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The Father Factor

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Guest Post: Engaging Emotionally with their Children is Each Father’s Challenge

This is a guest post from Denise Pazur, executive director for The PDV Foundation, an organization dedicated to advancing suicide prevention. You can learn more at http://www.pdvfoundation.org.

It could well be the most frightening thing a parent can face—death of a child by suicide.

Other sudden, unintentional deaths by murder or automobile fatality are horrific. Yet there’s something incomprehensible about a son or daughter deliberately ending the life we as parents have given them. In this way, suicide stands apart from perhaps all other deaths.

Rates of suicide for American youths have tripled since the 1950s, and this should serve as a call to action for parents nationwide, especially fathers. The message is clear and resounding: suicide is the most preventable form of death there is, according to 16th U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher. Our children are dying by their own hand not because they want to die, but because they can no longer endure the “psychache” of living. This mental anguish is most often an outcome of mental illness, not bad or selfish behavior.

My own son took his life a decade ago, when he was just 18 and had entered his senior year of high school. It is hard for me to think of him as someone with mental illness. But depression, anxiety and other mood disorders are indeed illnesses of the mind and the emotions. When left unrecognized, untreated or undertreated, they can be lethal—just as untreated diabetes or cancer can kill.

Why is it vital to strengthen the engagement of fathers with their children who may have mental illness? Because when a child is abnormally anxious, fearful, angry, self-loathing or disengaged from life, fathers may not recognize these as symptoms of a biologically based brain illness. They may encourage their children, especially their sons, to buck up under pressure.

“Boys don’t cry” are among our parental narratives, words we feel may strengthen our children to endure future trial and trauma. But there are unintended consequences for not recognizing and addressing mental illness in our children.

This avoidance of the reality of our children’s mental health may place them at grave risk for behaviors that can lead to self-inflicted death. What can seem at first as “normal” adolescent outbursts may in reality be cries for help. I remember my son telling me, “Mom, I know what I’m doing.” I remember his anger and rebellion against our rules as he neared his 18th birthday. I also recall thinking these were age appropriate for the most part, and would end when he graduated from high school and started life on his own. That day never came.

The call to action to fathers is compelling: fathers need to engage deeply in the emotional well-being of their children if our nation is to do better at reducing youth suicide. It is their role as parent and provider to safeguard their children’s health—including mental health.

As long as emotional nurturing of children is mom-centric, each child does not benefit from a father’s acknowledgment that admitting emotional struggle shows honesty. That seeking help shows strength. And that accepting help from others may indeed save a life.

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

Fit to Retire

My father turned 50 at the beginning of this summer. He’s in great health, but I got a little worried when I noticed that he kept having doctor’s appointments recently. I asked him last week what was going on. He assured me that he was just getting his 50-year check-ups… physical, colonoscopy, prostate exam, cardio test, etc. And everything is fine!

I asked Dad why he thought it was important that he get these check-ups now that he’s 50. I expected him to say something about keeping up with his kids (there’s seven of us – the younger ones are still in high school or elementary school!) and being active for the many grandkids that we’ll be giving him in the future. (My dad figures that since he had seven kids, he should expect to have 49 grandkids. In his dreams, I say!)

I was a bit surprised by his answer to why he’s getting these check-ups. “So I can make sure I have many years to enjoy with your mom after you kids leave.” But when I thought about it, that makes sense. He is in good health now, so no cause for worry, and he is an active and involved father – going to my siblings’ sports games, helping them with homework, guiding them through the teen and young adult years. Parenting consumes an incredible amount of my mom and dad’s time and energy right now.

But eventually those responsibilities will be over. My youngest sisters will move out in about 10 years, and then it’ll be just Mom and Dad. Sure, they’ll always be there for us as adults. But they will only have to worry about taking care of themselves. Dad is taking steps today to make sure that those empty-nest years will be healthy and full of life, just like the parenting years. It will be a different kind of vibrant life, though – hopefully much calmer and less busy without a van-full of kids to cart around!

I’m glad that my dad is taking care of himself physically. But I also appreciate his motive for doing that – his commitment to Mom for life. Dad has every intention of staying healthy so he can enjoy a much-earned retirement and spend it with my mother. As their daughter, that gives me a great sense of security and a good example to follow.

NFI and Supporters Race to End Father Absence

This past Sunday, NFI participated in the Acumen Solutions Race for a Cause 8k as the culmination of our fit2father campaign, a six-week initiative designed to help fathers and their families live healthier lifestyles. Fathers and families from around the country took the fit2father pledge and the Acumen Solutions Race for a Cause allowed D.C. fit2father participants the opportunity to show their support for NFI and the issue of involved fatherhood!

