:

  1. Unemployment
  2. Lack of money to buy things for their children
  3. Inability to pay child support
  4. Difficulty keeping a job
  5. Inability to pay bills

The other challenges they mentioned were wide-ranging, from physical health problems to their living situation preventing their children from coming to see them to drug/alcohol use to being accused of abusing/neglecting their children. (The brief includes all of the challenges the fathers mentioned, the frequency with which fathers mentioned them, and the severity of those challenges.)

These challenges underscore one of the most vital pieces of guidance National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) has provided to organizations through the years: the importance of helping fathers meet their most immediate, pressing needs as part of or even before enrolling them in a responsible fatherhood program. Meeting these needs is often the hook that encourages fathers to enroll in a responsible fatherhood program and to maintain their participation rather than learning how to be a better father and parent (e.g. through increased knowledge of child development, child discipline, etc.). Indeed, helping fathers overcome these challenges should be a component of a responsible fatherhood program either through the provision of services (often called "wrap-around services") by the organization running the program or the organization's partners.  

The FRPN's findings are similar to the results of research that I conducted with Dr. Keith Cherry, a long-time colleague and friend, when NFI was part of the National Quality Improvement Center on Non-Resident Fathers and the Child Welfare System (QIC-NRF), a 5-year project (2006-2011) funded by the Children's Bureau in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through a contract with the American Humane Association. That research involved interviews with low-income, non-resident fathers involved in the child welfare system in four communities supplemented by interviews with fatherhood program practitioners who worked with these and other child-welfare involved fathers.

Like the fathers interviewed by the FRPN researchers, the fathers Keith and I interviewed also mentioned financial challenges as their most pressing needs. Our research (published in the journal Protecting Children) also involved delving deeper into the impact of these fathers' challenges on the fathers and their perceptions so that child welfare workers and fatherhood practitioners within and who work with the child welfare system could better understand these fathers and, as a result, work more effectively with them and develop better strategies to encourage enrollment in fatherhood programs offered by child welfare agencies.  

We recorded, transcribed, and conducted an in-depth content analysis of the interviews. We identified the following themes in the lives of these fathers:

  • The financial and emotional devastation caused by their own absence from their children's lives.
  • The belief that they are constantly extorted by the mother of their children with their children being bargaining chips in a constant tug-of-war between them and the mother in which the mother has the upper hand.
  • The loss of control over their lives and hopelessness about the future.
  • The belief that the judicial/court system fosters poor fatherhood.

This deep understanding of these fathers' lives is so critical to effective program delivery. Staff of responsible fatherhood programs must look not only at fathers' needs but how those needs affect fathers. It is those affects that drive fathers' behavior. Indeed, the most successful of the programs we studied during our participation in the QIC-NRF were those seen by fathers to meet fathers' needs and care about fathers' welfare. 

What are you doing to understand and solve the most pressing problems of fathers?

What are you doing to better understand the impact of father absence on the fathers you serve?

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

Special NYC Screening with Kevin James for #BlartRidesAgain [Invitation]

National Fatherhood Initiative and The Moms partner for a special New York City screening of Columbia Pictures' upcoming film Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 with Paul Blart himself, Kevin James, on Monday, April 13th. The film releases in theaters nationwide Friday, April 17th, but don't miss out on the chance to see the new movie before anyone.

PB_Mall_Cop_2After six years of keeping our malls safe, Paul Blart has earned a well-deserved vacation, or has he? Sony's Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 arrives in theaters Friday, April 17th. Vegas may have a new high roller, but not before that high roller visits NYC!

After the screening, please stay for a Q&A with Kevin James and the film's director, Andy Fickman (also an NFI Fatherhood Award recipient for Parental Guidance, the 2012 Fatherhood Movie of the Year), followed by a special presentation of the NFI Fatherhood Award to Kevin James.

After six years of keeping our malls safe, Paul Blart has earned a well-deserved vacation, or has he? In this sequel, Paul Blart heads to Vegas for the annual Security Guard Expo with his teenage daughter Maya (Raini Rodriguez) before she leaves for college. While at the convention, he inadvertently discovers a heist – and it’s up to Blart to apprehend the criminals. Safety never takes a holiday and when duty calls, Blart answers.  

This movie was as entertaining as I remember the first one. But with a deep father-daughter story. A fun family film with a father-daughter story that will have you leaving the theater thinking about connecting with your child.

Here's your invitation to the special event...RSVP if you can make it to NYC!

TheMOMS_PaulBlartMallCop2_Invite


The Moms and National Fatherhood Intiative invite you to this special event:

A Mamarazzi® Event 
with Kevin James 
and Director Andy Fickman

Monday, April 13, 2015 at 3:30PM

AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 
(1998 Broadway New York, NY 10023) 

RSVP here for the NYC screening > Click here to RSVP.


Can't attend the screening? Get the sneak peak of the official trailer here:

 

More information on the film > Click here to visit NFI's Official Paul Blart Page.

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child  

Announcement > Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Requests Comments

The Office of Family Assistance at the U.S. Department of Human Services has asked us to share the following information with you. A new set of Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood performance measures have been proposed. Please review this post to learn more information on how to request the proposed measures as well as more information on how to comment on the proposal.

Screen_Shot_2015-04-07_at_11.13.03_AMThe Proposed Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Performance Measures and Additional Data Collection (Part of the Fatherhood and Marriage Local Evaluation and Cross-site [FaMLE Cross-site] Project) is seeking comments on the proposed set of data that will be collected around future grantee projects/programs.

The FaMLE Cross-site project will answer three main research questions: (1) What strategies did grantees use to design well-conceived programs? (2) What strategies did grantees use to successfully implement well-conceived programs? (3) What were the reported outcomes for participants in the programs? In order to answer these questions, they are considering a new set of data collection activities.

Background > For decades various organizations and agencies have been developing and operating programs to strengthen families through healthy marriage and relationship education and responsible fatherhood programming. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Office of Family Assistance (OFA), has had administrative responsibility for federal funding of such programs since 2006 through the Healthy Marriage (HM) and Responsible Fatherhood (RF) Grant Programs.

The federal government currently collects a set of performance measures from HM and RF grantees. The purpose of this previously approved information collection is to allow OFA and ACF to carry out their responsibilities for program accountability.

Current request > ACF is engaged in a learning agenda to increase their understanding of Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood programs. This means that they incorporate multiple opportunities and options for learning throughout a program's implementation that provide a range of insights and perspectives. These opportunities help programming constantly develop and advance. For example, data provide the opportunity to feed information back to decision-makers and leaders—both those on the ground and those in management—to inform program design, operation, and oversight.

