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The Father Factor

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How a Man Named Emil is Helping Fathers in Torrington, Connecticut

It's been over a year, but I can still sense the silent, awkward pause on the other end of the phone. When I talked with Emil, he spoke excitedly about his work with fathers in Torrington, CT. When I asked him "the why" behind his work with fathers, his tone changed from excited to convicted. In 40 minutes of conversation, I learned what's happening with dads in Torrington while being reminded of the conviction it takes to lead. 

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In 2000, there were 676,467 married households—52 percent of the state population in Connecticut. By 2010, that number had dipped to 672,013—49 percent. That's even considering the overall population of the state having grown from 3.41 million to 3.57 million. We have talked about Connecticut and fatherhood in the past, but another story is worth sharing. 

Family Strides is an organization located in northwest Connecticut, who helps families and communities to ensure healthy pregnancy outcomes and positive parenting practices in order to strengthen families and reduce the incidence of child abuse and neglect. Family Strides has seen the above pattern of marriage and fatherhood take place in its community. In fact, the only place in the entire county that was serving fathers was the child support system, and the only place to send fathers who were not paying child support was prison. That is, before Family Strides came along.

Thirty-five minutes from Hartford is Torrington. For this county, there's a different option, besides jail, for dads who need help. A man named Emil is helping dads see that the role they play in their children’s lives is much more than just paying child support. Through our 24/7 Dad® Program, we have helped Family Strides teach dads to be better fathers.

Where does Family Strides find dads to help?

Whereas some organizations may find it difficult to recruit dads to attend a fatherhood program, Family Strides doesn't recruit. How do they get dads to attend? "Every father thinks he knows what he’s doing," says Emil, "There's so many programs for mom. But dad has nothing." He continues, "We ended up going into court system in the county, into the child-support court systems. They had no place to send dad but prison, or anger management."

The county magistrates, before Emil and his group came along offering something different, had nothing but prison for dads who didn't pay child support. "If the dad doesn't pay child support, you warn him...you warn him..you warn him...then you lock him up.", Emil explains. Emil has been in that court system for 10 years. Now, he doesn’t spend time recruiting dads. He works only from referrals like: family courts, hospitals, employment agencies, head starts, and other community-based organizations.

“I’ve worked with over a thousand dads, ” says Emil. The biggest issue? "Many men feel their job is to put roof over head and feed them (kids)—and that's where it ends. Nothing more..." says Emil. Emil asks dads he meets, "When was the last time you went to a parent-teacher conference?" Emil explains, "Most dad's will answer: isn’t that her (mom's) job?" Emil will also ask, "Who's your child's first teacher?" He recalls from years of experience, dads will always give the name of their child's teacher at school. Emil will then say, "No, dad, you are...you are the teacher.”

What happens in the fatherhood program?

Must dads think they are the only ones to ever make a mistake. But something magical happens when I dad gets with other dads in a group. He starts to realize, "Yeah, I screwed up, but so did he." For maybe the first time ever, this dad learns that we all make mistakes. Emil explains, "You can make a 30-minute mistake. But, you can’t make a 30-minute mistake daily." At some point, we have to find a reason to live better stories. For some, the child is that reason.

Emil explains: 

There is nothing more valuable than your child. Nothing. Not the size of your house, how much money you make, what kind of car you drive, or what kind of vacation you take. Every decision you make has to place your child first. 

Dads who attend Emil's group learn everything related to fatherhood, from relationships and communication, to discipline. Emil points out, when all a dad knows to "teach" a child is yelling—dads must learn that they have other options. For a topic as seemingly simple as discipline, understand you're only gonna do, as a dad, what you were taught and what was done to you.

Sadly, most dads Emil sees don't want to be like their own dad. But, as Emil explains, "they are 50 percent their dad and 50 percent of mom." You are the sum of your experiences and education. How you were parented is often how you parent. This is all fine and good unless you had less-than-perfect parent models. Emil explains, "Alcoholism is a big issue. Drug abuse is an issue. Economy and jobs is an issue." He often asks to meet the dads' kids. Experience shows, "I can’t help everyone..but, when the father starts seeing how much he can help his kid, he can change..." says Emil.

Emil often meets the children of the dads he works with, "I ask them, 'what do you think of this guy?'...when they say, 'He’s my daddy. I love my daddy. He’s my world...' These fathers break down. They haven’t heard that before. A light-bulb goes off.." recalls Emil. It's a 13-week fatherhood course. Emil says, "I don’t throw guys out of the class after 13 weeks. They are all welcome to keep coming. They come back occasionally. I have gentlemen that come back for the last six years at least monthly." 

The Why Behind the What 

Emil started helping dads in Torrington 10 years ago. At the time, he had a 12-year-old daughter and an infant soon. Emil had a strong relationship with his Dad, recalling over the phone how his dad used to tell him, “I love you so much it hurts.” Emil recalls the first person he called upon having his son was his father, simply to say, “Now I understand what you mean.”

Emil's son, Emil Jr, was born with an intestinal problem. At three days old he was transferred to a special teaching hospital in Connecticut. It was 10 days later, Emil's son was diagnosed as having Down Syndrome. His son got some better as time went on, but they lived in children's medical center. After a few years, Emil lost his son to leukemia. “As a dad, there is nothing worse than being helpless.” I listened as Emil recalled those helpless times of walking the hallways of the hospital. I listened to Emil's voice shake as he shared with me. 

Emil explained, with conviction, why he cares so much about fathers. He says, "I still use my son in teaching the group." When a dad says “I stay away because 'she' (the mother) won’t let me...” Emil will reply, “I’d love to trade with you. You are choosing not to see them. I can’t choose...You can get on a phone and call at least. You can make your visits. I can't see my son anymore. I go to a stone."

How does Emil know his work with fathers matters?

At his son’s wake, over 200 dads attended. As we closed our conversation, Emil has a message he wanted all dads to understand about having kids:

They need you all their life…be there. You need to be the man you want to see your daughter with. You don’t want to see your son brutalize girls. So you don't need to brutalize the child's mom. Be there for your child. Nothing is more important.

For Fatherhood Program Leaders > Learn more about Emil's work with fathers in Connecticut.

Like this post? Subcribe to the FatherSOURCE  email for tips on helping dads!

The Opportunity Costs of Absent Fathers

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

There are 24 million children (1 in 3) who will go to sleep tonight in homes in which their fathers do not live. That's a staggering number. But the problem of father absence doesn't only affect those 24 million children. It also affects the children living with fathers who are spiritually and emotionally absent from their children's lives.

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Research
shows that children with absent fathers are more likely than their peers growing up with their fathers to suffer from a range of ills, such as poverty, poor school performance, drug and alcohol abuse, and the list goes on. But, once again, it's not just physical absence or presence that makes a difference. Children who live with fathers who are but a mere presence in their homes suffer as well. The level of involvement matters; for example, a landmark study by the U.S. Department of Education found that children whose fathers are more involved in their education have better grades than fathers who are involved in their education to a lesser degree.

The costs of father absence matter, a lot. These costs have a name -- opportunity costs. An opportunity cost is any cost that results from a person's decision to do something instead of something else. From another perspective, it's the benefit a person sacrifices to do something else. When fathers are absent from their children's lives -- physically, emotionally, or spiritually -- it costs them dearly. They give up the benefits of being involved, responsible, committed dads -- such as the love of their children and the joy of seeing their children grow into adults -- and the benefits of mothers' love in raising children together.

To be fair, there are some rare instances of father absence in which fathers don't choose to be absent. Fathers' levels of involvement must also be understood within the context of how they provide for their family. A father, for example, who must work two jobs to support his family has only so much bandwidth to be physically present. The vast majority of instances of father absence, however, involve fathers who choose to do something other than be present -- to be somewhere else physically or in their minds than where they should be.

What makes father absence as a choice so incredibly heinous are the opportunity costs of it for children, the mothers left to care for absent fathers' children on their own, and our society. If the costs only accrued to absent fathers, the National Fatherhood Initiative wouldn't exist. But the costs don't only accrue to these fathers. Like the ripples that result from the rocks fathers and children throw into and skip across ponds, the impact of father absence is felt far and wide. Children, mothers, and our society need involved fathers. We can't spare a single one.

To all those fathers who have made a choice to be absent, I implore you to reverse course. Think about the opportunity costs to you. More importantly, think about the opportunity costs of your choice to your children, the mother of your children, and our society.

