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The Father Factor:
Fatherhood Matters

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Are you a New Dad? Tell Us Your Thoughts Today!

We're excited to partner with the fine folks over at What To Expect, the experts on all things mom and pregnancy. We are conducting a survey about pregnancy and baby's first year. We've heard from the moms, now we want to hear from the dads!

5 Ways Fathers Can Use Science and Nature to Bond with Their Children

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

March of Dimes’ Big Miss

Very good news was just released about the United States’ preterm birthrate: in 2011, for the fifth consecutive year, it decreased. The rate now stands at a 10-year low of 11.7%.

This news was rightfully celebrated by the organization that is probably the single biggest advocate for maternal and infant health in the U.S., March of Dimes. That admirable organization has set a goal of a 9.6% rate by 2020.

Waiting for Fatherhood

The following is a post from Tony Prebula, Administrative Coordinator, Marketing and Communications at National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). If you would like to blog for us, email here.

Back when I joined NFI, I blogged about the lessons passed down from my grandfather. And I enjoyed being able to share the hope and excitement my wife and I had for having a family of our own one day.

It has been 7 months since then, and over a year since we started trying to have children. We’ve experienced loss, pain, disappointment, and at times despair. On more than one occasion over the last year, my wife and I have lost a child.

For the longest time I’ve imagined what it would feel like to hold my child with the hopes of the kind of person they would grow up to be. I imagine teaching them to ride a bike. Maybe even what the first fishing trip would be like. I imagine teaching my son how to honor his mother and all women. Or showing my daughter how she should be loved and respected in how I love my wife. I imagine being able to tell my children how proud I am for the kind of people they are. I don’t stop imagining these things. I remain hopeful, but it can get tough. 

Do You Need a “Legal Condom”?

We often receive strange things in the mail here at NFI. But today, I received one of the strangest things yet. It is called the “Miss Legal Condom.”

The Miss Legal Condom is the size of a business card, and it is designed to “empower” single women to protect themselves from having a child that is not supported financially by the father. Sounds good in theory… but the way the “legal condom” achieves this is where things get weird.

The front of the card is pictured above. The other side of the card contains a sealed ink spot with two blank spaces for the potential father to give his fingerprints. He is also supposed to sign the card indicating that he will pay child support for 18 years should a child result from the "coupling" he is presumably on the verge of entering into… Talk about a buzz kill…

As I said, I think it is admirable that there are folks out there – in this case Girls Leading Change, LLC – that seek to help women and children avoid being left in the cold by unsupportive fathers. But the devil is in the details, and this idea appears to be a bad one for three reasons.

First, from the potential father’s perspective… How many guys, when they are about to have sex with a woman, are going to be willing to give their fingerprints and sign a card that essentially binds them in an 18-year contract? And how many guys, if they do sign and a child does result, will actually take seriously the obligations this pink business card binds them to, despite all of the legalese on the card?

Second, from the potential mother’s perspective… If you feel that you need to get the fingerprints and signature of a guy you are about to sleep with in order to have some level of trust with him, shouldn’t that be a signal that you should not be having sex with him in the first place?

Finally, from the couple’s perspective… Anyone who would be willing to take the time and responsibility to fill out the “legal condom” card is probably already using some other method of birth control anyway. So, they won’t need the legal condom. In other words, the people who would actually need the legal condom (those not using birth control responsibly or having irresponsible sex) are not likely to use this card.

But maybe I have been outsmarted… It has occurred to me that perhaps the real purpose of this card is not to provide insurance for unwanted pregnancies, but to prevent the sex from taking place altogether. Referring to my first point above, when a guy sees that a woman is willing to go to such lengths to “protect” herself from being hung out to dry, he may just decide that the “benefits” he will get from the relationship are just not worth the trouble. The card, simply put, may scare him away. In that sense, this could be a work of genius.

What do you think of the idea of a “legal condom”? Bad idea or subtle but effective sex preventer?

The Intended Consequences of an Old Spaniard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't Fumble the Baby...

Last week, I had an opportunity to speak at a briefing hosted by Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL). The purpose of the briefing was to present these findings of the Commission on Paternal Involvement in Pregnancy Outcomes, a project of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. A key aspect of the commission is to determine ways to reduce infant mortality, which is surprisingly high in the US.

As a member of the commission, I had an opportunity to share a pretty personal perspective on how, as a very new dad, I first learned just how important fathers are to the health and well-being of infants. A reporter wrote this story about my remarks. Are you ready for some football?