On November 6, 2014, ACF published a Federal Register Notice (79 FR 65973) requesting public comment on a proposed new set of performance measures to be collected by all grantees, beginning with the next round of HMRF grants. These measures will collect standardized information in the following areas:

  • Applicant characteristics;
  • Program operations (including program characteristics and service delivery); and
  • Participant outcomes (will be measured both at initiation of programservices (pre-test) and completion (post-test)).

To learn more and comment on the proposed peformance measures, please see the full article on the Federal Register detailing comment submission guidelines here

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

One Thing This Billion-Dollar CEO Does Every Week That You Should Too

I often feel inadequate at managing work and family. Sure, I get home at a decent hour each day. But, I have to start early to accomplish this. By evening, I'm tired or still have my mind on work. Then I read a story like this one. This guy sounds like he has managing work and family figured out. Forbes named him, "America’s Most Promising CEO Under 35." He started a company in his mid-20’s that raised $70 million in 2012. By 2014, he was known as "The Guy Who Turned Down $500 Million For His Startup." Now, with a $1 Billion valuation, Ryan Smith, CEO of Qualtrics, can teach us the one thing he does to be successful with work and family. 

One Thing This Billion-Dollar CEO Does Every Week That You Should Too fatherhood work family balance

After about a decade of bootstrapping, Qualtrics made its way into a profitable company generating $50 million in revenue. In 2012, they had 200 employees and 3,800 customers. Qualtrics helps companies perform employee and customer surveys in the cloud. It was created by Ryan Smith's dad, Scott Smith, a professor of marketing at BYU's school of business. My guess is that Qualtrics is a company that resembles the brands you'll find on our social good page—a brand who cares about fathers and families.

At 33 years old, a company offered to buy Ryan Smith's startup Qualtrics for more than $500 million, he asked his wife to take a drive. Smith ended up turning down the $500 million offer to sell his company. In 2014, Smith had 6,000 customers and 550 employees, and the company is expanding nationally and internationally opening an office in Dublin, Sydney, Seattle, and Washington, D.C..

After he and his wife talked, they felt strongly that earning so much money at once could "negatively impact the way they were raising their children." Smith and his wife had learned to manage work and family life.

"As a founder, you're either the type that gets invigorated with every milestone, or you get less interested. For me the bigger we get, the more scrappier we get, the hungrier I get," Smith told Business Insider in 2014. "I have to keep telling myself to look around and enjoy this," he said. "We sat in a basement and bootstrapped for 10 years so we can do this, be here. Now we have bunch of money, a ton of customers, and we're dominating our market." Together, the Smiths decided to keep their 800-person company private. Qualtrics is currently worth over $1 billion.

With the help of a CEO coach, Smith relates work-life balance to a plane that can "go lopsided and constantly needs to be stabilized." On one wing is his family, on the other is his work. When he's traveling for business, the work side of the plane tilts. Then, when he gets back home to his family, he knows to keep his schedule open for home and family life, in order to tilt the wings of his plane back up.

Smith's CEO coach taught him a strategy for success to be done every week. Smith's coach asked him what jobs he was responsible for in life. Smith replied the following:

  1. Husband
  2. Father
  3. Son
  4. CEO
  5. Boss
  6. Sibling
  7. Grandson
  8. Friend

I'm guessing your list looks like Ryan's. His coach then asked what he could do for each job that week to make him feel successful. For instance, if Ryan dated his wife and bought flowers, that could make him feel like a decent husband. Teach his daughter to ride a bike? Boom, instant better dad for the week.

Ryan found he could combine tasks on his list to achieve everything more efficiently. He learned quickly, if he was really productive, every task on the list starting Sunday could be done by Tuesday. If he took his daughter to his parent's house and taught her to ride a bike, he could be both a good father and son. Bam. 

Smith's weekly list started to look like this:

  1. Husband > Take wife to dinner and buy flowers
  2. Father >Teach daughter to ride a bike
  3. Son > Visit parents. Combine tasks 2 & 3.

Through all of this, Smith has learned people usually plan for one part of life ("I'm going to sell my company by the time I turn 30.") Most times, people "either don't know which steps to take to achieve that goal, or they don't plan what to do after the goal has been achieved."

While we know it takes quantity to ultimately get quality time, I think Ryan's plan of breaking done work and family life goals into weekly tasks is brilliant. We need to work against waking up one day and realizing our dreams and/or priorities have slipped from our radar. This takes a strategic plan. The truth is, what doesn't get scheduled, doesn't get done. This is true in work and with family.

Business Insider points out that after Smith explained this success tactic in an interview with them on Friday evening, he left the conference. While others stayed out late at a local pub, Smith drove three hours to Dublin and booked an early flight home to Utah. When his children woke up on Sunday morning, they spent all day with their father. This story illustrates in real life exactly the type of intention and focus we should have as husbands, fathers, sons, and leaders. It's the kind of focus I want to live out. Thank you, Ryan Smith, not only for having a great first name, but sharing a great strategy for us to follow.

Question > What's one thing you do to help manage work and family? Share your answer in the comment section or on , or  using #247Dad.

247-to-go-app




24/7 Dad To Go App allows dads to customize time-sensitive checklists. These checklists can include items related to involved, responsible, and committed fatherhood. You can be an intentional dad too.

> Find the app and start being a better dad here.

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

What Makes a Parent a Smart Parent

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

"I think one of the true ways I've gotten smarter is that I've realized that there are ways other people are a lot smarter than me. My biggest asset as a writer is that I'm pretty much like everybody else. The parts of me that used to think I was different or smarter or whatever almost made me die." —David Foster Wallace

That quote from the American writer David Foster Wallace underscores one of the great lessons of life: There are plenty of people smarter than you, and you need to learn from them. This lesson applies to parenting.

WhatMakesaParentaSmartParent

When I joined National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) 15 years ago, my daughters were 5 and 2. I had only begun my parenting journey. I knew that I had things to learn about being a good father and parent. What I didn't realize was how much I had to learn. As the old saying goes, "You don't know what you don't know."

Fortunately, my boss was Wade Horn, the first president of NFI and a child psychologist. Wade is one of the smartest people I know. He's a smart father and parent who, as a child psychologist, knows a bit about how children are wired. The most important lesson I learned from Wade? Never project your consequences on your children. Just because I didn't have a negative outcome as a consequence of a decision to engage in a risky behavior doesn't mean that my children won't have a negative outcome if they engage in the same behavior. I've applied that lesson so many times I've lost count.