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The costs of father absence is high. Visit our Father Facts Page to learn more and support NFI’s work to connect father to child.

Like this post? Subcribe to the FatherSOURCE  email for tips on helping dads!

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

350 Practitioners on the Challenge of Maternal Gatekeeping

Have you ever struggled to convince a mother to allow the father of her child to be more involved in the child's life? Maternal gatekeeping is one of the primary challenges practitioners face when encouraging moms to allow dads into their children's lives. Maternal gatekeeping refers to a mom’s protective beliefs about the desirability of a dad's involvement in their child’s life, and the behaviors acted upon that either facilitate or hinder effective co-parenting. Maternal gatekeeping occurs regardless of whether parents are married, divorced or unmarried, and regardless of the parents’ satisfaction with the relationship between them. But, clearly, it presents the greatest challenge when the relationship between the parents is poor.

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NFI surveyed more than 350 practitioners who attended NFI's free What's Mom Got to Do With It webinar on December 9th, 2014, and asked them the following question related to maternal gatekeeping: What are the most important problems the moms you work with have with involving dads in their children's lives? (To access a recorded version of the webinar, click here.) The most important problems (in descending order of importance) are:

  • History of domestic violence or other abuse
  • Poor past or current experiences with/perceptions of the dad
  • Mom doesn't like dad or is angry with him
  • Mom doesn't see dad as important in the life of her child
  • Dad isn't a good parent
  • Mom doesn't want to give up control over the life of her child (i.e. if dad becomes involved, she perceives she'll lose control)
  • Mom has no contact/relationship with the dad

The research on maternal gatekeeping supports these practitioners' experiences. The motivations for maternal gatekeeping vary widely. They depend on individual, couple, and familial circumstances and situations. Mothers might have a difficult time relinquishing familial responsibility, might want to validate their identity as “the mother” and garner recognition for their “maternal” or “feminine” contributions to the family, or might view the father as incompetent or even dangerous to the child. This latter view might be based either on actual evidence, the father’s past behaviors, or her personal perceptions of him and his failures in the male familial role. 

Helping Practitioners 

One of our primary jobs at NFI is to help practitioners to more effectively do their jobs. Accordingly, we asked those same 350 practitioners the following question related to how to help moms involve fathers: What are the two most important topics moms need help with around involving dads? The biggest topics (also in descending order of importance) are:

  • Why dad is important to their child's life 
  • Communication
  • Co-Parenting
  • Importance of putting the well-being of the child first
  • How to trust dad
  • Mutual respect (i.e. important of mom respecting dad and vice versa)
  • How to keep the dad engaged
  • Conflict resolution

The good news is NFI already has a number of low-, medium-, and high-intensity resources that address these and other challenges presented by maternal gatekeeping (e.g. the impact of the mother's history with men and her own father). These resources include the Understanding Dad™ program, Mom as Gateway™ workshop, downloadable eguidespocketbooks, and tip cards for moms. And we've already started to identify additional resources to develop that will help practitioners address the other issues because, well, that's our job and commitment to practitioners: Supporting You. Supporting Fathers. Supporting Families.™ Stay tuned. 

Have you reviewed our resources that address maternal gatekeeping?

Like this post? Subcribe to the FatherSOURCE  email for tips on helping dads!

Adrian Peterson’s Child Abuse Situation—Did We Learn the Right Lessons?

Recently, USA Today published at story titled, “Peterson’s Remorse is Real.” The article was the result of 90-minute interview the Minnesota Viking player Adrian Peterson about how to address his September 11, 2014 felony indictment for severely disciplining his 4-year-old son with a switch. 

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What struck me as ironic about this situation was how much it resembled a typical penalty call on an NFL play. Society's "referee" blew the whistle and said, "We have a penalty on number 28 of the Minnesota Vikings... Roughing a 4-year-old... Illegal use of the hands... Loss of salary and the ability to play for the rest of the season." And, then we were on to the next play. After all, Peterson was remorseful and said that he learned his lesson because he "won't ever use a switch again..."

However, despite Peterson's remorse, as a fatherhood "coach," I am compelled to throw a red challenge flag. We desperately need to review the tape again, because buried in the USA Today article was an important point that too few talked about. 

But, as a fatherhood coach, I have to throw a red challenge flag on this one and suggest that we review the tape again. You see, buried in the USA Today article was a point that few talked about.  

Peterson has six children with six different women—five of which are not in his home. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying the Peterson is not sorry for what he did to the child that he switched that day. My issue is what he is doing to his other children that he didn’t switch. You see, father absence is a form of abuse and neglect, especially when a father creates children where he’s absent by design. And this is exactly what Peterson has done.  

Indeed, there are sins of commission and there are sins of omission. I believe that a child has a hole in his or her soul in the shape of a dad and that God whispers to a child in a mother’s womb that there will be a special one who will be present and love like no other. If a father is unable or unwilling to do this, it can leave a wound and a sense of abandonment that will leave a mark more severe and long lasting than a switch. 

Moreover, I suspect the fact that Peterson doesn’t live with his 4-year-old son contributed to the likelihood of abuse. Why? Because a father can’t really know a child’s temperament and needs well without spending “quality and quantity” time with his child. Like a football play, a child develops and changes quickly. And, like Peterson needs to be in the huddle to hear a play, a father needs to be in the home to understand a child’s way. Otherwise, a father will discipline from the wrong playbook. Alas, in Peterson’s case, it was a playbook full of “switch play” that was passed down to him from his absent father.

Interestingly, the USA Today article said Peterson must now prove that he is not an absent parent. But, he is an absent parent, by his own design, to most of his children. Why? Because he failed to truly consider how his actions would impact his children. When one pursues short-term sexual pleasure, there can be long-term consequences on others, especially children. And, although Peterson may now have a desire to be a present father, he cannot be for most of his children. Discipline, not just desire, determines a father’s involvement and what needs to be disciplined most is a father’s sexual appetite. That’s why it’s not surprising that children do best across every psychological, social, educational, and economic measure of child well being, and are less likely to be abused, by fathers who are married to their children’s mothers. Good fathering is like good real estate. It’s about location, location, location. 

Think about it this way. Let’s suppose that when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reinstates Peterson, he gives him a special type of privilege that allows him to play simultaneously for six different teams in six different cities. And suppose that Peterson assures each team that he cares about and is totally committed to each team’s success. Now, consider what would happen. Each team and its fans would be livid. Why? Because wherever Peterson plays, his teams need him every play, and on a given Sunday, some teams will suffer. Well, Peterson’s children need him every day. He may be fast but he can’t transcend the space and time continuum to kiss and tuck all of his children into bed at night. Alas, some children will suffer. 

And here’s the sad part. No doubt, there would be more outrage about what Peterson would be doing to NFL football if he tried to play for six teams than has occurred regarding what Peterson is doing to his children. Unfortunately, our culture has a higher standard for football than it does for fatherhood. Scandals and bad actions of players are quickly forgotten when the product on the field -- a highly electrifying, exciting sport - continues to distract society from important off-the-field issues. Case in point - the New England Patriots exciting Super Bowl win for now has likely put an end to most of the talk of domestic violence and cheating allegations flying around the league. 

In my view, there are two lessons that Peterson needed to learn, and both involve discipline: How to discipline his children and how to discipline himself. Did he learn them? Only time will tell. But, better yet, did we learn anything? Unfortunately, I fear not. It's on to the NBA plalyoffs...

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5 Tips to Help Your Children Maintain A Healthy Weight

As I turned the "big 5-O" a couple of weeks ago, and chuckled as I received my first invitation in the mail to join AARP, I reflected on the importance of health and fitness in my life and that of my children, and on how much it pains me to see so many children these days who are overweight and obese. It also got me thinking about the ways in which dads can make a difference in the fight against childhood obesity.

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Being active has been a vital part of my life since I can remember. I played baseball, football, and golf as a child. I'm not sure where the drive to be so active came from. Neither of my parents were active, and they didn't encourage me to be either. I just loved being outside all day, getting dirty, and playing pick-up games in the neighborhood. 

When I stopped playing organized sports after high school, I continued to be active in college through intramurals. Because I was fast, several of my fraternity brothers who played soccer in high school recruited me to play on our fraternity's soccer team, which kindled a passion for the sport that remains today. In graduate school, I engaged in what was the beginning of the health and fitness craze of the 1980s. (Are you old enough to remember Physical -- as in "Let's get physical, physical!" -- by Olivia Newton-John?) I ran, swam, biked, and lifted my way to my master's degree. I continued to regularly exercise after graduate school, got married, and had kids. 

