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The Father Factor:
Fatherhood Matters

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Multitasking: Good or Bad for Busy Dads and Families?

This is a post by Chris Brown, NFI's Executive Vice President.

We’ve known for years now that the “housework divide” between dads and moms has decreased with dads doing more of the workload than ever. This development is good news because NFI’s landmark national study on mothers’ attitudes about fathers and fathering called Mama Says found that moms want dads to help out more around the house. But what do we know about the impact of dads doing more in this world of dual-income families who always seem to be multitasking and on the go?

While this closing of gap seems on the surface to be a great development that should have a positive impact on dads, moms, and kids, a recent study reported in the L.A. Times suggests that this new picture of the dual-income American family isn’t quite as rosy as the data suggest. This two-year study examined 500 working mom-dad families from 8 urban and suburban communities. Researchers found that dads and moms did an equal amount of paid and unpaid work but that moms did more multitasking at home than did dads. Moreover, moms experienced more stress than dads about their perceived lack of attention to their families this multitasking requires. Dads, in fact, received a psychological boost from their ability to handle home and work tasks (super dad) while moms felt guilty about the divided attention this kind of multitasking requires.

What should we make of this data, and how should dads and moms respond in these families? A closer look at the study suggests that moms and dads should multitask together (e.g. wash dishes, do the laundry, take the kids to the grocery store). Dads and moms tended to gravitate to different activities with their kids—a sort of divide and conquer strategy. Dads engaged in more focused, fun, interactive activities with their children while moms focused on more routine childcare tasks and doing more of them at the same time. But when moms and dads worked together around the house it reduced the stress for both parents. It seems that dads should take a step back and ask what more they can do around the home together with moms, right? The article suggests as much, but I’m convinced the problem can't be resolved simply by dads and moms doing more work at home together, although that would certainly help.

I’m convinced that working moms and dads need to reduce multitasking. A recent spate of research suggests that multitasking isn’t all its cracked up to be. We’ve come to believe that multitasking makes us more effective when, in fact, it makes us less effective. It divides and conquers families. We’re much more effective and less stressed when we focus on doing one task at a time and doing it well whether at work or at home. Dads and moms can’t be as present and engaged with their kids and with each other when they multitask. Dads must ask not what more they can do, but what less can they and mom can do individually, together, and with their children.

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?

Hey Mom! Get Dad Involved with Back to School!

This week many families are prepping for, or even diving into the back-to-school grind. NFI recently contributed to Working Mother.com on advice for mom on getting dads involved this time of year.



If you are a Mom getting back into the swing of things, help ease the transition with these three tips below and then check out the full article!



Back-to-School tips for Mom!

Catch and Release: Like fishing, we have to let the kids go

This is a post by Evelyn Hines, NFI's Executive Assistant for Training and Technical Support. She and her husband have been married for 26 years and have three kids. She shares her memories of fishing with her daughter as part of NFI's campaign to "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer."

Before I came on board with NFI in 2001, my husband and I had taught our three kids to be expert fishermen and a fisherwoman. As our kids grow older, we know that one day we will have to let them go, like "catch and release" fishing, and let them explore other waters.

My oldest son caught a wonderful wife and got married last year. My 15-year-old son, Jacob, is obsessed with the Marines so we expect him to cast his net into the military in a couple of years. My daughter, Jesse (Jacob’s twin), proudly exclaims “spell my name like Jesse James – no ‘ie’ at the end.” Such a tough teen! She does not wear jewelry or makeup, and her favorite shoes are a pair of grey Converse high tops with blue laces. She still loves to fish with maggots, tie on weights, and can cast with a 20lb test monofilament line as good as the old timers. While she is concerned about reeling in a walleye, dad’s eyes are downcast because a young man may soon catch her heart.

We looked at her intently this Memorial Day on our annual fishing trip. She is such a free spirit. While the noon-day sun burnt us like a toaster gone awry, we noticed the tinge of glow to her skin and highlights that the sun added to her hair that comes to the middle of her back. She is blossoming into a level-headed, beautiful young woman. No one caught a fish on our trip this year. As her mom, I know it was an omen and not just a bad day without a good fish story.

Inevitably, a handsome man will catch her heart and take her away from her first love – her daddy. As her father, he may ask for fishing trips together with her and her family, but he will always be "second string."

She may one day catch a husband, but the hobby of fishing is something she can pass on from her dad as a legacy to her own children. I hope we catch fish with her on every occasion, especially when her daughter one day turns 15.

