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The Father Factor

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When “Inclusion” Results in a Total Lack of Fairness for Dads

Words like empowerment and inclusion get thrown around a lot today. But do we really know what they mean? Do these principles in fact have any intrinsic value, or are they just the flavors of the week?

The problem with attributing value to ambiguous concepts like “empowerment” (which Daniel Pink defines as “a slightly more civilized form of control”) is that when you run into conflicts, there is no real standard by which to resolve those conflicts. This post-modern dilemma is playing itself out in a big, public way over at Time Warner, where CNN (a Time Warner company) journalist Joshua Levs has filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge against his employer. 

Joshua and his wife just welcomed their third child into the world, and when he went to his employer seeking the 10 weeks of paid leave that new parents get, he found out that all new parents except biological fathers are entitled to this time off. You read that right – every kind of new parent working for Time Warner is entitled to 10 weeks of paid leave, except biological fathers. Adoptive mothers and fathers, biological mothers, and all mothers and fathers whose children were born through surrogacy; they all get 10 weeks of paid leave. But if you are in Joshua’s shoes, where his own wife gave birth to his own child, he only gets two weeks.

Time Warner, in its efforts to be “inclusive,” and to “empower” new parents with a policy of “equality” has created a situation that exposes a much more serious problem – it is completely unfair. Moreover, in Joshua’s view, given his EEOC charge, it is discriminatory.

While we at NFI do not know all of the legal details about the EEOC charge, we can say that we agree with Joshua Levs. His company is clearly treating him unfairly. And from a broader “fatherhood perspective,” Time Warner’s actions are symptomatic of much a deeper cultural issue that has been plaguing our culture for decades, the devaluing of fatherhood and marriage.

It seems every group has a movement or a program behind it, except married, biological fathers. Guys like me, who have sacrificed much to get and stay married to the mothers of our children, seem to be the ones who get the least support in the public square. We are the “suckers” who seemingly made the mistake of setting aside our own interests by going home every night to our wife and children so that we can be there for them for life.

We hear it all the time at NFI, but one of the most common refrains I hear is that “you don’t have to be married to your children’s mother to be a good dad!” Well, sure; most of our community-based programs help unmarried fathers connect to their kids. But the reason every civilization across all of world history has created the institution of marriage is because it enables men to be the best dads they can be. Since when are we so comfortable with settling for second best when it comes to our children? Have we lowered our standards that much?

As for Mr. Levs’ situation, one can’t help but be befuddled by the hubris of Time Warner to create and then enforce such a policy. In Mr. Levs’ own words, in his public statement about the situation, he said, “The company gave no explanation in rejecting my request last week, saying only that it was ‘unable’ to grant it. That’s obviously false. Time Warner is able to, but chose not to. The moment it did that, this issue stopped being a possible oversight that the company could have resolved quietly. It became an active, deliberate decision to discriminate.”

I am at a loss to figure out why Time Warner would do this, other than to go back to our mass cultural confusion, where we value too many other things more highly than the importance of father involvement.

But that only explains part of it. Other fathers at Time Warner are not getting the same lousy treatment as Joshua. So, could something more sinister be at work here?

For one thing, Time Warner’s policy is not actually about child well being. In Joshua’s statement, he mentions that certain forms of discrimination are legal because they are directed at groups that are not “protected classes.” Apparently, children are not a protected class, because if improving child well being was the purpose of Time Warner’s policies, they would extend the most generous policies, or at least the same ones, to the types of parents who are most likely to have children -- biological parents. Despite “advances,” the vast majority of children are still brought into the world as a result of a man and woman having sex with each other. So, Time Warner’s “inclusive” policy only touches a small minority of new parents.

Furthermore, as I mentioned above, our culture has gone out of its way to devalue married fatherhood for decades. Time Warner’s actions sound like yet another attempt to move our culture away from tradition and towards some new way of doing things. I am not sure what that “new way” is, but decades of social science research indicate that it is probably a bad idea, because children living with their two, married, biological parents do better across every measure of child well being than children in any other family structure. Shouldn’t that, therefore, be the structure that we encourage and promote? Wouldn’t that be fair to our nation’s children?

But there is the problem! It is not fairness we actually care about. We care more about ethereal concepts like “inclusion” and “empowerment,” which change with our culture’s whims. It is not even child well being we really care about; it is making sure “protected classes” are kept happy.

We at NFI hope Joshua Levs, and all of the biological fathers at Time Warner, get what is coming to them, which is simply what every other type of parent gets. And, furthermore, we are hopeful that Joshua’s actions resonate throughout our culture so that fathers all over the country get the same truly fair treatment they deserve, and more importantly, that their children deserve.

The good news is that much of the response to Mr. Levs’ charge has been positive. You can help the cause simply by making supportive comments right here on this blog, on NFI’s Facebook page, or by visiting Mr. Levs’ Facebook or Twitter page and voicing your support for him.

4 Great Resources on How to Deal with Bullies

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.

Bullying continues to receive a lot of attention in schools and the media, and for a good reason.

angrychild bullying istockphoto

It takes many forms ranging from traditional, physical bullying to the more recent and harder-to-spot form called “cyberbullying”. Regardless of form or medium, it can devastate its victims and has led some children to kill themselves. It might surprise you to learn, however, that children who bully aren’t necessarily the mean kids who tower in height over everyone else and lie in wait for your child to walk by and steal his or her lunch money through sheer intimidation.

According to Child Trends’ 5 Things to Know about Kids Who Bully, bullies:  

  1. Don’t fit a specific profile.
  2. Are sometimes bullied themselves.
  3. Play a wide range of roles in bullying (e.g. they might actively or passively assist or encourage or a bully rather than do the bullying themselves).
  4. Need help, too.
  5. Can be reinforced (and, alternately, discouraged) in their bullying by parents, peers, and schools.  

