Mobile Toggle
donate twitter  facebook  mail_button 

The Father Factor



Somewhere I read that raising a child is like playing a game with the child, but a long, complex game in which roles change over time. This is a story called "Syzygy" from my book. There are many ways to communicate and throwing a ball back and forth is one of them. See if you agree.

syzygyphotoNight in the town where we live is especially dark. This is because the streets are not electrified. Instead, we have gas lamps. 

The gas lamps give the town a feeling of elegance, but they don’t give much light. The combination of low light and uneven sidewalks has sent more than one new resident sprawling. The standing joke is that you need a miner’s hat with a beacon to keep from falling. Many a pizza delivery boy has spent precious minutes hopelessly searching for the right house while the pie cooled off. 

For a few hours on one evening, a celestial event changed all of this. 

In our house, we had just moved into a new phase called adolescence. Parents experiencing adolescence undergo physical changes. They begin to feel old, so old that they can’t remember their own adolescences.  They’re prone to exaggeration and wild mood swings. They begin to doubt themselves and ask if they are the only ones feeling these massive changes.

For me, one change symbolized everything – my son was ambivalent about having a catch. How many times had we taken out the ball and two gloves in his short life – two hundred, five hundred, a thousand?

How many times had he come to me with the question: “Wanna have a catch?” I always wanted to have a catch. Throwing a baseball was for me one of the most life-affirming acts on the globe. Each throw recognized our separateness; each catch confirmed our connection.

We threw softballs, hardballs, tennis balls, a cloth ball we called the crooked ball, even a frisbee on occasion. We kept track of our streaks – how many throws we could make without dropping the ball? He asked me to throw him hard grounders, and he responded with spectacular leaping throws to my first baseman’s stance. He asked me to throw him high pop-ups, which I did the way my cousin had shown me many years ago, looking up and throwing overhand.

There may have been one or two or a dozen times in his life when I was too preoccupied to say, “Yes, I’ll have a catch with you,” and now I regret every one of them, but not as much as I regret the day I came to him and said, “Wanna have a catch?” and he answered me with: “That’s alright,” which in his new, relaxed lingo meant simply “No.” I was devastated.

The dictionary defines syzygy as an event in which three or more celestial bodies are in perfect alignment. On one night in the recent past, the northeastern United States experienced a syzygy and our town, one of the darkest places in the universe, was flooded with light at 9:30PM.

Earlier in the evening, I had persuaded my son to come out at the appointed time to see something he might never see again. Once out, we did something it seemed as if we had not done since the mornings in New York City when I would bring him to pre-school. We went for a walk.

It only lasted five minutes, but it was full of a sense of discovery under that impossible light, just as it had been back then, when we ran from the two-headed monster drainpipes, avoided the cracks in the sidewalk, and jumped up from the street over each curb with both feet together.

We found ourselves back in front of the house. The same thought rushed to our lips: “Wanna have a catch?”

And so we did, adding a fourth celestial body to the perfect alignment of this evening – the orb traveling between us.

Like this story? You can read more stories like this from my book here.

What one tip could you give younger dads for how to grow a strong bond with their child before those special teen years?

The Father Factor Blog  

photo credit: here

Pretty Much Everything You Need to Know to Be a Master Nurturer

What? Being a "Master Nurturer" not on your bucket list? It should be. Let's talk about it...


Just to keep everything on track, let's recall the five traits of the 24/7 Dad. Here's the quick rundown:

  1. The 24/7 Dad is Self-Aware: The 24/7 Dad is aware of himself as a man and aware of how important he is to his family. Read more about The Importance of the Self-Aware Father.
  2. The 24/7 Dad Cares For Self: The 24/7 Dad takes care of himself. Read more about The Oxygen Mask Rule of Fatherhood.
  3. The 24/7 Dad Understands Fathering Skills: The 24/7 Dad knows his role in the family. Read more about the 3 Things You Should Do > Because You're Being Watched.
  4. The 24/7 Dad Understands Parenting Skills:  The 24/7 Dad nurtures his children.
  5. The 24/7 Dad Understands Relationship Skills: The 24/7 Dad builds and maintains healthy relationships with his children, wife/mother of his children, other family members, friends, and community.

Here's the great news...these five traits have a guarantee: master each of them and you are a 24/7 Dad. Let's talk about trait four, a dad and his nurturing. Remember, we've been talking about how you, as dad, are unique and irreplaceable in your child's life. When it comes to parenting and your relationship as a caring nurturer to your child, it's no different. We often say here at NFI a good dad does three things well: provides, nurtures, and guides. Let's talk about how we can do all three better. 

The 24/7 Dad Understands Parenting Skills

The 24/7 Dad nurtures his children. Yes, nurturing is not just for mom. You should know how your parenting skills help to develop your child's physical, emotional, intellectual, and social needs. Your child trusts and feels safe with you because you care about and nurture through the use of proven parenting skills. Basically, you should be a Master Nurturer. 

There are four ways every dad should interact with his child. If you do these four things, you'll be the dad who shows his thoughts, feelings, and actions on a daily basis in a way that respects folks.

1. The Master Nurturer Encourages His Child.

Don't rush passed this first point. It sounds simple, right. I bet you're saying to yourself sarcastically, "Oh, Ryan is telling us to encourage our kids, great. Thanks for the tip, Ryan. Great, helpful stuff!" Well, stop being sarcastic, it's ugly and rude! Also, please understand why I mention it. Kids often send themselves negative messages. Who doesn't?!

As your child ages, he or she may learn to think and say things like they’re no good, they’re not smart, they’re too short or too tall. They hear these messages from friends, from parents, and pick them up from watching TV, online, did we say friends and TV yet?

Teach your child to send good messages, such as “I’m smart,” “I’m going to do well on this test,” “I can become anything I want to become.” This is a skill that will last a lifetime. Odds are good that if you are doing this for yourself—it will come out in your words to your children. So get yourself in front of a mirror alla Stuart Smalley if you must and tell yourself: "I'm good enough. I'm smart enough. And doggone it, people like me."

2. The Master Nurturer Listens to His Child.

Kids are by nature the most impatient human beings alive—rivaled only by teens—or so I hear. Kids want things or want to do things the exact moment it enters their minds. My beautiful and precious daughters will ask for a cup of milk and wonder why the cup of milk doesn't appear in their hands as they are making the request for said milk.

Kids don’t like to wait. Depending on the age of your child, you can try telling him or her that you hear what they want and that you know it’s important to them. Saying, "I hear ya, you want milk. Awesome. I'll get you that delicious milk shortly. But right this second, I'm busy writing a blog post that's way more important than your cup of milk. If I can't write this post, then daddy doesn't get paid. If daddy doesn't get paid, you don't enjoy sipping delicious milk." Okay, perhaps I derailed here.

My point is, saying that you hear your child's request honors him or her. It shows that you're listening. This doesn’t mean that you give in to their every wish, only that you hear them. Check in to make sure you know what they want and then respond. Hearing what they want will “soften the blow” in case you need to tell them they can’t have it, can't do the thing they want, or that they’ll have to wait longer for what they want.

3. The Master Nurturer Avoids Negative Labels.

This point is a tough one. It takes looking inside yourself. Don’t give your child a bad label based on what they want, say, or do. Dads often label what they want, say, or do as bad, lazy, dumb, and crazy. Worse, dads may label their children as bad, lazy, dumb, and spoiled to describe their children as a whole. Bad labels only create more of what you don’t want to see.

When your children want, say, or do something you don’t agree with, don’t put a label on it. Here's an example of what not to say, “That’s dumb to want a bike right now.” Instead say, “I understand you want a bike right now. Bikes are awesome. Your dad loves bikes. Let's try and get you a bike in a few weeks. There are some things a rider of bikes must do in order to get a bike.” Hear the difference? Good labels will create more of what you want to see. Labels such as good, smart, special, and caring will go a long way to helping you and your child enjoy your talks.

4. The Master Nurturer Focuses on Teaching His Child.

This step isn’t as easy either. We can tear down our children after our children do something wrong; or, we can point out what our children did wrong again and again without saying what our children did correctly.