Wade helped me through several difficult parenting situations. One of those occurred about three years into my tenure at NFI. My oldest daughter had become an extremely picky eater. It drove me nuts because, since my mid-20s, I've focused on eating healthy and staying fit. The fact that I had a child who wasn't eating healthily signaled my failure as a parent. I had tried many of the tactics recommended by nutrition experts to get children to eat healthy. Not one of them worked!

I was at my wit's end when I asked Wade for guidance. He smiled and chuckled when I shared my frustration and concern for my child, which initially made the situation worse as he must have thought my concern to be ridiculous. But then he explained that a lot of young children are picky eaters because it's one of the few ways they can exert control over their lives. It's not necessarily the parents' fault.

He identified, however, one way that I might have indirectly contributed to my daughter's choice -- my own picky eating habits. He pointed out that my diligence in eating healthy is type of picky eating that my daughter had undoubtedly noticed at the dinner table and during conversations about eating healthy I'd had with her and my wife, and seen in several other ways I'd reinforced that form of picky eating. He encouraged me to keep trying to expand her tastes, but to also let the situation play out as many children's tastes expand, as they get older. (I'm happy to report that hers expanded.)

In my time at NFI, I've had the benefit of learning from many parents, especially fathers, who are smarter than me. These parents include NFI's second president, Roland Warren. Roland gave me more practical advice than I can share here. What was the most important thing I learned from him? Good fathers do three things well: provide, nurture and guide.

Other parents I've learned from include Stephen Bavolek, author of the internationally-acclaimed Nurturing Parenting Programs, who assisted me in developing the first editions of our 24/7 Dad® and InsideOut Dad® programs. I've applied much of the knowledge and many of the skills we teach fathers in those programs to parenting my own children. I've also learned from the countless fathers and mothers who have contributed their wisdom on parenting in this blog The Father Factor, and the many experts in parenting whose research on parenting effectiveness has informed the programs and other resources I've developed at NFI.

Don't wait until you're at your wit's end before seeking advice on how to be a better parent generally and in specific situations. Part of being a smart parent is realizing you're not as smart as you think.

Question > What's one thing you could use parenting advice on now? Share your answer in the comment section or on , or .

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

*The opening quote by David Foster Wallace is from Conversations with David Foster Wallace (Literary Conversations Series)

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

The Best and Worst of Times for Fatherhood

This post originally appeared at Care Net's blog.

“It is the best of times and the worst of times for fatherhood in America.” I am not sure to whom I should attribute the above quote, but it was something that Roland Warren and I used to say often in our decade plus of work at National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). I believe that statement is still true today.

bestandworstoftimesforfatherhood
Some “best of times” news just came out of the 2015 Dad 2.0 Summit, which took place last week in San Francisco. I was honored, in my role at NFI, to attend the first three annual Dad 2.0 Summits from 2012 to 2014. I was sad to miss this year’s event (especially since Lego and Star Wars were involved!), but I was delighted to see some very positive coverage of the event from Time.com.

The Time story makes two points:

1) There is a new crop of fathers today who are more involved and more holistically involved in their children’s lives than their own fathers were.

2) More and more consumer brands are recognizing the power (and marketability) of portraying dads in a positive light and tapping into that aspect of men’s lives in order to be successful.

I agree with both of those points and I wholeheartedly celebrate them. In fact, I have said as much on Fox News and HLN.

However, there is a caveat that many stories of this nature ignore. While it is true that among middle-class families, father involvement is looking very good, it is also true that America has record levels of father absence, a crisis that mainly affects lower-income families. In fact, 24 million children, 1 out of every 3, lives in a home in which their biological father does not live. That rate is closer to 2 out of 3 in the African American community. And among those children living in father-absent homes, 1/3 have no contact with their dads, and another 1/3 have contact once per month or less.

So, the picture is actually quite bleak in too many communities across the country. 

Furthermore, from our standpoint at Care Net, much more needs to be done to involve fathers in a positive way in pregnancy decisions. Too many women are convinced to have abortions (directly or indirectly) by men not ready to be dads to their unborn children. And too many dads who would like to be fathers are left out of the conversation by a culture that says they have nothing to contribute to a mother’s decision to abort or not.

That is why Care Net started the Joseph Project to help individuals and organizations in the pro-life movement more proactively engage dads. We are also working with other organizations, such as National Fatherhood Initiative, to add more focus to the family-strengthening aspect of our work.

There is much to celebrate when it comes to the state of fatherhood in America today. But there is also a lot of work that needs to be done, and I thank God for the opportunity to be part of it. I hope that when I attend the 2016 Dad 2.0 Summit here in Washington, D.C. one year from now, we will have even more reason to celebrate.

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

This post originally appeared at Care Net's blog.

How a Man Named Emil is Helping Fathers in Torrington, Connecticut

It's been over a year, but I can still sense the silent, awkward pause on the other end of the phone. When I talked with Emil, he spoke excitedly about his work with fathers in Torrington, CT. When I asked him "the why" behind his work with fathers, his tone changed from excited to convicted. In 40 minutes of conversation, I learned what's happening with dads in Torrington while being reminded of the conviction it takes to lead. 

emil-torrington-ct
In 2000, there were 676,467 married households—52 percent of the state population in Connecticut. By 2010, that number had dipped to 672,013—49 percent. That's even considering the overall population of the state having grown from 3.41 million to 3.57 million. We have talked about Connecticut and fatherhood in the past, but another story is worth sharing. 

Family Strides is an organization located in northwest Connecticut, who helps families and communities to ensure healthy pregnancy outcomes and positive parenting practices in order to strengthen families and reduce the incidence of child abuse and neglect. Family Strides has seen the above pattern of marriage and fatherhood take place in its community. In fact, the only place in the entire county that was serving fathers was the child support system, and the only place to send fathers who were not paying child support was prison. That is, before Family Strides came along.

Thirty-five minutes from Hartford is Torrington. For this county, there's a different option, besides jail, for dads who need help. A man named Emil is helping dads see that the role they play in their children’s lives is much more than just paying child support. Through our 24/7 Dad® Program, we have helped Family Strides teach dads to be better fathers.

Where does Family Strides find dads to help?

Whereas some organizations may find it difficult to recruit dads to attend a fatherhood program, Family Strides doesn't recruit. How do they get dads to attend? "Every father thinks he knows what he’s doing," says Emil, "There's so many programs for mom. But dad has nothing." He continues, "We ended up going into court system in the county, into the child-support court systems. They had no place to send dad but prison, or anger management."