As soon as I started my fatherhood journey, I committed to not let any grass grow under my daughters' feet as far as being active was concerned. Perhaps what drove me more than anything else to ingrain in them the importance of health and fitness was the memory of the struggles my parents and my younger brother had maintaining a healthy weight. I desperately wanted to break that cycle. I placed a soccer ball at their feet soon after they started to walk and enrolled them in organized soccer by age 4. I took them to watch my road races and entered them in races soon thereafter. As someone who understands the importance of self-awareness -- the first characteristic of a 24/7 Dad -- it's been difficult for me to encourage them to be active in their own way and to let go of the process. I only hope that the model of my dedication to health and fitness has rubbed off. Fortunately, my girls have maintained a healthy weight throughout their childhood and, for my oldest, into early adulthood.

I'm sure it's not news to you that childhood obesity is a major problem in this country. You've undoubtedly seen its consequences in some of the families you know--perhaps even in your own family. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 17 percent of children -- some 12.7 million -- are obese. Many more (around 1 in 3 or 4) are overweight and on the road to becoming obese. Obesity is one of the primary drivers of the rise among children in type 2 diabetes, which typically doesn't develop until adulthood. Obesity places children at risk for a lifetime of poor health.

What might be news to you, however, is that your simple presence and involvement in the life of your child is one of the most potent weapons in the fight against childhood obesity. Research shows that family structure matters a great deal when it comes to the prevalence of childhood obesity. Children from single-mother families are at higher risk for obesity than children living with two parents. Moreover, studies show that a father's body mass index (BMI) -- the primary and, somewhat controversial, metric for determining whether someone is at a healthy weight -- predicts his children's BMI. Obese dads are more likely to have obese children. Other studies reveal that how well fathers eat and their level of activity directly affects their children's weight. When fathers (and mothers) create an environment that promotes obesity, their children are more likely to become obese.

Here are 5 tips to help your child maintain a healthy weight. (If you're a professional who works with families, encourage fathers to use these tips.)

1) Examine your eating habits and level of exercise and improve them if necessary. You must model good eating habits and regular exercise. Otherwise, your children, especially if they're in their teens, will see you as a hypocrite if you tell them to improve their eating habits and become more active.

2) Get involved in an active way in your child's life. There are many ways to get involved, but to directly affect your child's activity level, you must do things together that require regular physical activity. Find things you and your child enjoy doing that you can repeat often.

3) Eat meals together. Studies show that simply eating meals as a family lowers the risk of childhood obesity. But you must eat at least three meals together on a weekly basis to make a difference.

4) Enroll your child in a team or individual sport. Studies show that children who play organized sports are less likely to be overweight.

5) Encourage mom to examine her eating habits and level of exercise and improve them if necessary. It's better to have two good models than only one. Applying this tip might be easier said than done, but it's vital you have the courage to challenge mom if she doesn't set a good example in this regard.

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For more tips on raising healthy kids, check out our downloadable guide Tips for Raising Healthy Kids


Question > When was the last time you talked with your child about the importance of regular exercise?

How Three Consumer Brands Helped Dads and Kids Score a Touchdown on Super Bowl Sunday

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Three consumer brands helped dads and kids score a touchdown on Super Bowl Sunday. Nissan, Toyota, and Dove Men+Care focused their annual Super Bowl campaigns on celebrating dads.

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Nissan's #WithDad campaign was its first Super Bowl campaign in 20 years. The fact that they jumped back into the frenzy of consumerism associated with the most widely watched TV event in the world was a huge undertaking in and of itself, but their choice to focus on dads' struggles to balance work and family made it even more remarkable. On the other hand, Nissan's ads have had a strong focus on dads for several years, so this campaign was a somewhat natural extension of that focus.

Toyota's #OneBoldChoice campaign was one of the best father-focused campaigns I've seen. What made it unique is the range of emotions it invoked. The ads (a series of varying length that don't resemble typical commercials) not only invoked feelings of warmth and love, they invoked sadness as viewers learned of the everyday challenges many dads face in raising children. These current and former NFL players and working dads (e.g. a construction worker and a fireman) appeared with their children and discussed the bold, difficult choices dads have to make daily for their families.

Dove Men+Care is, of course, a brand that focuses on men. So it's not as surprising that their campaign focused on dads. What made their #RealStrength campaign unique, however, was its use of "Real Dad Moments" that challenge the macho male stereotype prevalent in advertising. It was also unique in its reach into communities. The brand sponsored workshops for dads on January 17th at Sam's Club locations in approximately 20 states during which dads received materials on how to be a better dad.

Going Against the Grain

As I've written elsewhere in this blog, consumer brands often portray fathers in a negative light. They often portray dads as bungling, incompetent parents in need of rescue by nurturing, competent mothers. So perhaps we should be surprised that three well-known brands independently arrived at a decision to celebrate dads with extremely positive portrayals that emphasize dads' competence as parents and the importance of dads in children's lives.

On the other hand, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. Many companies now recognize that dads are a major buying force, especially in certain areas, such as automobile purchases. A recent study by ESPN Research and Analytics found that men almost always outspend women during holiday seasons. The percentage of men who are the primary buyers in their households has jumped from 14 percent in 1985 to 33 percent today. Men are buyers rather than shoppers, an important distinction to a company's bottom line. The business case for a focus on dads has indeed arrived.

The Next Step

Regardless of whether we should be surprised, the next step for brands is to build on the business case for marketing to dads and help combat, through their social responsibility efforts, of one of the most consequential social problems of recent decades -- widespread father absence in the lives of children. Approximately 1 in 3 children (some 24 million) in America will sleep tonight in a home without their father, and 9 in 10 parents agree that there is a father absence crisis. Father absence has devastated communities across the country. Some of the hardest-hit communities have father absence rates above 50 percent. Many of the dads, kids, and moms affected by this problem don't have the buying power of the consumers portrayed in advertising. Toyota's campaign is the first I've seen that touches on this problem. Many of the fathers in the ads discussed the impact of being raised without their own fathers in their lives or by present fathers who were poor parents. Some of the children discussed the impact on their lives of having involved fathers.

Unfortunately, none of the campaigns included a social responsibility component that would have made them truly remarkable. To take the next step in promoting the importance of involved, responsible, committed dads, brands must provide resources that help fathers in whatever circumstance they find themselves (e.g. living with or without their children) to be as involved as possible in their children's lives. They must provide these resources directly to disenfranchised families and through the thousands of organizations that serve them in communities across the country.

This next step would not only help these families and communities, it would help companies respond to the belief among 75 percent of Millennials -- the largest generation of consumers the U.S. has ever seen who represent most of today's new and young parents -- that corporations should create economic value by addressing society's needs, and for their preference to do business with socially-responsible companies. The vast majority of Millennials, 4 in 5, are more likely to do business with a company that supports a cause they care about. And they care about parenthood. More than half of them say that parenthood is one of the most important things in life.

Question: Did you see any of the Super Bowl campaigns mentioned in this post? Which one was your favorite?

Like this post? Subcribe to the FatherSOURCE  email for tips on helping dads!

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Teach the Magic of Learning to Your Preschool Children

“Parents can plant magic in a child's mind through certain words spoken with some thrilling quality of voice, some uplift of the heart and spirit.”—Robert MacNeil (novelist, journalist) 


The early education of a child is a crucial aspect of future success and happiness. The most important qualities to nurture before any formal education is a vivid imagination, curiosity, and a love of learning. A previous article presented in The Father Factor, “Five Easy Ways Dads Can Get Involved in Their Child’s Education”, posted by Christopher A. Brown, gave excellent advice regarding dads and their children’s education. I’d like to expand on that topic with a focus on the early years, prior to school. Whether you're a dad or lead other dads, these ideas can help you consider new ways teach a child. 

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Many parents, especially first-time parents, miss the greatest opportunity they will ever have to influence their children. It comes in the first five years of their lives, when they are ripe for learning, hungry for knowledge, and malleable. In that time, they are like sponges, ready to soak up the environment around them. It’s your responsibility to provide an environment that is rich and fertile. The more they learn, the larger their thirst for learning. A dad can provide both customary and magical ways to prepare children for their future, but he can be particularly effective in the magic. 