This approach doesn’t help your child learn from his or her mistakes. If you don't point out the good a child does, the child will most likely only hear the bad labels instead of seeing the lessons. When your child does something wrong, ask, “What did you learn?” or “What should you do differently the next time?” If your child doesn't see the lesson, point it out, but only after you given ample time for your child to express what he or she learned. This approach honors your child and makes it more likely your child will listen to you. Besides, you might be surprised at how much your child will learn from his own mistake. Use this tip not only when your child does something wrong, use it when they do something right.

The 24/7 Dad asks himself: How well do I “Parent"?

Our friend Kevin of Double Trouble Daddy knows what being a 24/7 Dad means. He wrote a post on caring for his twins here. Kevin gets 24/7 dadding. I encourage you to read the full post, but here's part of it. He writes: 

What you don’t realize about me is that I’ve been changing my sons’ diapers since before they even came home from the NICU. I’m a stay-at-home father and proud of it. I’m downstairs drinking coffee before they even open their eyes in the morning, and I am listening to them on the baby-monitor roll around mid-dream long after they’ve gone to bed. I’m a dad twenty-four hours per day, seven days a week. There’s a lot of us out there….more than you realize. I’m not just talking about stay-at-home fathers…I also mean working dads as well. Dads are more involved in their children’s lives than ever before and it’s awesome to see and be part of. The days when the only role we played in the family dynamic was that of the breadwinner are over.  


New Call-to-action

Please go here to buy the shirt! Then, share pics of yourself or the dad in your life using #247Dad on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Fatherhood leaders > Wear this unique t-shirt to show how proud you are to be a leader. Give it to dads who attend your program or as a graduation gift.

Dads, Moms, & Children > Wear this shirt to show your passion for fatherhood and inspire those around you to live as responsible fathers. Or, give as a gift to a dad you know.

Question > What does being a 24/7 Dad mean to you?

The Father Factor Blog

TEDxTalk: First Time Fathers: A Candid View of Their Experiences (Video)

Earlier this year, I was invited to a TEDxTalk, interviewed and then presented. I dedicate this talk to fathers everywhere who play equally critical roles in the lives of their children. 

Fathers are not always biological and sometimes men who father are not in the family of the child. Fathers maybe men who are mentoring a child of a single mother or an uncle, or grandfather who is there to role model what a man is to a fatherless child. I also dedicate this talk to the men who may have desired to be fathers and for whom this may not have been their privilege. May they know their dream was important! I encourage comments on the TEDxTalk and I hope you enjoy it and find it beneficial.

Having trouble viewing this video? Click here to watch.

My own father was diagnosed with a rare form of aggressive cancer in December of 2013. A month before my TEDxTalk he died (February, 2015). My dad was not perfect. He made many mistakes. He was a military man and we grew up in the military. I spoke at his funeral and this is what I thanked him for before he died.  My father taught me to tie my shoes and I learned competence, my father taught me to ride a bike and I learned skill mastery, my father taught me how to play baseball (not softball) and I learned girls were important too! May he rest in peace.

As a Family Life Mentoring Coach, a certified international infant massage instructor, and a researcher, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with men over the years, who have shared candidly with me about their experiences fathering and their relationships with the woman in their life. It has broadened my perspective and has been a privilege to be trusted with their stories, I am deeply grateful.

About the TEDxTalk

What this TEDxTalk is about is the research I conducted at Florida State University with first time fathers. I will give a brief overview, as the many benefits that fathers and their perceptions of the benefits to their babies, were discussed in detail in a prior post.

Just a short recap: I taught fathers infant massage and then gathered data through video recordings, interviews, and diaries fathers kept while massaging their infants throughout the study. What I learned while writing up the research and from fathers outside of the research who spoke with me about the topic was as valuable as the actual research.


Behind the TEDxTalk

What was not in the TEDXTalk that you can view here—I believe is as important—is what I learned writing up the research. In the historical development of attachment theory and bonding (prior 90+ years) only mothers and their infants were included in the studies.

Indeed even the preliminary studies of the 1920's Hammett and the mommy and baby rats, 1930's Harlow and the baby monkeys, 1940's - 1950's Ainsworth and Bowlby human mothers and babies all centered on studying the relationship between the mothers and the babies.

What was in this research was just as important as what was not in the research, as while the research assisted us in understanding how important this first relationship was to babies, it also was responsible for a backlash to mothers. Everything that went wrong in a child's behavior and development was construed by society to be the direct result of "bad mothering."

I am not proposing that there are not less than optimal mothers; however, optimal mothers who were raising children without fathers in the pictures were not granted the benefit of consideration of how hard it was to raise a child without the father in the home. Nor were fathers credited for their equal contribution to the positive outcomes in their children. It was a discredit to mothers, fathers, and most importantly to children. 

The first attempt at a longitudinal study of fathers in the late 90's resulted in the conclusion that fathers did not bond and attach, as did mothers. In reviewing this particular research I discovered that the tool developed by Ainsworth in the middle of the last century to classify babies' attachment behaviors towards their mothers, was the tool was used in this longitudinal study.

Additionally it was used to classify behaviors of older children after spending what would be a considerably short period of time with the fathers. To be perfectly clear, it was inappropriately used in the study considering the original design and development and negates the conclusions of that study.

We need to gather this information from fathers who are involved from the beginning of the pregnancy (babies hear their fathers voices in utero) and at the time of the birth when they have had bonding experiences with their babies (fathers also experience increased levels of oxytocin when they care for the baby) and throughout the development of the child before we make assumptions about bonding and attachment between babies and fathers. As a side note, infant massage provides for an intense bonding experience (chemistry) between the baby and a caregiver as it engages 4 of the 5 senses which are how bonding occurs. 

Since the TEDxTalk

Recent studies at the University of Notre Dame indicate that fathers who sleep near their babies have drops in their testosterone levels and make assertions that this may mean fathers are more responsive to their babies indicating that mothers are not the only parent who can respond to the babies needs. Prior care giving studies indicated that fathers' levels of oxytocin increases the more time they spend in childcare activities such as bathing, changing, feeding and playing with their babies.

In conclusion

As a society when we treat men like they are outsiders and those babies are exclusively the mothers' domain, then, we do children and fathers a disservice. Considering how they were deprived of fathering play as children (dolls were off limits) and deprived of dual custody, based upon gender rather than merit, it most certainly has been the child that suffered.

Fathers who participate in child care classes spend more quality time with their babies and report feeling confident and competent in their role as a father. Both competency and confidence are scientific indicators of long term involvement in the lives of their children. After publishing articles on this research, I wrote the first of many books to come and published it on Amazon, "Hassle Free Bedtime," that includes information from my research and the research of others to support fathers in their journey of acquiring new skills.

Caution on "our parental rights."

Children have a need to be protected from exposure to violence. Neither gender has a right to expose a child to neglect or violence or sexual exploitation as children require a higher standard of responsibility because they are developing and vulnerable. Any parent who claims a right to raise a child or be in the life of the child and who has exposed a child to violence or sexual exploitation has a responsibility to seek treatment before expecting access to their child. 
  The Father Factor Blog

How Mass Media Portray Dads & What You Can Do About It

It's easy to complain about the negative fatherhood stereotypes that mass media often portrays. But, rarely do I see the depth of information and application of research into practical tips for leaders than what can be found in the following article from NFI's president, Christopher A. Brown.

Brown recently wrote a fasinating article titled, "Americans' View of Fathers' Competency as Parents Through a Mass Media Lens" at the request of Zero to Three Journal. Chris has over a decade of experience working with fathers at NFI, and in this article you can see his gift of applying science and research to explain culture and help individuals and organizations encourage more involved fathers. Let's talk about it...


Brown's article was written to raises awareness among professionals in the field of infant mental health. But, you will no doubt see this information can be used by a much wider audience. Brown points out from the research that TV is still one of the major forms of mass media shaping our values and perceptions, from sitcoms to advertising and commercials.

He reveals some telling stats on America's use of TV, particularly: 

  • Nearly every home (97%) has at least one TV
  • The average home contains nearly 3 TVs.
  • Americans watch TV 3-5 hours a day.
  • Adults watch nearly 38% more TV than children.

The Fatherhood Image in TV and Advertising
From Jim Anderson in Father Knows Best to Al Bundy in Married...With Children and Jay Pritchett of Modern Family, TV dads are usually portrayed as foolish, no matter what race or socioeconomic status is depicted.