The county magistrates, before Emil and his group came along offering something different, had nothing but prison for dads who didn't pay child support. "If the dad doesn't pay child support, you warn him...you warn him..you warn him...then you lock him up.", Emil explains. Emil has been in that court system for 10 years. Now, he doesn’t spend time recruiting dads. He works only from referrals like: family courts, hospitals, employment agencies, head starts, and other community-based organizations.

“I’ve worked with over a thousand dads, ” says Emil. The biggest issue? "Many men feel their job is to put roof over head and feed them (kids)—and that's where it ends. Nothing more..." says Emil. Emil asks dads he meets, "When was the last time you went to a parent-teacher conference?" Emil explains, "Most dad's will answer: isn’t that her (mom's) job?" Emil will also ask, "Who's your child's first teacher?" He recalls from years of experience, dads will always give the name of their child's teacher at school. Emil will then say, "No, dad, you are...you are the teacher.”

What happens in the fatherhood program?

Must dads think they are the only ones to ever make a mistake. But something magical happens when I dad gets with other dads in a group. He starts to realize, "Yeah, I screwed up, but so did he." For maybe the first time ever, this dad learns that we all make mistakes. Emil explains, "You can make a 30-minute mistake. But, you can’t make a 30-minute mistake daily." At some point, we have to find a reason to live better stories. For some, the child is that reason.

Emil explains: 

There is nothing more valuable than your child. Nothing. Not the size of your house, how much money you make, what kind of car you drive, or what kind of vacation you take. Every decision you make has to place your child first. 

Dads who attend Emil's group learn everything related to fatherhood, from relationships and communication, to discipline. Emil points out, when all a dad knows to "teach" a child is yelling—dads must learn that they have other options. For a topic as seemingly simple as discipline, understand you're only gonna do, as a dad, what you were taught and what was done to you.

Sadly, most dads Emil sees don't want to be like their own dad. But, as Emil explains, "they are 50 percent their dad and 50 percent of mom." You are the sum of your experiences and education. How you were parented is often how you parent. This is all fine and good unless you had less-than-perfect parent models. Emil explains, "Alcoholism is a big issue. Drug abuse is an issue. Economy and jobs is an issue." He often asks to meet the dads' kids. Experience shows, "I can’t help everyone..but, when the father starts seeing how much he can help his kid, he can change..." says Emil.

Emil often meets the children of the dads he works with, "I ask them, 'what do you think of this guy?'...when they say, 'He’s my daddy. I love my daddy. He’s my world...' These fathers break down. They haven’t heard that before. A light-bulb goes off.." recalls Emil. It's a 13-week fatherhood course. Emil says, "I don’t throw guys out of the class after 13 weeks. They are all welcome to keep coming. They come back occasionally. I have gentlemen that come back for the last six years at least monthly." 

The Why Behind the What 

Emil started helping dads in Torrington 10 years ago. At the time, he had a 12-year-old daughter and an infant soon. Emil had a strong relationship with his Dad, recalling over the phone how his dad used to tell him, “I love you so much it hurts.” Emil recalls the first person he called upon having his son was his father, simply to say, “Now I understand what you mean.”

Emil's son, Emil Jr, was born with an intestinal problem. At three days old he was transferred to a special teaching hospital in Connecticut. It was 10 days later, Emil's son was diagnosed as having Down Syndrome. His son got some better as time went on, but they lived in children's medical center. After a few years, Emil lost his son to leukemia. “As a dad, there is nothing worse than being helpless.” I listened as Emil recalled those helpless times of walking the hallways of the hospital. I listened to Emil's voice shake as he shared with me. 

Emil explained, with conviction, why he cares so much about fathers. He says, "I still use my son in teaching the group." When a dad says “I stay away because 'she' (the mother) won’t let me...” Emil will reply, “I’d love to trade with you. You are choosing not to see them. I can’t choose...You can get on a phone and call at least. You can make your visits. I can't see my son anymore. I go to a stone."

How does Emil know his work with fathers matters?

At his son’s wake, over 200 dads attended. As we closed our conversation, Emil has a message he wanted all dads to understand about having kids:

They need you all their life…be there. You need to be the man you want to see your daughter with. You don’t want to see your son brutalize girls. So you don't need to brutalize the child's mom. Be there for your child. Nothing is more important.

For Fatherhood Program Leaders > Learn more about Emil's work with fathers in Connecticut.

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

The Opportunity Costs of Absent Fathers

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

There are 24 million children (1 in 3) who will go to sleep tonight in homes in which their fathers do not live. That's a staggering number. But the problem of father absence doesn't only affect those 24 million children. It also affects the children living with fathers who are spiritually and emotionally absent from their children's lives.

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Research
shows that children with absent fathers are more likely than their peers growing up with their fathers to suffer from a range of ills, such as poverty, poor school performance, drug and alcohol abuse, and the list goes on. But, once again, it's not just physical absence or presence that makes a difference. Children who live with fathers who are but a mere presence in their homes suffer as well. The level of involvement matters; for example, a landmark study by the U.S. Department of Education found that children whose fathers are more involved in their education have better grades than fathers who are involved in their education to a lesser degree.

The costs of father absence matter, a lot. These costs have a name -- opportunity costs. An opportunity cost is any cost that results from a person's decision to do something instead of something else. From another perspective, it's the benefit a person sacrifices to do something else. When fathers are absent from their children's lives -- physically, emotionally, or spiritually -- it costs them dearly. They give up the benefits of being involved, responsible, committed dads -- such as the love of their children and the joy of seeing their children grow into adults -- and the benefits of mothers' love in raising children together.

To be fair, there are some rare instances of father absence in which fathers don't choose to be absent. Fathers' levels of involvement must also be understood within the context of how they provide for their family. A father, for example, who must work two jobs to support his family has only so much bandwidth to be physically present. The vast majority of instances of father absence, however, involve fathers who choose to do something other than be present -- to be somewhere else physically or in their minds than where they should be.

What makes father absence as a choice so incredibly heinous are the opportunity costs of it for children, the mothers left to care for absent fathers' children on their own, and our society. If the costs only accrued to absent fathers, the National Fatherhood Initiative wouldn't exist. But the costs don't only accrue to these fathers. Like the ripples that result from the rocks fathers and children throw into and skip across ponds, the impact of father absence is felt far and wide. Children, mothers, and our society need involved fathers. We can't spare a single one.

To all those fathers who have made a choice to be absent, I implore you to reverse course. Think about the opportunity costs to you. More importantly, think about the opportunity costs of your choice to your children, the mother of your children, and our society.

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The costs of father absence is high. Visit our Father Facts Page to learn more and support NFI’s work to connect father to child.