The latter point is particularly relevant to our work at National Fatherhood Initiative.

According to Child Trends:

"Children who have less-involved parents are more likely to bully others, as are those who have siblings or parents who model or endorse aggressive behavior. Parenting styles linked to social bullying include those lacking nurturing or that rely on psychological control of children; children with parents who manipulate relationships to assert power or gain attention are also more likely to engage in social bullying.”  

If you’re wondering whether your child is a victim of bullying or know that your child is a victim and need some guidance in how to help your child, check out these four great resources that provide definitions of and data on bullying, as well as, advice on how to deal with bullies.    

  1. KidsHealth (Parents Helping Kids)  
  2. KidsHealth (Teens Helping Themselves)  
  3. Violence Prevention Works  
  4. Bullying Statistics  

When was the last time you talked with your child about bullying?

6 Tips and More on Talking with Your Teen about Sex

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.

As the father of two teen girls (18 and 15), I’ve been focused on doing everything I can to ensure that they avoid sex until they’re adults and, ideally, until they’re married. My primary tactic is, quite simply, to be involved in their lives as much as possible and to love them unconditionally.

dad and teen boy talking

The reason I employ that tactic is not only because I believe in it, I know it’s critical based on research. We’ve known for decades that children who grow up without their fathers are, on average, more likely to become teen parents than are children who grow up with their two, biological, married parents.

A lot of recent research has focused on teens, primarily girls, who have sex with individuals several years older because, as this research shows, children who have sex with much older partners are at increased risk for risky sexual behavior (e.g. having unprotected sex) and poorer emotional health.

A recent report by Child Trends on the latest data on sexual activity among teens confirms these facts and reveals that this is not just an issue for girls, it’s also an issue for boys.

Among young people ages 18 to 24 in 2006-10, ten percent of females and six percent of males reported that their first sexual experience occurred at age 15 or younger with an individual who was three or more years older than they were (“statutory rape”). In terms of the impact of family structure:

  • Male and female youth who were in a family with two biological or adoptive parents at age 14 were less likely than their peers in other family types to report their first sexual encounter was a “statutory rape.”
  • Among young males, four percent of those who lived with two biological or adoptive parents at age 14 reported a “statutory rape” as their first sexual experience, compared with nine percent of males who lived in a step-family, 11 percent of males with a single mother or father, and 13 percent of males in other family structures.
  • The pattern among females is similar, with those who were not living with two biological or adoptive parents at age 14 around three times more likely to have experience a “statutory rape” as their first sexual experience.

Whether you have a teen boy or a teen girl, it’s critical, especially if you are a single parent, to talk with your teen about avoiding sexual activity. There are too many land mines waiting for teens who have sex, especially with partners who are much older.

The good news is that parents have a lot of influence over their teens’ sexual behavior. In fact the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy notes that parents are the most influential factor in teens’ decisions about sex, love, and relationships.

So don’t allow your perception that your teen doesn’t listen to sway your decision about talking with him or her about sex. Another tactic I’ve used is to send a clear message to my girls, since they were very young, that I expect them to delay sex until they’re adults and, ideally, until they’re married. They’ve actually told me they’re glad to know what I expect. 

The Mayo Clinic offers these 6 tips on how to talk with your teen about sex:

      1. Seize the moment. When a TV program or music video raises issues about responsible sexual behavior, use it as a springboard for discussion. Remember that everyday moments—such as riding in the car or putting away groceries—sometimes offer the best opportunities to talk.
      2. Be honest. If you're uncomfortable, say so—but explain that it's important to keep talking. If you don't know how to answer your teen's questions, offer to find the answers or look them up together.
      3. Be direct. Clearly state your feelings about specific issues, such as oral sex and intercourse. Present the risks objectively, including emotional pain, sexually transmitted infections, and unplanned pregnancy. Explain that oral sex isn't a risk-free alternative to intercourse.
      4. Consider your teen's point of view. Don't lecture your teen or rely on scare tactics to discourage sexual activity. Instead, listen carefully. Understand your teen's pressures, challenges, and concerns.
      5. Move beyond the facts. Your teen needs accurate information about sex—but it's just as important to talk about feelings, attitudes, and values. Examine questions of ethics and responsibility in the context of your personal or religious beliefs.
      6. Invite more discussion. Let your teen know that it's okay to talk with you about sex whenever he or she has questions or concerns. Reward questions by saying, "I'm glad you came to me."
image: iStockPhoto

11 Tips for Balancing Work & Family from the “Extremely Productive”

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.

Have you ever marveled at the person who seems to get a ton of work done and still has time for family? You know, the person who seems to "have it all.” The person who excels at work and at home and who even has the time to volunteer for their favorite cause.

ways to manage work and family balance work and family productive productivity how-to I’ve often struggled to balance work and family. That’s right. Even those of us dads who have dedicated their careers to family strengthening face the same challenges as any other dad. We have to toe a fine line of hypocrisy. I remember a day in 2007 when my oldest daughter, who was 12 at the time, was struggling emotionally. She was depressed. I returned home after a week-long trip speaking at a conference and training staff of organizations on how to help fathers be better dads. She started to cry after I walked in the door. We went into the backyard and talked for what seemed like a couple of hours. It took a while, but she finally revealed the source of her pain. It was me. I was traveling too much, and she missed me.  

One of the consequences of being an involved dad is that when you’re not around as often, your children miss you. This was a time when I traveled a lot speaking at conferences and training facilitators on our programs and on how to build capacity to effectively serve fathers. I knew that it was hard on my children and my wife, but I didn’t know just how hard it was.