The portrayal of fathers in commercials and advertising play a huge role in how we see fathers. Studies show commercials rarely portray men as nurturers. Brown points out one study found "when fathers were included in commercials, none of them were portrayed as nurturers whereas half of mothers were portrayed as nurturers (Gentry & Harrison, 2010)." 

Brown says that fathers are still often portrayed by consumer brands as one extreme or the other. On the one side fathers are shown as incompetent, foolish, and emotionally disconnected as parents. "The double standard involves competent, wise, emotionally connected mothers who must often rescue those fathers," says Brown. He cites Lowe's and LG for his research

But thankfully, there's the other extreme. Brands who show dads as competent, nurturing, and emotionally healthy parents. Brown cites General Mills Canada and Toyota as two such brands. General Mills' #HowToDad and Toyota's 2015 Super Bowl campaign "One Bold Choice Leads to Another" campaign promoted positive fatherhood images. The General Mills and Toyota campaigns show the reality of parenting today. As Chris points out: 

"The influence of parents as partners in raising children is all aspects of domestic life has continued to grow. Fathers have taken on a steadily increasing share of the parenting load in recent decades (USA Today, 2013). Fathers spend more time than ever with their children generally, grocery and retail shopping for the family, and doing housework (e.g., cooking and cleaning). Fathers are also more focused than ever on the desire to balance work and family. Indeed, they're often more conflicted than mothers in this regard (Aumann, Galinsky, & Matos, 2011)."

Why is Fathers' Portrayal Important?
Research is clear that a child needs the presence and involvement of his/her father. We know that kids who grow up with involved fathers are better off across all physical, emotional, mental, and social outcomes than a child who grows up without his/her father. So, we can deduct that fathers' involvement is as least as important as mothers' involvement to the healthy development of the child. 

Sadly, parents and professionals are often not aware of this evidence, and so their views aren't informed and shaped by this education. If mass media is getting fatherhood wrong, what about parents and professionals who've had negative experiences with their fathers/husbands/partners of their own children?

This kind of negative slide is what Chris says can lead to the "ultimate detriment of children and families." He says:

"When professionals hold a negative view of fathers, they are reluctant to engage fathers and may unwittingly support negative maternal views of fathers by not encouraging the mothers to involve fathers. Professionals also reinforce fathers' negative view of themselves by not proactively engaging fathers to show them they can be good parents."

What You Can Do?
Brown writes more in depth in his article about how we view fathers and how that view effects us. But he doesn't stop there. He closes his article with helpful ideas of what professionals (like you!) can do to counteract the negative portrayals of fathers.

Remember, this is all about the well-being of children. So, the message that dad can be competent and involved only helps the cause -- it does not hurt. If you are a professional (educator or not) you have a special role in shaping the view of fathers' competency. 

From TV portrayals, to mass media advertising, and even digital and social media, seeking to counteract whatever bad or negative portrayals you've seen from dads in your life is important—for you and for those around you.

The following list will prove helpful in seeking to view fatherhood as you should—as important and vital to children. The following tips can be found in more detail in the full article here:

  • Identify whether parents have a positive or negative view of fathers' competency and potential competency. Brown suggests asking non-threatening, open-ended questions to identify the parent's view of the father and fathers in general.
  • Identify whether the TV shows and advertising parents watch support or don't support a positive view of fathers' competency. Ask parents about the ways in which fathers are portrayed in the TV shows and advertising parents watch. Ask whether those portrayals are realistic and how they support or don't support parents' view of fathers competency.
  • Encourage parents to watch TV shows that portray fathers as competent, nurturing parents. Make a list of TV shows to watch. Identify shows that portray fathers as competent and nurturing. It's fine if the father struggles in his role as long as he is competent and nurturing. You can also look for shows that include a healthy relationship between the father and mother, even if the parents aren't together. 
  • Encourage parents to pay attention to the TV shows their children watch and how those shows portray fathers. Children's shows can contain negative portrayals of fathers. These shows shape children's views of fathers in general. They can also reinforce a negative view a child might have of his own father, especially if the child's mother talks negatively about the father to or in front of the child. Encourage parents to talk with their children about the portrayals of fathers in the shows their children watch. Tell parents to expose their children to shows with positive portrayals and even to watch those shows together. 
  • Engage fathers right from the start. There are a number of ways professionals can engage fathers from their very first encounter with clients. Simple acts like including information on program intake forms that capture the father's information and more involved acts like requiring the father's presence (when feasible) at initial and subsequent parent engagements (e.g., home visits) send an important message—the father is important and valuable.
  • Provide parents with access to information, such as literature (e.g., brochures and guides) and websites, which discuss the importance of father involvement in children's lives or provide advice on how fathers can become more involved generally and in specific areas of children's lives (e.g., education and sports). Professionals should ensure that the sources of information are appropriate for a parent's literacy level and informed by research.
  • Conduct programs or workshops for fathers on father involvement or refer fathers to organizations that provide such programs or workshops. Increasing father involvement doesn't happen overnight. Some fathers need training on how to be a better father. There are fathering programs that last several months and workshops that last a day to a few days. Ensure that the programs and workshops are based on or informed by evidence on what works to increase father involvement. 
  • Provide literature or conduct programs or workshops for mothers on improving the relationships they have with the fathers of their children. Maternal gatekeeping is when a mother can inhibit a father's access to his child. A mother can do so consciously or unconsciously whether she and the father are married, cohabitating, or never married. There are resources, programs, and workshops that seek to address maternal gatekeeping by raising mothers' awareness of this phenomenon and encouraging mothers to loosen unnecessary restrictions on fathers' access to their children.
  • Assess the "father readiness" of professionals' organizations and implement strategies and tactics to increase father readiness. Professionals rarely practice in a vacuum. They are usually part of an organization that is dedicated to or has a focus on infant mental health (or another specific area) and work with parents. The culture and practices of an organization influence the professional's work with parents. An organization that believes, for example, in the value of fathers will encourage a professional to engage fathers and, hopefully, provide resources (e.g., funds and training) to help the professional with that task. An organization that doesn't value fathers will erect barriers to a professional's attempts to engage fathers. Tools exists that help professionals—indeed, entire organizations—assess an organization's willingness and readiness to engage fathers and create no-cost and low-cost strategies and tactics to increase father readiness (see NFI's Father Friendly Checkup). 

The culture and mass media messages we see daily create a challenging atmosphere in which to engage fathers and create a culture where father involvement is important. Digital and social media increase this challenge. Whether you are combating negative portrayals of fatherhood in media, in your place of work, or in your own family, you can be a positive impact on a child. You can send a powerful message about the importance of fathers to the well-being of children in your life. Whether you've seen a great dad or not—you no doubt understand that creating more dads who are involved is a vital mission.

Please read our president, Christopher A. Brown's, full article by downloading the PDF here. It's only available for only a limited time.

The Father Factor Blog

How to Effectively Engage Fathers: The 5th Competency

Funding. Funding. Funding. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about recruitment and retention as being the bane of practitioners’ existence. That’s only half the story. The other half of practitioners’ bane, if you will, is funding fatherhood programs.


This post is the fifth and final in a weekly series in which I highlight the five core competencies you need to effectively engage fathers, and how you can develop each competency with NFI’s Father Engagement CertificateTM (FEC), an affordable on demand training that will help you develop those competencies.

Click here to read the post on the 1st competency: How to Create a Father-Friendly Organization

Click here to read the post on the 2nd competency: How to Design a Best Practice Fatherhood Program

Click here to read the post on the 3rd competency: How to Think Like a Marketer

Click here to read last week’s post on the 4th competency: How to Involve Moms 


The key to raising funds to start and maintain a fatherhood program is identifying diverse funding sources and securing funds from those sources that, when combined, provide multiple funding streams. All too often practitioners and organizations rely on one or two funding sources, which places the program at risk when those sources dry up as most eventually do. And all too often they’re involved in “crisis fundraising” that is reactive rather than proactive.

The fifth competency in effectively engaging fathers centers around the development of a well thought out, comprehensive Fund Development Plan for your fatherhood program that involves:

  • Identifying and securing of funds for the program.
  • How to position the fatherhood program within a larger context (i.e. related issue such as child abuse prevention).

