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Dads Playbook Podcast with NFL quarterback, Mark Brunell. Week 8: Having a great marriage

Welcome to the eighth installment of our 10-week podcast series, "Dads Playbook, featuring NFL quarterback Mark Brunell."

We know from research that children do best, on average, when they grow up with two, married parents. We also know that, on average, children with married parents have closer relationships with both their mothers and fathers than children whose parents are not married. In other words, the institution of marriage is pivotal in helping both moms and dads give their children what they need.

Let's hear what Mark has to say about how his marriage has helped him be the best dad he can be for this kids.

Click here to download the podcast on Mark’s game plan for being an All-Star Dad when it comes to making the most of your marriage.

A Mom's Perspective: Appreciating an Involved Husband

I got coffee last week with a friend of mine – a woman who’s a few years older than me, married, and a stay-at-home mom of three young kids, including a 4-month-old. I love talking with this lady and hearing about her life. As a single working woman, I appreciate getting perspective on a different lifestyle than my own.

My friend asked me to tell her more about what I do with National Fatherhood Initiative. As I explained our mission and work, she shared that she has recently experienced how much of a difference having an involved father makes for her as a mom.

She said her husband sometimes didn’t seem to know how to be involved with the kids when they first became parents – largely because his own father had not contributed much to housework or childcare – but now that they’re on kid #3, he’s really shown a lot of initiative. Especially during her difficult pregnancy, he had to do pretty much everything in the home and for the two children. His wife expressed how much she appreciated that he has cheerfully taken on extra responsibility.

My friend said that three great things have happened because her husband is helping more with the kids and the housework. #1 Their marriage is stronger. She is more attracted to him and has more energy to spend time with him. #2 Their home is more peaceful. She doesn’t have to constantly be giving directions – “Okay, this needs to be taken care of right now,” “Honey, can you brush the kids’ teeth?” – because he is noticing and doing things that need to be done. #3 The kids have a closer relationship with their dad. Instead of constantly going to Mom for what they want, they have started choosing Dad to help them or play with them.

I know, theoretically, that all of those things happen when dads are more involved. Everything my friend said was in synch with what NFI’s research has shown. And, as a daughter, I know that having an involved dad made a huge impact in my life. But it was really neat to hear a first-hand perspective from a mom/wife on how much she values the support she has from her husband and how their family benefits from his involvement as a dad.

Moms, how has your husband made a difference in your family by becoming more involved in helping around the house and taking care of the kids? What do you appreciate most about him?

Who Needs Marriage?

From Renae Smith, NFI's Special Assistant to the President.

magazine’s recent cover article titled "Marriage: What's It Good For?" poses an interesting question. In an age when marriage has become much less important for both men and women to have companionship, security, professional success, respect, sex, or to conceive children, then who needs it?

The article, citing a new Time/Pew Research Center poll, reported that 39% of people think that marriage is becoming obsolete. That seems a little contradictory to their strong opinions about the importance of marriage to parenting.
  • 69% said it’s bad for society that more single women are having children without a male partner. (Only 4% said it was good.)
  • 43% said it’s bad that more unmarried couples are raising children (compared to 10% who thought this trend was good.)
  • 77% think it’s easier for married people to raise a family than single people.
People also think that the link between marriage and parenting is important for them personally.
  • 90% of men think that being a good mother is an important quality for a good wife; 93% of women think that being a good father is an important part of being a good husband.
  • 74% of men think that a good wife should put family before anything else; 82% of women think that a good husband should prioritize family first.
This is encouraging news, but forget, for a moment, about what the adults think is good for society or good for them personally. Let’s talk about what’s good for the ones who are affected most by the presence or absence of marriage – children.

Research clearly shows that children who live with married parents fare better, on average, than children in other family structures on measures of child well-being – academically, financially, emotionally, physically, and socially. Why? The data on the impact of father involvement on the well-being of children holds part of the answer. The number one way to guarantee that a father will be consistently present in his children’s lives is for him to be married to their mother.

