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The Father Factor

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A Father’s Last Wish

Childbirth is, without doubt, the most miraculous event of a father’s life. Whether he’s a new dad or experienced papa, being part of helping to create a new life is a tremendous gift and honor for any father. Unfortunately, Mark Aulger won’t be able to experience any more births or spend time with his children as they grow. However, Mr. Aulger was able to see his youngest child come into the world just as his own life was coming to an end.

Texas parents Mark and Diane Aulger had been raising a family of four together while awaiting the birth of the fifth baby. Mark was diagnosed with colon cancer last April, with his health reaching critical levels in last month. After a final diagnosis gave Mark just days to live, the father asked for one last wish to hold his baby. Bravely, his wife underwent C-section surgery in order to honor her husband’s wishes. Baby Savannah was born on January 18, right next to her father.

Weak from the cancer, Mark was only able to hold his child for moments at a time. Just days later, Mark slipped into a coma and eventually passed away on January 23 – fighting for as long as he could to see his baby girl. Mark and Diane’s devotion to each other is touching and while saddened, the family is determined to keep dad’s name alive. “We're living day-to-day as if dad's still here," Diane said. "We know dad is here with us. They [the children] talk to dad. Mark was a very funny, funny dad.”

It is amazing to witness the strength of Diane Aulger, as she has to raise five children on her own. It is equally touching to see that as a father, Mark Aulger left behind a legacy worth upholding. That his family won’t dare forget the man and what he represented speaks volumes to what he meant as a father to his family. One photo (which can be seen here) shows the entire family surrounding their dad as baby Savannah rests on his chest. The photo perfectly captures how much they loved the man.

While his family may wish Mark was still here to continue his duties as a dad, they made his untimely passing as comfortable as they could. Giving Mark his dying wish, the Aulgers can rest well knowing they will continue honor him the best way they know how.

Cute Baby Videos And Cruel Comments Don’t Go Well Together

The Internet, especially the fast moving realm of social media, has given thousands of people a voice they once never had. The Web grants us access into a person’s life by way of keeping tabs on the various social media tools, to homepages, and the ever-present pool of words known as blogs. The voiceless can now be heard or seen without fear of censorship or retribution. In the case of folks leaving comments on blogs and YouTube sites, this could be seen as both a gift and a curse.

Daddy blogs, such as the clever Fatherhood Is, clearly knows how to poke fun at the learning curve of a new dad with comedic flair. The man behind the blog, Adam Brown, is a new dad of twins Greyson and Charlotte. His blog is possibly my favorite of the many daddy blogs around.

One particular funny video Brown placed on his site features his baby girl Charlotte. In the video, Brown makes a razzing noise that frightens little Charlotte, thus causing her eyes to cutely and comically widen. In just a scant two weeks since the video’s release, it has garnered over a million and a half views on YouTube (the clip is definitely a family favorite in my home).

While nothing more than a harmless game of dad being silly with his baby (which some dads do), it appears that the Internet-famous and now-viral clip is subject to mean critics who seem to relish in levying nasty and offensive comments. Using the cover of the keyboard, these individuals have heaped on opinions about Brown’s parenting style and even resorted to calling his baby unattractive.

Brown doesn’t seem bothered by the comments, but was self-aware enough to put up a following post that highlighted some of the mean remarks people made. Sidestepping the negativity, Brown even pondered on his post whether or not Charlotte’s twin brother would be jealous of his sister’s growing fame. Humor is a great shield for one to wield in this world we live in. Learning how to laugh when most would resort to defensive anger diffuses negativity much easier than meeting it head on.

I love a cute baby video just as much as anyone else. I really enjoyed this video of the babies tasting lemons for the first time. However, it pains me to witness people using words to hurt a dad who simply wanted to share the world a precious and cute moment between he and his newborn. Cute baby videos and cruel comments don’t go together and if you can’t say something nice, to borrow from the old adage, try not saying anything at all.

Cleveland Indians Player Chris Perez Is Lucky To Have His Dad

It seems par for the course that fathers seek to bond with their kids – especially boys – playing the age-old game of catch, whether with a football or baseball. There’s something innate about that activity between fathers and sons; perhaps it’s an instinctive reminder for Dad that he once did this with his own dad – or at least wished he had. It’s something I definitely wished I shared with my own dad.