Such a plan: 

  • Focuses on activities/tactics for raising funds.
  • Answers:
    • How you will identify funding sources?
    • How you will secure funds from sources?
    • Who will help identify and secure funds?
  • Limits crisis fundraising by:
    • Identifying opportunities to meet current program needs.
    • Identifying opportunities to meet future program needs.

To create an effective plan, you need to learn how to research, select, and engage (initially and ongoing) individual donors and other funding sources (e.g. family foundations). 

FEC Session 5: How to Develop a Funding Plan for a Fatherhood Program

This session helps you think through how you will fund your fatherhood program, and covers the importance of a Fund Development Plan. You will learn about the nuances of raising funds from individuals and foundations, as well as how to profile, research, select, and engage different types of funders/funding streams. Thinking through your funding options will help you prepare to launch a successful, sustainable fatherhood program.

Click Here to Start Your Father Engagement Training


Don’t delay. Click here to start the process of earning your Father Engagement Certificate

Do you have a funding plan for your fatherhood program?

Does your plan include current needs and anticipate future needs?



The Father Factor Blog

How to Effectively Engage Fathers: The 4th Competency

Mom and dad don’t get along. Maybe they hate each other. Perhaps there is, unfortunately, a history of abuse in the relationship. Mom might not even realize that she restricts dad’s access to his children. Do any of these descriptions ring true in your work with fathers, mothers, families?


This post is the fourth in a weekly series in which I highlight the five core competencies you need to effectively engage fathers, and how you can develop each competency with NFI’s Father Engagement CertificateTM (FEC), an affordable on demand training that will help you develop those competencies.

Click here to read the post on the 1st competency: How to Create a Father-Friendly Organization

Click here to read the post on the 2nd competency: How to Design a Best Practice Fatherhood Program

Click here to read last week’s post on the 3rd competency: How to Think Like a Marketer 

Involving Moms in Promoting Father Involvement

Our country has a remarkable structure that addresses the health and well-being of women, mothers, and children. While there are certainly issues with that structure and areas for improvement, there’s no debate about the lack of a structure that addresses the well-being of men and fathers. 

Unfortunately, fathers are most often the parent left out of the parenting equation when organizations implement parenting and family-strengthening programs. To be fair, fathers are often reluctant to avail themselves of these programs; nevertheless, organizations typically don’t make a concerted effort to reach them. Consequently, “parent” is a code word for “mom” from many fathers’ perspective. Organizations fail to speak directly to the needs and wants of fathers.

Fatherhood programs can’t make the same mistake—that is, leave moms out of the equation when it comes to implementing a fatherhood program. But wait, you might say: What do moms have to do with implementing a fatherhood program? A lot. 

Mothers are often the gatekeepers when it comes to fathers’ access to their children. Mothers can facilitate or hinder fathers’ involvement, particularly when fathers are non-residential or non-custodial. Even when mothers and fathers are romantically involved and living in the same home, mothers can unconsciously and unnecessarily restrict fathers’ access to their children.

That’s why it’s vital that you learn how to go the extra mile and build the fourth competency in effectively engaging fathers in Session 4 of the Father Engagement Certificate training: How to Work with Moms to Encourage Father Involvement.

This session covers the “why” and “how” to involving moms in encouraging father involvement. Learn about the “Five Aspects of Family Life” associated with father involvement, and how to use “intensity levels” to assess how you should approach involving moms. Also learn why training female staff to more effectively engage fathers is so important, and about a free resource from NFI that will help you train female staff to more effectively engage fathers.

Click Here to Start Your Father Engagement Training


Don’t delay. Click here to start the process of earning your Father Engagement Certificate

How much do you know about the impact of mothers in ability of the fathers you serve to be as involved as possible in the lives of their children?

Do you know the typical behaviors associated with “restrictive gatekeeping?”




The Father Factor Blog

Happy Father's Day, from The Drac Pack and NFI! (Hotel Transylvania 2 Official Trailer)

It’s time to celebrate the man who always knows just what to say...Happy Father's Day from Hotel Transylvania 2This Fall, see what happens when "Vampa Drac" calls in his dad Vlad for backup! Check out the brand new trailer to see Drac, Johnny, Mavis, Dennis and all your favorite monsters on a whole new human-monster adventure!


About Hotel Transylvania 2

The Drac pack is back for an all-new monster comedy adventure in Sony Pictures Animation's Hotel Transylvania 2!

Everything seems to be changing for the better at Hotel Transylvania... Dracula’s rigid monster-only hotel policy has finally relaxed, opening up its doors to human guests.

But behind closed coffins, Drac is worried that his adorable half-human, half-vampire grandson, Dennis, isn’t showing signs of being a vampire. So while Mavis is busy visiting her human in-laws with Johnny – and in for a major cultural shock of her own – “Vampa” Drac enlists his friends Frank, Murray, Wayne and Griffin to put Dennis through a “monster-in-training” boot camp.

But little do they know that Drac’s grumpy and very old, old, old school dad Vlad is about to pay a family visit to the hotel. And when Vlad finds out that his great-grandson is not a pure blood – and humans are now welcome at Hotel Transylvania – things are going to get batty!

Hotel Transylvania 2 in theaters September 25th!

Get a Sneak Peek of Hotel Transylvania 2!

Watch the official trailer for Hotel Transylvania 2.


Follow Hotel Transylvania 2

Find more information at


Cast of Hotel Transylvania 2 


  • Adam Sandler (Dracula)
  • Andy Samberg (Johnny)
  • Selena Gomez (Mavis)
  • Kevin James (Frank)
  • Fran Drescher (Eunice)
  • Steve Buscemi (Wayne)
  • Molly Shannon (Wanda)
  • David Spade (Griffin)
  • Keegan-Michael Key (Murray)
  • and Mel Brooks (Vlad)

This film is not yet rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. For future rating information, please visit

The Father Factor Blog

3 Things You Should Do > Because You're Being Watched

I know. Creepy title right? It's true though, if you're a dad, you're being watched! Great news, huh? Maybe you recall, years ago, Charles Barkley said, "I am not a role model." Guess what, he is and so are you, whether you want to be or not. At NFI, we often say "a father plays a unique and irreplaceable role in his child's life." What does that mean? What's so unique and irreplaceable about you, dad? I'm here to tell you, in case no one else does, that you are unique and irreplaceable. And being unique and irreplaceable is a great responsibility. And with great responsibility comes great sacrifice...


Do you recall the five traits of the 24/7 Dad? Just in case, here's the recap:

  1. The 24/7 Dad is Self-Aware: The 24/7 Dad is aware of himself as a man and aware of how important he is to his family. Read more about The Importance of the Self-Aware Father.
  2. The 24/7 Dad Cares For Self: The 24/7 Dad takes care of himself. Read more about The Oxygen Mask Rule of Fatherhood.
  3. The 24/7 Dad Understands Fathering Skills: The 24/7 Dad knows his role in the family. 
  4. The 24/7 Dad Understands Parenting Skills:  The 24/7 Dad nurtures his children.
  5. The 24/7 Dad Understands Relationship Skills: The 24/7 Dad builds and maintains healthy relationships with his children, wife/mother of his children, other family members, friends, and community.

We're unpacking each of these traits. We started with The Importance of the Self-Aware Father. Last time we talked about The Oxygen Mask Rule of Fatherhood and how a dad must take care of himself if he wants to take care of others. Here's the great news...these five traits have a guarantee: master each of them and you are a 24/7 Dad. Let's talk about trait three, a dad and his role in the family.

The 24/7 Dad Understands Fathering Skills

The 24/7 Dad knows his role in the family. He knows he is a model for his sons on how to be a good man/father and for his daughters on what they should look for in a husband and father for their children.

He knows he should be involved in the daily life of his children; from waking them in the morning to attending parent-teacher conferences, helping with homework, and tucking them in bed at night.

Consider some tasks in your home:

  • Who dresses the kids?
  • Who gets them ready for school?
  • Who packs lunch?
  • Who cooks dinner every night?
  • Who attends parent-teacher conferences and other events?
  • Who volunteers at school?
  • Who supports their sports and other interests/activities?
  • Who helps with homework?
  • Who reads to them (or with them depending on the age!)?
  • Who tucks them in at night?

