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Different Faces of Fatherhood

This post is from Torrey Maldonado. Torrey is a teacher and author with a passion for Young Adult & Middle Grade literature. His debut novel is based on his and his students’ struggles with masculinity, their dads, and has inspired Fatherhood series by bloggers, book clubs and in schools. Visit him online at TorreyMaldonado.com. Follow Torrey on Twitter @torreymaldonado. Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines                             

My upbringing was similar to my dad’s.

As boys and tweens, we both were drowning, socially, academically—you name it. We both were on-course to becoming our dads. We both didn’t want that, but felt it was inevitable.

My father became his dad. I didn’t.

brooklynnycsubway

[image: iStockPhoto]

Today, I’m different than them, and my father told me before he died that he was proud of who I became.

Throughout my life, my father regularly disappeared. He routinely “disappeared” into jail. When he returned, he lived with us but “disappeared” into the streets, returned and “disappeared” into his bedroom. From daycare to my first gray hair, he consistently “disappeared” from doing fatherly things with my sisters and me. 

One song reminds me of him: Poppa was a Rolling Stone. He also was what people call a “hard rock”, usually tough-as-nails. Those are two more prominent memories of him: he either wasn’t around enough or came on too strong.

I’m describing my father, his father, and a lot of my friends’ fathers. If we toured my old neighborhood, you’d see the number of dads who “disappear” and who are “hard rocks” is so huge that if they sat on each other’s shoulders, a guy-ladder would tower into space. 

Is this way of being guys’ faults? Across the U.S. a stereotype of macho manliness is celebrated that puts down guys as effeminate if they’re open and affectionate. It’s not a current phenomenon; in 1963 Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons had a hit, Walk Like a Man. That song made “hard rock” manliness as stylish as it is today. Before that, music and other media stylized macho-manliness—cowboys in black-and-white movies, knights in fairy tales, and so on. For maybe centuries now, men have embraced a popularized masculinity while leaving women to be emotional caregivers.

I was born and raised in Brooklyn’s Red Hook projects. A timeless rule there and in other tough neighborhoods is that the strong survive. Being a “hard rock” and projecting strength isn’t just stylish—it’s a survival tactic. In the 1980s, males felt they needed hard bravados as a flood of drug-activity made Life magazine call us “The Crack Capital of America.” Our neighborhood still has a major drug problem, which means males still need to project strength to avoid surrounding violence.

On one hand, the ethos “Walk Like a Man” helps guys survive; on the other hand, that prompts us to shelve being emotional caregivers. That motto helps continue what I call “The Boy Crisis” (the widespread retarding of male development—socially, academically, and professionally—by discouraging males from being affectionate and showing all sides of ourselves).  

I survived "The Boy Crisis"; my father didn’t. 

My dad didn’t marry women he impregnated; I married one woman, then we planned our parenthood. 

My father disappeared—physically and emotionally—on his children; I have one child for whom I am very present.

My dad was a “hard rock” 24/7; I work hard to show my daughter my soft-side, scared-side, and all-sides. 

I love my father despite the conscious and unconscious hurt that came from his absence and stoniness. His few good sides show in things I do.

One factor that helped me steer in a different direction was “Uncles.”

My mom introduced me to men who weren’t blood-related, but helped me weather storms of limiting messages about manhood. 

These “Uncles” were unlike my dad.

They didn’t disappear. They let me sit with them for as long as I wanted, and I did—sometimes just to watch them interact with each other and the world.

On the corner, my Puerto Rican Uncle Danny had only four fingers on one hand from a Vietnam-injury. He had the strongest handshake and the gentlest heart. (My mom hoped I would pick up his gentleness.) 

At a local garage, my African American Uncles—Archie and Joe—modeled routines, wearing their work-uniforms even afterhours. (My mom hoped I would embrace their solid work ethic). 

At the cleaners, my mobster-sounding Italian Uncle Carmine described females with complete respect (My mom hoped I would absorb his pro-feminism.).

These “Uncles” were different from each other, yet similar. 

They shared a common belief about fathering: Dads shouldn’t withdraw from their children, even if they leave their child’s mother. They said to admire males on TV or from the street, but to ultimately be you. They gave me “change”—probably fifty cents one day, one dollar another—but, wow, the comics, candies, and things I bought! 

It all added up. Despite my dad disappearing, my community in crisis, and societal pressures to conform, each man gave me more than “change”—they gave me safe spaces and guidance for me to change.   

They presented different sides of manhood and added the best of themselves to the best my father could model and I eventually created a mosaic of masculinity from their examples.  These “Uncles” helped me transform from an academically and socially drowning boy to becoming a celebrated teacher, a published novelist, and a present husband and father.

As a boy, I once told my mom that I wanted to be like my uncles—all of them—White, Black, and Latino. She said I could. I wondered how.  

In time, I learned a man doesn’t have to be one-sided. That idea drives my fathering and threads through my novel, Secret Saturdays. That idea is what made my upbringing similar to my father’s, but not my outcome. Our boys could benefit from fathers but if their dads disappear or model what ultimately stifles their growth, then positive “Uncles” are a great tool to ensure boys become men and fathers with many good sides to show.

Why Cohabitation is Like “Rent to Own”

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.