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Richmond County Fatherhood Initiative is Reaching Fathers & Families (Video)

Poverty. Behavioral issues. Drug abuse. Becoming pregnant as a teen. Prison. Local leaders have come together to form the Richmond County Fatherhood Initiative, which hopes to reach fathers of all backgrounds throughout the Northern Neck of Virginia. Their goal? Make sure fathers are there for their children, their families, their community.

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If you've seen our post on The Father Absence Crisis in America, then you know the issues that can arise when a child grows up in a home without a father. For Richmond County, these statistics are likely realities. In a news story on the Richmond County Fatherhood Initiative, we read how dads are learning to connect with family—and how this is helping the community.

We often talk about the national epidemic of father absence. However, the realities can and should be broken down into state by state (community by community) levels. If you read our post on what's happening in Richmond prisons titled When Dad's in Jail, you will no doubt understand the stats related to father absence are realities that we must work to make more and better fathers. 

Philip Belfield, the Branch Executive of the Richmond County YMCA, has said of the father absence problem:

“When I saw the statistics of the results, what happens to kids and families that don’t have fathers that participate, it’s really staggering...And to see that is happening right here in our area in the Northern Neck, where more and more fathers are not participating in their families’ lives, I feel like that’s something that 1) personally, but 2) [with] my role with the YMCA, we can play a positive role in that area.”

The Richmond County Fatherhood Initiative grew out of a forum conducted by Claudette Henderson, the former Director of Richmond County Social Services. The forum centered on the need for a fatherhood presence in the local area.

“When I heard about this program, I had to join,” said Davis Roberts, principal of Richmond County Elementary.

“If dads are present, you reduce dropouts; with dads being present, kids are less likely to be in poverty; with dads being present, [it results in] better self-esteem for the kids.” —Davis Roberts (Principal, Richmond County Elementary)

Coming together to kickstart the program were local community leaders including

  • Davis Roberts, Principal, Richmond County Elementary
  • Philip Belfield, Branch Executive, Richmond County YMCA
  • Wendy Herdman, Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent overseeing 4-H Youth Development

Another helping hand came from Virginia Delegate Margaret Ransone (R-99th) who, according to Davis, played a key role in gathering advertisement for the community support group.

“As a woman and a mom, it was eye opening for me to recognize the impact fathers have on their children,” Ransone said. “It’s easy to get on a routine and forget what our Dads really mean to a family.” Virginia Delegate Margaret Ransone (R-99th) 

The Rest of the Fatherhood Story in Greater Richmond
NFI has been working to help fathers and families in Virginia for years. For instance, First Things First of Greater Richmond received a capacity-building grant from NFI in 2007 to start building the foundation it needed to create a sustainable fatherhood program. With the foundation in place, they began adding the elements that would make up an effective fatherhood initiative across the city and surrounding counties like you're starting to see today.

First, they began using NFI curricula to meet the community’s needs. They partnered with AmeriCorps and Richmond City Human Services for a grant to hire two part-time staff to deliver NFI’s InsideOut Dad® Program in the Richmond City Jail. They also partnered with the Henrico County Public Schools Fatherhood Initiative - Man Up, which was not using a curriculum, to begin offering NFI’s 24/7 Dad® program.

All of this work helped raise public awareness in the community about the importance of serving fathers. For example, NFI’s Fatherhood Resource Kiosks, filled with brochures for dads, were a public, visible sign that services were being provided to dads. First Things First also worked with the Richmond Family and Fatherhood Initiative to help them diversify their resources and provide instructors to deliver various programs.

Want to see First Things First in action in Richmond City Jail? Watch testimonials from participants in (Richmond, VA): In this video, see how InsideOut Dad® is helping teach men to be better husbands and dads and connect to their families. 


First Things First has also promoted their story well—using publicity to ensure that the community knows the positive work they are doing, such as working with the jail to promote the use of InsideOut Dad®, which resulted in a story in the Richmond Times Dispatch. Additionally, they are using various resources at their disposal to educate and inspire their partners and their community about the importance of providing services to fathers. Here are just a few services provided by other groups or companies First Things First partners with various organizations and entities to carry out its work:

  • Richmond City Sheriff’s Office
  • Henrico County Public Schools Fatherhood Initiative – Man Up
  • U Turn Ministries
  • Central Library 

We are proud to be helping the Greater Richmond area reach fathers and are excited about what we've seen can happen when a group of leaders see the problem and work toward a solution. Go Richmond, and go dads.

Here are a few resources you will find helpful for more information:

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

image > istock

 

Adrian Peterson’s Child Abuse Situation—Did We Learn the Right Lessons?

Recently, USA Today published at story titled, “Peterson’s Remorse is Real.” The article was the result of 90-minute interview the Minnesota Viking player Adrian Peterson about how to address his September 11, 2014 felony indictment for severely disciplining his 4-year-old son with a switch. 

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What struck me as ironic about this situation was how much it resembled a typical penalty call on an NFL play. Society's "referee" blew the whistle and said, "We have a penalty on number 28 of the Minnesota Vikings... Roughing a 4-year-old... Illegal use of the hands... Loss of salary and the ability to play for the rest of the season." And, then we were on to the next play. After all, Peterson was remorseful and said that he learned his lesson because he "won't ever use a switch again..."

However, despite Peterson's remorse, as a fatherhood "coach," I am compelled to throw a red challenge flag. We desperately need to review the tape again, because buried in the USA Today article was an important point that too few talked about. 

But, as a fatherhood coach, I have to throw a red challenge flag on this one and suggest that we review the tape again. You see, buried in the USA Today article was a point that few talked about.  

Peterson has six children with six different women—five of which are not in his home. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying the Peterson is not sorry for what he did to the child that he switched that day. My issue is what he is doing to his other children that he didn’t switch. You see, father absence is a form of abuse and neglect, especially when a father creates children where he’s absent by design. And this is exactly what Peterson has done.  

Indeed, there are sins of commission and there are sins of omission. I believe that a child has a hole in his or her soul in the shape of a dad and that God whispers to a child in a mother’s womb that there will be a special one who will be present and love like no other. If a father is unable or unwilling to do this, it can leave a wound and a sense of abandonment that will leave a mark more severe and long lasting than a switch. 

Moreover, I suspect the fact that Peterson doesn’t live with his 4-year-old son contributed to the likelihood of abuse. Why? Because a father can’t really know a child’s temperament and needs well without spending “quality and quantity” time with his child. Like a football play, a child develops and changes quickly. And, like Peterson needs to be in the huddle to hear a play, a father needs to be in the home to understand a child’s way. Otherwise, a father will discipline from the wrong playbook. Alas, in Peterson’s case, it was a playbook full of “switch play” that was passed down to him from his absent father.