Of course the daily schedules of work factor into this equation; however, if your answer to EVERY one of these questions on a DAILY basis is “mom,” then we have a problem. Being dad isn't a license to provide a paycheck and sit down. We say in our fatherhood training programs that a 24/7 Dad "uses his knowledge of the unique skills he and his wife/the mother of his children brings to raising his children." Either we live like dad makes a difference or we don't. But, the truth is, whether you're a good dad or a bad dad, you are making a difference—for good or ill. You are modeling something to your child every moment.

Said a different way, if you weren’t in the family, would anyone notice based on the daily initiative you take? Okay, I'm done with my rant. There is hope. After all, it's Father's Day week and we are about the business of raising up and encouraging fathers to step up to the plate.  

Here are three things to encourage you in your role as leader in your family. You are vital. Now, go live like it!

1. Know Your Child's Interests.
As a dad, and I know more than anyone, it's easy to get wrapped up in your own interests and not consider others' interests. But we're done with that old life, right? Say you have a daughter who likes American Girl dolls? Well, you think American Girl dolls are stupied. This is a conundrum. But not anymore, now that you're a 24/7 Dad, you care about American Girl stuff. Stick with me here. You're now the resident American Girl expert in the room. You know the difference between Addy and Josefina because your daughter does. Don't ask me how I know this.

What's that? You have a son and the American Girl example doesn't resonate with you? Does he play with Lego's? Well, you're a master builder. End of story. Everything is awesome in your house because YOU are your child's dad!

Ask your children about their favorite things. Need help? We created The Ultimate Guide for Connecting with Your Child for this exact purpose. Be intentional about creating daily time, maybe at dinner, to let your kids not only talk about their favorite things but come up with a list of things they would enjoy doing.

Set a reminder on your phone if you have to, we have the 24/7 Dad® To Go app for that you know, but be sure to have unhurried time to connect with your child. This doesn't have to be a long time. I sometimes have a day or so where it's just me and the kids. But in most cases, I don't have hours to devote daily to staring into my daughters' eyes. But, daily, if even for a few minutes, there should be time to listen and let them know you value them.

2. Know Your Schedule.  
Consider stopping unnecessary routines and starting better ones. The point here is to reflect on your daily or weekly routine and see where changes can be made. Are you constantly working late? Is there something you can change during the day to get home earlier? I know this is a simple example. But the point here is to stop and think about how you can best manage your time.

Do you have enough energy for the day? If not, consider steps to feel better. You shouldn't always feel tired or hurried. The folks I know who are constantly "too busy" are usually the folks who are doing the least during a day because they aren't in control of their day. It's a difficult balance and some days are better than others. But, you can learn to better manage your schedule so you don't carry around regrets.  

3. Know Your Family's Schedule. 
I tend to realize there's an event on the evening of said event. And it's not because I haven't been told about it. It's because I was told months ago and didn't add it to my calendar and have since forgotten about it. As a leader in your home, create appointments with yourself on your calendar to remind you about checking in periodically. It's too easy to get busy and often consider EVERYTHING as IMPORTANT when in reality, not everything is important.

We need to be clear about our roles in the family if we are going to live together in peaceful harmony as a family. The wife and child must understand dad's role and the dad must understand his worth and how he is "unique and irreplaceable." Show me a man who understands his role in the family and I'll show you a father who carries himself with a higher purpose. I'll show you a 24/7 Dad. Basically, the 24/7 Dad lives like someone is watching...because someone is.

The 24/7 Dad asks himself: How well do I “Father?” 

My friend Don Jackson knows what being a 24/7 Dad means. He wrote Being a 24/7 Dad over at his blog Daddy Newbie. Don gets dadding—all of it: 

Don't get me son can be trying at times, but it is all part of the total package. If all I had were days when he listened, when I didn't have to repeat myself 100 times, when he didn't try to push the limits fo what he can and can't do, where he took naps and was never cranky, when he didn't spill something right after I told him to be careful, when he didn't change his mind 43 times from the frig to the table on what he wanted for a snack-all of these things are what, to me, make being a dad 24/7 so great...we need to be reminded that being a dad isn't always puppy dogs and mud puddles. I love that it keeps me on my toes, making me bob and weave.  

You can read Don's full post Being a 24/7 Dad and be sure to like him on Facebook.


New Call-to-action

Please go here to buy the shirt! Then, share pics of yourself or the dad in your life using #247Dad on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Fatherhood leaders > Wear this unique t-shirt to show how proud you are to be a leader. Give it to dads who attend your program or as a graduation gift.

Dads, Moms, & Children > Wear this shirt to show your passion for fatherhood and inspire those around you to live as responsible fathers. Or, give as a gift to a dad you know.

Question > What's being a 24/7 Dad mean to you?

The Father Factor Blog

How to Effectively Engage Fathers: The 3rd Competency

Is marketing the same thing as outreach? Is marketing the same thing as promotion? Is marketing the same thing as sales? How should an organization market a program or service differently to fathers compared to mothers? Those are tough questions to answer, which is why understanding how to think like a marketer is so vital to effectively engaging fathers.


This post is the third in a weekly series in which I highlight the five core competencies you need to effectively engage fathers, and how you can develop each competency with NFI’s Father Engagement CertificateTM (FEC), an affordable on demand training that will help you develop those competencies.

Click here to read the post on the 1st competency: How to Create a Father-Friendly Organization, and here to read last week’s post on the 2nd competency: How to Design a Best Practice Fatherhood Program.

Thinking Like a Marketer 

Recruitment and retention are the bane of many practitioners’ existence. I can’t tell you how many folks have approached me over the years with tales of woe when it comes to recruiting fathers to enroll in a program and to maintain their participation after enrollment. 

Unfortunately, successful recruitment and retention are not simply a matter of cutting and pasting tactics that have worked for other programs. While you can certainly borrow some tactics that might work in your situation, every program must learn on its own what works to effectively recruit fathers and maintain their participation. What will work for your program will likely be a combination of what has worked elsewhere and what’s unique for your fathers in your setting. You also have to understand the difference between how to get fathers to enroll in a program and how to get them to stay after enrollment.

For those reasons and others, learning how to think like a marketer is the third competency to effectively engaging fathers. Marketing a fatherhood program involves:

  • Learning how to think logically and creatively.
  • Learning key behavior-change theories and their role in motivating fathers.
  • Learning how the “marketing mix” impacts the design of a marketing campaign.
  • Understanding the role today’s technology plays in reaching and keeping fathers engaged.
  • Understanding that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
  • Understanding that marketing requires time and patience to do correctly.

That’s why Session 3 of the Father Engagement Certificate helps you learn How to Think Like a Marketer When Marketing a Fatherhood Program. It covers important behavior-change theories and how they contribute to marketing a fatherhood program, the role of the marketing mix in marketing a fatherhood program (the 7Ps of marketing a fatherhood program), and the role of technology in promoting a fatherhood program.

Click Here to Start Your Father Engagement Training


Don’t delay. Click here to start the process of earning your Father Engagement Certificate

Do you know how to think like a marketer?

How easy or difficult is it for your program to recruit fathers and maintain their participation?



The Father Factor Blog

How to Effectively Engage Fathers: The 2nd Competency

Quickly…name three best practices in designing effective fatherhood programs. Cat got your tongue? If so, you’re not alone. Answering that question is about as hard as scoring a 2400 on the SAT.


This post is the second in a weekly series in which I highlight the five core competencies you need to effectively engage fathers, and how you can develop each competency with NFI’s Father Engagement CertificateTM (FEC), an affordable on demand training that will help you develop those competencies.

Click here to read last week’s post on the 1st competency: How to Create a Father-Friendly Organization

Best Practices

The second competency in effectively engaging fathers is the ability to design a fatherhood program (or service) based on the practices that have the most impact on program success. These practices—commonly referred to as “best practices”—provide the foundation or structure for effectively engaging fathers regardless of your experience serving fathers, the kinds of fathers you serve, or the setting in which you serve them. 

What, exactly, are best practices? Simply put, they’re successful, community-invented efforts (culturally relevant) worth emulating. They tell you:

  • Exactly what needs to be done differently.
  • What’s working and how you can do more of it.