Cohabitation has risen rapidly in the past 40-50 years. In 1965, only 11 percent of couples lived together without being married. By 2010, that proportion had vaulted to 60 percent. Cohabitation is now the pathway of choice to marriage with about 2/3 of women reporting that they lived with their partners first before marrying them. Moreover, more than half of cohabitating couples get married within three years. For those of you who hope for a return to the time when even a majority of couples married first and then moved in together, I’m sorry to say that ship has sailed and sunk.  

just married just rented

There are a myriad reasons couples choose to live together before marrying, or simply instead of marrying at all. For those couples considering marriage, one of the primary reasons is that they want to “test the water.” A term that has come into vogue among scholars who study cohabitation is “sliding before deciding.” (I prefer “rent to own,” but more on that later.) If it doesn’t work out, these couples reason, no harm, no foul.  

But what happens after these couples move in together? Are they more likely to like the water and jump in with both feet? A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that a good chunk of them are. According to the CDC, 40 percent of cohabiting couples between 2006 and 2010 decided to tie the knot with another 32 percent deciding to stay together ostensibly with the potential for marriage. (The rest of the couples split up.)

While sliding before deciding accurately describes the process that leads to a decision to marry among cohabiters, I prefer “rent to own” because it also considers the possible outcomes—marriage, staying together, or splitting up—and the impact of each one. When a couple decides to marry, it’s a decision to own—the couple “buys” marriage. When a couple decides to stay together, it’s a decision to extend the rental agreement. When a couple decides to split up, it’s a decision to either discard the rental or exchange it for another one.

Another reason I like this rather crass analogy is that it facilitates moving beyond the decision to compare the first two outcomes. What happens after someone decides to own (marry) or continue the rental agreement (cohabit)? This is where it gets interesting and illuminating.  

The most common way in which scholars have looked at the impact of these outcomes is whether cohabitation is more likely to lead to divorce than when couples don’t live together before marriage. While the impact on divorce is a very important discussion, what’s gained less attention is the impact of rent-to-own decisions on the quality of relationships between cohabiting and married couples. Especially in today’s society where marriage seems to be more about the couple’s satisfaction than any other factor (e.g. raising healthy children), it’s critical to examine the impact of these outcomes on how couples see the quality of their relationships which, after all, has a lot to say about whether couples ultimately stay together.  

Married couples consistently report that they are happier/more satisfied with their relationships than are cohabiting couples. Moreover, the proportion of cohabiting couples who are satisfied with their relationships has declined over time even as their numbers have increased. Not so for married couples whose satisfaction level has remained stable. This outcome doesn’t bode well for the couples who renew their rental agreements.  

What leads to these different levels of satisfaction? Scholars didn’t really know until a recent study by some smart folks at Texas Tech University shed some light. These scholars focused on the impact that “disillusionment” has on relationships. Disillusionment theory (yes, it’s a theory) suggests that when people date, they engage in a dance to impress each other. (Think of the male peacock and his plume.) Once married, they aren’t as motivated to impress each other. The idealized images they held of each other while they dated start to fade as does attraction, romance, affection, etc. Disillusionment leads to divorce in some couples. Think of disillusionment as depreciation. Just as something you own depreciates in value over time, so too can your view of your partner and the relationship in general.  

Until this study, scholars had only looked at the effects of disillusionment among married couples. The smart folks at Tech looked at it for the first time among cohabiting couples, compared their levels of disillusionment to those found in married couples, and examined its impact on perceived break-up (i.e. divorce among married couples and splitting up among cohabiting couples). They found that cohabiting couples were more disillusioned than married couples. Furthermore, disillusionment was a greater predictor of perceived break-up among cohabiting couples than it was among married couples.  

While the perception of a break-up doesn’t necessarily mean that a couple will break up, disillusionment helps explain why married couples are, quite simply, more satisfied with their relationships than cohabiting couples. When a couple rents to own and renews their rental agreements, the partners’ view of each other and the relationship depreciates to a greater degree than does a married couple’s. It’s likely that once married, the commitment partners have to each other and their relationship has a protective effect on depreciation. Married partners have a higher ownership stake and place a higher value on each other and their relationship.  

iStockPhoto

Are More Moms Opting In or Opting Out?

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

Whenever we think our culture has come a long way in the last 15 years on this issue, we see an article that reminds us that a lot of work remains to be done.  

girl in mom shoes are more women opting in or out nfi fatherhoodAn article published this month on "The Daily Beast" website (a Newsweek property) has caused a lot of furor. The article, called "No Dad? No Problem. Meet the Moms Who Opt In Forever—and Aren’t Complaining," exemplifies an attitude that is growing in popularity in certain cultural circles; that kids do just fine without dads. To point, other than the mention of the word "dad" in the article's title, the remainder of the article has nothing to say about fathers or fatherhood.

So, despite the mountains of evidence that, on average, these children are at risk across every measure of child well-being, the article ignores the data and instead ends with a quote from one mom, whose own words prove that this is not about the well-being of children, but about "personal fulfillment" for adults: "I get to raise my child however I want. There’s no stress, no tension about child-rearing choices. Now I’m happy all the time. There’s not the emotional up and down. There’s never going to be custody disputes. She’ll never be taken away from me. I’ll never have that worry. It’s not as hard as people imagine."    