Jennifer Braceras’s response in the Boston Herald to Time’s question “What is marriage good for?” tells us that “we have forgotten that marriage is not just about adult happiness, but also about the responsibilities of parenthood and preparing future generations to thrive and succeed.”

Roland C. Warren, president of National Fatherhood Initiative, answers a similar question, "Are fathers necessary?", by saying “ask the kids.”

Before dismissing marriage as obsolete, we need to ask who needs it most. The answer: children. Children’s profound need for the daily, long-term presence of their own mothers and fathers in their lives will never become obsolete.

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.

Guest post: Porn - You're Not the Only One

This is a guest post from author Angus Nelson about a topic many fathers struggle with, but few talk about.

Can you imagine sitting across from your children telling them you’d failed them and mommy because of the fantasies you’d concocted while getting carpal tunnel in front of the blue glow of a computer monitor?

These are the things no man would ever wish to endure... yet, that doesn’t stop us from contributing to a $13 billion dollar enterprise called porn.

It’s everywhere isn’t it? No matter where you go, you’re susceptible to viewing images that stimulate a very real and human nature. Worse yet, we’re designed to respond to it. How are we supposed to resist something so very... normal? Well, that’s the problem. There are people in the world that thrive on manipulating you to fill their wallet.

If you’re addicted to porn, here’s what I know about you: You don’t like yourself. You struggle with relationships. You have issues with stress, shame, and/or false expectations placed upon yourself or by others.

I’m here to tell you, “YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY ONE.”

Porn cost me everything. I lost my marriage, my business, my passion, and drive due to this corrosive habit. I know what it’s like to struggle and fail... time and time again. Porn is a crappy habit to kick.

But here's the deal - the real question is not, "How do I stop?" The gut level question is, "What am I willing to do to stop?"

How you answer that question will determine how successful you'll be at quitting.

Here are some steps to consider for recovery:

1. TALK about it with someone you trust
The more you can talk about it, the more you can heal. Just like a mold, if it’s left in the dark it will grow. Get this poison out into the light and address your need for accountability, confession, and forgiveness of self. Whether it's a friend, mentor, Pastor, or addiction group, find what you're comfortable with.

2. Cut it off/Stop the bleeding
You can get as extreme as trashing your TV or computer. You can install software that filters web surfing or blocks images completely. You can dump your cable. Only you know what’s going to work for you... but you HAVE TO BE REALLY HONEST WITH YOURSELF. Stop procrastinating and turn it off.

3. Pound your brain with good stuff
So many times, our self-worth is turned to mush in the abuses of porn. We feel bad, do bad, then feel worse only to do worse... a never-ending cycle. This is an opportunity for you to dive in headlong into reading self-help type books. Exclude the entertainment that only serves to aggravate you: news, talk radio, or horror flicks - KEEP POSITIVE STUFF ON THE BRAIN.

4. Search out your spiritual center
For me, my Christian faith helped me understand what God says about me, and I let that marinate in my brain. Since God loves me, I should love myself. Find the spiritual discipline that will help you understand your worth.

Keep it easy and achievable until you’re ready for the next level. Once you’re ready for that, there are resources you can explore - the internet is filled with help you can access.

You can start here with my story:

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

The Intended Consequences of an Old Spaniard

A few days ago, I asked my father-in-law how he met his wife. He told me that he was in the Air Force stationed in San Antonio and a buddy invited him to go to dance. His wife, who was in nursing school, attended the dance as well along with some of her friends. He saw her. They danced. They talked. And, he was smitten instantly and they started dating.

He also offered that soon thereafter she finished nursing school and moved back home to live with her parents in a little south Texas town called Mission. Since he was still stationed in San Antonio, he would make the long ride to see her every weekend that he could. Well, after a few trips to her home, he received a long letter from her father, who he called, “the Old Spaniard.” Interestingly, the letter was written in Castilian, which is formal Spanish and, although my father-in-law was fluent in Spanish, he needed help to translate it. In any case, he told me that the letter—despite its length—asked him a simple question: “What are your intentions with my daughter?”