Customary but Important Preparation Activities 

Reading to children is universally agreed upon as vitally important. Studies show that “a child from a high-income family will experience 30 million more words within the first four years of life than a child from a low-income family…and 125,000 more words of discouragement than encouragement. When compared to the 560,000 more words of praise as opposed to discouragement that a child from a high-income family will receive, this disparity is extraordinarily vast.”

A lack of spoken words, encouragement, and mental stimulation hurts children of low-income families more than a lack of money! Welfare can help with money but it can’t help with the environment in the home. So we see that if low-income families could embrace the idea of emphasizing reading and imagination in their children, they would do much better in school and possibly escape the predicament of their parent(s).  

Another common yet important activity is playing with blocks or Legos--toys that are creative, that challenge solutions to be found, are three-dimensional, yet fun. You can also teach them counting, colors and letters in a fun way, but competing with other parents on what their child knows is not nearly as important as preparing them to be open and excited about learning.  

Magical Activities to Prepare Young Children for Learning 

Stimulation is the magic ingredient in learning. When learning is an adventure then adventures are teaching.  

  • Set them up to discover something. For example, teach them the shape of leaves for different trees then take them to a forest or park to find them.
  • Let them grow things. It has been shown that kids who grow their own vegetables will eat them. It also teaches responsibility and patience. 
  • Kids love imaginary play with their dads. Give-in to it occasionally and ask them questions about their imaginary friends to get them to think and imagine even more. 
  • Challenge them with options/choices. Would they rather ride an elephant or a train? What is a better present for Mom? Their painting of her, or making her breakfast? Always get them to think and make decisions. 
  • Traveling teaches kids in a way schools can't. Take them on a train trip. Go camping and hiking. Take them to a farm or to the city. Let them see other cultures and other terrains when possible. 
  • Take them to the zoo. Teach them about monkeys or tigers then take them to the zoo to see them instead of just wandering through without a purpose. 
  • Visit a Science Center. A good one will have all sorts of interactive exhibits. Take your children, as young as two years of age, and they will be in awe.
  • Let them help you. Occasionally, let your children help you around the house, even though it will slow you down; and explain what you’re doing and why, even though they may not understand. 
  • Stare into the sky. When comets are forecasted on a clear night, take your child on the roof (if safe) or on a high hill and watch for them. Go deep into the country on a moonless night and look at the Milky Way. Point out different stars and constellations. 

These are just some ideas. Having your children understand these moments or lessons is not as important as the interplay and stimulus they get from it. The memories may last a lifetime! 

Social Preparation 

Socially, your children need to know how to play, share and cooperate with other children. Ask their friends along on these adventures occasionally and observe their interactions. Social experience is important so they are not afraid of school or people. Friends are important for them, both to enjoy, and to deal with. Get your kids involved in group activities that can be found in parks, libraries, and in the neighborhood. 

Summary 

Your children should know that the world is limitless in its beauty and variety. They should feel confident in themselves having been challenged, just enough to need significant effort, but within their capability. They should be outside as much as possible experiencing and not just watching, looking for four-leaf clovers more often than looking at television. Television should be a side dish, not a main course. 

Children that have parents that read to them, notice them, listen to their questions, take them on small adventures and wallow in creeks, who take them on hayrides, look at clouds, and make snowmen together--these are the children that have been stimulated with a love of learning and have learned they are loved, who have an interest in many things, and who love to wonder and wander. What a beautiful way to start a life! 

What your child knows is secondary to their curiosity.

Question > Have you done any of the above ideas with a child? How did that go? Did your child learn something or did you?


Questions to Ask Your School-Aged Child or Teen > 
This free ebook is designed to help you and your child connect on a deeper level. Use it to help yourself and the dads you know.

 

Locked Up in Jacksonville Florida: How One Corrections Dept is Correcting Fatherhood

The average cost to incarcerate a person for one year is $29,000. I hate this expense so much. Hear me out, I'm all for criminals doing the time. But, since "doing the time" is costing college tuition, I think inmates should learn something for that kind of money. We should at least teach inmates how to get out of prison instead of how to stay in. If you find yourself locked up in Jacksonville, Florida, look for a man named Rickie Shaw. Mr. Shaw can help.

We know all about the father absence crisis in America. A major part of this crisis is sitting behind bars. We wrote Fathers Behind Bars a few months ago, but allow me to remind of some stats related to fathers in prison:

  • There are 2.7 million children with a parent in prison or jail.
  • Ninety-two percent (92%) of parents in prison are fathers. 
  • 650,000+ ex-offenders are released from prison every year.
  • Two-thirds of ex-offenders, or 429,000, will likely re-offend within three (3) years.

This problem is the one Adam Causey, writing for Jacksonville.com, covered a while back. It's still one of the best videos I've seen for showing why rehabilitating inmates is vital and how NFI helps.

Rickie Shaw, a Community Outreach Development Specialist with Family Support Services, teaches weekly sessions of NFI's InsideOut Dad® program, the fatherhood program for inmates to learn the skills they need to be a better father. He teaches at the James I. Montgomery Correctional Center in Jacksonville, Florida.

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As you might imagine, prison inmates make for a tough crowd. But, Rickie Shaw has learned what it takes to connect. He says in the video that follows,"I am man. I am dad. So are they. That's a natural connection. But, they have to understand, I'm genuine. That my motivation is not to collect my two-week check. I'm here to make sure these men make a difference in their children's lives."  

 Can't see the video? Click here to view.

Please take time to watch this video. Rickie Shaw gets it. He'll be the first to tell you parenting is a learned skill. If you find yourself at Jacksonville’s Montgomery Correctional Facility on a Monday or Wednesday, you'll find a group of inmates learning how to be men.

From discussions on relationships, communication, and discipline, there's nothing out of bounds when it comes to preparing inmates for release from prison. It's all part of the InsideOut Dad® program.

Family Support Services of Northeast Florida is the nonprofit that handles local adoptions and other state-funded social services. They expanded the program to Duval County after it worked well in other parts of Florida.

Adam Causey, the writer of the aforementioned article, recalled upon visiting an InsideOut Dad® class, that men were learning about developmental stages of children. He recalls inmates "laughing as they read about babies as young as two months being able to mimic smiles..." Inmates also learn, that by ages 1 and 2, kids grow inches in just months and add four to six pounds a year.

Have you ever been locked behind bars? Hopefully you haven't. But, consider this, the physical changes of a child happen fast. When you're locked up, one year can mean missing out on a lot in a child’s life. 

Rickie Shaw talks on the video about the inmates and how he can see them start to process the information in the class. He says:

I can see the wheels start turning in their head...they start to bring back conversations that they've had with their mates through letters and visitations. They start processing things that happened in their past with their moms and dads when they were kids. They're looking for answers and solutions to things that shaped their lives That's when I know I'm being effective.

Rickie continues discussing the biggest misconception about the inmates he works with:

The biggest misconception about inmates is that whatever got them here, they have to be punished and no rehabilitation. I think the original thought behind imprisoning someone was that they would have the time to rehabilitate—maybe change the behaviors that got them bars. Classes like InsideOut Dad® and GED programs and various drug abuse programs and domestic violence classes, those are the rehabilitative devices that are definitely needed in a place like this so that they can come out with skills that they didn't have when they came in. I see this as a true opportunity to help rehabilitate someone and help put them in a better place.

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Two separate attendees had this to say about the InsideOut Dad® Program:

"I can say I've learned a lot since I've been in the class. I'm thankful for him (Rickie) coming. Whoever made this program up, it's a good help, a real good help." —InsideOut® Dad Attendee

"I'm happy with the topics we discuss. I think it's [InsideOut Dad® Program] gonna help me when I get out to be a better father and better husband." —InsideOut® Attendee

I don't live or have family in Jacksonville, Florida. But, I sure hope that if you or someone you know is behind bars, they have access to someone like Rickie and NFI's program. This kind of education may just be more valuable and life changing than a college degree.

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Download the free sample > InsideOut Dad®


InsideOut Dad® is the nation's only evidence-based fatherhood program designed specifically for incarcerated fathers.

Is It Finally Time to Put Marriage in the Dustbin?

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Recently, economist and long-time promoter of marriage Isabel V. Sawhill made a surprising about face with the release of her book Generation Unbound. As Brigid Shulte wrote in the Washington Post, Sawhill has reversed her position as an unlikely marriage advocate. She's a Democrat, works at the non-partisan, centrist Brookings Institution, and based her support of marriage not on traditional values but on the data that shows children raised by married parents fare better, on average, than children raised in other family forms.