From NFI staff and family, to local runners, and DC-area supporters, the NFI team had a strong presence. Daddy bloggers like Matt from DC Urban Dad also joined the NFI team as we raced to end father absence.



Acumen Managing Director and NFI Board Member, Andy Schoka, connected NFI to this opportunity. “This year’s Race for a Cause event was our best yet and Acumen Solutions is thrilled to have the NFI participate as one of our benefiting non-profit partners," said Shocka. "The 8K race was challenging and the 1 mile fun run was perfect for families and really aligns well with the NFI’s fit2father message. I’m incredibly thankful for the difference the NFI is making and I’m pleased with the opportunity for Acumen Solutions to help contribute to the NFI’s mission for years to come.”

Missed out on fit2father? Stay tuned! We'll be launching our next opportunity for to get involved in one week!

"X"-Treme Fathering

You've seen the infomercials, but have you felt the pain!? (and I mean that in a good way)

I am talking about the "extreme home fitness training program," P90X.

Six months after our son Vinny was born, my wife had not yet lost all of her pregnancy weight, and I had packed on a few sympathy pounds myself. We decided, based on feedback from friends, to give P90X a try.

What a great decision it was! Doing the program together had huge benefits. Some nights, I did not want to work out, but my wife pushed me. Some nights she did not want to work out, and I pushed her. Since we were both on the plan together, we could easily empty the fridge of the bad foods neither of us should eat anymore and fill it with the good stuff.

Don't get me wrong; it was hard. With an infant to care for, we did most of our workouts from 8:30 to 9:30 at night, after the baby was asleep. Try working out every weeknight for an hour for 13 weeks. Yes - we missed a few workouts. We "made up for" most of them by doing two workouts on a Saturday. But towards the end, we missed workouts and did not make up for them. Sometimes feeding, playing with, and bathing the baby took too much out of us to "bring it" at 9 p.m. on a Wednesday.

But overall, the results have been great. I lost about 12 pounds, and got stronger. I can see my ribs for the first time in 15 years! My wife lost about 15 pounds, and is now below her pre-pregnancy weight. We both feel much better and we continue to eat much more healthily.

As NFI does its fit2father campaign and gears up for the Acumen Solutions Race for a Cause 8K, we would love to hear from dads about how they are getting and staying in shape.

How are you staying "fit2father," dads?

fit2father: One Thing You Can Do to Safeguard Your Kids

Did you know there is a family activity that is tied to lower rates of drug use and risky behavior in your kids? And no, it's not an 8pm curfew or some other draconian rule or punishment.

It's family dinner.

Not only does family dinner help you and your kids eat healthier, but research suggests that it may keep your kids from getting into trouble. That's why September 27th has been designated Family Day - with the aim of inspiring families to share dinner on a regular basis.

Family dinner is a great way of scheduling in regular time with your kids and gives you an easy way to keep up with their lives, find out how they're feeling about things, and spot signs of trouble early on.

Not sure what to talk about at dinner? Try these five questions and you're sure to spark some interesting conversation. Not sure about what to eat? You're on your own for that one.

Want more ideas on how to stay healthy with your family? Take our fit2father pledge and get our strategies for a healthy, happy family.

fit2father: Have You Taken the Pledge?

We recently launched the fit2father™ Campaign and got an overwhelming response! Dads and families across the country have pledged to take part in a six week campaign to improve their fathering skills and to get healthy.

fit2father™ is based around three key strategies/principles:
  • Condition - living an active lifestyle
  • Nutrition - making healthy choices
  • Connection - connecting fathers and families
Studies show that fathers have a significant impact on the health and well-being of their children. A father’s body mass index is directly related to a child’s activity level. Being fit and being a father go hand in hand.

For our main office and for those in the DC area, the fit2father™ campaign will culminate in the Acumen Solutions Race for a Cause. We are excited for fathers and families to come out and support the fatherhood movement. Not only will this benefit NFI, bit it will help fathers everywhere.

If you have not taken the pledge or are interested in a race in your area visit www.fatherhood.org/fit2father.

If you want to become part of the fatherhood movement become a Fatherhood Ambassador today! www.fatherhood.org/ambassadors

He's Worth It

I took a road trip this summer to visit a college friend in New Jersey. One of the things that I noticed during my time in the Garden State was the billboards lining the highways. I actually found it to be a bit distracting because where I live and work there are no billboards, and I wasn’t used to looking at things along the road while driving. But one in particular caught my eye.

It was an ad for a drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic in the Philadelphia area. It had a picture of a man holding a toddler with the words “He’s Worth It” written underneath.