Guest Post: A Reason to Smile

This is a guest post by Sean DeFrehn, the husband of NFI's Manager of Outreach, Brittany DeFrehn. Sean and Brittany just became first-time parents to a beautiful baby girl.

Your Princess and Kissing Those Darn Frogs

I just finished reading a book called “A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue” by Wendy Shalit. Although the book was written in 1999, its wisdom is timeless. Indeed, it is quite remarkable to watch Shalit skillfully illustrate the troubling cultural messages being communicated to girls and young women about their bodies, sexuality and femininity. This book is still a must-read.

In any case, the book has caused me to think quite a bit about the role that fathers should play in protecting the innocence of their daughters and in helping them develop a healthy, resilient and positive self-image--a tall order indeed in a culture that increasingly seeks to sexualize our little girls. (We now have retailers that are making thong underwear for 11 year-olds and skinny jeans for toddlers.) My view has always been that a father’s role is to help his princess find her “prince” (i.e. her self worth) without “kissing all the frogs.” For sure, today the frogs are more plentiful and aggressive in their call…And the stakes are higher than ever and the consequences of poor decisions can be long lasting and quite dire.

A case in point is the recent situation that actor Lawrence Fishburne (Mystic River, The Matrix) faced with his 19 year-old daughter, Montana. She agreed to star in a pornographic video to help her become famous. She stated, "I view making this movie as an important first step in my career. I've watched how successful Kim Kardashian became and I think a lot of it was due to the release of her sex tape. I'm hoping the same magic will work for me.”

Clearly, Fishburne was not happy with this situation but Montana wouldn’t listen to him. In fact, to block the release of the video, Fishburne’s friends even offered the film producer what he apparently considered too “modest a sum” -- $1M for all of the copies. The producer distributed the film and it reportedly sold so well that he offered Montana a multi-picture deal.

Granted, Fishburne’s situation is somewhat unique but you have to wonder why a daughter whose dad is an accomplished actor would choose this route to fame. But, the script of Montana’s life is a familiar screenplay with a predictable narrative. It’s worth noting that Fishburne and his daughter’s mother divorced when Montana was very young. You have to wonder if he was "on location" when Montana was a little girl making the critical decision whether to embrace or reject the immodest “Kardashian type” messages and values celebrated daily in our culture. All dads should be mindful that if you “exit stage right” from your daughter’s life, you are bound to miss important “cues.”

Ironically, frogs can be quite alluring and very deceptive. But, outside of fairy tales, there is no “magic” in them. And, that’s why our daughters need involved fathers who have built strong enough relationships with them so that they will listen when he says “be careful what you wish and what you kiss.”

A Little Girl Named "Inspiration"

Last Friday was a tough day for me. I had just boarded a subway train heading to my first of three speaking engagements. I was already pretty tired because I had to take another early morning flight. To make matters worse, I wasn’t looking forward to a tough call about this year’s budget with our VP of Finance in preparation for an upcoming board meeting. As you can imagine, it’s very difficult "sledding" so far this year due to the fundraising environment. We need lots of help and it seems like I am working twice as hard to raise half the funds. Indeed, I was a bit discouraged.

Then, I saw her.

She couldn’t have been more than three years old and she was sitting right across from me next to her mother. She had just the cutest little face, which was framed with a flock of perfectly twisted braids. And those eyes. Well, they were like big brown shiny buttons and they were locked on me like a laser beam.

Now, anyone who knows me knows well that I am a “sucker” for little kids. But, since I was in a bit of a funk, I was stubbornly determined not to engage her. Plus, I had to prepare for my important speech about fatherhood. So, I turned back to my work.

But, she would have none of it. I looked up again. And, there she was staring at me. She was transfixed. So, I had no choice. I smiled. And she lit up like a Christmas tree and smiled back as if to say, “Gotcha.”

I looked at her mother—who seemed to be carrying a heavy burden—and noticed that she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. And, I could not help but wonder where this little girl's dad was and when was the last time he smiled at her. In any case, before I could consider this more, the train stopped and the mother grabbed the little girl’s hand and headed for the door and then they disappeared into the crowd.

I doubt that I will ever see those eyes again. But, I will never forget them. And, I doubt that I will ever know this precious little one’s name. But, I have given her one nonetheless. I will call her…Inspiration.

12,000 Quotes, Yet One Too Few...