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Sawhill's staunch evidence-informed support of marriage earned her broad-based praise among proponents of marriage. So many marriage advocates, including me, were shocked when she said, as Shulte points out, that it's time to give up. It's time to stop trying to save an institution that's been in decline for so long it's irretrievable. Better to identify what can replace it as a better alternative to stopping and reversing the rise in single parenting which, almost everyone agrees, is bad for children and leads to spending billions of dollars on social programs that address its consequences.

Where to Hang Your Hat

Does she have a point? That depends on where you hang your hat in terms of the argument for or against giving up on promoting marriage. If you hang your hat on trends in marriage rates, you'd be hard pressed not to agree with Sawhill. Consider that:

  • The number of adults who are married has been on a steady decline from 72.2 percent in 1960 (it's peak in the past 100 years or so) to 50.5 percent in 2012.
  • There's a widening "marriage gap" between college-educated adults and those without a college education. Among 35- to 39-year old college-educated adults, for example, 81 percent had ever married compared to 76 in 1950. In contrast, 73 percent of 35- to 39-year-olds without a bachelor's degree had ever married compared to 92 percent in 1950.

So, we're a less-married nation, but some of us are getting married at higher rates than ever before while others of us are less likely to get married. And this decline continues even though the federal government and some state governments have been doing everything they can since the mid 2000s to promote marriage by funding marriage-promotion programs.

If, however, you hang your hat on the impact of the state of marriage -- and depending on the kind of impact that's your focus -- your answer might or might not support Sawhill's new position.

The decline in marriage and the marriage gap has received quite a bit of recent attention and generated some debate about their impacts. Most of the debates focus on the impacts on adults, children, or both. Those that focus on the impact on adults are mixed. (See this piece by the Brookings Institution as an example.) Those that focus on children, however, overwhelmingly conclude that the impacts are not good, especially for the poorest children.

The impact on children is where I have always hung my hat, and is where, not surprisingly, National Fatherhood Initiative hangs its hat when it comes to the negative effects of father absence. What hasn't changed since we started collecting data on marriage rates is the ream of data on the impact on children when they grow up without their married parents that shows these children, regardless of socio-economic status, don't fare as well, on average, as children who grow up with their married parents. Moreover, it's not just children who suffer. Communities also suffer. As I've written elsewhere in this blog, family structure is the most important factor in the upward economic mobility of families. Economic mobility is not only more difficult for children living in single-parent homes. Communities with large percentages of single-parent homes make economic mobility more difficult for everyone in the community.

Can We Afford to Give Up?

These facts, based on boatloads of evidence, should cause everyone to stop and ask whether we can afford to stop attempts that seek to reverse the decline of marriage. While renewing marriage is not a magic bullet that will cure all of the ills related to child poverty and other issues of child well-being, it's the most vital part of the prescription.

So how can we, as Sawhill has concluded, just give up on marriage? She suggests that there is another answer that makes it okay to give up -- that there is a better alternative to stopping and reducing the rise in single parenting, and that it's just a matter of figuring out which one it is.

She offers some ideas, such as marriages with "time limits." They'd end, say, after 5, 10, 15 years. Like moving from one job to another. (Unfortunately, too many people already treat marriage in this way.) Would these contracts create an institutionalized form of a new kind of friends with benefits? Would we call these marriages "contracts without consequences?" Could they be "terminated by either party for any reason with 30 days advanced written notice?" If we go this far, marriage would certainly be dead as it would be reduced to nothing more than a contract stripped of the characteristics that make marriage work, such as love and commitment in the best and worst of times.

She also mentions Scandanavian-style long-term cohabiting. While that might work in Scandanavian countries, that rent-to-own experiment has been underway in the U.S. for some time, so long, in fact, that cohabitation is now the most common pathway to marriage. But it has done nothing to stem the tide in single parenting. The rapid rise in single parenting has kept rolling along despite the just-as-precipitous rise in cohabiting -- no inverse correlation there.

Shulte notes that Sawhill hasn't given up, fortunately, on the need to reduce the impact of single-parent homes on child well-being. So perhaps, to use language borrowed from the Lean Startup movement, she's only "pivoting" on her position, instead of reversing it, when it comes to addressing the problem of child poverty. Just as many technology and consumer product companies have adopted rigorous and rapid testing of products that often result in pivots (i.e. changes) on their features and functions to achieve their ultimate goal of meeting consumers' needs, Sawhill might be suggesting the answer lies in experimenting with and tweaking approaches to solve our nation's need to reduce child poverty.

Where to Start

To identify approaches to solving any problem, it's vital to start with a desired outcome or goal. Her suggested goal is to establish an "ethic of responsible parenthood," which is ironic given that the creation of that ethic is a primary function of marriage. She recommends establishing this ethic through, in part, the use of long-acting, reversible contraceptives (e.g. IUDs) that couples would use until they are ready to have children. Much more effective than the pill or condoms, their use could reduce the likelihood of poorly timed and unwanted pregnancies.

While there are many ideological and practical hurdles to overcome implementing such an experiment and taking it to scale, I seriously doubt it would ever gain enough traction -- short of a mandate that smacks of mass sterilization -- to have a measurable effect on reducing single parenting. Despite the success of efforts to reduce teen pregnancy (the focus of most calls for long-acting contraceptive use), the rise in out-of-wedlock births has continued unabated largely because of the rise in out-of-wedlock births to twentysomethings that is now at an all-time high. It would also require massive amounts of government and private funding to make these contraceptives affordable to the poorest Americans.

The answer to addressing the rise in single parent homes and all of its consequences, not just child poverty, is not to give up on marriage. The answer starts with acknowledging where the problem lies.

The problem is with changing beliefs in America about family: specifically, about the function of marriage and its impact on child bearing. Most Americans now believe the function of marriage is to satisfy their desire for meaningful, life-long connection instead of as an institution for raising children and what children need to thrive. So it shouldn't be surprising that a majority of Americans today don't see anything wrong with unmarried childbearing.

To be clear, my problem with this belief is not that marriage should not satisfy someone's desire for meaningful, 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.

I not only believe the problem lies in Americans' beliefs. I also believe the answer lies in Americans' beliefs: specifically, the belief that children deserve the best chance to succeed. It is that widely held belief that connects to Sawhill's spot-on contention that the institution of marriage is evolving and must evolve. It must evolve by expanding to include two functions, the new and the old. Marriage's function isn't a zero-sum game. It can and should be a "both-and" game. Marriage can serve its new function of providing individuals with deep, life-long connection and be renewed as the primary institution in which to raise healthy children.

If we can agree to focus on the goal of ensuring that children deserve to be raised in an environment that the research shows gives them the best chance to succeed and in which their parents can also thrive, then perhaps we can also agree that the answer to improving child well-being lies somewhere in this expanded function of marriage. To do so, we must challenge our tendency to look at controversial issues as a zero-sum game and collaborate to identify, test, and iterate approaches that respect the evolving function of marriage and redirect its gaze back toward children's well-being.

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This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

5 Easy Ways Dads Can Get Involved in Their Child’s Education

This post originally appeared at NBC News Education Nation.

Parents hear a lot these days about the importance of being involved in their children’s education. Unfortunately, dads often view “parent” as a code word for “mom.” Education, they say, is mom’s domain. So when mom steps up to the plate, dad often stays in the dugout. However, research indicates that a father’s involvement is crucial, and that it plays a key role in a child’s success in school and beyond.

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Most of the discussion on parent involvement focuses on school-related activities, like attending school events and parent-teacher conferences. Does it make a difference when dads are involved in this way? The evidence suggests that it does. A landmark study by the U.S. Department of Education found that children in two-parent families and of non-resident fathers who were highly involved in their children’s education were more likely to get mostly A’s and enjoy school. They were also less likely to repeat a grade than children with fathers who had low or no involvement. Even when dads don’t live with their children, it’s clear that their involvement matters to academic achievement.

NBC's Parent ToolKit has more about how you can provide support as your child progresses through school.

When it comes to a dad’s involvement in education-related activities at home, like reading to a child, we know a lot less. That’s unfortunate because a recent study--covering 30 years of longitudinal studies-- revealed how little parents’ involvement in their children’s schools matters to their academic success. That’s right. Despite the hyper-focus on parents’ participation in children’s schools, the evidence suggests that the focus should be on education-related activities at home. We must know more about a dad’s level of involvement in these kinds of activities.

