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The Father Factor

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Hyundai's Daddy-Daughter Spot You Must Watch to Believe

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Consumer brands continue to focus more on dads. What a concept. It's about time. Here's why Hyundai's new campaign is so important and why others have a lot to learn from this automaker.

If you follow my posts in this blog, you've read about consumer brands that continue to promote a negative image of fathers as bungling, clueless parents in contrast to brands that understand the important role fathers play in children's lives by portraying fathers as they are--competent, compassionate, knowledgeable parents.

Consumer brands, those bell weathers of today's culture, still have a long way to go in consistently portraying fathers as parents worthy of our admiration for everything they do and sacrifice for their children and families. Fortunately, I continue to see more and more examples of brands that understand fathers are critical to the success of their businesses.

Automakers --Toyota, Honda, and Nissan in particular -- have been especially keen to promote a positive image of fathers. Enter Hyundai. The South Korean automaker just released one of the coolest spots I've ever seen, father-themed or not. (It's interesting that all of these automakers are Asian in origin. It seems American automakers are, once again, behind the curve.)

hyundai a message to share

This 4-minute spot -- called "A Message to Space" -- centers on the daughter of an astronaut who works on the International Space Station. The spot opens with the daughter talking about how deeply she misses her father and he misses his family. The daughter and her mother travel to the desert where Hyundai employs a team of drivers that, collectively, uses 11 Genesis models to write a message in the sand (using tire tracks that etch the message) that is large enough for her father to see as the space station passes over the desert. I won't spoil it for you by sharing the message, but it will warm your heart.

 

The skeptic might say these automakers are just trying to make a buck. After all, aren't men primarily responsible for making purchase decisions when it comes to automobiles? Not so fast. Men certainly influence those decisions, but recent surveys (click here and here for examples) point to the growing influence of women in making those decisions. It seems auto-buying decisions have reached gender parity.

Still, men are a major influence on those decisions. What these automakers understand, however, is that beyond these consumers being men, they're fathers. These automakers understand the growing influence of the fatherhood role on today's man and how powerful that identity has become. By appealing to that identity, they know that men will appreciate a brand that understands how important being a father is to men.

Bravo Hyundai. You've joined the Asian block of automakers that get it.

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This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

3 Tips for Spring Cleaning Your Life

OK dads, is spring finally on its way? Being from Minnesota, I’m ready to ditch the snow blower for the lawn mower! And, for those of you on the eastern seaboard, I’m sure you’re doubly ready to kiss this winter good-bye…

Regardless of where you live, spring is a natural time to take stock of what you’ve accumulated around your home and life whether that be dirt and grime, general disorganization, or maybe some bad health habits like overeating or…  The good news is, you don’t have to take it on all at once – here are three of my favorite tips to get started:  

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Tip 1 > Make sure your grill is in prime shape to fire up for the warmer months. It can be tempting to use harsh chemicals, but those can affect the finish. Mild soap and water is best. (Just be sure to disconnect the propane tank before doing anything.)  

Tip 2 > No one can feel refreshed when bogged down by financial worry. Make time to sit down with your loved one to revisit your budget and financial goals. This goes for you, the leader, and for the dads around you. Online sites like mint.com can help streamline the process so you can get a better understanding of where your hard-earned money is going. 

Tip 3 > Research shows that getting outside has many positive effects on your health, including improving relaxation and your immune system. Think about planning a camping trip for the summer and bask in the beauty of one of our nation’s great parks. Check out a list of where to go here

Want more spring cleaning ideas?

Spring Clean Your Life: Reorganize, Reprioritize and Reconnect by brightpeak financial is a 21-day email program created to help you tackle the post-winter cleanout – in all areas of life. Focusing on daily tips and activities, the program is designed to help you reorganize your home, reprioritize and revitalize your finances and reconnect to a healthier you. Get started today!

What's one thing you HAVE to do this spring in order to get life together?

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Special NYC Screening with Kevin James for #BlartRidesAgain [Invitation]

National Fatherhood Initiative and The Moms partner for a special New York City screening of Columbia Pictures' upcoming film Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 with Paul Blart himself, Kevin James, on Monday, April 13th. The film releases in theaters nationwide Friday, April 17th, but don't miss out on the chance to see the new movie before anyone.

PB_Mall_Cop_2After six years of keeping our malls safe, Paul Blart has earned a well-deserved vacation, or has he? Sony's Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 arrives in theaters Friday, April 17th. Vegas may have a new high roller, but not before that high roller visits NYC!

After the screening, please stay for a Q&A with Kevin James and the film's director, Andy Fickman (also an NFI Fatherhood Award recipient for Parental Guidance, the 2012 Fatherhood Movie of the Year), followed by a special presentation of the NFI Fatherhood Award to Kevin James.

After six years of keeping our malls safe, Paul Blart has earned a well-deserved vacation, or has he? In this sequel, Paul Blart heads to Vegas for the annual Security Guard Expo with his teenage daughter Maya (Raini Rodriguez) before she leaves for college. While at the convention, he inadvertently discovers a heist – and it’s up to Blart to apprehend the criminals. Safety never takes a holiday and when duty calls, Blart answers.  

This movie was as entertaining as I remember the first one. But with a deep father-daughter story. A fun family film with a father-daughter story that will have you leaving the theater thinking about connecting with your child.

Here's your invitation to the special event...RSVP if you can make it to NYC!

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The Moms and National Fatherhood Intiative invite you to this special event:

A Mamarazzi® Event 
with Kevin James 
and Director Andy Fickman

Monday, April 13, 2015 at 3:30PM

AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 
(1998 Broadway New York, NY 10023) 

RSVP here for the NYC screening > Click here to RSVP.