When I read the tale of MLB All-Star pitcher Chris Perez, and how he and his dad Tim bonded over Chris’ inclusion in the big name lineup last year, I confess I felt a tinge of envy. However, I’m glad to see that there are sons who look up to and value their dads even as they trudge along into adulthood and families of their own.

Perez shared with sports website The Bleacher Report on how he gifted his father with his 2011 All-Star ring, making it five sizes larger so that his dad could wear it.

Perez on the trying to surprise his father with the ring:

“Before entering the brunch, they handed out All-Star rings. When I picked mine up, they asked me to try it on. (I already had planned to give the ring to my Dad, so I had told them to make the ring 5 sizes too big for me.) My Dad was right next to me and noticed how big it was on me. I tried to play it off, but he kept making a deal about it.

Flash forward to after the game, my family and I are relaxing back in the hotel, and I pulled out the ring and gave it to him. He was shocked/surprised/happy/speechless. I couldn't think of anyone else that deserved the ring more than him; he's the reason I love the game, and the reason I became an All-Star.”

Chris Perez didn’t enter the game last year at the Midsummer Classic, but it’s a neat story showing that no matter how old you are as a son, you always want to please and gain the respect of your dad. Sometimes it’s tough to show our dads how much we love and adore them as adults, but I know as I speak for myself and other fathers that it never gets redundant to know that your children love you.

Tim Perez summed up his feelings about getting the ring from his son in a quick interview last summer. “I wasn't expecting it. We were in the room, and Chris just said 'I want to give you something,'" Tim Perez said to the Bradenton Herald. "My first reaction was, 'Son this is your ring. And he says 'No, dad, I wouldn't here without you.' I wasn't expecting anything. I was just a dad supporting his son.”

Tim Perez and his amazing humility is the very reason why fatherhood has to return to the forefront of the conversation when talking about combating societal ills. When a father does the right thing for his children, they become adults who respect the value and importance of what it means to be a dad when their time comes to be handed the torch.

Sure, I may pine for a time for my dad and I to have a similar bonding experience and I still have my baseball glove and ball from when I was 12 years old at the ready. Hopefully one day soon, my dad and I will have a moment to share and call our own just like Tim and Chris Perez.

Until then, I can only admire them from afar.

Are you an Angry Dad? If not, well maybe you should be!

A few nights ago, while I was doing my P90X workout (yes, that’s a shameless plug.), I decided to check out the latest “The Simpsons” episode on Hulu. Ironically, the title of the show was “Angry Dad: The Movie,” so I knew that I was in for a treat…not. You see, The Simpsons show has made millions for decades “buffoonorizing” dads in the form of Homer Simpson. Thanks to the show’s handy work, when millions of adults and kids are asked to name a TV dad, Homer is sure the top the list. Not Cliff Huxtable. Homer.

Let’s face it. When it comes to TV dads, we have gone from “Father Knows Best” to father knows nothing. The vast majority of dads on TV, in series or commercials, are portrayed as dumb, dangerous or disaffected. Generally, fathers are not just the butt of the joke, they are the butt…

In any case, in the episode, an executive visited the Simpson home because he came across an animated cartoon that Bart created titled “Angry Dad,” which chronicled Homer’s immature antics. The executive thought this cartoon was great, so much so that he convinced a Hollywood studio to make it into a movie. So, the family headed to Hollywood to get it done. Interestingly, as Bart and the executive were heading in to see the movie producers, the executive assured him that the movie had real potential. In fact, he said, “Everyone has an angry dad…even me.” And then the scene showed a flashback 'thought bubble' of the executive’s dad yelling at him as a small boy.

Well, it turned out that the executive was right. The Angry Dad movie won a Golden Globe and an Oscar, of course, with Homer playing the part of the angry and inconsiderate dad through each award show.

Now, I like a good joke as much as anyone. After all, I recently blogged about my deep affection for the much-maligned fanny pack. But, I really think that there is a problem here, especially since the show's success is built upon the notion of the “idiot” dad that is so prevalent and damaging in our culture. Indeed, media has power to shape norms, attitudes and behaviors. (Just think about how many glee clubs have formed recently due to the success of “Glee.”) Also, it’s worth noting that in our recent national survey of fathers called “Pop’s Culture,” dads cited media/pop culture as the second biggest obstacle to good fathering.