Fortunately, my daughter had the courage to tell me that I needed to be home more, and I listened. I asked her what she thought was a reasonable amount of time for me to be gone. I negotiated for a maximum number of travel days each month based on her input.  

I’m known for being productive. Some people even tell me that I’m “extremely” productive. (I can only hope I’m just as effective.) I rise by 4:30 AM on the weekdays, work out for an hour to an hour and a half, start work by 6:00 AM, and usually get in a 10-hour day. That schedule allows me to care for myself, get a lot of work done, and still have time for family. I’m fortunate in that I work from home. I don’t have to struggle with long commutes that sap personal and family time. The biggest factor, however, in my ability to balance work and family is a flexible employer.  

Working for a flexible employer is one of many tips for balancing work and family offered by Robert C. Pozen in Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours. (Pozen is one of those people who is an answer to the question I posed at the start of this post. I pale in comparison.)

Here are 11 tips for balancing work and family, a combination of those offered by Pozen and offered in NFI’s 24/7 Dad™ program.  

    1. Look for employers that provide flexibility on when and where you work, and that offer paid leave for childbirth and other life events.
    2. Commit every day to leaving work early enough to have dinner or spend time with your family.
    3. Be assertive to obtain more flexibility. Assure your boss that you will get work done even if you take an hour out of the day to take your child to the doctor.
    4. Show your family commitment at work by displaying things like family photos and your children’s artwork. These displays will show your co-workers and boss that you’re committed to family.
    5. Make career decisions as a family. When you have an opportunity to change jobs or move laterally or up in your company or organization, talk with mom and your children (if your children are old enough) about the new commitments that will come with the opportunity, especially if those commitments will affect family time.
    6. Keep family commitments as sacred as work commitments—even more so. Avoid missing a family commitment because something comes up at work. The more often you keep your family commitments, the more likely your co-workers and your boss will be to respect them.
    7. If you and mom both work outside the home and can’t reduce your office hours (e.g. to spend more time with the children), look to friends and family to help out (e.g. watch the children when they come home from school).
    8. When you are with your family, avoid all but the most critical interruptions from work. Most work issues can wait until the next day.
    9. If you must bring work home, create a separate time and place to do the work. Your mind needs to move from you as a professional to you as a family member.
    10. Create a daily block of time for family called “family prime time.” Turn off your mobile devices, computers, and keep work off-limits during this time.
    11. Create and sign a “family contract.” Have your children and mom sign it, too. Put in writing that you’ll balance success at work with success at home. Read this contract at the start of every week to remind you of your commitment.
image: iStockPhoto

A Must-Watch Video on Texting and Driving

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.

I’ve often wondered why my kids rarely call their friends and answer their phones when I call. But when I text them, their responses are almost instantaneous.  

Can't view the video? Watch it here.

Texting has revolutionized the way our children communicate with one another and, for many of us parents, the way that we and our children communicate. Most revolutions, however, create unintended consequences. Such is the case with this one. The challenge for today’s teens (and adults) is that texting has become such a ubiquitous form of communication that one could argue it’s a form of addiction. (I often joke with my oldest daughter that given how often she texts she might as well graft her phone to her forearm.) If you don’t agree, try taking your child’s phone away for a week or even a few days and see how your child reacts.  

To put the dangers of texting and driving in perspective, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reports that texting and driving is six times more dangerous than driving drunk. As the father of two teenage drivers, I am as concerned about them texting and driving as I am about them driving drunk (or getting into a car with someone who texts and drives or who drives drunk). This video is the most remarkable video you’ll ever see on texting and driving. It focuses not only on the devastating impact on victims caused by car accidents when someone texts and drives, it also focuses on the devastating impact of the people who cause the devastation.  

Please share this post and video because doing so might save a life. If your children drive or are near driving age, make them watch it.  

For more information on the national campaign to reduce texting and driving, visit It Can Wait.

Do you set a good example by not texting and driving?

6 Tips to Avoid Labeling Your Child

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

Have you ever been in a store and watched a parent berate his or her child and thought, “Wow! What a jerk! What a horrible parent!”? Has your child recently left his or her clothes strewn around the house, regardless of the number of times you’ve told him or her not to, and thought, “What a lazy kid!”? Perhaps you even yelled at your child saying, “You’re such a lazy, ungrateful child!”  

 
label avoid labeling child

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

What’s the problem with these thoughts? If you answered “labeling,” you can pass “Go” and collect $200. I often hear parents label their children, other parents, and even other children based on what they perceive to be innate characteristics, even when they don’t know who they just called a jerk or lazy.

These labels discount the impact of the situation—the environment—at the time they observe the behavior. And I’m not talking only about negative labels. Some parents use positive labels (e.g. “smart” or “the best [at something or in general])” with such frequency that they ignore or gloss over the behavior of their children that doesn’t support the labels. Their children can do no wrong.  

Why do parents label? One reason is fundamental attribution error, a form of bias that negatively affects our decision-making, including around parenting. (I’ve written two recent posts on how two other biases--optimism bias and confirmation bias--influence our decision-making.)

Consider that the parent who berated his or her child in the store might have had a really bad day or week and the parent just lost it for a moment. It doesn’t excuse the parent’s behavior, but it offers an explanation and allows for seeing the parent as he or she probably is—a loving, nurturing parent. If your child often leaves his or her clothes strewn about the house, I’ll bet that he or she is industrious in many ways, certainly not a lazy child.  

Another reason parents label is to feel better about themselves. Labeling has a very powerful effect on parents’ own sense of self-worth. These parents often see their children as “Mini-Me’s.” Their children’s behavior reflects who these parents are as parents and people. Parents who feel poorly about themselves give their psyches a boost by labeling others.