Interestingly, the USA Today article said Peterson must now prove that he is not an absent parent. But, he is an absent parent, by his own design, to most of his children. Why? Because he failed to truly consider how his actions would impact his children. When one pursues short-term sexual pleasure, there can be long-term consequences on others, especially children. And, although Peterson may now have a desire to be a present father, he cannot be for most of his children. Discipline, not just desire, determines a father’s involvement and what needs to be disciplined most is a father’s sexual appetite. That’s why it’s not surprising that children do best across every psychological, social, educational, and economic measure of child well being, and are less likely to be abused, by fathers who are married to their children’s mothers. Good fathering is like good real estate. It’s about location, location, location. 

Think about it this way. Let’s suppose that when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reinstates Peterson, he gives him a special type of privilege that allows him to play simultaneously for six different teams in six different cities. And suppose that Peterson assures each team that he cares about and is totally committed to each team’s success. Now, consider what would happen. Each team and its fans would be livid. Why? Because wherever Peterson plays, his teams need him every play, and on a given Sunday, some teams will suffer. Well, Peterson’s children need him every day. He may be fast but he can’t transcend the space and time continuum to kiss and tuck all of his children into bed at night. Alas, some children will suffer. 

And here’s the sad part. No doubt, there would be more outrage about what Peterson would be doing to NFL football if he tried to play for six teams than has occurred regarding what Peterson is doing to his children. Unfortunately, our culture has a higher standard for football than it does for fatherhood. Scandals and bad actions of players are quickly forgotten when the product on the field -- a highly electrifying, exciting sport - continues to distract society from important off-the-field issues. Case in point - the New England Patriots exciting Super Bowl win for now has likely put an end to most of the talk of domestic violence and cheating allegations flying around the league. 

In my view, there are two lessons that Peterson needed to learn, and both involve discipline: How to discipline his children and how to discipline himself. Did he learn them? Only time will tell. But, better yet, did we learn anything? Unfortunately, I fear not. It's on to the NBA plalyoffs...

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How Three Consumer Brands Helped Dads and Kids Score a Touchdown on Super Bowl Sunday

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Three consumer brands helped dads and kids score a touchdown on Super Bowl Sunday. Nissan, Toyota, and Dove Men+Care focused their annual Super Bowl campaigns on celebrating dads.

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Nissan's #WithDad campaign was its first Super Bowl campaign in 20 years. The fact that they jumped back into the frenzy of consumerism associated with the most widely watched TV event in the world was a huge undertaking in and of itself, but their choice to focus on dads' struggles to balance work and family made it even more remarkable. On the other hand, Nissan's ads have had a strong focus on dads for several years, so this campaign was a somewhat natural extension of that focus.

Toyota's #OneBoldChoice campaign was one of the best father-focused campaigns I've seen. What made it unique is the range of emotions it invoked. The ads (a series of varying length that don't resemble typical commercials) not only invoked feelings of warmth and love, they invoked sadness as viewers learned of the everyday challenges many dads face in raising children. These current and former NFL players and working dads (e.g. a construction worker and a fireman) appeared with their children and discussed the bold, difficult choices dads have to make daily for their families.

Dove Men+Care is, of course, a brand that focuses on men. So it's not as surprising that their campaign focused on dads. What made their #RealStrength campaign unique, however, was its use of "Real Dad Moments" that challenge the macho male stereotype prevalent in advertising. It was also unique in its reach into communities. The brand sponsored workshops for dads on January 17th at Sam's Club locations in approximately 20 states during which dads received materials on how to be a better dad.

Going Against the Grain

As I've written elsewhere in this blog, consumer brands often portray fathers in a negative light. They often portray dads as bungling, incompetent parents in need of rescue by nurturing, competent mothers. So perhaps we should be surprised that three well-known brands independently arrived at a decision to celebrate dads with extremely positive portrayals that emphasize dads' competence as parents and the importance of dads in children's lives.

On the other hand, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. Many companies now recognize that dads are a major buying force, especially in certain areas, such as automobile purchases. A recent study by ESPN Research and Analytics found that men almost always outspend women during holiday seasons. The percentage of men who are the primary buyers in their households has jumped from 14 percent in 1985 to 33 percent today. Men are buyers rather than shoppers, an important distinction to a company's bottom line. The business case for a focus on dads has indeed arrived.

The Next Step

Regardless of whether we should be surprised, the next step for brands is to build on the business case for marketing to dads and help combat, through their social responsibility efforts, of one of the most consequential social problems of recent decades -- widespread father absence in the lives of children. Approximately 1 in 3 children (some 24 million) in America will sleep tonight in a home without their father, and 9 in 10 parents agree that there is a father absence crisis. Father absence has devastated communities across the country. Some of the hardest-hit communities have father absence rates above 50 percent. Many of the dads, kids, and moms affected by this problem don't have the buying power of the consumers portrayed in advertising. Toyota's campaign is the first I've seen that touches on this problem. Many of the fathers in the ads discussed the impact of being raised without their own fathers in their lives or by present fathers who were poor parents. Some of the children discussed the impact on their lives of having involved fathers.

Unfortunately, none of the campaigns included a social responsibility component that would have made them truly remarkable. To take the next step in promoting the importance of involved, responsible, committed dads, brands must provide resources that help fathers in whatever circumstance they find themselves (e.g. living with or without their children) to be as involved as possible in their children's lives. They must provide these resources directly to disenfranchised families and through the thousands of organizations that serve them in communities across the country.

This next step would not only help these families and communities, it would help companies respond to the belief among 75 percent of Millennials -- the largest generation of consumers the U.S. has ever seen who represent most of today's new and young parents -- that corporations should create economic value by addressing society's needs, and for their preference to do business with socially-responsible companies. The vast majority of Millennials, 4 in 5, are more likely to do business with a company that supports a cause they care about. And they care about parenthood. More than half of them say that parenthood is one of the most important things in life.

Question: Did you see any of the Super Bowl campaigns mentioned in this post? Which one was your favorite?

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Locked Up in Jacksonville Florida: How One Corrections Dept is Correcting Fatherhood

The average cost to incarcerate a person for one year is $29,000. I hate this expense so much. Hear me out, I'm all for criminals doing the time. But, since "doing the time" is costing college tuition, I think inmates should learn something for that kind of money. We should at least teach inmates how to get out of prison instead of how to stay in. If you find yourself locked up in Jacksonville, Florida, look for a man named Rickie Shaw. Mr. Shaw can help.