The article contends that more moms are opting in to a life filled with the demands of work and parenting and doing it all on their own. These moms, dubbed SMCs (single mothers by choice), like the idea of having complete control over their lives including the raising of their children. A life that is free from the trials and tribulations created by men and marriage. There’s even a group called Single Mothers by Choice that SMCs can join and through which they can connect with other SMCs for mutual support. The group even helps SMCs form virtual and local support networks. The philosophy of the group is as follows:  

“The word “choice” in our title has two implications: we have made a serious and thoughtful decision to take on the responsibility of raising a child by ourselves, and we have chosen not to bring a child into a relationship that is not a satisfactory one.”  

We question how thoughtful that decision really is. (It’s certainly a serious one, but not for the reasons these moms might think.) They’re certainly not thinking about the increased risk their children face growing up without a dad. Indeed, in an article chocked full of quotes from SMCs, not a single one mentions anything about the children. They focus instead on how these mothers benefit from being SMCs. Thoughtful, it seems, means “thinking only about me.”  

We also question the second implication of their choice and its validity. By definition, these mothers have chosen to bring a child into the world in the absence of a relationship, not in the presence of an unsatisfactory one. That part of their philosophy is simply a way to make themselves feel better about their choice—a convenient, and untruthful, excuse. The fact is they don’t want to mess with men and marriage and are willing to position their choice against an implication that doesn’t exist for them.  

Finally, we question the sanity of that choice—bringing more fatherless children into the world. A country with 24 million fatherless children (1 in 3) and a world with millions more. A country in which it costs taxpayers at least 100 billion annuallyto pay for the consequences of father absence. So while these moms are opting in to a life as a SMC, they’re opting out of giving their children the love of an involved, responsible, committed father.

Question: How do you think a child should be raised?

image: iStockPhoto

Why Marriage is (Still) a Vital Pathway to Independence

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

I’m sure you’ve heard that more young adults—the Millenials—are living with their parents. It’s been all over the news in recent years in large part because of the recent economic recession. But as with most things, you have to look beyond the sound bites in the media to see the forest for the trees.  

pew research young adult marriage

Let’s start with the data. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, a record 36% of Millenials (ages 18-31) lived with their parents in 2012. This proportion is even greater than the 34% who lived with their parents when the economic recession officially ended in 2009. To be fair to these young adults and their parents, as many as half might be college students because the census data used for this analysis considers children living in dormitories as living with their parents.  

Nevertheless, the fact that a record number of Millenials live with their parents is a cause for concern. Parents must shoulder the financial load for their children for a longer period of time than parents of previous generations. This lengthens financial burden and negatively affects parents’ ability to save for their own retirement. That effect is particularly troubling given a recent study on Americans’ difficulty in saving adequately for their retirement. That difficulty, as we all know, places a burden on other sources of financial support in retirement provided by us all (i.e. Social Security). And this increased financial burden creates an increased emotional burden as parents worry about their own and these young adults’ futures, not to mention the tension that naturally exists between adults parenting other adults who live in the same home.  

What’s driving this trend? If you only listen to the media, you might have said it’s the economy. That’s only part of the picture. There are three driving factors: declining employment, rising college enrollment, and declining marriage. Specifically, Millenials who are either unemployed, enrolled in college, or unmarried are more likely to live with their parents. (I surmise that the more of these factors that describe a young adult, the more likely he or she is to live at home.) 

The starkest difference within each of these categories is between married and unmarried Millenials—47% of unmarried Millenials live with their parents compared to only 3% of married Millenials. To put that difference in perspective, let’s say you were to walk into a room of 100 unmarried Millenials with the intention of interviewing one of them about their thoughts on this trend. You’d have a 50-50 shot at randomly picking one who lives at home. Try that in a room of 100 married Millenials and it might take you a very long time to find someone.  

To turn a phrase, “It’s marriage (not the economy)—stupid.” While the other two factors should concern us, it is the long-term trend in the decline of marriage that is creating a sea change. Employment is cyclical. The economy is improving. Increased college enrollment—while down among men (another cause for concern)—is good in the long run. (And remember that as many as half of these children are actually living away from home for most of the year.) Parents should consider supporting their college-enrolled children as an investment in their own and their children’s futures. College graduates are more likely to have higher salaries and earn more in their lifetime. They are also more “marriageable.”    

The lesson here is that marriage continues to be a critical path to independence. Think of it as one leg in a three-legged stool of independence. That stool is very wobbly because the importance of marriage in our society is being whittled down to a nub. (Cohabitation, which the Pew report notes is rapidly on the rise, is not substitution for marriage.) Parents tend to focus on the education and employment legs, and rightly so. What parents often neglect, however, is to send a clear message about the importance of marriage—not only its importance as the ideal situation in which to raise children, but how vital it is to parents’ and their children’s eventual independence from one another.   

What action should parents take? Send a clear, frequent message to their children that marriage is just as critical for independence as a college education and gainful employment.