When parents use negative labels, they deny their own shortcomings as parents because, let’s face it, we’ve all said things to our children that we regret and would rather not admit we said them. When parents constantly coddle their children through the use of positive labels, it’s simply the other side of the same coin. One reason labeling is so difficult to overcome for some parents is that it is deeply rooted in propping up their fragile psyches. (It’s likely that their own parents constantly berated or coddled them.)  

Labeling a child is incredibly destructive because of its impact on the child’s self-worth. Imagine, for a moment, a child who constantly hears that she or he is lazy, dumb, or ungrateful. Imagine a child who constantly hears that she or he can do no wrong—they’re the star performer with no flaws.

  • How do those labels affect her or his sense of self-worth?
  • How do they shape the child’s interactions with parents, siblings, classmates, teachers, and friends? 
  • How do they affect the child’s ability to develop healthy relationships—platonic, romantic, and professional—that are grounded in reality, honesty, and transparency? 


Negative labels can destroy self-worth through shame. Positive labels can destroy self-worth through an overinflated ego.

It takes an entire childhood to develop a strong, healthy sense of self-worth. As a result, the negative effect on a child can start at any age. Follow these six tips to avoid labeling your child:  

1) Reflect on your childhood and how labeling might have affected you. Did your parents, relatives, or significant adults (e.g. teachers and coaches) label you? What did they call you? Think of negative and positive labels. How did you feel about the labels? How did they affect your feelings about your person (or people) who labeled you? How did they affect your childhood relationships? How do they affect your relationships today? Increasing your awareness about the affect your upbringing had on your labeling can help you identify your patterns around labeling and provide some motivation for avoiding it.

2) Ask your child the why behind the what. This tip works well with a child who can describe the reasons for their behavior. Children often want to explain themselves and be heard. Asking why opens the door to constructive dialogue, a sign of a healthy parent-child relationship. You might uncover reasons for their behavior that you couldn’t have anticipated. When your child shares his or her reasons, it provides an opportunity for guiding how to avoid negative behavior and repeat positive behavior.

3) Focus on the action, not on the actor. When your child does something positive or negative, focus on the action instead of using it to characterize. Tell your child that leaving clothes lying around is “irresponsible” rather than telling your child that he or she is “lazy.” If your child receives an excellent grade on a test, congratulate him or her on that accomplishment (e.g. “I’m so proud of you for making an A. Keep up the great work.") rather than using that accomplishment to make a general statement about your child (e.g. “You never get bad grades. You’re the smartest child I know.”).  

4) Explain the reasons for your comments. Children need and want explanations for their parents’ opinions of their behavior, especially when children’s behavior leads their parents to discipline or punishment. Tell your child why it’s irresponsible to leave clothes lying around the house (e.g. it’s negative effects on others) and why getting a good grade is so important.

Even if you apply these tips, you might slip from time to time and label your child. To keep you on the straight and narrow, apply these two additional tips:  

5) Ask your spouse (other parent), relatives, and friends to “call you out” when you label. This is a highly-effective tip, but one of the hardest to implement because it requires exposing yourself to criticism. If you are married to or live with the other parent, ask her to look for instances when you label your child. Tell her to talk with you after the incident about your labeling. Don’t discuss it in front of your child.

6) Apologize to your child when you label them. Admitting when you’re wrong will do a world of good for your relationship with your child.  

When was the last time you labeled your child?

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Prince George’s County Council Member Mel Franklin Partners with NFI to Strengthen Fatherhood

Two-year project aims to increase father involvement and reduce the possibility of father absence in the lives of children in the 9th District of Prince George’s County, Maryland.

nfi logo

In a press release today from PRWeb, Prince George’s County Council Member Mel Franklin (D)-District 9 and the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) have partnered to create a multi-sector initiative to strengthen fatherhood in southern Prince George’s County.

Using its Community Mobilization Approach™, NFI will work with Council Member Franklin and County leaders to engage 11 sectors in District 9, with a goal of increasing the involvement of fathers and father-figures in the lives of Prince George’s County children. The 11 sectors are government, faith-based, social service, education, health, law enforcement, philanthropic, community activist, civic, business, and media.

“Responsible fatherhood directly impacts quality of life issues in Prince George’s County. We must take action to promote and support strong fathers in our households and neighborhoods,” said Council Member Franklin. “The District 9 Fatherhood Initiative is an opportunity for a true public-private partnership to achieve this important goal. With NFI’s outstanding expertise and research-based methods, we will be better able to measurably improve the lives of children and families in southern Prince George’s County.”

“Responsible fatherhood directly impacts quality of life issues in Prince George’s County. We must take action to promote and support strong fathers in our households and neighborhoods.” —Council Member Franklin

NFI’s Community Mobilization Approach™ (CMA) consists of three phases:

  1. a needs and assets assessment of the community’s ability to promote responsible fatherhood; 
  2. a Leadership Summit on Fatherhood attended by community leaders; and 
  3. implementing an action plan for a fatherhood initiative that uses NFI resources and solutions generated by the district.

“NFI’s Community Mobilization Approach™ will help District 9 create new fatherhood champions within the 11 sectors, while leveraging the great work that existing programs are already doing for fathers and families,” said NFI Vice President of Program Support Erik Vecere. “It will also provide the structure for Prince George’s County Government to lead a mobilization effort and establish model direct-service providers in different sectors to serve as benchmarks on how to involve more fathers in the lives of their children.”

“NFI’s Community Mobilization Approach™ will help District 9 create new fatherhood champions within the 11 sectors, while leveraging the great work that existing programs are already doing for fathers and families.” —NFI Vice President of Program Support Erik Vecere

Over the course of the next two years, NFI will lead the residents of District 9 through the three phases with in-person training, technical assistance, web-based support, events, and other initiatives. At the conclusion of this set of activities, leaders and organizations will be identified in District 9 to comprise a Fatherhood Advisory Committee (FAC) and a plan to guide the FAC in continuing to mobilize the district.