He told me that he was not surprised by the question and, actually, he expected to be asked it at some point. Therefore, he knew that he needed to answer this important question well and quickly if he was to continue to see his beloved. So, on his next trip to Mission, he was on a “mission,” and he sat down with the Old Spaniard and told him that he planned to marry his daughter. And, he did.

Since this conversation with my father-in-law, I have thought often about the power and the purpose of the Old Spaniard’s question and how it forced my father-in-law to be publicly accountable for his intentions. The Old Spaniard wanted to make sure early that my father-in-law didn’t think that his daughter was an “amusement park” and he had a free ticket to ride. Nope, there were not going to be any “unintended consequences” because admission to his daughter’s heart came with a specific price the needed to be paid in advance.

Sadly, today too many fathers aren’t “Old Spaniards” and I believe that their daughters and their sons are worse off for it. Consequently, if you ask dating couples about their relationships and intentions, they tend to use terms like we’re “hanging out,” “chillin,” or “just kickin’ it.” Or, they will say that “we are just friends with benefits.” One of the problems is that these “benefits” too often turn into children who need good parents with firm intentions about raising them. Just imagine how few unintended pregnancies and unloved children there would be if more fathers asked the simple question that the Old Spaniard did.

Case and point, a few years ago, I counseled a couple who had gotten pregnant as college seniors. They were having big problems because the father was essentially abandoning his responsibilities and moving on with his life, while the mother was at risk to not graduate. Not surprisingly, the mother was furious.

As I began having conversations with them separately, it quickly became apparent that there was not, and never been, an Old Spaniard involved. You see, they were having premarital sex. However, she always believed that the father was the kind of guy who would marry her and build a family if they got pregnant, but this was never his intention. And, he thought that she was the kind of girl who would quickly get an abortion if she got pregnant, but this was never her intention. Now, they were both in a difficult long-term parenting relationship that neither wanted--whether they intended to have it or not.

The "Sorry" Language of Love

In 1970, the buzz in Hollywood was about the romantic movie Love Story. The movie was nominated for 7 Academy Awards and made stars and household names of the young actors Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw. Even if you haven’t seen the movie or don’t have it in your Netflix queue, you have most likely heard the famous line that MacGraw’s character uttered early in the film: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Now, I was preteen when I first heard this line and even then it didn’t sound quite right. Granted, I didn’t know much about relationships and romance but I had done enough wrong to those that I loved to detect a flaw in the logic—despite the poetry of the line. Sadly, I must dispute the words of philosopher William James who once said: “There’s nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it.” Unfortunately, given the power of pop culture and pop psychology, I think that many have embraced this absurd and convenient retort, especially those who have trouble with mea culpa.

I was reminded again of this line a few days ago when I came across a book by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas called: The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationship. You may be familiar with Chapman from his many books on “the five love languages” where he asserts that we generally like to receive love in one of five ways: acts of service, receiving gifts, words of affirmation, quality time or physical touch. The problem is that we usually give love in the manner that we like to receive it and this may not be the right love language for one that we are seeking to love. In short, it’s the receiver, not the giver, who determines if an act is loving.

In any case, Chapman and Thomas have developed a similar model for the language of apology. They argue, rather convincingly, that an apology, just like giving love, is not really effective unless it’s expressed in terms appropriate for the receiver. Below are the languages of apology that they have discovered:
  • Expressing regret: “I’m sorry” may be the first words expressed in this apology language but you will need to clearly express what you are sorry for. For example, if you inappropriately spoke harshly to one of your kids and this is their language, you will need to be specific and say, “I am sorry that I lost my temper and raised my voice at you.”