Nevertheless, the great news is that, regardless of dads’ level of involvement, the study suggests that there are five easy ways dads can get involved that really matter. (Take note, too, moms.)

1. Read daily to a young child. Children who learn to read well at an early age are more likely to succeed in school. Try to read out loud with your young child regularly, and to have books around the house that will inspire the entire family to enjoy the written word. You may also want to connect your reading materials to what your child is learning in school, and check out books at the library that cover those particular subjects. If you need more tips for raising great readers, see our helpful post, 6 Tips on How to Show Your Child Reading is Awesome.

2. As your child ages, encourage him to ask critical questions. As long as they're respectful, allow your child to challenge you at home. As your child becomes more comfortable challenging you, they'll become more comfortable challenging others. Asking lots of questions and challenging the status quo becomes more valuable to children as they move into higher levels of education.

3. Set clear expectations and then take a back seat. Successful college students have parents who are clear about what they expect of their children. Rather than micro-managing your child’s education, talk to her regularly about your expectations, and guide and support her as she finds her own path to success.

4. Help your child get into classes with good teachers. More than choosing the right courses, what matters most is who teaches those courses. If your child’s school has some flexibility in teacher selection, do your homework. Ask parents you know whose children have had certain teachers about the quality of those teachers. By the time children get in middle and high school, they often know who the good and bad teachers are.

Another tip that is hinted at, but not explicitly mentioned in the study, is one that I've found works extremely well.

5. Encourage your child to do homework in groups and with friends who succeed in subjects your child struggles in (or in which your child just needs a little help every now and then). One of the reasons helping your child with homework can backfire is parents are too far removed from their own schooling to help. Many parents often forget how to do certain forms of math, for example, and develop bad grammar and writing habits. Moreover, the ways in which subjects are taught today can differ dramatically from the ways in which they were taught 15, 20, or 30 years ago. A better tactic is for your child to study in a group of peers who are exposed to the same teaching approaches/techniques or with a friend who really understands the subject in which your child needs help.

As you implement these easy steps, get involved in your child’s school anyway. It's still a good idea. It shows your child that you value her or his education because it communicates a high expectation for the importance of school and academic achievement.

Question: Have you tried any of these five ideas? If so, how have you seen it help your child?

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This post originally appeared at NBC News Education Nation.

Fathers Eat Last: What Great Leaders Do That You Should Too

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” I didn’t say this, John Quincy Adams did. Leadership and fatherhood are one in the same. Reading Simon Sinek's new book Leaders Eat Last, I'm inspired by three things great leaders do that you, as a leader and/or father, should do too.

Simon Sinek is best known for his previous work Start with WhyIn his newest work, he reveals that knowing your why, while important, is just the starting point. It’s not enough to know your why. You must know the people around you and realize they are much more than expendable resources.

Sinek is talking about leadership and teams. However, whether you’re a business leader, pastor, program leader, or father, being a great leader doesn’t simply involve professional competence. Great leaders, and dare I say, great fathers, truly care about the people entrusted to their care. 

Here are a three things I was reminded of while reading Leaders Eat Last:

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1) Great Leaders Look "Beyond the Numbers"

"Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t lie," sings Lil Wayne. While you're no doubt amazed by my knowledge of hip hop lyrics, try and contain yourself to read my point. No disrespect to Lil Wayne, but numbers lie. Numbers don't tell the value or worth of a person. Numbers will have you thinking you are worth more than you really are; or less than your worth, depending on how high or low the numbers go.

Sinek is talking about executive leaders who spend their days behind spreadsheets and rarely or never get out among their people. But, the point is true for dads. The more removed you are from your people (be it your organization or your family), the more likely you are be distant physically and mentally. Sinek writes:

We no longer see each other as people; we are now customers, shareholders, employees, avatars, online profiles, screen names, email addresses, and expenses to be tracked...Now more than ever, we are trying to work and live, be productive and happy, in a world in which we are strangers to those around us.

I can't help but read this and think about the dads we serve at NFI—and my life as a dad. Are we strangers in our own homes? If you want to really connect, you have to spend time. You have to physically and mentally be present with your family. Being a great dad is more than buying things, be they gifts or paying the bills. After almost three years of working at NFI, I see dads who are workaholics without purpose at best. At worst, they are indifferent and disconnected. I have to fight this. We have to fight this. Our kids deserve more than more stuff. Our kids deserve us. This means time with us. I don't know about you, but I'm yet to learn a shortcut to connecting with my family. Connecting takes time.

2) Great Leaders Understand the "Awesome Responsibility"

Sinek writes, "Being a leader is like being a parent, and the company is like a new family to join. One that will care for us like we are their own…in sickness and in health." Sinek calls this the "awesome responsibility.” He continues, "every single employee is someone's son or someone's daughter. Like a parent, a leader of a company is responsible for their precious lives.” Have you worked for a boss that lived like this? If so, I’m sure you knew it. If not, I’m sure you knew that too. This idea plays out in business and with family. Did your dad treat you like he was responsible for your precious life? Did he discipline; yet, when all was said and done, you knew he loved you? Better yet, are you treating your child like the precious life that he or she is?

Sinek gives an example of a leader that acts like a great father. The leader, Ken, speaks about his employees, "First and foremost, your commitment to them is for life...ultimately, you want them to become better people." Imagine working for a company where, if you make a mistake, the first step isn't to fire you, but to help you learn the skill your missing. So, how do you parent? Do you discipline your child, or do you simply punish them? Do your actions show love even when your child's doing something wrong? Great leaders and great fathers, the ones who really get it, understand the awesome responsibility of their position. 

3) Great Leaders Eat Last 

Call it patience, a great sense of responsibility, or simply being sacrificial, but the greatest leaders eat last. Just as a military leader will be sure his soldiers eat before he does, the best leader is the one who serves most. Sinek says, and apply this to fatherhood all you want:

We are naturally cooperative animals that are biologically more inspired and motivated when we know we are helping others. Leadership is not a licensed to do list; it is a responsibility to do more. Leadership is always a commitment to human beings...We must all start today to do the little things for the good of others…one day at a time. Let us all be the leaders we wish we had.  

Be sacrificial in all things pertaining to your life as a leader and as a father. The old saying fits here, "How you do anything is how you do everything." I love how Sinek writes of the leader, and how closely it fits with being a dad. He writes:

  • Leaders run headfirst into the unknown
  • They rush toward danger
  • They put their own interests aside to protect us all to pull us into the future
  • Leaders will sooner sacrifice what is theirs to save what is ours
  • And they would never sacrifice what is ours to save what is theirs. 

To make a point, read Sinek's lines on leadership with my slight fatherhood emphasis: 

  • Fathers run headfirst into the unknown
  • Fathers rush toward danger
  • Fathers put their own interests aside to protect us all to pull us into the future
  • Fathers will sooner sacrifice what is theirs to save what is ours
  • And Fathers would never sacrifice what is ours to save what is theirs. 

Reading this book, Sinek inspires me to look beyond the numbers and truly connect, to see my awesome responsibility with fresh eyes, and to eat last in order to be a better leader at home and at work. I want to be the leader and dad who inspires those around me to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more. Let's all go be the leaders, and fathers, we wish we had.

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This free ebook is designed to help you and your children become closer and more connected. Use it for yourself or share it with other dads.

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Announcing 24/7 Dad® 3rd Edition > See What's New and Save $200 During the Pre-Sale!

Developed by parenting and fatherhood experts, 24/7 Dad® A.M. and P.M. teaches men the characteristics they need to be good fathers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Used by a wide variety of fatherhood leaders and fatherhood organizations across the country, research shows 24/7 Dad® successfully changes fathers’ attitudes, knowledge, and skills. And now, with research-based enhancements and additions, our flagship fatherhood program is even better than ever in its 3rd Edition!

24/7 Dad® remains based on a philosophy that supports the growth and development of fathers and children as caring, compassionate people who treat themselves, others, and the environment with respect and dignity. This philosophical basis of caring and compassion forms the underlying structure that constitutes the values taught in the 24/7 Dad® A.M. and P.M. programs. Each 24/7 Dad® Program consists of 12 group-based sessions that build on each other and cover a variety of fathering topics - from family history and what it means to be a man, to communication and dealing with anger.

24/7 Dad® 3rd Edition takes the A.M. and P.M. programs to the next level with enhanced content and activities, the addition of an optional introductory session, video integration, a complementary mobile app, and more!