As the premier fatherhood renewal organization in the country, National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) works in every sector and at every level of society to engage fathers in the lives of their children. NFI is the #1 provider of fatherhood resources in the nation. Since 2004, through FatherSOURCE, its national resource center, NFI has distributed over 6.3 million resources, and has trained over 12,900 practitioners on how to deliver programming to dads. NFI is the most quoted authority on fatherhood in America. Since 2009, NFI has been mentioned in over 2,400 news stories, and makes regular appearances in national media to discuss the importance of involved, responsible, and committed fatherhood.

Prince George’s County is a diverse community of nearly 900,000 residents located in Maryland, adjacent to Washington, DC. District 9 comprises the southeastern third of Prince George’s County’s land mass, including much of the Rural Tier and the communities of Accokeek, Aquasco, Baden, Brandywine, portions of Camp Springs, Cheltenham, Clinton, Croom, Eagle Harbor, portions of Fort Washington, Piscataway, and portions of Upper Marlboro, as well as Joint Base Andrews. Council Member Mel Franklin has represented District 9 since his election to a four-year term in November 2010. Council Member Franklin chairs the County Council’s Planning, Zoning, and Economic Development Committee. He is married. He and his wife have two children.

Prince George’s County Council Member Mel Franklin Partners with NFI to Strengthen Fatherhood

Two-year project aims to increase father involvement and reduce the possibility of father absence in the lives of children in the 9th District of Prince George’s County, Maryland.

In a press release today from PRWeb, Prince George’s County Council Member Mel Franklin (D)-District 9 and the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) have partnered to create a multi-sector initiative to strengthen fatherhood in southern Prince George’s County.

nfi logo

Using its Community Mobilization Approach™, NFI will work with Council Member Franklin and County leaders to engage 11 sectors in District 9, with a goal of increasing the involvement of fathers and father-figures in the lives of Prince George’s County children. The 11 sectors are government, faith-based, social service, education, health, law enforcement, philanthropic, community activist, civic, business, and media.

“Responsible fatherhood directly impacts quality of life issues in Prince George’s County. We must take action to promote and support strong fathers in our households and neighborhoods,” said Council Member Franklin. “The District 9 Fatherhood Initiative is an opportunity for a true public-private partnership to achieve this important goal. With NFI’s outstanding expertise and research-based methods, we will be better able to measurably improve the lives of children and families in southern Prince George’s County.”

“Responsible fatherhood directly impacts quality of life issues in Prince George’s County. We must take action to promote and support strong fathers in our households and neighborhoods.” —Council Member Franklin

NFI’s Community Mobilization Approach™ (CMA) consists of three phases:

  1. a needs and assets assessment of the community’s ability to promote responsible fatherhood; 
  2. a Leadership Summit on Fatherhood attended by community leaders; and 
  3. implementing an action plan for a fatherhood initiative that uses NFI resources and solutions generated by the district.

“NFI’s Community Mobilization Approach™ will help District 9 create new fatherhood champions within the 11 sectors, while leveraging the great work that existing programs are already doing for fathers and families,” said NFI Vice President of Program Support Erik Vecere. “It will also provide the structure for Prince George’s County Government to lead a mobilization effort and establish model direct-service providers in different sectors to serve as benchmarks on how to involve more fathers in the lives of their children.”

“NFI’s Community Mobilization Approach™ will help District 9 create new fatherhood champions within the 11 sectors, while leveraging the great work that existing programs are already doing for fathers and families.” —NFI Vice President of Program Support Erik Vecere

Over the course of the next two years, NFI will lead the residents of District 9 through the three phases with in-person training, technical assistance, web-based support, events, and other initiatives. At the conclusion of this set of activities, leaders and organizations will be identified in District 9 to comprise a Fatherhood Advisory Committee (FAC) and a plan to guide the FAC in continuing to mobilize the district.

As the premier fatherhood renewal organization in the country, National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) works in every sector and at every level of society to engage fathers in the lives of their children. NFI is the #1 provider of fatherhood resources in the nation. Since 2004, through FatherSOURCE, its national resource center, NFI has distributed over 6.3 million resources, and has trained over 12,900 practitioners on how to deliver programming to dads. NFI is the most quoted authority on fatherhood in America. Since 2009, NFI has been mentioned in over 2,400 news stories, and makes regular appearances in national media to discuss the importance of involved, responsible, and committed fatherhood.

Prince George’s County is a diverse community of nearly 900,000 residents located in Maryland, adjacent to Washington, DC. District 9 comprises the southeastern third of Prince George’s County’s land mass, including much of the Rural Tier and the communities of Accokeek, Aquasco, Baden, Brandywine, portions of Camp Springs, Cheltenham, Clinton, Croom, Eagle Harbor, portions of Fort Washington, Piscataway, and portions of Upper Marlboro, as well as Joint Base Andrews. Council Member Mel Franklin has represented District 9 since his election to a four-year term in November 2010. Council Member Franklin chairs the County Council’s Planning, Zoning, and Economic Development Committee. He is married. He and his wife have two children.

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The Precipitous Drop in Teen Birth Rates & What it Means for Dads

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

Last week the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released astounding data on the precipitous decline in the teen birth rate. The birth rate for teens 15-19 years of age fell 25 percent from 2007-2011 to an all-time low. The most significant drop, 34 percent, occurred among Hispanic teens.  

medium 5549214174Dr. Howard Koh, the Assistant Secretary of Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, notes in the Huffington Post that this is an acceleration of the decline we’ve witnessed for more than two decades. Dr. Koh points to a number of key factors that have led to this decline that include stronger pregnancy-prevention efforts (e.g. most notably those spearheaded by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy), teens choosing to delay sex (i.e. abstinence), and contraceptive use among sexually-active teens. The good news from NFI’s perspective is that this decline helps prevent father absence in the lives of children and the range of poor outcomes that these children experience, on average.  