  • Accepting responsibility: This apology begins with the words “I was wrong” and then explains what was wrong with your behavior. For example, you would say to your spouse that you were wrong for not planning well enough to get home in time to pick up your children from school.

  • Making restitution: This apology language is focused on “making it right.” So, if you forget someone’s birthday, and this is his or her language, you can’t just say that you’re sorry. With a person who speaks this language, what they really want to know is “Do you still love me? and making restitution helps assure them that you do.

  • Genuinely expressing a desire to change your behavior: This apology needs to be linked to a plan to keep the behavior from occurring again. If this is a loved one’s apology language, in their world, apologizing without a sincere desire and demonstrated behavior to change is not apologizing at all.

  • Requesting forgiveness: For someone who speaks this language, the words “Will you please forgive me?” are critical. In their mind, if you are sincere, you will ask to be forgiven.

I really believe that Chapman and Thomas are on to something here. A “love story” without apologies only happens in the movies. Indeed, love means always having to say you are sorry. Ironically, the title of the Love Story theme song, which won an Academy Award for best musical score, is “Where Do I Begin?” If you want to restore and/or maintain relationships with your spouse, the mother of your child, or your children, I suggest that you begin with an apology.

Of Princesses and First Ladies

In Roland's latest Washington Times column, he explores the idea that "a good father helps his daughter find her prince without kissing all the frogs" and how this is played out in Disney's upcoming movie, "The Princess and The Frog."

He also points out the father factor in the President and First Lady Obama's strong marriage.

You can read the full article here!

A Turn in Custody Battles?

Fathers have long complained that the post-divorce custody decision was slanted against them because they spent (or appeared to spend) more time working than actively parenting. In this recession, however, it seems that some working moms are experiencing the same phenomenon. A Working Mother magazine article profiled some working mothers who did not get as much custody as they had expected, and the New York Times followed up with another viewpoint.

Obviously custody battles often produce Pyrrhic victories, and one wishes they never had to occur. However, to make a fair decision about co-parenting responsibilities, judges need to consider a wide variety of factors about both mom and dad. Having moms get less custody time in some situations does not, by definition, mean the wrong decision has been made. What do you think?

Does marriage "work"?

This opinion piece on deals with the importance of marriage in raising healthy children. It cites the Obamas as a great example of a family enjoying the fruits of marriage.

I will not say much about the article itself, but about the comments at the bottom of the page. Whenever I see an article like this, touting the benefits of marriage, there are invariably "commentators" who say, "marriage does not work these days," or they cite all of the examples of bad/abusive marriages they have seen in their lives.

Two things come to my mind whenever I see such comments:
1) Let's assume that what these commentators say about marriage is true - that marriage does not work, that there are tons of bad marriages out there. Then how do you reconcile that with the fact that, despite all of this bad stuff, children with married parents still do better, on average, than children from the family structures that are replacing marriage? What does that imply about these replacement family structures?

2) That leads to my second thought -- why doesn't anyone ever make a comment like, "Cohabitation just does not work today." In other words, why doesn't anyone ever criticize the family structures that, according to decades of research, are actually failing children (on average of course)? After all, if marriage does not work, then cohabitation, by these commentators' very own standards, works even less - cohabiting relationships are less stable, last less time, have more child and partner abuse, etc.

It seems there are people who are so ideologically opposed to marriage that they have a huge blind spot when it comes to the faults of "replacement" family structures. Sure, marriage has its faults, but why pretend that whatever replaces it has none of the problems that marriage has and all of the benefits?

No baby mama for Obama

I was delighted to see this article in the September 22 USA Today about a new book on the marriage of Barack and Michelle Obama. Christopher Andersen, a former editor of People Magazine, who called his book “Barack and Michelle Obama—Portrait of an American Marriage,” interviewed more than 200 people to get the details.

Although I have yet to read the book, on the surface, this is really good stuff. Frankly, I have often been frustrated, especially with stories about the President that encourage young people, in particular African American boys, to emulate Obama’s modeling as a black man, and even as a black father, but are strangely silent on the need to follow his example as a black husband.