Children are good motivation for a host of positive life changes, including getting clean and staying sober. When a dad realizes that his kids need him to be present and involved in their lives, and when he has a heart-to-heart connection with his kids that makes him want to be there for them, he’s more willing to invest the effort and sacrifice to give up the habits that could take him out of the picture. These habits aren’t just limited to substance abuse addictions – unhealthy eating habits that could cause serious medical problems and long hours at the office can also prevent Dad from being involved, both in the long-term and now.

Two examples illustrate this: When NFI’s president Roland C. Warren realized that his family medical history put him at risk for a shortened lifespan, he decided to exercise, change his diet, and lose weight so he could be around not only for his two grown sons, but also for future grandchildren. As Roland likes to say, “To be an involved, responsible, and committed father, you have to be alive."

Second, research shows that men who are released from prison are significantly more likely to have a successful re-entry and avoid additional run-ins with the law if they have a family to go back to. Their relationship with their children motivates them to be law-abiding citizens and avoid the activities that put them behind bars and separated them from their kids.

NFI is focused on helping dads develop a heart-to-heart connection with their children that motivates them to stop bad habits and cultivate good ones. After all, the kids are worth it.

Don't Fumble the Baby...

Last week, I had an opportunity to speak at a briefing hosted by Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL). The purpose of the briefing was to present these findings of the Commission on Paternal Involvement in Pregnancy Outcomes, a project of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. A key aspect of the commission is to determine ways to reduce infant mortality, which is surprisingly high in the US.

As a member of the commission, I had an opportunity to share a pretty personal perspective on how, as a very new dad, I first learned just how important fathers are to the health and well-being of infants. A reporter wrote this story about my remarks. Are you ready for some football?

Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh...

I received the below note from a friend who just became a father:

“I gotta say I first really felt like a father when I was holding her after she was born...she looked up at me and something inside me turned on, that I'd never felt.”

Powerful stuff indeed… Interestingly, I had a similar experience when the nurse put my first son, Jamin, in my arms. I was just 20 years old and, admittedly, a bit scared. I was clearly more comfortable on a football field than in a delivery room, and more comfortable with a football in my arms than a baby.

But when they handed Jamin to me, something in me just…clicked…like a light switch. When he looked up at me I said to myself, “Wow…this is my son.” Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. Fatherhood changes everything.

I also remember feeling that I was grossly unprepared for my new role, especially since I grew up without my dad. Sure, I had attended LaMaze classes and a few prenatal doctor visits, and read selected pages from my wife’s “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” book. But none of these things really spoke to me or seemed to be for me. And it seemed that my feeling and experience were not unique. In our Pop's Culture Survey, we found that nearly ½ of the fathers surveyed reported that they were not prepared to be fathers when they first became one.

That’s one of the reasons that when I joined NFI 8 years ago, I championed our efforts to develop resources like “Doctor Dad™,” “When Duct Tape Won’t Work™,” and “Daddy Packs for New Dads™” to equip dads right from the start. Unlike me, fathers need to walk into the delivery room with more than just a bit of anxiety and a checkbook and need to walk out of the delivery room with more than just the bill and the baby.

In any case, got a story about becoming a dad for the first time? I’d love to hear it. Also, if you are about to become a father and want to share about what is going on or if you’re a mom and want to tell about how becoming a dad affected the father of your children, chime in as well.

Dads in the Delivery Room

NFI's Associate VP of National Programming, Ken Gosnell, just appeared on the Dr. Nancy show on MSNBC to debate the question: should dads be banned from the delivery room when their children are being born? Apparently a doctor in London has published a paper that says fathers (even male doctors) should be banned from the delivery room because it is better for mom.

You Only Get One Chance

Since I've worked at NFI, people have often asked "What stands out most about your father?"

For me, it was my dad's unswerving commitment to just "being there," quite literally. In both middle school and high school, my dad was present at every single one of my sporting events - four games a week for almost the entire school year. And I was a cheerleader.

When I was at home visiting my dad this past weekend, I told him just how much his presence meant to me. His response? "Well, you only get one chance."

His simple wisdom struck me to the core, for many reasons. I think we often forget that every day is a new chance and each day is different - don't pass up opportunities to spend time with your family and make each day count.

But my dad's words also resonated because his health has quickly deteriorated this year. My dad is a diabetic, and for whatever reason, he decided to stop taking his medicine. It's been scary watching him deal with complications that easily could have been prevented.

Dads (and moms!), you only get one chance. Not just to watch your daughter cheer for every high school sports team in existence, but to see your grandkid sand develop lasting relationships with your children as they mature.

I'm hoping and praying that my dad will fully recover, but in the meantime, his story is a good reminder for all of us: you only get one chance. Don't let all the little moments pass you by - and take good care of yourself so that you're around for all the little (and big) moments to come.

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