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Here are 10 enhancements to 24/7 Dad® 3rd Edition:


1) More Engaging Content with Video to Increase Dads' Engagement
The addition of more than 30 videos to each program (more than 60 videos combined) means it's more engaging for dads and enhances their learning. We also added over 10 “Stories of Impact"—which are videos facilitators can use to motivate fathers to stay in the program. These stories show the impact of the programs on diverse fathers in diverse settings across the country.

2) More Evidence-Based and Evidence-Informed Content for Habit-Formation and Motivation
NFI staff constantly monitor the latest research and evaluations of fathering and parenting interventions, as well as, evidence from the behavioral and social sciences fields on strategies and tactics that positively influence behavior. The 3rd Edition integrates research and evidence on habit formation and motivation that will help you increase dads’ motivation to be involved in their children’s lives and develop and sustain the habits of an involved, responsible, committed father.

3) The My 24/Dad® Checklist Encourages Dads to Develop Positive Fathering Habits
Research shows the use of checklists increases individuals’ ability to ingrain pro-social habits through deliberate practice. The primary content addition in the 3rd Edition is the My 24/Dad® Checklist, a powerful tool integrated into each session that helps dads develop the habits of an involved, responsible, committed father. This checklist encourages dads to identify actions, based on what they learn during each session, that they can take on a periodic basis (i.e. daily, weekly, monthly, and one time) to increase their engagement with their children. We created versions of the checklist in hard copy, online, and mobile versions for use during the program and after it ends.

4) The FREE 24/7 Dad® To Go Android App Allows Dads to go Mobile with their Fathering Checklist
We produced a mobile version of the My 24/Dad® Checklist that dads can install on their smart phones to use on an ongoing basis—extending the impact of the program. The app allows dads to customize time-sensitive checklists of to-do items related to involved, responsible, and committed fatherhood. The app also includes links to information on NFI’s website (www.fatherhood.org) keeping dads connected to the latest practical advice and guidance on how to be a 24/7 Dad. Access it at the Google Play store for free.

5) ALL Program-Related Materials for Dads Now Provided in Spanish on the CD-ROM
The updated CD-ROM includes all worksheets and evaluation tools for Dads in Spanish (not previously available). And as always, fathering handbooks in Spanish can be purchased separately.

6) Optional Introductory Session on the CD-ROM Eases Fathers Into the Program
This optional session also helps facilitators learn more about the dads that comprise each unique group, including what motivated them to enroll and what will motivate them to continue coming back.

7) Pocket Reference Cards Inside Every Fathering Handbook Lets Dads Keep a Reminder Handy
New Pocket Reference Cards remind dads of The Characteristics of a 24/7 Dad and also offer 10 Affirmations to Give to their Kids. A helpful tool for use beyond the program sessions!

8) Information on the 24/7 Dad® Framework in the New Program Guide
For facilitators interested in learning more about the behavior change theories that underlie the programs and researchers interested in further evaluating the impact of the programs, the new Program Guide in the improved Facilitator’s Manuals describes the behavioral theories that create the overall framework upon which we built the programs.

9) Improved Session Guide Continues to Make Facilitation Easy
We included changes that will help facilitators completely integrate the improvements to the programs.

10) More Practitioner Input Simply Makes the Program Even Better
NFI designed the first editions and second editions with input from practitioners who facilitate fatherhood programs.

  • NFI continued to use practitioner feedback to create the third editions by gathering ongoing feedback from 24/7 Dad® facilitators across the country who work with a diversity of fathers, particularly low-income, nonresidential and/or non-custodial fathers.
  • NFI staff has also conducted training institutes for more than 1,100 organizations on how to use the programs. Practitioners provided feedback on the curriculum during these institutes that NFI incorporated into the third editions.

Save $200 NOW through February 5th!

247Dad_AM__11347Be sure to take advantage of our pre-sale pricing through February 5th. Get the entire 24/7 Dad® 3rd Edition A.M. or P.M. Curriculum Kit for just $449 ($200 less than the regular price of $649)!

Each Curriculum Kit Includes everything you need to facilitate the program “out-of-box”:

  • Facilitator’s Manual with Program Guide
  • 10 Fathering Handbooks with Pocket Cards the dads can keep (also available in Spanish!)
  • CD-ROM with an evaluation tool, marketing resources, and worksheets for the dads (all materials for fathers Spanish too!)
  • DVD with videos to enhance program delivery

Click here to learn more about 24/7 Dad® AM and 24/7 Dad® PM.

Click here to register for a free webinar on January 20 or 21 with NFI President Christopher Brown to learn more about 24/7 Dad® 3rd Edition!  

NFI's Top 20 Blog Posts of All Time

Fatherhood Changes Everything...We repeated this line all year. It's why NFI was created in 1994. This year is an extra-special year because we turned 20 years old. So, you'll find in this post our top-performing posts "of all time" - or at least since we've been tracking views!

20th_Anniv_NFI_LogoI've written for The Father Factor since early 2012, and I can tell you, we've seen steady growth and engagement from our readers each year. We are grateful to serve you with this blog for fatherhood leaders on tips and tools you need to help you and the dads around you. Thank you for reading and sharing our posts!

Here are the top 20 blog posts of all time: 

1) The Father Absence Crisis in America [Infographic] (11/12/13)
24 million children in America grow up without their father at home. Share this infographic and help connect father to child.

2) An Open Letter From a Dad to His Son on His 18th Birthday (12/19/13)
Richard Beaty writes an open letter to his son on turning 18 years old. It's worth a read from all fathers.

3) The Difference Between a Man and a Boy (6/1/12)
New research on the demise of guys and raising boys to become men by Philip Zimbardo reveals more about the issue of father absence.

4) 4 Great Resources for Single Dads (7/12/13)
New research reveals the rise of single father households. Now what? We offer suggestions for single fathers on the blog.

5) Coverage of Celebrity Deaths Always Misses the Mark (2/3/14)
The passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman is sad, but the coverage of celebrity deaths tends to miss the mark when it comes to fathers.

6) 10 Ways To Be a Better Dad (7/2/14)
Today you have a chance to start on a new path. Try these 10 ways to be a better dad. If you're already a great dad, you're welcome for the reminder!

7) 8 Things To Know About Disciplining Your Child (10/31/12)
Discipline means “to teach; to guide.” Punishment means to “penalize” for doing something wrong. Let's get this correct.

8) The Affects of an Emotionally Unavailable Dad (5/6/14)
Elizabeth writes about growing up with a dad at home but emotionally unavailable. Read her story and consider how your dad shaped your view of fatherhood.

9) 5 Questions Every Father Should Ask Himself (10/8/12)
Every child deserves a 24/7 Dad. Here are five questions to ask yourself in order help you become the responsible father you are meant to be.

10) The Challenge of Becoming a Single Father (3/4/14)
Read from one dad's experiences about the challenges (and rewards) of becoming a single father.

11) The Surprising Facts about Payments of Child Support (6/5/14)
Christopher Brown writes about child support and gender on The Father Factor Blog.

12) 5 Ways to be a Horrible Dad (1/22/13)
There are five things every horrible father does. Do them all and you can be a horrible dad too. It's simple, really!

13) Is Your Child a Match or a Torch? (6/4/12)
This post covers different child temperaments from a father's point of view raising a toddler.

14) 7 Things a Great Dad Knows (1/15/13)
Need help being a great dad? We have "7 Things Every Great Dad Knows."

15) 5 Father's Day Commercials that May Make You Shed Man Tears (6/14/13)
We have our picks for the top Father's Day commercials worthy of creating man tears. Thanks for getting fatherhood right brands!

16) 6 Tips on How to Show Your Child Reading is Awesome (3/14/14)
Get six ideas for creating a love of reading in your child and see the new video from LeVar Burton for Read Across America.

17) 3 Rules for Communicating with Your Child (10/17/12)
I say we stop calling “communication” by its name. Let’s call it “racing.” Here are 3 rules for communicating with your child.

18) What's Missing in the Adrian Peterson Story? (9/23/14)
There's a couple of things missing from the Adrian Peterson child abuse allegations. We discuss fatherhood and discipline on today's post.

19) 5 Flu-Fighting Foods for Families (2/7/13)
Get 5 ideas of foods that help fight the flu for your family!