Since I do a fair amount of speaking on fatherhood in churches these days, I was delighted to come across a book called, “12,000 Religious Quotations.” To make things even better, it was on sale for $14.95, nearly ½ off the list price.



I was especially pleased when I read the back cover, which boasted:

  • An indispensable reference work that puts expressive statements on religion at your finger tips.
  • Nearly 12,000 quotes on 200 subjects from 2,500 different sources.
  • These quotations—some inspiring, a few controversial, many humorous, others penetrating—reflect a diversity of opinions, Christian and non-Christian.
  • Thought-provoking quotes that will enliven sermons, speeches, or reports.



Good stuff.



Well, I got the book home and quickly flipped to the section that was sure to be bursting with some inspiring quotes about fathers or fatherhood. I found the word “fate” and turn the page and found “fear…” Wait a minute. (I quickly said my ABCs…) Shouldn't father or a least fatherhood be listed? But it’s not. Maybe there is something listed under Dad, Daddy, or…Papa. Nope, nope and nope. Nothing. 12,000 quotes and not a single one on fathers.



So, then I looked up mothers. Yep, about 30 quotes with gems like:



The sweetest sound to mortal given

Are heard in Mother, Home and Heaven.

-William Goldsmith Brown



Now, I love mothers. I have one. I am married to one. And, some of my best friends are mothers. But, it seems that this author has forgotten biology 101. Without fathers, there are no mothers. (You can quote me on that one…)



I did find one quote in the “error” section that captured my sentiments.



Shall error in the round of time

Still father Truth?

-Alfred, Lord Tennyson



Let’s hope so…



Now, where did I put that darn receipt? To err is human, to return is divine.

Mother's Day - Take 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absent children?

I just read this on "Motherlode," the parenting blog of The New York Times: "A recent poll in Great Britain found that one in 10 adults speak by phone with his or her mother just once every four weeks... Why are grown children so absent?"

If grown children speak so infrequently to their moms, think about how little they speak to their dads! After all, we know that in both Great Britain and the United States, it is more often fathers who are absent from their children's lives than mothers.

So, at least with fathers, my guess is that absent fathers breed "absent" children. Makes sense. But what is the explanation for children being "absent" from their moms' lives?

Interestingly, we know from research that father absence can also play a role. Bear with me...

Studies have found that children whose parents are married, have, on average, better relationships with both their mothers and their fathers. Further, children of divorce, when they become adults, are less close to both their parents than children whose parents remained married. How about elder care? Yep - children whose parents divorced are less likely to offer their elderly parents co-residence.

So, it seems that at least part of the issue with children absent from their moms' lives is that their fathers were absent from theirs (in the case of my illustration, as a result of divorce, which impacts about 1 million children per year).

This may sound like a stretch. What do you think?

Why do dads think they are replaceable?

Check out this video of Roland C. Warren, NFI's president, discussing why dads think they are replaceable at the release event for Mama Says: A National Survey of Mothers' Attitudes on Fathering.

Mama Says What?

Today at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., NFI released Mama Says: A National Survey of Mothers' Attitudes on Fathering. Go to www.fatherhood.org/mamasays to find out what moms really think about dads...

Not Good or Bad...Just Different

Over the holiday, I had the opportunity to visit good friends of mine, Allen and Becky, and meet Zeke, their happy, pudgy four month-old baby who has a shock of beautiful dark hair and eyes as large as saucers.

After sufficient cooing and cuddling (Oh, who am I kidding? It was excessive cooing and cuddling.), Becky settled Zeke into his ExerSaucer, a colorful bouncy-chair flanked on all sides by plastic toys, whirl-a-gigs, noise makers, mirrors - everything a four month-old needs to amuse himself for a few minutes - so we could eat a few bites of dinner.

"It's interesting," she observed as she settled him in, "this chair has pieces you can extend from the bottom to keep it from moving around as much. I always put them down, but Allen rarely does. It took me a while to realize that's okay - it's okay if Zeke moves around a little bit."

That didn't surprise me. Dads interact with their children in a different way than moms. While moms hold babies close and cuddle them, fathers tickle their kids, approaching them from every angle. Dads lift their babies into the air - prompting giggles of delight from their children and gasps of fear from their wives.

Research actually shows that kids need this unique interaction - when dads play and tickle and toss, they're actually enhancing their child's cognitive development.

So many times dads get sidelined in the beginning because they aren't taking care of the baby the "right" way. Yes, there are only so many ways to change a diaper, but just because dads do things differently, that doesn't mean it's wrong.

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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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