  • They’re identified through observation.
  • They provide direction, hope, and motivation around change.
  • They address root causes and challenge conventional wisdom.
  • They avoid “analysis paralysis” by taking focus off “the problem” and putting it on “the solution.”
  • They create positive, short- and long-term change.

But it’s not just enough to learn these practices and how to apply them. It’s also vital that you know the “blind spots” that hinder organizations in effectively serving fathers. You need to know what they are and which ones are most relevant to your organization so you can avoid being blindsided by them. 

Thus, Session 2 of the Father Engagement Certificate covers Program Design Using 7 Best Practices. This session provides you with a simple, flexible approach based on seven best practices to design an exceptional, unique, community-based fatherhood program. Learn about blind spots that hinder organizations in creating effective fatherhood programs, resources NFI has designed to help organizations leverage and unlock the power of the best practices, as well as other best practices that might be right under your nose.

Click Here to Start Your Father Engagement Training


Don’t delay. Click here to start the process of earning your Father Engagement Certificate

What does your organization do really well in serving fathers that you should do more often?

What are the biggest hurdles your organization must leap to become as successful as possible in serving fathers?



The Father Factor Blog

How to Effectively Engage Fathers: The 1st Competency

Many practitioners and organizations “leap before they look” when engaging fathers, as they often don’t take the time to consider the competencies they need to effectively engage fathers. As a result, they step off a cliff and into an abyss, and soon wonder why working with fathers is such a challenge.

blindfold-businessman-loop-before-leapingDuring the next five weeks, I’ll highlight the five core competencies (one per week) you need to effectively engage fathers, and how you can develop each competency with NFI’s Father Engagement Certificate(FEC), an affordable on demand training that will help you develop those competencies.  

Creating a Father-Friendly Organization 

The first competency in effectively engaging fathers is often the most overlooked: the ability to create a father-friendly organization. The fact that it’s often overlooked is unfortunate because it lays the foundation for the other competencies and success in engaging fathers.

What does it mean to be father friendly? It means that serving fathers is integrated into the fabric of an organization’s culture. Specifically:

  • The leaders and other stakeholders have “bought into” and provide emotional and material (e.g. financial) support to serving fathers.
  • The policies and procedures of the organization—the nuts and bolts that guide staff behavior—are inclusive of fathers, encourage staff to engage fathers, and hold staff accountable when they don’t effectively engage them.
  • The programs and services include fathers as a distinct audience to serve and include content relevant to fathers’ needs and wants as men and parents.
  • The organization engages the community in promoting its service to fathers (e.g. via referrals from other organizations) and to generate support (e.g. financial and political) for its father engagement efforts.

The trap many practitioners fall into is thinking their organization is father friendly simply because they have a fatherhood program or serve fathers as part of a larger program (e.g. general parenting or family-strengthening program). They don’t understand that it’s not enough to simply add a program, service, or other effort aimed at fathers. It’s vital to adopt a holistic approach in creating an organization that, at its very core, understands the importance of serving fathers and acts on that understanding.

That’s why Session 1 in our Father Engagement Certificate training teaches you How to Create a Father-Friendly Organization from a holistic perspective, with a focus on four areas for improvement that create an organizational culture that supports exceptional fatherhood programs and services. Learn the 8 Pillars of Leadership and no-cost and low-cost tactics to help your organization become father friendly, and also about The Father Friendly Check-Up: the most widely used tool in the nation that helps organizations become father friendly. The session also includes case studies of how other organizations have successfully used this tool.

How father friendly is your organization?

Can you name the four areas of focus in creating a father-friendly organization?

Don’t delay. Click here to start the process of earning your Father Engagement Certificate



The Father Factor Blog

The Oxygen Mask Rule of Fatherhood

"Seatbacks and tray tables should be in their upright and locked position and carry-on luggage stowed in the overhead locker or underneath a seat prior to takeoff." You've no doubt heard this announcement if you've taken a flight. But before this, and hopefully you haven't missed it, is the oxygen mask rule of flight safety. 

This rule applies to fatherhood too. No, we're not talking about the dad who's only out for number one. We're talking about being a dad who's ready to serve his family because his needs are met. Let's unpack this rule a little more... 


Maybe you didn't pay attention on your last flight, the typical safety instructions for the oxygen mask go like so... 

  • Oxygen Mask Rule #1 > the passenger should always fit his or her own mask before helping children, the disabled, or persons requiring assistance. (Read: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. THEN YOU'LL BE ABLE TO HELP OTHERS.)
  • Oxygen Mask Rule #2 > Even though oxygen will be flowing to the mask, the plastic bag may not inflate. (Read: KEEP TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF EVEN IF YOU DON'T THINK IT'S WORKING.)

Let’s get reacquainted with the five traits of the 24/7 Dad:

  1. The 24/7 Dad is Self-Aware: The 24/7 Dad is aware of himself as a man and aware of how important he is to his family. Read more about The Importance of the Self-Aware Father.
  2. The 24/7 Dad Cares For Self: The 24/7 Dad takes care of himself.
  3. The 24/7 Dad Understands Fathering Skills: The 24/7 Dad knows his role in the family. 
  4. The 24/7 Dad Understands Parenting Skills:  The 24/7 Dad nurtures his children.
  5. The 24/7 Dad Understands Relationship Skills: The 24/7 Dad builds and maintains healthy relationships with his children, wife/mother of his children, other family members, friends, and community.

When I say "24/7 Dad" I'm talking about an involved, responsible and committed father. I'm talking about a dad who knows his role in the family. He knows what it means to be a man. He understands he'ss a model for his sons on how to be a good man. If he has daughters, he models what they should look for in a husband and father for their children. Basically, he has the 10 Ways To Be a Better Dad memorized.

Everything about being a great dad is tied to one or more of the five characteristics of a 24/7 Dad. We started unpacking each of these five traits, starting with The Importance of the Self-Aware Father. We'll keep unpacking until we've covered all five traits. The great news is that these five questions come with a guarantee: if you answer each one honestly and take action, you will become a 24/7 Dad! Let's talk about trait two, caring for yourself.

1) Take care of yourself. So you can take care of others.

You have to place the plastic oxygen mask on your mouth first. You won't be around long enough to help others if you can't breath. Likewise, the 24/7 Dad takes care of himself. What does taking care of yourself look like? To start, here are a few ideas...

  • you get annual physicals
  • you eat right
  • you exercise
  • you're a life-long learner
  • you have a strong connection to your family and community
  • you pick friends who support your healthy choices.

The 24/7 Dad models for his children that he respects and likes himself because he makes good choices. This may seem weird to read because we don't talk about this much in our culture. It can seem like you're better off caring for others so much that your health is if that's the proper way to live. But that's just not the truth.

The hero who isn't healthy, isn't a hero for long. When’s the last time you were at the doctor? If your answer to this question is “I go to the doctor every decade whether I need to or not!” you may want to consider modeling a different standard to your son or daughter.

The 24/7 Dad asks himself: How well do I care for myself? 

2) Keep taking care of yourself, even it it doesn't seem to be working.

The plastic oxygen bag may not inflate after you put it on. But, as I understand it from my google search, this line in airplane safety is required in the United States because someone fatally removed their mask thinking it was not working. Don't do this...on a plane or in life.

As a dad, you may not think you need to take care of yourself. Some of this may seem unnecessary until it's necessary. But, we need to be in the business of prevention instead of treatment. What's the saying, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure"? 

When things are running smoothly, you may not see the importance of consistently caring for yourself. But, you can't miss this point. Even if you think you can go a long time without caring for yourself, you can't! We must be vigilant to care for ourselves. 

There's a healthy balance where you are cared for (read: no one else has to care for you!) and this frees you up to care for folks around you. You have your physical, mental, emotional house order (and consistently in check). Ask yourself these questions to get started:

  • Do I have a doctor? Do I know his name? Have I seen him for a check-up within the last year? How is my overall physical health? Do I even know what this means?!
  • What's my diet consist of daily? Am I giving the proper nutrition to think and be active? 
  • Do I exercise daily or at least weekly? Have I created options for being physically active? What are my biggest personal challenges? Am I ignoring them or dealing with them? What's my goal? Am I working toward that end?
  • Would my family say I'm a constant learner? Do I read? What do I read daily? Am I learning new things? Which of these things can I share with my children?