As I reflected on these data and read Dr. Koh’s article, I couldn’t help but wonder why, despite this long-term trend, we see rates of unwed childbearing at an all-time high. The reason is that, more than ever, women in their twenties are having children out-of-wedlock. As I pointed out in an earlier post, nearly half of all births to twentysomethings (48 percent) occur outside of marriage. Coupled with the increase in age among women marrying for the first time exceeding the age at which they give birth to their first child, fathers should be very concerned about the prospects of our grandchildren growing up without involved, responsible, committed fathers in their lives.  

So what are fathers to make of all this good and not-so-good news? One thing for certain is that fathers can breathe a little easier knowing that their teens are less likely to become pregnant or get someone pregnant than when they (fathers) were teenagers. (Can you hear a big “Whew!” coming from this father of two teenage daughters?) But none of us should be under any illusion that there aren’t the same temptations for teens today to have sex than when we were in their shoes. In other words, don’t let any grass grow under your feet as you consider when to send your daughters or sons the message to not have sex until, ideally, they are married.  

What these data reinforce for every father is that the job of a father never ceases. When it comes to ensuring that our grandchildren grow up in homes with involved, responsible, committed fathers—regardless of whether we have daughters or sons—our work extends beyond adolescence and into our children’s twenties. We can’t breathe easy when we realize that so many children in our country are still at risk of growing up without involved, responsible, and committed fathers in their lives because of trends to which many Americans are oblivious. 

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photo credit: imagineerz

Dads Are People Too

This is a guest post by Clay Brizendine. Clay is a CPT, a personal and corporate trainer, father of two daughters and author of the new book Shoebox Letters – Daughters to Dads. Follow Clay on the web and Twitter. Interested in guest blogging for NFI? Send us an email.

“Blow your nose” is what you tell your child as you hold the tissue to their nose. Somehow, someway, they can’t seem to hold a tissue to their nose on their own even though they can navigate your iPad like it’s an appendage. 

“Have you done your homework yet?” gets asked about 10 minutes after the kids get home from school, and they have to report accordingly so that you can understand whether you’re going to have to ask that same question 15 times later in the evening. 

dad daughter walking resized 600“Did you brush your teeth yet” happens every night like it’s a big surprise. You’d think after years of brushing their teeth before bed that you wouldn’t have to ask that question every night. Like it’s a huge surprise to them. 

And we wonder where time, and our brain cells, go. 

Fathers today are taking on a lot of different roles, discussed ad naseum in many a blog post and news story such that I don’t need to, and won’t, cover it here.  

But what happened to YOU? 

Do you remember what you were like in high school? In college? Maybe working that first job out of school with little to no real responsibility? A lot of you are thinking ‘Ah, the good ol days’ right now as you hear your significant other call you to the nursery to wipe up spit or to change a diaper. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with that (Seinfeld, anyone?). But there is.  

One of the best things that you can do for your children, regardless of their age, is to bring yourself to the table every day. Not just the guy that can warm a bottle, or wipe that snotty nose, or kiss an ouchie to make it all better. Those are important, BUT… 

What about the guy that used to work on cars for fun? What about the one that would watch sports and prove that the word ‘fanatic’ existed for a reason? Where did the trips to the outdoors go to explore creeks barefoot and pick up ‘critters’ that just looked cool? 

Your kids need to see that. They need to feel it. They need to participate in it. 

Dads, like anyone else, are people. And to a man, we all fulfilled roles in our lives well before we were dads. We had interests that made our heart race (like cars), things that just made us scream till we lost our voice (like sports), and things we did just for the fun of it (like taking things apart). What makes us think our kids shouldn’t see that? Shouldn’t participate in that with us? And who says that girls and boys shouldn’t participate equally when it comes to those things? 

Your kids need to understand that you’re dad, and that the role comes with certain responsibilities. But just as importantly, they need to understand that you’re a person. As they become older, and as you can begin to share in those experiences, bonds – different bonds – become forged for a lifetime. Your children will look back fondly with memories of sharing things with you rather than watching from the sideline. The fact that they understand your roles better enables you and your children to connect at a level you can’t get to just by being Dad. 

Go back to when you were in high school and college. Write down what you were interested in (the appropriate ones anyway). Pick one of those interests, go get the kids, crack open an apple juice, and tackle the YOU role just as well as you tackle the Dad role.

What makes you come alive with excitement? Tell us in the comment section; you just might make us think of something we can show our kids! 

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photo credit: TMAB2003

Steubenville Rape Case: When "I Love You" is "Too Little, Too Late"

The internet and social media are buzzing this week with criticism of CNN's coverage of the Steubenville rape trial in which two juvenile males were convicted of raping a severely intoxicated 16-year-old girl.  Trent Mays, 17, was sentenced to two years in a juvenile detention facility and Ma'lik Richmond, 16, was sentence to one year.  Critics charge that CNN's approach is "pro-rapist" and that the anchors and correspondents are showing more compassion for the two perpetrators than they are for the victim.

There is plenty of commentary on CNN's angle on this story, so we won't address that here.  However, in CNN's coverage of the conviction of the two young men, they have unwittingly highlighted the "father factor" in crime that we at National Fatherhood Initiative have repeatedly pointed out. (See previous posts on the Sandy Hook shooting, the Aurora theater shooting, the DC snipers, the Tuscon shooting, and the Chardon High School shooting.)