Interestingly, the President and I share a lot in common—we are both African American men raised by single mothers, who attended Ivy League schools and who married accomplished women who graduated from Princeton in 1985. Accordingly, I think that I am on pretty sound footing when I state that, like me, the reason that Obama has been able to break his legacy of father absence is not because of his professional and political success, but rather because he is married to Michelle. No baby mama for Obama. You see, good fathering, like real estate, is about location, location, location and the fact that Michelle is in the house—White House or otherwise—is key to Barack being the kind of father that he never had.

That said, I do have one “bone to pick” with Andersen’s characterization of the Obama’s relationship. He states, “They’re devoted to each other. It’s unique…” Actually, it’s not unique…it’s marriage. And lots of couples in the black community are doing the same thing. The problem is that the press spends more time covering black rappers than black weddings and often fails to highlight the benefits of black marriage—and marriage in general. No doubt this neglect has been instrumental in facilitating a pernicious self-fulfilling prophesy that has yielded 2 out of 3 black children living in father absent homes.

Finally, I sincerely hope that in his book Andersen spent as much time chronicling the benefits that Michelle has received from being married to Barack. This article, like most that I have seen, focuses on the benefits that Barack has received. (e.g. “She is the reason he is where he is,” the author says.) I have been happily married for 27 years and I know first hand that a good marriage is about giving and receiving. Over the years, I’ve had women friends who weren’t big on marriage or who had children with guys who clearly weren’t marriage material say, “I can do bad all by myself.” Accordingly, I think that it’s essential that women hear from the First Lady that “you can do pretty darn well with him too.” No doubt, this is the way she feels. Just look at the portrait on Andersen’s book cover.

Life's "Little" Interruptions

My life was interrupted yesterday. I was all set to head to work when I got a call from my wife. She told me that she was not feeling well and was heading for the emergency room. She said not to worry but asked that I get there as soon as I could. So, I grabbed my briefcase, etc. and headed out.

By the time I got to the hospital, she was already in a room and was hooked up to a few machines and an IV. They had already started to run some tests to check her blood. After an hour or so, the doctor came in and told us that the test results were fine and it turned out that she was having a bad reaction to some medicine that she was taking to settle her stomach. This was certainly great news and I have to admit, being a “man of action,” I instinctively checked my watch to see how long before I could get back to my “regularly scheduled programming.”

Just then, a nurse rushed into the room and told us that we needed to move to another room quickly because they needed this one for a patient in critical condition that was on an ambulance in route. Moments after we settled in the new room, the PA began to blare “code blue” this and “code red” that. It all sounded like a foreign language to me but not to my wife, who quickly grew somber. She is a family practice doctor and she decoded the announcement and told me that the incoming critically ill patient was a small child, probably a baby. We said a quiet prayer…

Soon there was a storm of activity of rushing feet, urgent commands that nearly muffled the wailing of the mother of the child. However, almost as quickly, it was silent again—sort of an eerie hush. So I decided to leave our room to see what was happening. As I approached our old room, the curtain was pulled back just far enough for me to see him…a little baby boy no more than 6 months old laying on an oversized gurney. He just looked adorable laying there. He had the cutest little face with a small tuft of blond hair tumbling gently on his forehead. And, he looked so peaceful—almost as if he was sleeping—but he wasn’t…his day had been interrupted.

It’s been a long time since I have been this close to someone who was dead. And, I have never been this close to a death so quick and so young. It was really difficult to take it all in and I could not help but to think back to how my day started and the “interrupting” call that I received…and the one that the father of this little boy received. Like me, I am sure that he had a day planned with lots of “important” stuff too. Now, he had to come to terms with a painful loss, an interruption of life-changing proportion.