Going "Gaga" about Sex

I came across this interesting article about Lady Gaga’s pledge to be celibate and, although I am not supportive of everything that is Lady Gaga, I have to applaud her courage to take a public stand on such a controversial topic.

Interestingly, not only has she chosen this lifestyle for herself but she is also encouraging her fans to do so as well. In a recent interview she said, “So it's OK not to have sex, it's OK to get to know people. I'm celibate, celibacy's fine." Wow.

And, Lady Gaga is not the only “sex symbol” that is speaking out about a “better way” in our oversexed culture. Check out what Rachel Welch recently said during an interview about her new tell-all book, “Beyond the Cleavage”:

“Sex is being held up for the new generation as the be all and end all. It's supposed to be an expression of your regard for someone. It's in our faces every waking minute. We worship sex, but for most people it doesn't take that long. It has its place, but it's just too prevalent. I know I sound like a prude, but can't we have cheerleaders that don't do spread eagle and grinding? Britney Spears would remember that she was a lot more happening when she wasn't pushing it. I did some of it myself and at some point it wasn't productive.”


Even some folks on college campuses, which are one of the most active breeding grounds for the “hook up” culture, are getting into the act. For example, a group of students at Princeton University launched an organization called “The Anscombe Society” that is lobbying the university to establish a Center for Abstinence and Chastity to better support students who chose to “buck the trend” and be celibate.

Given the growth that we have seen in recent years in STIs, unplanned pregnancies and father absence, this vocal support is none to soon. But it seems to me that there is something else going on here. Indeed, Lady Gaga, Welsh and these Princeton undergraduates are remembering a lesson that many in our culture have long, and conveniently, forgotten. Specifically, sex is not just a physical act but it is also imbued with emotional, relational and spiritual aspects as well. And, physical and pharmaceutical barriers, while they may prevent pregnancy, etc., they don’t protect one’s heart, emotions and soul like chastity can. I think Lady Gaga said it best when she exclaimed, “Even Lady Gaga can be celibate…you don’t have to have sex to be loved.” Words both accurate and worth going “gaga” over…

Becoming a Dad!

Here in my 8th year at National Fatherhood Initiative, I am on the verge of becoming a dad for the first time. My wife, Claudia, and I are expecting our first baby any day now. Perhaps any hour now! Just this morning, my wife was having contractions. They do not appear to be the "real thing," but a definite pre-cursor to the big moment.

I will do my best to chronicle my experiences of becoming a dad here on The Father Factor.

In this post, I wanted to point out something that I had heard about in the abstract for many years, but now know to be true -- it is difficult for expectant fathers to feel connected to their coming baby. In the least, it is much more difficult for fathers than it is for mothers.

Even now, when we are probably hours or a few days away from having the baby, it still feels very abstract to me. I have read books, designed and decorated the nursery, gone through exercises and videos, seen the baby on several ultrasounds, but I know that this is not really going to hit me until the moment the baby comes out and is handed to me and my wife.

That, from what I have heard from other dads, is when the light switch flips on and you really know you are a dad.

In the meantime, I think my favorite activity during the pregnancy (aside from seeing the ultrasounds) was decorating the nursery. I hung a chair rail and, with my dad's help, put up a mural of a Beatrix Potter-inspired scene. Here is a picture:


Stay tuned - it is likely my next post will be from the hospital right after the birth!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Father-to-be's Lullaby

My wife is due with our first baby in January. We are excited, to say the least.

NFI's president, Roland Warren, is fond of saying that, during the mom's pregnancy, "Fathers need to 'birth their child in their mind.'" While my wife goes through all of these dramatic physical changes and feels the baby move and kick, I have to find more creative ways to prepare for my baby's birth.

One method that I have found to be very helpful is to play music at night for the baby. The baby is at a stage of development where he/she can hear what is happening outside the womb. Our CD of choice has been an album that National Fatherhood Initiative recognized at the 2003 Fatherhood Awards Gala - Golden Slumbers: A Father's Lullaby.

Brothers Dave and Jeff Koz created the album as a tribute to new dads and to give them a way to bond with their newborns - and help them sleep! Well, it has worked great for this father-to-be, as well.

NFI gave Dave and Jeff a Fatherhood Award for their work on this special album, and now it is helping me bond with my soon-to-be-born baby. If you have an infant or a pregnant wife, I highly recommend this CD!

Does anyone have ideas to share about bonding with your baby during pregnancy?

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