We know all about the father absence crisis in America. A major part of this crisis is sitting behind bars. We wrote Fathers Behind Bars a few months ago, but allow me to remind of some stats related to fathers in prison:

  • There are 2.7 million children with a parent in prison or jail.
  • Ninety-two percent (92%) of parents in prison are fathers. 
  • 650,000+ ex-offenders are released from prison every year.
  • Two-thirds of ex-offenders, or 429,000, will likely re-offend within three (3) years.

This problem is the one Adam Causey, writing for Jacksonville.com, covered a while back. It's still one of the best videos I've seen for showing why rehabilitating inmates is vital and how NFI helps.

Rickie Shaw, a Community Outreach Development Specialist with Family Support Services, teaches weekly sessions of NFI's InsideOut Dad® program, the fatherhood program for inmates to learn the skills they need to be a better father. He teaches at the James I. Montgomery Correctional Center in Jacksonville, Florida.

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As you might imagine, prison inmates make for a tough crowd. But, Rickie Shaw has learned what it takes to connect. He says in the video that follows,"I am man. I am dad. So are they. That's a natural connection. But, they have to understand, I'm genuine. That my motivation is not to collect my two-week check. I'm here to make sure these men make a difference in their children's lives."  

 Can't see the video? Click here to view.

Please take time to watch this video. Rickie Shaw gets it. He'll be the first to tell you parenting is a learned skill. If you find yourself at Jacksonville’s Montgomery Correctional Facility on a Monday or Wednesday, you'll find a group of inmates learning how to be men.

From discussions on relationships, communication, and discipline, there's nothing out of bounds when it comes to preparing inmates for release from prison. It's all part of the InsideOut Dad® program.

Family Support Services of Northeast Florida is the nonprofit that handles local adoptions and other state-funded social services. They expanded the program to Duval County after it worked well in other parts of Florida.

Adam Causey, the writer of the aforementioned article, recalled upon visiting an InsideOut Dad® class, that men were learning about developmental stages of children. He recalls inmates "laughing as they read about babies as young as two months being able to mimic smiles..." Inmates also learn, that by ages 1 and 2, kids grow inches in just months and add four to six pounds a year.

Have you ever been locked behind bars? Hopefully you haven't. But, consider this, the physical changes of a child happen fast. When you're locked up, one year can mean missing out on a lot in a child’s life. 

Rickie Shaw talks on the video about the inmates and how he can see them start to process the information in the class. He says:

I can see the wheels start turning in their head...they start to bring back conversations that they've had with their mates through letters and visitations. They start processing things that happened in their past with their moms and dads when they were kids. They're looking for answers and solutions to things that shaped their lives That's when I know I'm being effective.

Rickie continues discussing the biggest misconception about the inmates he works with:

The biggest misconception about inmates is that whatever got them here, they have to be punished and no rehabilitation. I think the original thought behind imprisoning someone was that they would have the time to rehabilitate—maybe change the behaviors that got them bars. Classes like InsideOut Dad® and GED programs and various drug abuse programs and domestic violence classes, those are the rehabilitative devices that are definitely needed in a place like this so that they can come out with skills that they didn't have when they came in. I see this as a true opportunity to help rehabilitate someone and help put them in a better place.

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Two separate attendees had this to say about the InsideOut Dad® Program:

"I can say I've learned a lot since I've been in the class. I'm thankful for him (Rickie) coming. Whoever made this program up, it's a good help, a real good help." —InsideOut® Dad Attendee

"I'm happy with the topics we discuss. I think it's [InsideOut Dad® Program] gonna help me when I get out to be a better father and better husband." —InsideOut® Attendee

I don't live or have family in Jacksonville, Florida. But, I sure hope that if you or someone you know is behind bars, they have access to someone like Rickie and NFI's program. This kind of education may just be more valuable and life changing than a college degree.

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Download the free sample > InsideOut Dad®


InsideOut Dad® is the nation's only evidence-based fatherhood program designed specifically for incarcerated fathers.

Is It Finally Time to Put Marriage in the Dustbin?

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Recently, economist and long-time promoter of marriage Isabel V. Sawhill made a surprising about face with the release of her book Generation Unbound. As Brigid Shulte wrote in the Washington Post, Sawhill has reversed her position as an unlikely marriage advocate. She's a Democrat, works at the non-partisan, centrist Brookings Institution, and based her support of marriage not on traditional values but on the data that shows children raised by married parents fare better, on average, than children raised in other family forms.

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Sawhill's staunch evidence-informed support of marriage earned her broad-based praise among proponents of marriage. So many marriage advocates, including me, were shocked when she said, as Shulte points out, that it's time to give up. It's time to stop trying to save an institution that's been in decline for so long it's irretrievable. Better to identify what can replace it as a better alternative to stopping and reversing the rise in single parenting which, almost everyone agrees, is bad for children and leads to spending billions of dollars on social programs that address its consequences.

Where to Hang Your Hat

Does she have a point? That depends on where you hang your hat in terms of the argument for or against giving up on promoting marriage. If you hang your hat on trends in marriage rates, you'd be hard pressed not to agree with Sawhill. Consider that:

  • The number of adults who are married has been on a steady decline from 72.2 percent in 1960 (it's peak in the past 100 years or so) to 50.5 percent in 2012.
  • There's a widening "marriage gap" between college-educated adults and those without a college education. Among 35- to 39-year old college-educated adults, for example, 81 percent had ever married compared to 76 in 1950. In contrast, 73 percent of 35- to 39-year-olds without a bachelor's degree had ever married compared to 92 percent in 1950.

So, we're a less-married nation, but some of us are getting married at higher rates than ever before while others of us are less likely to get married. And this decline continues even though the federal government and some state governments have been doing everything they can since the mid 2000s to promote marriage by funding marriage-promotion programs.

If, however, you hang your hat on the impact of the state of marriage -- and depending on the kind of impact that's your focus -- your answer might or might not support Sawhill's new position.

The decline in marriage and the marriage gap has received quite a bit of recent attention and generated some debate about their impacts. Most of the debates focus on the impacts on adults, children, or both. Those that focus on the impact on adults are mixed. (See this piece by the Brookings Institution as an example.) Those that focus on children, however, overwhelmingly conclude that the impacts are not good, especially for the poorest children.