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Parenting for the Next Century

The following is a post by Preston Parrish. Preston is the author “Finding Hope in Times of Grief,”  which he and his wife, Glenda, wrote following the 2006 deaths of his father and their 25 year-old son in the same week. He and Glenda have four children, four grandchildren and live in Charlotte, North Carolina. Follow Preston on Twitter and Facebook. Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

My wife Glenda and I dated in high school, married in college, and are now approaching our 40th wedding anniversary. God blessed us with four children, born in three different decades, with 18 and a half years between the first and the last.  

SymolicTreeParentingforNextCentury080513In the year 2000, I tried to convince Glenda to have another child, which would surely have put us in the Guinness Book of World Records for having children in four decades, two centuries and two millennia—but for some reason she just never got excited about going for that goal!  

As our youngest headed off to college last year, we calculated that we had been raising children in our home for over 37 straight years. “No wonder we’re tired!” we said.  

Having this somewhat unique, longer-term vantage point on childrearing in our society has put us in the position to see the progressive changes—and the deepening challenges—in families generally, and with fathers specifically. At this stage, though our children are grown, we now have four grandchildren whose future growth to personal maturity and wholesome family relations is of utmost concern to us.  

Increasingly, we see that the examples and nurture they need will not “just happen” for them. Rather, unless we and others who care about healthy families are intentional…purposeful…strategically active, these kids’ growing-up years will indeed pass, but likely not with the desired outcome. So to that end, and even after raising four kids of our own, we are now trying to take steps on a regular basis that, over the course of the coming years, can impact these precious children in our family.  

These include (but aren’t limited to):  

  • Praying daily for them—for help in the affairs of their young lives
  • “Hanging” with them as we’re able, just to be together but also to model how routine family time can look and feel
  • Taking them individually for special times and activities personalized to their particular interests
  • Sharing with them wholesome stories (for us it's Scripture) and songs to fill their minds and hearts with good “food” to grow on
  • Carefully selecting what entertainment they view, and engaging in it with them to help interpret its lessons
  • Attempting to consistently model for them kind, loving speech and behavior, as well as steady, reliable integrity, character and truth
  • Noting and complimenting their own “baby steps” of accomplishments and growth.  

Now, none of these steps in themselves may seem all that new or unusual. But what our long years of experience have shown us is that, in today’s American society, we can no longer take for granted that the majority of children, including the young ones in our own lives, will “get” the benefit of these positive influences automatically.  

As a father and now a grandfather, I see more than ever that I cannot default to the assumption that the females in their lives—their mother, grandmothers, and aunts—are the only ones who should “deliver these goods” to them. They should, and they do. But there is no substitute for males—fathers, grandfathers, and uncles—who accept the responsibility for doing the best they can to nurture and shape the young ones who are watching them. This is why NFI created Double Duty Dad, to call on men to step into the lives of fatherless children. NFI's Double Duty Dad™ Guide will equip you to invest in a child or another father's life.

About one-third of kids now don’t have the benefit of their biological father’s daily presence in their home. And even among those that do, it’s all too common for them to grow up with a father who is distant, distracted, self-absorbed, and emotionally dysfunctional. Let’s each of us make our children the ones who see something different, something better, something time-honored…something that can last for decades, centuries and millennia to come!

What's one thing you hope to pass down to your children and/or grandchildren?

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image credit: istockphoto

(Video) Dying Father and His Last, First Dance with Daughter

"Each and every day, we have a choice. We have a choice to either love that person that's in front of us or not. It's the relationships that you build over the years that is the most important thing in life. It's the only real thing in life. Everything else is just an illusion." —Dr. James Wolf, father of two daughters

Reporting on The Today Show,

Can't see the video? Click here.

As The Today Show reports, on a Saturday in July, Rachel Wolf was preparing for the day she always dreamed of, with wedding gown, makeup, and guests.

But the wasn't like any other wedding. Gutierrez says, there was one thing missing: a groom.

Instead of a wedding day with the groom, this special day was about Rachel's dad, Dr. James Wolf. You see, Dr. Wolf is dying of pancreatic cancer. Doctors say he likely has three months or less to live.

So, Rachel came up with a plan to make sure he wouldn't miss her big day. Rachel decided to create and record her very own father/daughter dance. She picked the venue and the rest was donated. 

"I just was flabbergasted," Dr. Wolf told TODAY in an interview on Monday.

If you watch the video above, you hear Dr. Wolf say, "There are a lot of things that I would've liked the girls to experience with me being there...and I'm not going to be there."

TODAY reports that just hours before the big moment, Dr. Wolf was in the hospital. Exhausted from the chemo, his wife, Jeanine helped get him ready for his big moment.

In the video, Jeanine says, "I don't know what to expect...I'm hoping that he's feeling well enough to be able to get that dance in."

He was well enough to attend. Watch the video, you will see Rachel's limo arrive and step out in a white dress. Watch as Dr. Wolf looks into the eyes with his little girl. "Hi honey...” he says, “You look gorgeous!"

"Thanks Daddy!" Rachel replies.

Can't see the video? Click here.

This is a great story that speaks to the bond between fathers and daughters. 

As Gutierrez points out, "When it comes to making memories, why wait!"

What memories are you waiting to create? 