From physical health to emotional health, and everything in between, the 24/7 Dad is the well-adjusted dad. He understands he is responsible for his decisions and ultimately his actions. The 24/7 Dad also knows his ability to be with his children is affected by the choices he makes.

The 24/7 Dad asks himself: How well do I care for myself?

Richie knows what being a 24/7 Dad means. He wrote What Being a 24/7 Dad Means to Me? recently over at his St. Louis Dad blog. Richie's number one way to be a 24/7 Dad is to: 

Have patience and laugh. Kids can be extremely demanding and can be so annoying...Just be patient with them. They don’t know that asking for water fifty times in a row is driving you bananas. So just relax, calm down, and keep your cool. The last thing your kids need to see is you getting angry. Just brush it off and laugh. Kids are very entertaining, just pay a little attention and you will see exactly what I mean..  

You can read Richie's full post What Being a 24/7 Dad Means to Me? and learn his top-five ways to be a 24/7 Dad.  


New Call-to-action

Please go here to buy the shirt! Then, share pics of yourself or the dad in your life using #247Dad on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Fatherhood leaders > Wear this unique t-shirt to show how proud you are to be a leader. Give it to dads who attend your program or as a graduation gift.

Dads, Moms, & Children > Wear this shirt to show your passion for fatherhood and inspire those around you to live as responsible fathers. Or, give as a gift to a dad you know.

Question > What's being a 24/7 Dad mean to you?

The Father Factor Blog

Research to Application: Keystone Habits

In the first installment of this Research to Application series (Cues, Triggers, and Nudges), we introduced you to research from Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit1 and how organizations and practitioners can use this research to improve the effectiveness of a service, workshop, or program for fathers. In discussing the role of cues, we described the research Duhigg highlights on the power of habits and the role they play in our lives.

This installment focuses on another important aspect of the research Duhigg highlights: the concept of keystone habits.


These are the habits that matter more than others in changing unhealthy behaviors or developing healthy ones. As you can imagine, keystone habits are very important as they relate to father absence and encouraging father involvement… more on that soon.

But let’s begin by sharing one of Duhigg’s diverse examples of keystone habits and their importance in triggering a cascade of change: integrating exercise.

As Duhigg points out, research shows that when people start habitually exercising, they usually:

  • Eat better
  • Smoke less
  • Become more productive at work
  • Show more patience
  • Feel less stressed
  • Use their credit cards less often

Yes. They even become more financially responsible, at least in a specific way.

That kind of change might seem odd until you realize that exercise has a spillover or cascade effect that triggers other healthy habits because it makes other habits easier. Think of the power of exercise as the first domino in a domino structure that, when pushed into the next domino, triggers all the other dominos to fall one by one. Similarly, the power of exercise is not only in its ability to help people lose weight and become more fit; its power is also in its ability to start widespread, positive change in people’s lives—even in areas that seem unrelated to physical fitness.

The power of keystone habits explains why being an involved father is so powerful. Father involvement is a keystone habit. (Actually, a set of habits that form a keystone habit.) That’s why father involvement affects so many areas of fathers’ lives and the lives of children, mothers, and families, and even the environment in communities. When fathers are involved in the lives of their children, it triggers positive behavior in other aspects of fathers’ lives (e.g. they engage in healthier behavior), children’s lives (e.g. they are less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs), and mothers’ lives (e.g. they are healthier during their pregnancies). It’s also why it positively affects our society (e.g. lower levels of poverty and child abuse and more educational success for children). It’s why more resources must be focused on addressing the crisis of father absence. 

Ideas on Application

When it comes to working with fathers individually or in groups, you can use the power of keystone habits to help fathers identify the habits (behaviors) unique to them that: 1) trigger a lack of father involvement, and 2) will trigger greater father involvement. (You can also use keystone habits to look for clues that will improve father-mother relationships.) It’s likely that a single habit will contribute to a lack of father involvement or trigger more father involvement (moreover, it’s likely to be a group of habits.) Nevertheless, one or two of those habits might be more important than the others, thus revealing an area(s) of focus for immediate change.

To apply the power of keystone habits, use the following process, which you can customize to fit your setting (e.g. group, one-on-one case management, etc.):

Step 1: Develop a comprehensive list of frequent/regular activities/behaviors.

  • Identify the “universe” of frequent/regular activities/behaviors that fathers currently engage in.
  • Ask fathers to write or tell you (and you record) their activities/behaviors during a typical week. Consider using the structure of roles in which to group activities, such as father, husband/partner, worker/employee, friend, etc. You could start by asking fathers the roles they have, and then ask them to list the activities they engage in each week to perform those roles.
  • After fathers develop their weekly activities, ask if they perform activities less frequently (e.g. monthly), but that they do consistently, to ensure you get a comprehensive list.

Step 2: Identify existing keystone habits that promote father absence.

  • Look for keystone habits that encourage or lead to father absence. Focus on habits that are within his control.
  • Ask of each father: What do you do with such frequency that it prevents you from being present? After you identify those habits, ask: How can you eliminate them? Work with fathers to develop tactics to eliminate these poor habits. It might not be easy, but it will be worth it.

Step 3: Identify existing and potential keystone habits that promote father involvement.

  • Look for keystone habits that encourage or lead to father involvement.Again, focus on habits that are within his control.
  • Ask of each father: What do you do that gets you involved and that you could do with more frequency? Add to that list habits for fathers to consider integrating into their lives. You can come with a list to discuss or start developing a list with fathers from scratch. Identify habits within fathers’ control, they can do frequently (e.g. several times a week or once a week), and that provide “small wins.”

Step 4: Focus on small wins.

  • After fathers develop their list of potential keystone habits that promote father involvement, narrow that list down by focusing on habits that fathers can do easily and frequently before tackling habits that are harder to accomplish and that, even if easy to accomplish, they can’t do as frequently.
  • Why is this focus so important? Because it creates small wins that fathers experience often/repeatedly. While they might seem minor in the broad scheme of things, they build a foundation of confidence, especially in fathers who haven’t been successful at being involved.

Step 5: Reinforce/praise the small wins.

  • When fathers achieve small wins, praise fathers. This praise will help keystone habits snowball into the other habits of involvement the habits will affect. In other words, praise helps tip the keystone habits—the first dominoes—into the other habits. Watch them fall one by one!

Depending on your situation and how much time you have to work with fathers, it might not be possible to focus on keystone habits that both encourage and discourage father involvement at the same time. At the very least, address keystone habits that encourage father involvement. 

Application Tools

For users of NFI’s 24/7 Dad® A.M and P.M programs, the My 24/7 Dad® Checklist new to the 3rd Editions is an ideal tool for fathers to use to apply keystone habits. In fact, these should be the most important checklist items. 

In addition, NFI’s 24/7 Dad® To Go Android application (app) is an ideal tool that allows fathers to create to-do lists, and would be a great place for fathers to integrate keystone habits (download the app for free from the Google Play Store.) Having a checklist provides fathers with clear direction around what they should do on a regular basis to be involved. They can modify and add to their items (habits) as they become more involved, and want to tackle more challenging (but important) habits of an involved, responsible, committed father. 

Regardless of how you apply keystone habits, approach your effort as an experiment. Keep track of what works with fathers in general and with specific kinds of fathers (e.g. custodial and non-custodial) so that you can apply what works in future work with fathers one-on-one or in groups, and avoid what doesn’t work.


As you consider using keystone habits to improve retention and fathers’ involvement in the lives of their children, review the following resources:

Don’t forget to look for more posts and reference guides in this series!

1) Research to Application > Cues, Triggers, and Nudges

2) Research to Application > Framing and the "No Choice Option"

3) Research to Application > Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

4) Research to Application > The Power of The "Deviant Dad"

Click here for the full PDF of the this post. 

1) Duhigg, C. (2012). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York, NY: Random House.

About the "Research to Application" Series

As the nation’s #1 provider of fatherhood skill-building programs and resources, NFI provides guidance for practitioners and organizations on how they might be able to use to use the latest research on human behavior to enhance the effectiveness of their work with fathers. NFI provides this guidance in a series of blog posts called Research to Application: Guidance for Practitioners and Programs.