In her report after the judge handed out the sentence, CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow recounts an emotional moment between Ma'lik Richmond, one of the convicted youth, and his father:

You know, something that came up throughout this sentencing. Ma’lik’s father had gotten up and spoke. Ma’lik has been living with guardians. His father, a former alcoholic, got into to a lot of trouble with the law, been in prison before.

And his father stood up and he told the court, ‘I feel responsible for this. I feel like I wasn’t there for my son.’ And before that, he came over to the bench where his son was sitting. He approached him, he hugged him and whispered in his ear.

And Ma’lik’s attorney said to us in a courtroom, I have never heard Ma’lik’s father before say, I love you. He’s never told his son that. But he just did today.

Read that again.  The first time Ma'lik heard his father utter the words "I love you" was the day that he was convicted as a sex offender and sentenced to juvenile detention. 

Ma'lik Richmond and his lawyerOn the one hand, it is wonderful that Mr. Richmond is affirming his unconditional love for his son at this moment when Ma'lik is emotionally devasted over the consequences of his actions for himself and for others.  (His statement to the family after his sentencing was very emotional and sorrowful.)  Harlow previously noted that when Ma'lik heard the sentence of the judge, he collapsed in the arms of his attorney and said "My life is over. No one is going to want me now.”  He needs to know that his dad still wants him, despite his actions.

However, this seem like "too little, too late." What if Ma'lik had grown up hearing his dad say "I love you" every day?  What if his dad had been a positive role model and an involved, responsible, and committed father?  Would Ma'lik have made the choices that led to his involvement in a drunken party and ugly rape of a young girl if he didn't grow up with an alcoholic father who committed crimes and was absent for part of his life because he was in jail?  What if Ma'lik's dad, while he was in jail, had the opportunity to participate in NFI's InsideOut Dad® program for incarcerated fathers and learn how to build a relationship with his son even while behind bars?

We don't know the whole story, of course, and it seems that Mr. Richmond realizes that his absence has contributed to his son's behavior and is now urging parents to be more involved in their children's lives.  Hopefully he'll start to be more present in his son's life now.  Unfortunately, the Richmonds are yet another fulfillment of the statistic that children with incarcerated fathers are seven times more likely to become incarcerated thesmelves

The Steubenville case is a tragedy for all involved; most certainly for the 16-year-old girl who was victimized.  If anything, the relationship between Ma'lik Richmond and his dad is a sobering reminder to fathers that their involvement in their children's lives shapes the decisions their children make. 

The words "I love you" are powerful - say them now, before it's too late.

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Does Having a Family Change the Work-Life Balance Equation?

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). If you would like to blog for us, email here.

work life balance

You’re probably aware that more fathers than ever carry more of the load at home while they continue to build their professional careers. As reported in NFI’s most recent edition of Father Facts, the gap between the number of hours that mothers and fathers care for their children and do routine household chores has closed dramatically. While this shift to a more egalitarian household has benefits for fathers, mothers, and children, there’s also a downside for fathers—an increase in stress in the delicate balance between work and family life. Indeed, recent research (also reported in Father Facts) reveals that more men than women report this stress. Many men say that they would trade their current job for one that provides for more work-life balance.  

In light of this research—and my own struggles through the years to juggle work and family life—I was taken aback by Embrace Work-Life Imbalance, a blog post by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic that appeared on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network. Mr. Chamorro-Premuzic takes issue with studies on the harmful effects of excessive work because they “rely on subjective evaluations of ‘work overload’”. He goes on to say that work overload is only possible if you don’t enjoy and have fun at work and that we should, essentially, stop crying over spilled milk (he refers to people who complain about poor work-life balance as “self-indulgent”) and stop talking about work-life balance or, at the very least, redefine it.    

Intrigued by his proposition, I kept reading to determine whether he has a point. His rationale for redefining work-life imbalance rests on the premise that the key to work-life balance is working hard at something that you enjoy (i.e. are passionate about). He asks the reader to consider five factors that, together, lead to the conclusion that we must “switch on” rather than “switch off” in relation to work. He says that too few people enjoy work. As long as we can engage in work we find fun, the amount of work we do is irrelevant.  

I love my work and have a lot of fun doing it. (My daughters often say that I’m a “professional dad” given my work with NFI.) But while I don’t dispute Mr. Chamorro-Premuzic’s point about the need to embrace work-life imbalance from a general perspective, I wonder whether he would change his mind if he focused on the impact that a family has on a man’s view of work-life balance. (As an aside, many experts on work-life balance consider work-family balance to be a sub-category of work-life balance.) Does the value in embracing work-life imbalance change when a man has a wife and children? Absolutely! Why? Because a family changes the dynamics of the work-life equation. Without a family, work is life for many men because it defines us. The centrality of work in how men define themselves is the foundation for our struggle to balance work and family. When we marry and have a family, we expand our view of what brings meaning to our lives. The amount of work we do becomes relevant regardless of how much we enjoy it. Work no longer holds sway over our lives, and it shouldn’t. It should remain, however, vitally important. We should continue to work hard, embrace it, and enjoy it. But it must not own us.       

What do you think? Do I have a valid point? Share your comments. We’d love to hear from you!

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photo credit: adesigna

The Missing Piece in Education Reform—Dads

classroom, education, fatherhoodWriting for CNN’s Schools of Thought blog, NFI's Christopher Brown and Vincent DiCaro reveal the missing piece of education reform. Brown and DiCaro point out that "There is no shortage of answers about how to improve our nation’s schools, including more charter schools, school vouchers, standardized testing, lower teacher-student ratios and performance-based hiring, pay and promotion of teachers. However, what we find lacking in almost every debate about education reform is the role of families - especially fathers - and the support they can and should provide to ensure children’s educational success. If parents, educators and reformers are to make a difference in improving children’s educational success, we must expand our definition of education reform."