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With T1D Care, #DadsWay is Indispensable

One of the saddest statistics I have seen is that divorce rates among couples with special needs children are higher than among the general population. This breaks my heart. In situations where it is most critical for a couple to stay together so they can work together for the good of their children, there is even more family breakdown.

dadswayAnd the sad reality is that one of the main reasons for this breakdown is that too many fathers are walking away from difficult situations. My friend’s wife counsels women who are in high-risk pregnancies, and he swears that by the end of their wives’ terms, half the fathers have left. And often, even if they stay, they don’t make the selfless changes necessary to accommodate the special needs of the wife going through the difficult pregnancy.  

Again, this is heart breaking. At their wives’ and children’s most needful hour, their attitude is “this is not what I signed up for; I’m outta here.”  

That is why when my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) last June, I knew that I needed to step up in a big way. Responsible fatherhood needed to take on a whole new meaning for me. My son deserved for me to be there for him. My wife deserved for me to be there for her.  

Thankfully, due to incredible medical breakthroughs, T1D has become a manageable disease. But it still takes constant vigilance. You can’t take a day off from managing it. Really, you can’t even take several hours off from managing it. Our son is 3-1/2, so he is not yet at the age where he can tell us when he doesn’t feel quite right. It is up to us to figure it out, which involves checking his blood sugar every few hours (even in the middle of the night). It means making constant adjustments to his insulin pump to ensure that we are keeping his blood sugar under control.  

And none of these actions or decisions is made without my wife and I working together. And what makes it work even better, what gives it that magical synergy, is that my wife and I both approach things differently. Right on par with the research about how moms and dads take different approaches to parenting, my wife and I take different approaches to diabetes management! For example, my wife tends to be much more cautious/worried when it comes to dealing with his high blood sugars, whereas I tend to be a little more laissez faire and patient; what this creates is a perfect balance where we are not overreacting, nor are we standing idly by.  

Aside from the “transactional” part of managing the disease, there is the relational part as well. My wife and I both relate to my son differently, and we can already see how our son reacts and interacts with us differently. He makes it clear that he is happiest when both my wife and I are with him, eating dinner together, watching a movie, whatever. He gets irreplaceable comfort and security from our presence. When he wants to be thrown (high) into the air, he comes to me. When he wants to cuddle he goes to mom (I cuddle him, and my wife throws him (low) in the air, too, but I am talking about “on average” here).  

Short of there being a cure, my son will always have T1D, which means that I will always have to work with my wife to ensure that he grows up as happy, healthy, and normal as possible. This is a team task, and my wife and I are our son’s perfect team.  

Being there for my wife and my son to help him overcome the challenge of T1D – that’s #DadsWay.  

You may be wondering why we are using the hashtag #DadsWay. From now until June 23, every time you Tweet using the hashtag #DadsWay, Tide and Downy will donate $1 to National Fatherhood Initiative! So, if you are on Twitter, sign in and tell us what #DadsWay means to you.   

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(Video) Oprah on Fatherhood & the Mistakes Single Moms Make

"It's difficult to be what you don't see." —Roland C. Warren, Board Member, National Fatherhood Initiative (on the importance of role models)

Roland Warren was on Oprah’s LifeClass last Sunday to discuss fatherless sons and single moms working to parent their sons. In the video, Roland asks a single mom in the audience, "what kind of father do you want for your son? What kind of father do you want your son to be?"

The show focused on mistakes single moms often make. Single mothers tend to focus on the finances. In the video, Roland explains that finances can't be the primary issue of focus. Watch the video and see Roland share vital advice with a single mom on how she should be raising her fatherless son. He makes it clear that finances aren't as important to your child as you being there physically for your child.

Roland draws a clear distinction in the video between the wallet and the heart. Which one are you chasing after? 

Can't view the video? Click here.

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Mayweather Calls Guerrero "A True Warrior" After Fight

This past Saturday night, Robert "The Ghost" Guerrero entered the ring with Floyd "Money" Mayweather, Jr who then stood undefeated at 43-0. After the fight, Mayweather stands undefeated at 44-0.

Guerrero ShotWe at NFI followed this fight because everything we knew of Robert Guerrero pointed to him being a great example of an involved, responsible and committed husband and father. Anytime we can highlight great examples from sports and entertainment, we will. We think dads and husbands can learn by seeing real examples within others' life stories.

As someone who hasn't really followed boxing since Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!, I found Guerrero's story to be inspiring. He made me think about what "a true warrior" really looks like today. He reminded me of three things that make a true warrior—lessons I hope to live by as a husband and father. Here they are... 

1.  A True Warrier Isn't Defined By His Day Job.
No matter the stage of life, your job shouldn't define you. This is especially true if you have a job you love; it's much easier to define yourself by your job if you like it. That's a problem. Watching Guerrero's interviews over the last few weeks reminded me as he said himself, "Boxing is what I do, not who I am." Dads, are you defining yourself with your position at the company? In a day when I've heard marketing heads at brands say repeatedly, "Men don't define themselves by being fathers and husbands", Guerrero seems to live by a different, better standard. 

2. A True Warrior Keeps His Family Close.
It's undeniable from seeing Guerrero's story that he was and is a good husband and father. From sacrificing his career in order to take care of his wife to being involved with his children, Guerrero could easily distance himself from family given his talent as a boxer. He could spend a fortune on a different team that isn't family. For instance, his dad is his trainer. I'm fairly certain Guerrero can afford to have other trainers. But he understands that his father is the best for him. Guerrero picked his team with family in mind. Dads, have you picked your job or lifestyle with your family in mind? 