The series offers a platform for generating dialogue among NFI, organizations, and practitioners on ways that research can be applied to addressing pain points in serving fathers. This post is the fifth one in the series. It provides ideas on how you might integrate research on keystone habits. Integrating this research could make it easier for you to help fathers to identify the most significant barriers that keep them from being as involved in their children’s lives as they’d like to be. It could also help fathers develop the habits of good fathering above and beyond reliance on the resources (e.g. programs/curricula) you might currently use.

If you implement any of the ideas in this post, or develop and implement your own ideas, please share them with us at We’ll use your experiences to update this guide so it is even more useful.

Get Your Father Engagement Certificate™ from the Nation’s Leader

National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) has always been dedicated to providing resources, training, and technical assistance on how to effectively engage fathers. That’s why I’m so pumped to announce that we’ve taken that dedication further with the launch of our Father Engagement CertificateTM (FEC), an affordable on demand training that focuses on the 5 core competencies you need to make an even bigger difference in the lives of children, fathers, mothers, and families.


What’s Great About It? 

The FEC is:

  • On demand. Learn and earn at your own pace. Get trained and earn the FEC as quickly as you need, or take as much time as you like.
  • Convenient. Always available. No travel, no hassle.
  • Affordable. Enough said.
  • Fully automated. Get started whenever you want. The entire process from purchase to receiving your certificate is fully automated. No need to email or call staff or wait for staff to get back to you. (Although we’re here if you need us!)
  • Valuable to You. Develops 5 core competencies. Increases your effectiveness. Builds further credibility within and outside your organization. You will receive an official certificate to display and an electronic badge you can place on your resume, LinkedIn profile, and other social media profiles/accounts.
  • Valuable to Your Organization/Program. Builds organization and program effectiveness. Includes practical advice and guidance that addresses critical pain points (challenges) in serving fathers. Builds credibility with funders. Your organization can promote that it has staff with FECs from the nation’s fatherhood leader.

Who Should Earn It?

The FEC is ideal for:

  • Individuals who currently work with, or desire to work with, fathers and families in communities. It’s ideal for fatherhood practitioners and staff in community organizations, social service agencies, churches, prisons/jails, military bases, and more… basically, anywhere there are fathers receiving services or participating in programs.
  • Anyone working with fathers on a volunteer, mentor, or consulting basis.
  • Anyone who has started, or wants to start, a fatherhood initiative in his or her community.

Which Father Engagement Topics are Covered?

You will learn strategies and tactics not previously released to the public. These are strategies and tactics taught to a select group of nearly 125 fatherhood and family service organizations during NFI's 5-year federally-funded National Responsible Fatherhood Certification College. NFI invested a significant amount of time and funding to develop and hone the curriculum for the college. The FEC distills the most vital content from that curriculum. An evaluation of these organizations showed that they used the same content contained in the FEC to increase their organization’s capacity in the short term and long term to effectively engage fathers. (It also helped them acquire additional funding!)

The topics include:

  1. Foundational: How to Create a Father-Friendly Organization
  2. Program Design: 7 Best Practices in Designing a Fatherhood Program
  3. Recruitment & Retention: How to Think Like a Marketer When Marketing a Fatherhood Program
  4. Involving Moms: How to Work with Moms to Encourage Father Involvement
  5. Fundraising: How to Develop a Funding Plan for a Fatherhood Program

Click here to learn even more about the FEC including the content of each training session.

What If I Want Multiple Staff in My Organization to Earn an FEC?

That’s easy. Purchase as many FEC trainings as you need. Our fully automated process does the rest!

What If I Want Multiple Staff in Several Organizations to Earn an FEC?

That’s easy, too. Let’s say you’re with a local, state, or federal agency that has grantees or partners who can benefit from acquiring FECs for their staffs. Or, perhaps, you’re part of a city, county, or state fatherhood or family strengthening initiative that includes multiple organizations as members or partners who could use FECs? Just contact us and we’ll coordinate everything for you for the cost of the certificates you need and an additional, reasonable coordination fee.


How Do I Get Started?

That’s the easiest part. Click here to start the process of earning your Father Engagement CertificateTM. (If you need to pay by purchase order [PO], email us.)

Click Here to Start Your Father Engagement Training

2 Basic Traits Key to Lasting Relationships

Whenever I speak on the importance of father involvement, conduct a training institute on one of our programs, or conduct a capacity-building workshop, I make it a point to drive home the fact that the most important relationship in a child's life is the one between the child's parents. It's the blueprint that a child uses as a model for his or her own relationships. 


That's why improving the father-mother relationship is a vital part of our fathering programs, and why we provide programs and resources for moms, such as Understanding Dad™, that help mothers improve that relationship for the sake of their children. It's also why I scan the research for insights into how NFI can help you, if you're a dad or mom, or your organization to help individuals and couples understand the importance of this relationship and help them improve it.

The husband and wife team of John and Julie Gottman brings together two of the country's leading experts on what makes relationships successful. Together they run The Gottman Institute and have researched for four decades what makes relationships between couples work. One of their recent, fascinating discoveries is the influence that "bids" between couples have on their chances of success (i.e. a happy, long lasting relationship). (For more on this research, read this article in the Wall Street Journal from which I drew to write this post.)

A bid involves one half of a couple making an attempt to connect with the other half -- not unlike when a government agency or company issues a bid for work in an attempt to connect with a vendor to perform that work. In the case of couples, a bid can involve asking a partner a question, making an affectionate gesture toward a partner (e.g. attempting a hug or kiss), or simply making a statement. Regardless of the action, the partner who makes the bid hopes the other partner will respond, ideally in a positive, supportive manner.

The "bidee" (my word, not the Gottmans') can respond in one of two basic ways. The bidee can turn toward the "bidder" (again, my word) and respond with interest or turn away (i.e. not acknowledge/ignore the bid or respond in a hostile manner). Depending on the nature of the bid, either reaction might seem minor in the broad scheme of a relationship, especially when bids are examined in isolation. But because relationships involve frequent bids -- sometimes several times a day -- how couples handle them can provide a hint about the health of relationships. In other words, they reflect patterns of communication in relationships, good or bad. If, for example, a husband typically doesn't acknowledge bids from his wife, that pattern of communication is harmful. Why? Because when the wife makes a bid, she's doing so because she thinks it's important, which is why she expects a positive, supportive response.  

John has found that he can predict with 94% accuracy whether a couple will stay together based on how they respond to bids. He and Julie studied the interactions between married couples and followed up with them six years later. The couples who were no longer married only responded positively to bids (turn-toward bids) 33% of the time. Couples who were still married responded positively to bids 87% of the time. Although these couples were married, John says he can predict the success of relationships, based on bid reactions, whether a couple is married or not.

Herein lie the two traits of generosity and kindness that mark successful relationships. How someone responds to bids exists on a continuum with generosity and kindness on one end and contempt, criticism, and hostility on the other. This continuum applies not only to bids but also to the ways in which partners generally interact with one another. Successful relationships involve partners (or one of the partners) who constantly look for ways to support each other -- a kind of proactive generosity and kindness. They go out of their way to find ways to support their partner in minor and major ways. Unsuccessful couples involve partners (or one of the partners) who constantly look for what's wrong with the other partner that they can point out and criticize and who generally react to the other partner's statements and actions with contempt or outright hostility.

I'm convinced that these two traits lead to success in any relationship whether a couple is romantically involved or not. (Every relationship, personal or professional, involves bids.) We receive a lot of emails, calls, and responses to our blog posts from divorced parents struggling with the relationship with their ex-spouses. These relationships are often at the contempt, criticism, and hostility end of the spectrum, to the detriment of these parents and their children. These traits also apply to the relationships between parents and their children. We see a lot of dads who, as they enter our fathering programs, treat their own children with contempt, criticism, or hostility. Those reactions are a cancer that destroys everyone it touches.

If you're a dad, mom, or practitioner who works with dads, moms, or couples, heed this insight. Seek ways to move yourself or those you work with toward the generosity and kindness end of the continuum. While doing so might not be easy, everyone will be the better for it.

What's the level of generosity and kindness in your relationships? Are some toward one end of the continuum while others are at the other end?

What's the level of generosity and kindness in the relationships between the dads and moms you work with and between the dads and their children?

The Father Factor Blog

The Father Factor Blog > Where Fatherhood Leaders Go To Learn.

Search Our Blog