Over the years, I have been fond of reminding dads—rather “tongue in cheek”—that what makes you a dad is that you have kids. Otherwise, you’re just a guy. But I had not really thought about what it means to be a dad in this situation. How does one view his identity as a father in light of the death of his child, especially one so young? Does one wrestle with a sense that he is now a dad in name only? I don’t know.

But I do know a few things for sure. First, 6 months, 6 weeks, 6 days, 6 minutes and 6 seconds before this father received the call, he had hopes and dreams of many “firsts” to share with his son that will never happen. Second, I know first hand as a father that despite the joy and blessing that babies are, at times, they place demands on us and they often interrupt our sleep, our plans and our life. Finally, I know that this father, as he cradles his little guy in his arms for the very last time, will look into his son’s face and think…I would give just about anything for another chance to pardon his interruptions.

The Other Casualties of War

Relationships. Families. Those are the casualties of war that you don't see in the news everyday.

USA Today had an insightful, emotional article today - Troops' Families Feel Weight of War. It profiles several different families as they struggle to reintegrate after not just one, but several deployments.

NFI and Lockheed Martin's 2009 Military Fatherhood Awardee, QMC John Lehnen of the U.S. Navy, said something so telling at this year's award ceremony: The hardest part...when you're gone...your family grows without come home to strangers.

That's exactly what this article is saying. One of the military fathers profiled is having a hard time reconnecting to his teenage son, and his son is acting out:
Scott, at 15, says his dad still seems to treat him like the 12-year-old he was before the last combat tour.

He says he loves his father and is proud of his military service but feels distant from him and often finds it easier to just leave the house and go skateboarding...

One a recent Sunday, before his father left on a trip, Scott suddenly threw his arms around his dad and hugged. "I didn't know what to do," Mark says. Father and son had shed that kind of physical affection one or two combat tours ago. "I lost that connection," Mark concedes.
Military families sacrifice so much for our freedom, both on and off the combat field. After the war in Iraq started, NFI developed a suite of resources specifically for military dads, to make sure they are able to reconnect with their kids. And the response we've had to these resources is overwhelming - the Deployed Fathers and Families Guide is being used by ten of thousands of families in all branches of our armed forces. You can learn more at

There is hope; these families show an amazing resillience and commitment to making it work. And, if these families can make it work, almost anyone can.

Ignoring the data again ...

After the recent cover story in Time about the benefits of marriage for children and society, some have decided to attack the author and the idea that marriage is an institution worth preserving and encouraging.

This piece in The Nation by Katha Pollitt reads like a lot of sarcastic noise. While it is successful at being snarky, it, like most articles of its kind, ignores decades of social science research that show that marriage is best for children. The article ignores the data on the benefits of marriage and the negative effects of divorce and out-of-wedlock birth so that it does not have to confront, head on, a very simple idea - children do best when their parents get and stay married. If this is not the case, someone needs to produce a body of research that shows otherwise - I have not seen it yet.

This article, predictably, offers no data of its own, just meaningless comparisons to other countries (where, by the way, cohabitation is a completely different beast than it is here in the U.S.).

Pollitt also lists several other solutions to improving child well being that she says are more attainable than improving marriages or reducing divorces. You have to see the list for yourself, but the items are far from 'no-brainers' that could be easily implemented. For example, she says that we can achieve "Neighborhoods safe enough for kids to play outdoors and air clean enough so they don't get asthma." Needless to say, we have been trying to create safe neighborhoods and clean air for decades, to no avail (ironically, the cause of much neighborhood violence is fatherless boys acting out).

Would Pollitt give up as easily on the idea of creating safe neighborhoods as she does on strengthening marriage because it is "hard to do"?

Rethinking Responsibility

Our friends at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy yesterday released a wonderful compilation of mini-essays on the definition and shape of personal responsibility vis-a-vis unplanned pregnancy. "Rethinking Responsibility: Reflections on Sex and Accountability" surveyed 29 leaders for their thoughts on this critical issue.

NFI's own Roland Warren contributed an essay on the resounding benefits of putting a ring on it.

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