They continue, "children in two-parent homes were more likely to stay on track in school and have higher literacy, both of which are critical to overall educational success." 

Pointing to research on marriage from Pew Research Center saying barely one-half - 51% - of adults today are married, down from 72% in 1960, the article says, "The decline of marriage, the rise of divorce and the increase in out-of-wedlock births - now 40% of all births - has contributed to the reality that more than 24 million children in America live in homes absent a biological father."

Brown and DiCaro do not write only to complain, but to offer real solutions for educational improvement. They point out several real-life things fathers can do at home and in school to help their children succeed:

  • Attend school and class events, or even spend a day in the classroom—your presence communicates something to your child and to their teachers. 
  • Read to your children every day. 
  • Help with school work. 
  • Don’t let mom do all the work. 
Some believe that school is “mom’s territory,” but fathers are just as important to their children’s educations as their mothers. Brown and DiCaro add that schools can help to create father-friendly environments by:
  • Including posters, reading materials and visual cues that show dads are welcome. 
  • Distribute parenting resources targeted to dads, as well as moms. 
  • Hold seminars for staff members to remind them how important it is for dads to be involved. 
  • Create dad-centric events, like “Dad and Donuts Day” where fathers join children at school for breakfast.

Brown and DiCaro do well to explain, "Changing parents’ and schools’ views of parental involvement are part of education reform. But most importantly, we must also address and reverse the two most disturbing trends of the past half-century - the increase in the number of children growing up in father-absent homes and the decline in marriage. These two issues are inseparable and have a direct impact on our children’s success in school."

Read the full article at CNN's Schools of Thought.

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photo credit: dcJohn

Advocate for Dads in Washington, DC!

capitol building advocate for fatherhoodOne of NFI’s goals is to be a voice for fatherhood on Capitol Hill. Over the years, for example, we have helped push through funding that supports organizations seeking to equip dads.

So, while there is funding for programs providing needed services to fathers, there is a general lack of funding available for organizations to obtain the “capacity-building” training and services they need to build long-term sustainability.

What is capacity-building? It is what organizations need to be more effective in their service delivery in the present and more viable organizations in the future. Leadership development, organizational development, program development, and community engagement would all qualify as capacity-building services.

That is why we have created an initiative to inform Congress that federal fatherhood grantees should be allowed to use a portion of their funds to procure capacity-building services and training.

While service delivery is the most important use of grant funds, those services need to be delivered by effective organizations – and that is where capacity-building comes in. It will help organizations do a better job serving fathers and ultimately lead to better outcomes for children.

We have set up a page on our website where you and/or your organization can make your voice heard! The grant program for fatherhood programs will be reviewed in Congress later this year, so now is the time to ensure that future grantees will have the flexibility to use some of their grant funds for capacity-building.

Here is what we would like for you to do: 

As an individual – Use our special webpage to send your opinion directly to your members of Congress. The more voices that come on board, the more persuasive we can be!

As an organizationSign on to become an "endorsing organization" of this effort to allow federal fatherhood grantees to use a portion of their funds for capacity-building services. Your organization's name will be listed alongside National Fatherhood Initiative as a supporter or this important advocacy effort.

We will soon inform Congress and the White House of all the people and organizations that are behind this effort. 

Thank you so much in advance for helping us in this important effort. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact Vincent DiCaro, NFI’s Congressional liaison at vdicaro@fatherhood.org.

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NFI Supplies U.S. Military With Fatherhood Resources

nfiGreat news! NFI has completed the delivery of over 140,000 fatherhood skill-building resources to 47 Air National Guard Airman and Family Readiness Programs and 71 Army New Parent Support Programs across the United States and around the world.

In the Air National Guard, the resources -- which include guides, classroom-based programs, and brochures -- will be used to support and train Air National Guard dads, thereby strengthening and improving the resilience of Air National Guard Families. In the Army, the resources will be used by Army New Parent Support Program Home Visitors to educate and train new and expectant Army dads, resulting in stronger and more resilient Army families.

At a time when thousands of military fathers are returning from long overseas deployments, it is critical that our nation’s military fathers receive the education and inspiration they need to embrace their roles as fathers and to build their relationship and parenting skills.

Tim Red, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, father, and NFI’s Senior Program Support Consultant for the Military, said, “Building resilience in our military families and communities has become a top priority, and there is no better place to start than with building the skills and confidence of our nation’s military dads. Having been there myself, I know firsthand the difference an involved, responsible, and committed father can make in the lives of military children and families.”

Through FatherSOURCE, the Fatherhood Resource Center, NFI has provided a wide variety of skill-building materials to the Air National Guard and Army, including NFI’s flagship 24/7 Dad® curriculum, a classroom-based program designed to help fathers build their communication, fathering, and relationship skills. Other resources include NFI’s Deployed Fathers and Families Guide™, which helps military dads prepare for, endure, and return from deployment. Several of NFI’s fathering skills brochures were also delivered, including “10 Ways to Be a Better Dad” and military-focused brochures such as “10 Ways to Stay Involved with Your Children During Deployment” and “Welcome Home Dad!”, which helps military fathers successfully transition from deployment to every day life with their families.

The Air National Guard will support dads and families with the resources at sites in the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and Puerto Rico. The Army will support dads and families with the resources at sites in the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Korea, Japan, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Since launching its Deployed Fathers and Families program in 2001, National Fatherhood Initiative has become the nation’s leading provider of fatherhood-specific resources to the U.S. Military. NFI has delivered nearly 650,000 resources to all five branches of the military on bases all over the world, and has been listed on Military OneSource, the Department of Defense’s support service for military families.

For more information on Military Fatherhood Programming, please contact Tim Red at tred@fatherhood.org.

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