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The Father Factor

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New Dads Really Do Affect Infant Behavior!

Dad with Infant Girl

Have you ever wondered how important father involvement is for infants?

 

I mean, does a two-month-old really notice the differences between a dad and a mom, and do those differences even matter?

Apparently, they do.

A new report from The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (April, 2012), found that “disengaged and remote interactions between fathers and their infants were found to predict externalising behavioural problems at the age of 1 year.”

Based on this finding, the researchers conclude that “these [disengaged] interactions may be critical factors to address, from a very early age in thechild’s life, and offer a potential opportunity for preventive intervention.” 

The key phrase there is “preventive intervention;” that is the “business” National Fatherhood Initiative is in. And we have been especially mindful of the need to provide hospitals and community-based organizations with the tools and skill-building materials they need to educate and inspire fathers in the earliest stages of a child’s life. More on that in a moment.

Regarding the research findings above, the researchers defined disengaged or remote interactions as ones “where a father is silent or not engaged with the infant.” I think all parents have been there. There are times when parents are caring for their baby out of obligation, but they are just not that into it --- they may be tired, stressed, or just in a bad mood. Amazingly, infants notice this! They sense the lack of interest and engagement, and it has an impact on them. Dads can be especially vulnerable to pulling the “silent treatment” when they are doing something they don’t want to do. But this research is another powerful reminder of just how important their active engagement is in their children’s lives, even when their children are infants. 

But how do you get fathers to the point where they know how to interact in an engaged fashion? Many of the dads you work with grew up in father-absent homes and have never seen a good dad in action. 

It starts with knowledge and confidence. When dads have those two tools at their disposal, their level of engagement with their infants skyrockets. 

NFI’s Doctor Dad™ workshops help build this confidence and knowledge by increasing fathers’ health literacy in the areas of infant and toddler health and safety. There are four workshops: The Well Child, The Sick Child, The Safe Child, and The Injured Child. Presented as 60-90 minute stand-alone workshops, or as supplemental sessions to your current fatherhood programming, Doctor Dad™ Workshops can be presented individually or as a series of four to cover all the areas of need your clients have.

Take it from me: When men feel like they know how to do something well, they do it with passion!  

Tell Us: What are you doing to address the health literacy of the dads you work with?

 

Rear-Facing Blues

As many of you may already have heard, the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued new guidelines on car seats. The new guidelines state that a toddler should be in a rear-facing car seat until they are two-years-old or they outgrow the height or weight limit for the car seat.

Putting the safety issues aside for a moment, that sounds a little extreme to me. By the time my son was 9 months old or so, he was becoming extremely bored facing the nothingness that is the back of the car. He was getting fussy and impatient during just a 15-minute car ride. Can you imagine what would happen with a two-year-old in an even longer car ride? There would be mutiny!

Now that my son (who is 14 months old) faces forward, he has something to look at. He can watch where we are going through the windshield, he can see the back of my head, and he can see out the side windows easier, too. And it is easier for me to see him. I don't have to use that awkward mirror that faces the front of the car.

I understand that rear-facing is safer, but according the the number crunching I have seen, the number of injuries that would have been avoided over the last several years looks like a rounding error, not some huge number.

What do you think? Is this safety tyranny or good policy?

Lessons Learned: Giving to Receive

One of the first Bible precepts that I learned in Sunday School as a small boy was that it is better to give than to receive. Now, as a little guy, I wasn’t a big fan of this concept, especially around my birthday and Christmas. In any case, a few days ago, I was thumbing through a recent copy of Forbes magazine and I came across an article by Michael Norton provocatively titled “Yes, Money Can Buy Happiness…If you give it away.”

Norton is a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and he has been researching how changes in income impact well-being. For example, he recently asked 315 Americans to rank their happiness on a 100 point scale and predict how happy they would be if they made ten different incomes, ranging from $5,000 up to $1,000,000. So, for example, he found that those who made $25,000 a year predicted that their happiness would double if they made $55,000. But when he measured their actual happiness, the change was about 7%. Moreover, he found that once people reached the US median income (about $60,000), the happiness return on additional income was very small.

Ironically, he did discover one way to “buy” more happiness with your money: Give it away. He hypothesized that although making more money helps us accumulate more material things, it does little to give us what the research shows makes us happier—quality relationships with others.

To test his theory, he and his team did a little experiment. They approached strangers on the street and gave them different sums of money ($5 or $20) and told them that they had to spend the money by the end of the day. But half were instructed to spend the money on themselves while the others were told to spend it on someone else. At the end of the day, Norton’s team learned that those who had to spend the money on themselves bought stuff like coffee and food. However, those who had to spend the money on others did things like donate to the homeless or buy a gift for a loved one.

So, who was happier? Yep, those who gave the money away. Interestingly, there was no difference in reported happiness between those who had to give $5 away verses those who gave $20 away. I guess when it comes to giving, it truly is the thought that counts.

So, why I am sharing all this? Maybe because it’s fundraising season and NFI needs you to give to us until you are in a state of joyous glee. Good guess, but nope. (Although, we certainly need the support and you can donate here. And, no gift is too large. :-))

Well, it is because I vividly recall that one of the early words that each of my kids uttered was “mine.” I seems that children are genetically wired to be self-focused and it’s a dads job to model and teach their children the joy that can be received from giving. And, you don’t need to wait until Sunday to start teaching. That is, if you can spare $5 bucks.