3. A True Warrior Hates Losing More than He Loves Winning.
I saw a postfight interview where Guerrero, tired and drained from just finishing 12 rounds with Mayweather says, and I'm paraphrasing, "I'd like to get in the ring with Mayweather again. I hear he has a contract for five more fights!" That's a fighter right there. Guerrero likes to win, but he hates to lose. Dads, do you hate to lose? "Losing" for dads could mean a number of things, but might I suggest, we lose if we aren't being 24/7 dads for our kids. In order to be involved, we must hate not being involved so much that we actually plan and do things to be involved.  

I learned these three things and more from covering Guerrero the last few weeks. There's a lot to learn from his life. Which begs the question: what if someone followed you around for weeks? Would they learn anything? Would they learn the importance of being a husband and father? Would they learn the above lessons by watching you? Said differently, would they see you as "a true warrior"?

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A Scary Confluence of Trends

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

A dangerous crossover has occurred in marriage and childbearing in the U.S.  

kidweddingkiss resized 600A recent report called Knot Yet documents the rise in the historic and still-climbing average age of first marriage at nearly 27 for women and 29 for men. This trend has benefitted women in helping them to reach their life goals and, for couples, reduced the risk of divorce. By delaying marriage, many women have had the opportunity to complete college and establish themselves in their careers before marching down the aisle. Research shows that couples who marry after their mid-twenties are less likely to divorce than are people who marry earlier.  

While that trend has benefits, there is another trend interacting with it that should put a scare into us all. The age at which men and women have their first child hasn’t kept pace with the average age of first marriage. Women give birth nearly a year, on average, before they marry (25.7 vs. 26.5). It is twentysomethings that have driven the increase in out-of-wedlock births to an all-time high of 48 percent of all births.  

As a father of two girls (ages 18 and 15), this is a scary confluence of trends. It increases the risk that my daughters will have children out of wedlock, that my grandchildren won’t have involved, responsible, committed fathers in their lives, and that my grandchildren will be at increased risk for a host of poor outcomes.  

According to a 2009 report by the non-partisan Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans don’t see anything wrong with unmarried childbearing despite their belief that it is bad for society (i.e. it has negative economic consequences). This disconnect between what is right and wrong and evidence is one of the major problems I have seen in my 13 years of work with NFI. As you’ve undoubtedly read many times in this blog and in publications from NFI, there are reams of evidence that having children out of wedlock is, on average, bad for children, mothers, fathers, and our society. And yet, we continue to see more and more children born without the benefit of marriage between their parents, the primary connection that societies have used for thousands of years to connect fathers to their children.        

So why does the disconnect persist? A primary reason, as noted in Knot Yet, is the decoupling of marriage and childbearing as most Americans have come to view marriage as a means to satisfy their desire for meaningful, life-long connection instead of as an institution for raising children and what children need to thrive. To be clear, my problem with this view is not that marriage should not satisfy someone’s desire for life-long connection—I can’t think of a better way to create such a connection. But focusing on that aspect of marriage to the detriment of marriage’s primary function of raising healthy children has become a recipe for disaster.  

The problem with this view is that it ignores the evidence that human biology, specifically the drive in humans to procreate, has not changed along with that view. As an anthropologist, I’ve learned that the interplay between culture change and human biology is not straightforward. In some cases, it can be positive or, at the very least, innocuous. Take the average height of humans, for example. As humans moved from living in nomadic tribes, where food was scarce and humans lacked knowledge of proper nutrition, to post-industrial societies, with 24/7 access to food and improved nutrition (particularly childhood nutrition), the average size for humans increased. (Much of this increase in height occurred in only the past 150 years.) On the other hand, as humans became more sedentary in post-industrial societies, obesity rates increased as did rates of type 1 and type 2 diabetes and other diseases related to a sedentary lifestyle.  

As long as people ignore the simple, indisputable fact that men and women have a biological drive to procreate that does not change—the oil in the water of the new view of marriage’s role in our lives—mothers, fathers, children, and our society will continue to pay a hefty price. Unless the age of puberty miraculously increases, we will continue to see an ever-widening gap between the time men and women start to feel their drive to procreate and the time they put the pieces in place that their children need to thrive—a gap that now spans more than a decade. The sad fact is that girls and boys are more driven to act on that drive when they grow up in homes without their fathers.  

What do I tell my girls? I will continue to tell them to delay sex until marriage for the simple reason that it is the right thing to do not only for them, but for everyone else. I want them to know that their actions have consequences for them and for us all.

 

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photo credit: clappstar

Moms Should “Lean In” …to Fatherhood

business woman 320 resized 600The mommy wars continue. Should today’s women dedicate themselves more to their careers so they can “catch up” to men – to “lean in” as Sheryl Sandberg suggests – or should they dedicate themselves more to motherhood because their kids need them?  

How about a third way?  

I propose that if moms want to do better at both parenting and work, they have to “lean in” to fatherhood.  

Yes, moms should do as much as they can to support the involvement of their children’s fathers in their children’s lives, because it will help them thrive at both home and in their careers.  