Moreover, as I have watched the show over the years, I have detected a very clear pattern. If you rank the characters based on who is responsible and competent, the list goes like this:

1. Marge
2. Lisa
3. Maggie (a non speaking infant)
4. Bart
5. Homer
6. Abe (Homer’s father)

Interestingly, in a non-fiction book called “The Psychology of The Simpsons: D'oh!,” which analyzed the psychological themes in the show, authors Alan Brown, Ph.D. and Chris Logan described Abe Simpson as follows:

“Abe has the least amount of "power" in the Simpson family, and he is treated as little more than a child and is often ignored.”

D’oh! Indeed. And, come to think of it, the one dad on the show that really cares about his kids, Ned Flanders, is often made to look like an idiot as well, even by Homer.

So, before the legions of The Simpsons fans tell me that I am overacting and “Don’t have a cow, man,” I need to hear from the fathers. Are you an angry dad? I wasn’t before watching this The Simpson episode. Now…I am not so sure.

The Toy Story Dad…What's His Story?

This past weekend, my family and I went to see "Toy Story 3." Wow. What a great movie! The dialogue was clever and humorous. The characters and the plot were compelling and entertaining, and the movie has a wonderfully engaging blend of drama and comedy. My sense is that the Toy Story series has run its course. If so, the creators of the series ended on a very high note.

However, there was one aspect of the movie that left me a bit "animated." The plot builds around the fact that Andy, who is now 17, has lost interest in playing with Woody, Buzz and the gang. Accordingly, the urgent crisis for the toys is what would become of them now that Andy would soon be heading off to college.

At one point, there is a scan of Andy's desk and you see a picture from his recent high school graduation. There are three smiling faces: Andy, his sister and his mom. So, for me, the stuffed elephant in the living room was...Where is Andy's dad and what's his story?

Now, I know that this is just a movie, but, unfortunately, art can imitate life. With 24 million kids living in father-absent homes, Andy's family situation is too real and too common for too many children. Nonetheless, this was not an accident or an oversight. Somewhere during the creative process someone made the call to erase dad. Moreover, he was deleted and no reference was made to him. And, well, I am just not comfortable with this new normal.

Interestingly, there was a scene in the movie where I got a sense that Andy was not too comfortable with this either. Near the end of the film, Andy is holding Woody for what will probably be the last time and he says that Woody is his most special toy and that he has been with him for as long as he can remember. He added that Woody was always there for him and, best of all, Woody would never give up on him, no matter what.

Now, you can dismiss this like so much "psycho babble," but it seems to me that Andy, through his imagination and play, ascribed to Woody the attributes of an involved, responsible, and committed father. And, if you followed the Toy Story series, this is exactly how Woody behaved. He was always focused on being there for Andy regardless of the challenges and obstacles. Interestingly, the magic that made Woody a "real" toy was his commitment to Andy, just like what makes a man a real father is his commitment to his children.

In fact, if anyone ever questioned his priorities and purpose, Woody was quick to show them the word "ANDY" written on the sole of his shoe in permanent marker. What an amazing metaphor for what happens to a man when he becomes a dad. I have heard numerous times from fathers how something changed inside of them when they held their child for the first time. Well, I think that children are born with "magic" markers and when their dads hold them for the first time, they write their names on their dad’s souls to remind their fathers who they belong to.

I guess that's why I am a bit troubled by no reference or mention of Andy's dad. Because for all of the real “Andys” in the world, their history is linked to their destiny as men and as fathers. Accordingly, they have to come to grip with and make sense of their father's absence in a real way. And there is no erasing that.

See how National Fatherhood Initiative works with entertainment media projects to promote their fatherhood messages: www.fatherhood.org/entertainment

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?

French Laundry Father

Today's New York Times carries the poignant story of father absence and reconciliation. Noted French Laundry chef Thomas Keller was only five years old when his father left his family. Years later father Ed and son Thomas started a relationship that had been basically nonexistent.

When the elder Keller had a serious car accident that left him paralyzed, Thomas Keller and longtime companion Laura Cunningham embarked on a year of care giving alongside their busy lives as food industry celebrities and authors. The impact of that renewed relationship had remarkable effects on Keller's professional and personal life. I'd recommend reading the entire story, but I found this quote about Thomas and his father's reconciliation quite vivid:

"It turns out that genetics do matter. Thomas Keller discovered that he was like his father in many ways, not the least of which was his height. The two shared a strong sense of economy, an appreciation of routine and the understanding of how powerful teamwork can be..."

You Only Get One Chance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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