When It's Over But It's Not

People Magazine recently reported that the on again/off again engagement of Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston is…well, off again. Bristol asserted firmly in the article that “it’s over.” Apparently, the news that Johnston may have gotten another woman pregnant was the last straw. She said, “Levi was just like, ‘Bristol, there is a possibility that I could be a father of this other baby.’” Through tears she told the People magazine reporter, “The fantasy I had of us three being a family was a game to him. He’s never going to change.” Frankly, I am a bit surprised that Bristol is surprised. He posed nude for Playgirl for goodness sake…

I remember when I first saw Johnston on stage at the Republican National Convention. He looked extremely uncomfortable in his suit, a bit like a little boy someone dressed up for Easter Sunday. Looked to me like he couldn’t wait for the “service” to be over so that he could go and slide in the “mud” in his new suit. When you’re Levi’s age, this is usually a co-ed activity.

Now, I was a bit sympathetic to his plight. I even wrote this article in my Washington Times column to help folks get a better understanding of what I think is going on in a teen father’s head. You see, I have a some experience in this area. When I was about Levi’s age, I got my girlfriend pregnant. But, I married her because I knew instinctively that fatherhood means the death of boyhood. Indeed, the difference between boyhood and manhood is the ability to say “no” to the wrong things and “yes” to the right ones. I have a feeling that Levi has yet to learn this lesson.

And that’s the problem. By the time he does get “schooled” on the fact that his actions have consequences, chances are that Bristol will have built a nearly insurmountable wall of resentment that could make it very difficult for him to see his son. Moreover, his son too may have years of hurt and anger built up because his dad valued “reality TV” more than the reality that he needed to be an involved, responsible and committed father.

Alas, despite Bristol’s firm declaration to the contrary, when you’re a father, it’s never “over.” I have taken more than enough calls from fathers in his situation to know that this is just the beginning. And there is no fantasy about that.

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?

Mother's Day - Take 2

There was a lot of pressure on Vinny and I to make mommy's first Mother's Day memorable. I knew that getting a Hallmark card and some flowers would not be enough. The "thought" only counts for so much...

So, we (notice how I am attributing rational thought to a 4-month-old) decided to make mom a homemade card and other hand-crafted items instead.

So, I headed over to Michael's to pick up the materials the Friday before Mother's Day. I wanted to make a cast of Vinny's footprint or hand print, so I bought the kit to do so. I also wanted to make a card with his hand and footprint on it, so I bought construction paper and finger paints (nontoxic, of course; do they sell toxic finger paints?).

The next step, of course, was to go retrieve Vinny at day care so we could make the gift together in the one place where mom would not be around - my office.

When we got to my office, I was ready to create. Vinny was asleep. Had I fully read the instructions on the footprint-making kit, I would have known that it was best to leave the child asleep while making his footprint. Instead I woke him up, and upon inserting his foot into the plaster gel, he began kicking, squirming, and crying. I tried to do the same with his hand. In seconds, he had space-age gel between all of his fingers.

I knew I had to act fast. The gel was hardening. My co-workers (Renae, Jason, Mike, Amy, and Natalie) were doing their best to help, but it was too late. The gel hardened and the project was lost.

Good thing I had a Plan B. The finger paints. I decided to use red, because it stands out on light-colored construction paper. It also stands out on clothing. Mine and the baby's. All of my co-workers had deserted me at this point, except Renae, who must like crying babies trying to make handmade Mother's Day gifts.

Nevertheless, after much more kicking, squirming, and crying (mine and the baby's), we were able to get two decent footprints and two decent hand prints onto the paper.

I was sweating by the time it was over. After many paper towels, we were able to get all of the paint and gel off Vinny's hands and feet. There would be no trace elements left for mom to ask about when we got home -- "Why does the baby have red paint on his feet? And why are your pants covered in that same red paint?"

Alas, mom did not suspect a thing. Baby was clean, and I had changed my clothes by the time she got home. Whew...

So, on Mother's Day, when mom opened her card, the hard work paid off. She loved it. Vinny and I did a telepathic high five. To prove that I did not make any of this up, here is photographic evidence of happy mom and baby, with handmade Mother's Day card. If you stare at the picture long enough, Vinny will give you a telepathic high five, too.

First Day of Day Care

This morning, my wife and I dropped off three-month-old Vinny for his first day in day care. It is also, of course, my wife's first day back at work since January. It was an emotional morning, especially for my wife. Really, this episode highlights one of the differences between moms and dads.

For the most part, I was excited to see the little guy in a new environment with all kinds of new things and people to learn about. I, of course, was a little sad to be leaving him with someone other than mom, who has been the greatest caretaker he will ever have.

But while I was "a little sad," my wife was very sad. There were tears. She is going to miss the baby very much. She has been caring for him every day and night for three months, and now someone else is going to be in charge of that. I imagine she is going through some very complex emotions right now. I did my best to comfort her, but I know it is going to take a few days, or even weeks, for her to get used to leaving her "prince" in someone else's hands.

Or maybe she will never get used to it. In fact, it is probably a healthy sign for a mother to always believe that she is her own baby's best nurturer. After all, I would not want to live in a society that is too comfortable with the idea of parents offhandedly leaving their children for other people to take care of in their place.

For now, we simply understand that this is an economic reality for our family that we both have to work. Fortunately, the baby is in very caring hands. But it still does not make it easy...

Does anyone remember the first day they left their little one in day care? Any stories?

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