How?  

Research shows that two of the most powerful predictors of father involvement are mom’s perception of dad’s competence and the quality of their relationship with each other. In other words, moms can act as gatekeepers or gateways; they are largely responsible for either facilitating father involvement or holding it back.   

When fatherhood is “held back” – when fathers are unable or unwilling to embrace the fullness of their roles – moms become disproportionately responsible for what is happening at home. And, logically, if mom is responsible for a disproportionate share of the tasks at home, it is going to be harder for her to dedicate herself at work as much as she may need to.  

My own situation paints a picture. My wife and I both work full time, and my wife is fully supportive of my role as a dad. She lets me do things my way. I typically leave for work later than her and get home earlier than her, so I usually take our son to daycare and pick him up at the end of the day, I usually give him breakfast in the morning, and I usually cook dinner at night. He has Type 1 Diabetes, so I have to do what is needed to care for that complicated disease.   

Because my wife trusts me to do these things with a level of competence, she is thriving in her career. When the daycare calls and there is an issue with our son, I usually take care of it, not because my wife is a bad mother, but because she is an hour away, and I am 5 minutes away. In other words, my wife rarely has to take off from work or leave work early to care for our son during the workday.   

As an auditor who has to travel around the region quite a bit, if she was forced by circumstance (my absence) or choice (a belief that she parents better than me) to be the go-to parent for our son’s needs, her career would suffer. Neither her boss nor her clients would be able to count on her to be where she needs to be, when she needs to be there.  

Furthermore, when she comes home from work, she doesn’t have to do all the housework and childcare by herself. We work together; she lets me contribute even though I do things differently. Thus, she is able to focus not just on “housekeeping,” but on being a mommy.  

You may be thinking that moms obviously want help from dads. I think you are right, but it is part of human nature that we don’t always behave in a way that will get us what we really want. For example, mom wants dad to help at bath time, but vehemently criticizes him for using too much soap, so he is now reluctant to ever help at bath time again (this is a true story).  

So, the key then is to help moms align their desires (more help from dad so she can thrive at home and work) with their behaviors (acting as gateways to father involvement rather than gatekeepers) so that moms, dads, and most importantly, kids, are getting what they need.  

understanding dadWell, NFI has “an app” for that. We just launched a new line of products and services designed to help mothers support father involvement.  

Based on feedback from hundreds of organizations around the country using NFI’s signature fatherhood programs, the new materials will help mothers successfully navigate their relationships with the fathers of their children. Specifically, it will give moms the knowledge and skills they need to effectively communicate with the fathers of their children and to understand the critical role fathers play in children’s lives. Understanding Dad™: An Awareness and Communication Program for Moms is the flagship curriculum anchoring this new initiative.  

This is just another way that NFI is responding to what is happening in our culture with practical, timely solutions that move people from inspiration (something needs to be done!) to implementation (here is an actual program that we can start using today!).

Question: What do you think is the most difficult thing about parenting? 

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photo credit: Victor1558

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

State of the Union Address: Fatherhood on the Agenda

obama state of the union“And we’ll work to strengthen families by removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples, and doing more to encourage fatherhood – because what makes you a man isn’t the ability to conceive a child; it’s having the courage to raise one. Stronger families.  Stronger communities.  A stronger America.  It is this kind of prosperity – broad, shared, and built on a thriving middle class – that has always been the source of our progress at home.” -- President Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, 2/12/13

Not for the first time, President Barack Obama urged the nation to strengthen the institution of fatherhood. He also made the important connection between marriage and fatherhood; two forces that work together to strengthen families and the economy. 

The President’s timely comments ride on the heels of new research from the Pew Research Center (which we cited in a CNN.com op-ed on Monday) that shows that marriage is in decline, creating an enormous cultural and economic gap between those who marry and those who don’t. Thus, the President hit the nail on the head in tying the vibrancy of the middle class to the health of marriage.

The President has consistently voiced his support for responsible fatherhood, having formed the Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Task Force in 2007, of which former NFI president, Roland C. Warren, was part. NFI and Roland helped create this report on how the federal government can address fatherhood issues.

For NFI’s part, we are inspired to hear the leader of the free world choose to take time out of his most important speech to voice his support for fatherhood and marriage. Twenty four million children grow up in biological father-absent homes today, and we don’t have a fatherless child to spare!

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photo credit: white house

What Remains After a Father Leaves

This is a guest post by Lori E. Allan. Lori's poem, "Absence" won first place in the Dudley Randall poetry competition at the University of Detroit Mercy. The poem talks about the struggle and disappointment that comes with the absence of a father. Below is the story behind the poem, followed by the first-place poem. You can find Lori here and here. If you are interested in guest blogging for us, send an email.

emptyframesmedium resized 600Many people deal with the absence of their father differently. My parents got divorced when I was four and that was the last time my father was around and was in contact with my siblings and I. My mother was so strong so I never thought of the separation as a bad thing. We were okay. I held on to God and sought him out for guidance, provision, and truth. Surprisingly, it never really hit me until I got older. There are certain things in life that a father should be there for. I was accomplishing so much and doing so well in my endeavors. I was eager to know how much more knowledgeable I would be if my father was around. I made so many decisions based on what I thought a father figure would want me to do and it got me pretty far, but I was missing out on the tangibility of a father.