20) Fathers Behind Bars: The Problem & Solution for America's Children [Infographic] (10/16/14)
Ninety-two percent (92%) of parents in prison are fathers. Read Fathers Behind Bars, The Problem and Solution for America's Children [Infographic].

Here are a few thoughts related to these top 20 posts: 

  • You like numbered lists. 9 of the top 20 are numbered lists. This is good because we like step-by-step lists too! They serve as helpful and easily shareable posts for you to either help yourself or help the dads around you.
  • You care about our mission. Most of these top 20 posts, nay all of the posts, relate directly back to our mission of connecting father to family. Two of the top 20 posts are infographics about the father absence crisis and about fathers in prison. Each of the 20 posts are in someway geared toward helping you be a better fatherhood leader. 
  • You want to be a better leader and/or dad. Most of this list is how-to's related to health, communication, co-parenting, and discipline. Each of these posts point back to how a dad can connect to his child.

2014 was a great year for this blog. I can’t wait to see what 2015 brings! We plan on constantly educating, equipping, and inspiring you to be a better fatherhood leader…because every child deserves a great dad.

Please note, as readers of this lovely blog, one way we are able to offer the weekly posts, the daily social media, and all of the helpful (and free) downloads are because of donations from generous folks like yourself. Please consider donating before the end of 2014. You have a few hours left to give—plenty of time to make a few clicks and donate!

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Question: What's your favorite post from us? Why? What topic(s) would you like to see us cover on this blog in 2015?

Fatherhood Begins at Conception

“Motherhood Begins at Conception”. This was a bumper sticker I saw for sale at an exhibit booth at the CareNet conference in Orlando, Florida several years ago.  It was my first CareNet conference and I was invited to accompany my colleague to help at the NFI exhibit booth. 

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Of course, coming from an organization called National Fatherhood Initiative, I asked the other booth attendant if they had a sticker saying “Fatherhood Begins at Conception”? The attendant kind of stumbled and said no, they hadn’t thought of that, but that if I wanted, she was sure I could get the company to manufacture one.

As I meandered around the exhibit hall, I was taken by the fact that there were very few - okay, only one other exhibit that had a reference to fathers. And, to my knowledge there was only one workshop offered that addressed fathers or fatherhood that year. These findings made me sad, and I knew something had to change. A child needs both parents in their lives, and they do much better physically and emotionally when dad is involved right from the start.

That’s why I’m happy to report that I’ve seen an evolution of sorts in the last few years when it comes to addressing the importance of fathers within Pregnancy Resource Centers (PRC’s). Obviously, Roland Warren’s role at CareNet has created a clearer focus on fathers within PRC’s. But more so, I have a sense that the centers themselves are also embracing the idea of whole family, and coming alongside not just the moms during the pregnancy, but the dads as well. Thrilling!

As I reflect over the last couple years, change has truly been in the air. In 2013, NFI provided a free webinar PRC’s on the Frontlines of Fatherhood, and in 2014, NFI offered another free webinar, Pregnancy Centers and Dads, Intense Work! - Both well attended by PRC’s. Further, NFI was invited to conduct 2 workshops at the 2013 CareNet Conference, and in 2014 NFI provided an Advanced Track training for Doctor Dad®, as well as a fatherhood panel discussion workshop (we were part of a full fatherhood track with several fatherhood related offerings in every set of sessions.) Again, thrilling!

With the increased volume in pregnancy center calls/email, NFI created a web-link specifically for PRC’s with suggested resources, and in 2013, NFI and CareNet entered into a formal partnership providing specific resources for their centers and a discount for CareNet affiliates. It has been wonderful to see these two impactful organizations - both with excellent missions - joining forces to improve the well-being of children across the nation.

On a personal note, I recently had the chance to see fathers engaged in a local pregnancy center in which my husband and I volunteer. The center’s regular fatherhood volunteer suddenly became ill, and my husband was asked, at the last minute no less, to fill in. I equipped him with NFI’s downloadable resource, 17 Critical Issues to Discuss With Dads, to give him a simple resource to use to engage the guys that night. 

But alas, there were no dads that first night. However on the second night there was one, and on the third night there were two waiting for him when we arrived! My husband’s commented on this resource as “genius” because he can conversationally insert a topic and the dads respond and conversations are started. I use this example to say that many NFI resources can be suited to any father interaction, whether one-on-one or in a group situation. And as you can see from first hand experience, a person does not need extensive training to help fathers/fathers-to-be. Just a willing heart and a helpful tool to guide the conversation! This goes to show: if you are a PRC who has a committed, willing volunteer, who is committed, along with a solid resource (whether a brochure, discussion guide or full-blown training program) – you can reach fathers. 

As always, please feel free to reach out to me for ideas on reaching fathers through pregnancy centers: Ave Mulhern, amulhern@fatherhood.org, 240-912-1265.

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Fatherhood Leader > Learn the 17 Critical Issues to Discus with Dads

 

What Annie Needed That Every Kid Needs

The great cast, the catchy songs, and the cute dog...it's all back in a fresh way with the new family movie, Annie. But, I'd regret it if all I did was talk about the cuteness of this film and tell you to head to theaters this weekend. Yes, the cast is great, the songs are catchy, and the dog is cute. And yes, you should go see it this weekend. But, more than this; I hope what jumped out at me will jump out at you...the story...especially one scene.

annie-cover-for-blogOn any given day in America, there are more than 400,000 children in foster care. Today, there are 102,000 children in the U.S. foster care system waiting to be adopted. Many will never find a permanent family. Youth aging out of foster care face challenges without a permanent family. As you know from The Father Absence Crisis in America, when a child is growing up in a father-absent home, he or she is more likely to face unique challenges in several areas, to name a few:

The scene that impressed me the most was when Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) decides to foster Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis), and the NYC case manager visits Stacks' home where Annie is to stay. The case manager visits with clipboard-checklist in hand as per the usual. What she finds is not typical. 

Annie's case manager walks into Stacks' plush Manhattan highrise and begins to run down her checklist for whether or not he meets the requirements of the state for fostering Annie. Please note how fostering children works, the state looks to see whether a child's most basic needs can be met. While situations can vary and requirements differ among states, there are general needs foster parents are usually responsible for ensuring. For instance, AdoptUSKids points out foster parents should ensure basic medical needs, day-to-day needs (food, clothing, and school supplies), and sleeping arrangements. 

Imagine the case manager's surprise when she arrives to check for running water and a bathroom and instead finds Will Stacks' sprawling highrise. This scene made me reconsider what it takes to be a fit parent—all the seemingly small, yet great tasks that make a dad a great dad.

In that moment, screening Annie in a dark screening room high in the New York City clouds, I was taken back to the basic needs of a child and what really matters. On screen, Annie gets more than she needed and certainly more than she could've dream while holding a mop for Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz).

Watch the film and you will be swept up in the glory of it all too. Does it take money? Sure, some. Does it take four walls and running water? Well, the state thinks so. Does it take power and celebrity? Nope. Watch and you'll see Will and Annie's relationship deepen from what Stacks can give Annie—to what Annie gives Stacks. 

The story of this remake is the moments when only Will and Annie are on screen. Take in these little moments as they make a meal together, play with the dog, and toss a ball in the park. Notice these are things any father can do with his child, whether he owns a phone company or not. This is the story that makes the movie worth watching and recreating for a new generation. 

We often say a great dad is three things: involved, responsible, and committed. Notice anything about these three words? They don't require a large bank account—or a Manhattan apartment. We define these three words as part of being a Double Duty Dad

  • INVOLVED—he gives of his time and takes an interest in the well-being of the child or father he mentors.
  • RESPONSIBLE—he is a good role model (in his personal and professional life) for a child or a father and takes care to keep those he mentors safe from physical and emotional danger.
  • COMMITTED—he is reliable and keeps his promises.

The new remake of Annie is more than the catchy songs, the great cast, and the cute dog. My two young daughters will enjoy the film for these three things now. But, as my daughters grow with this film, they will see a great example of a strong father-daughter bond being formed on screen. Don't take this film lightly, parents. Make no mistake, this movie is about father absence. It's about adoption. It's about an opportunity to do something today, not tomorrow. When you hear Annie sing "tomorrow" in theaters this weekend, remember Annie lived with a room full of children that deserve a family too.  

Become a Double Duty Dad®

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24 million children are growing up in America without their father in the home. You probably know at least one.

You can make a difference:

1) to a fatherless child in your circle of influence or 
2) mentor another dad. 

We call this being a Double Duty Dad.

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