The impact on children is where I have always hung my hat, and is where, not surprisingly, National Fatherhood Initiative hangs its hat when it comes to the negative effects of father absence. What hasn't changed since we started collecting data on marriage rates is the ream of data on the impact on children when they grow up without their married parents that shows these children, regardless of socio-economic status, don't fare as well, on average, as children who grow up with their married parents. Moreover, it's not just children who suffer. Communities also suffer. As I've written elsewhere in this blog, family structure is the most important factor in the upward economic mobility of families. Economic mobility is not only more difficult for children living in single-parent homes. Communities with large percentages of single-parent homes make economic mobility more difficult for everyone in the community.

Can We Afford to Give Up?

These facts, based on boatloads of evidence, should cause everyone to stop and ask whether we can afford to stop attempts that seek to reverse the decline of marriage. While renewing marriage is not a magic bullet that will cure all of the ills related to child poverty and other issues of child well-being, it's the most vital part of the prescription.

So how can we, as Sawhill has concluded, just give up on marriage? She suggests that there is another answer that makes it okay to give up -- that there is a better alternative to stopping and reducing the rise in single parenting, and that it's just a matter of figuring out which one it is.

She offers some ideas, such as marriages with "time limits." They'd end, say, after 5, 10, 15 years. Like moving from one job to another. (Unfortunately, too many people already treat marriage in this way.) Would these contracts create an institutionalized form of a new kind of friends with benefits? Would we call these marriages "contracts without consequences?" Could they be "terminated by either party for any reason with 30 days advanced written notice?" If we go this far, marriage would certainly be dead as it would be reduced to nothing more than a contract stripped of the characteristics that make marriage work, such as love and commitment in the best and worst of times.

She also mentions Scandanavian-style long-term cohabiting. While that might work in Scandanavian countries, that rent-to-own experiment has been underway in the U.S. for some time, so long, in fact, that cohabitation is now the most common pathway to marriage. But it has done nothing to stem the tide in single parenting. The rapid rise in single parenting has kept rolling along despite the just-as-precipitous rise in cohabiting -- no inverse correlation there.

Shulte notes that Sawhill hasn't given up, fortunately, on the need to reduce the impact of single-parent homes on child well-being. So perhaps, to use language borrowed from the Lean Startup movement, she's only "pivoting" on her position, instead of reversing it, when it comes to addressing the problem of child poverty. Just as many technology and consumer product companies have adopted rigorous and rapid testing of products that often result in pivots (i.e. changes) on their features and functions to achieve their ultimate goal of meeting consumers' needs, Sawhill might be suggesting the answer lies in experimenting with and tweaking approaches to solve our nation's need to reduce child poverty.

Where to Start

To identify approaches to solving any problem, it's vital to start with a desired outcome or goal. Her suggested goal is to establish an "ethic of responsible parenthood," which is ironic given that the creation of that ethic is a primary function of marriage. She recommends establishing this ethic through, in part, the use of long-acting, reversible contraceptives (e.g. IUDs) that couples would use until they are ready to have children. Much more effective than the pill or condoms, their use could reduce the likelihood of poorly timed and unwanted pregnancies.

While there are many ideological and practical hurdles to overcome implementing such an experiment and taking it to scale, I seriously doubt it would ever gain enough traction -- short of a mandate that smacks of mass sterilization -- to have a measurable effect on reducing single parenting. Despite the success of efforts to reduce teen pregnancy (the focus of most calls for long-acting contraceptive use), the rise in out-of-wedlock births has continued unabated largely because of the rise in out-of-wedlock births to twentysomethings that is now at an all-time high. It would also require massive amounts of government and private funding to make these contraceptives affordable to the poorest Americans.

The answer to addressing the rise in single parent homes and all of its consequences, not just child poverty, is not to give up on marriage. The answer starts with acknowledging where the problem lies.

The problem is with changing beliefs in America about family: specifically, about the function of marriage and its impact on child bearing. Most Americans now believe the function of marriage is to satisfy their desire for meaningful, life-long connection instead of as an institution for raising children and what children need to thrive. So it shouldn't be surprising that a majority of Americans today don't see anything wrong with unmarried childbearing.

To be clear, my problem with this belief is not that marriage should not satisfy someone's desire for meaningful, life-long connection -- I can't think of a better way to create such a connection. But focusing on that aspect of marriage to the detriment of marriage's primary function of raising healthy children has become a recipe for disaster.

I not only believe the problem lies in Americans' beliefs. I also believe the answer lies in Americans' beliefs: specifically, the belief that children deserve the best chance to succeed. It is that widely held belief that connects to Sawhill's spot-on contention that the institution of marriage is evolving and must evolve. It must evolve by expanding to include two functions, the new and the old. Marriage's function isn't a zero-sum game. It can and should be a "both-and" game. Marriage can serve its new function of providing individuals with deep, life-long connection and be renewed as the primary institution in which to raise healthy children.

If we can agree to focus on the goal of ensuring that children deserve to be raised in an environment that the research shows gives them the best chance to succeed and in which their parents can also thrive, then perhaps we can also agree that the answer to improving child well-being lies somewhere in this expanded function of marriage. To do so, we must challenge our tendency to look at controversial issues as a zero-sum game and collaborate to identify, test, and iterate approaches that respect the evolving function of marriage and redirect its gaze back toward children's well-being.

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Fatherhood Research and Practice Network Selects Grantees

The Fatherhood Research and Practice Network (FRPN), of which NFI's President, Christopher Brown, serves as a steering committee member, recently announced its first group of funded projects. We have kept you in the loop from the start of this great opportunity. So, we want you, our readers, to be among the first to read this great news.

dad_with_boy_in_armsAs you may recall, we introduced you to the opportunity of funding and technical assistance (TA) that was coming available from the federal government to help potential organizations rigorously evaluate their fatherhood program. You can click here to read the full post.

At that time, we noted how excited we were about the potential of the FRPN to advance research and practice in connecting fathers with their children.

As a reminder, the objectives of the FRPN are to:

  • Promote rigorous evaluation of fatherhood programs.
  • Expand the number of researchers and practitioners collaborating to evaluate these programs.
  • Disseminate information that leads to effective fatherhood practice and evaluation research.

FRPN has now selected its first round of funded projects. They picked four projects designed to rigorously evaluate fatherhood programs that will receive a total of $350,000.

These projects involve:

  • randomized-controlled trials (RCTs);
  • are led by researcher/practitioner teams;
  • and involve the collection of data from program participants and/or staff at pre- and post-program time points to assess changes in father-child relationships and co-parenting.

The selected fatherhood programs and services to be evaluated include groups from across the nation. For a full list and details regarding the selected grantees, please visit www.frpn.org

The FRPN will solicit proposals for a new round of funding to conduct rigorous evaluations of fatherhood programs in spring 2015. Learn more about the funded projects at www.frpn.org.

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

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

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