Most of the people I went to school with in Detroit didn’t have a father around either and it was obvious. People cling to different things to fill that void without knowing it and it’s scary. I definitely saw that things would be easier on my mother if she had someone to raise us with. A father to be there financially, emotionally, and just someone strong to go through life with would have been amazing for her and she deserved it. I do understand that things didn’t work out and he wasn’t the right guy, but I have a hard time understanding how someone wouldn’t want to be the right guy. I co-taught a first grade class and they brought me so much joy! I couldn’t fathom how someone would ever want to miss out on everything you can learn from a child.

The fact that I am becoming the woman God wants me to be and that I am coming out of this situation the way that I am amazes me. I knew that I was in a very vulnerable position as a woman growing up without a father. It made me very cautious when dating. I had a pretty good idea of how I should be treated, but I needed an example from a father. It is so important for a guy to see the relationship you have with your father. I used my relationship with my Heavenly Father to fill that and I wasn’t always a good steward in my relationship with God. God has heard, “you aren’t enough” from me plenty of times. But in the end, He really was and has been. He’s been there through everything: scraped knees, graduations, sick days, performances, and heartbreaks. He’ll be there when I get married and when I have a child one day.

I have no hard feeling towards my dad. I realized that you can’t make someone be a father and everyone isn’t cut out to be one. Who knows, maybe things are better this way. I just really hope that wherever he is, he’s a man and he’s growing. Not for me, but for himself. Though God has done far more than I could ever ask think or imagine, it would have never hurt to have two fathers. My relationship with God is a special one and I couldn’t have asked for a better father.

My poem, "Absence" won first place in the Dudley Randall poetry competition at the University of Detroit Mercy. The poem talks about the struggle and disappointment that comes with the absence of a father. It isn’t about anger; it is about unanswered questions and voids that will linger on. A father will always be thought about and he will always be needed. His absence is more present than anything else in the whole world.  

Absence 
by Lori E. Allan

Empty in the photos
is the shape of a man
who has left a void
of himself.

The strength of his arms
lifted the glass
apart from the frame
as he climbed out of the situation.

Behind the bars,
I am confined within
the seventy-two percent
of African-American children raised
in single-parent homes.

Struggle is the only thing
that shows up
in the house we live in,
the food we eat,
the look in my mother’s eyes.

Despite the chasm,
I can still hear the way he says my name.
He had a photographer’s urge
to stop and capture a moment
and never developed the photo.

The void is tangible;
I hold it in my hands
and wonder if there is
a significant difference
between who I am
and who I could have been
because of what he could have been—
a father.

I house his vacancy in a cautious frame,
passing it by when I have what I need
and climbing inside when I see that I don’t.

It is a black and white photo
that I see in color.
In his absence,
I see it all. 

 

photo credit: Viewminder

 

Throwback Thursday: Keith Urban Understands Romance—Do You?!

keith urban idol country music dadThis week we have reached the perfect connection in romance and social media! Not only is today #ThrowbackThursday; but it's also Valentines' Day! We have a blog post from back in the day about Keith Urban and his view of...guess what? Marriage! That makes this #ThrowbackThursday post the perfect romantic post for Valentine's Day! Because what's more romantic than a celebrity who knows that loving his wife more than his kids is ok? Answer: nothing. Nothing is more romantic! Happy Valentine's Day, parents!

From the American Idol page:
Keith Urban has sold more than 15 million albums, is a four-time Grammy Award winner, and has won a People's Choice and American Music Award.He's won five Academy of Country Music Awards and had 14 No. 1 songs, including 28 Top 5 hits. In 2012, he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. His latest CD, "Get Closer," comes on the heels of his fifth consecutive platinum or multi-platinum release. It has produced three consecutive No. 1 singles: "You Gonna Fly," "Long Hot Summer" and "Without You."

From our throwback blog post on Keith Urban, Loving Your Spouse More Than Your Kids:
Urban recently revealed in an interview that he loves Nicole more than their two children. To do justice to what he said, I have copied the entire quote here:

"We're very, very tight as a family unit and the children are our life, but I know the order of my love. It's my wife and then my daughters. I just think it's really important for the kids...There are too many parents who start to lose the plot a little and start to give all their love to the kids, and then the partner starts to go without. And then everybody loses. As a kid, all I needed to know was that my parents were solid. Kids shouldn't feel like they are being favoured. It's a dangerous place."

We at NFI think what Urban said is worth repeating—perhaps today would be a great day to show your wife that she is more important to you than anything in the world—even more important than the kids!

We commented in the throwback blog post:
But research seems to back Urban's mentality. Generally speaking, the most important relationship in the home is the one between mom and dad. As Urban states, if their relationship fails, everyone loses. While we don't yet have research that shows specifically that marriages in which the spouses love each other more than the kids produce "better kids," we do know that kids who grow up in married homes do better, on average, across every measure of child well-being. We also know that divorce is not good for children. We also know that parents who are married to each other are closer to each other and to their kids than parents in any other family structure. Put that all together, and what Urban says looks pretty good.

What's one thing you will do today to show your spouse takes priority over your kids?

 

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photo credit: jeaneeem

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