Can't attend the screening? Get the sneak peak of the official trailer here:

 

More information on the film > Click here to visit NFI's Official Paul Blart Page.

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Two Stories that Will Warm Your Heart

We receive a lot of phone calls and emails from dads and moms who seek guidance on father involvement and related issues. The vast majority of these calls and emails are associated with the negative effects of father absence. But every once in a while, a dad or mom, and sometimes a child, shares an uplifting story about how a dad stepped up to the plate to be a great dad and the positive impact of that action. Those stories drive our staff to never stop ensuring that as many children as possible experience the love of an involved, responsible, committed father.

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We also stay on the lookout for such uplifting stories that aren't directly shared with us because we know they can motivate individuals and organizations in their work to connect fathers and children. These stories are often shared by the organizations that use our resources, donors, and dads and moms across the country. (Click here for Stories of Impact shared by our organization partners.) Sometimes we find stories during the course of our work to provide the most useful information and resources. 

While conducting some research recently, I learned about StoryCorps, a nonprofit with the following mission:

StoryCorps' mission is to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives. We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations. 

In its more than 10 years of existence, StoryCorps has captured and archived more that 50,000 recordings on an incredible range of topics. Curious, I plugged "fathers" into their search function to see whether I could find stories to use in our work. The result produced a number of recordings that turned up a few gems, two in particular that I hope will uplift you as much as they did me.

The first recording is of a 9-year-old boy, Aidan Sykes, who interviewed his father, Albert, about being a dad. (Albert runs a nonprofit focused on mentoring children. He is not only in a great dad, he has stepped up to help children less fortunate than his own.) Click here to listen.

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The second recording is of Wil Smith telling his now adult daughter, Olivia, what it was like to raise her as a single dad while in college. He recorded the conversation shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, he died just a few months ago. Click here to listen.

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We want to share more stories like these. Please let us know if you have one.

Do you have an uplifting story to share? 

Do you have a Story of Impact that resulted from the use of an NFI resource? If so, click here to learn more about how to share it with us.

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One Thing This Billion-Dollar CEO Does Every Week That You Should Too

I often feel inadequate at managing work and family. Sure, I get home at a decent hour each day. But, I have to start early to accomplish this. By evening, I'm tired or still have my mind on work. Then I read a story like this one. This guy sounds like he has managing work and family figured out. Forbes named him, "America’s Most Promising CEO Under 35." He started a company in his mid-20’s that raised $70 million in 2012. By 2014, he was known as "The Guy Who Turned Down $500 Million For His Startup." Now, with a $1 Billion valuation, Ryan Smith, CEO of Qualtrics, can teach us the one thing he does to be successful with work and family. 

One Thing This Billion-Dollar CEO Does Every Week That You Should Too fatherhood work family balance

After about a decade of bootstrapping, Qualtrics made its way into a profitable company generating $50 million in revenue. In 2012, they had 200 employees and 3,800 customers. Qualtrics helps companies perform employee and customer surveys in the cloud. It was created by Ryan Smith's dad, Scott Smith, a professor of marketing at BYU's school of business. My guess is that Qualtrics is a company that resembles the brands you'll find on our social good page—a brand who cares about fathers and families.

At 33 years old, a company offered to buy Ryan Smith's startup Qualtrics for more than $500 million, he asked his wife to take a drive. Smith ended up turning down the $500 million offer to sell his company. In 2014, Smith had 6,000 customers and 550 employees, and the company is expanding nationally and internationally opening an office in Dublin, Sydney, Seattle, and Washington, D.C..

After he and his wife talked, they felt strongly that earning so much money at once could "negatively impact the way they were raising their children." Smith and his wife had learned to manage work and family life.

"As a founder, you're either the type that gets invigorated with every milestone, or you get less interested. For me the bigger we get, the more scrappier we get, the hungrier I get," Smith told Business Insider in 2014. "I have to keep telling myself to look around and enjoy this," he said. "We sat in a basement and bootstrapped for 10 years so we can do this, be here. Now we have bunch of money, a ton of customers, and we're dominating our market." Together, the Smiths decided to keep their 800-person company private. Qualtrics is currently worth over $1 billion.

With the help of a CEO coach, Smith relates work-life balance to a plane that can "go lopsided and constantly needs to be stabilized." On one wing is his family, on the other is his work. When he's traveling for business, the work side of the plane tilts. Then, when he gets back home to his family, he knows to keep his schedule open for home and family life, in order to tilt the wings of his plane back up.

Smith's CEO coach taught him a strategy for success to be done every week. Smith's coach asked him what jobs he was responsible for in life. Smith replied the following:

  1. Husband
  2. Father
  3. Son
  4. CEO
  5. Boss
  6. Sibling
  7. Grandson
  8. Friend

I'm guessing your list looks like Ryan's. His coach then asked what he could do for each job that week to make him feel successful. For instance, if Ryan dated his wife and bought flowers, that could make him feel like a decent husband. Teach his daughter to ride a bike? Boom, instant better dad for the week.

Ryan found he could combine tasks on his list to achieve everything more efficiently. He learned quickly, if he was really productive, every task on the list starting Sunday could be done by Tuesday. If he took his daughter to his parent's house and taught her to ride a bike, he could be both a good father and son. Bam. 

Smith's weekly list started to look like this:

  1. Husband > Take wife to dinner and buy flowers
  2. Father >Teach daughter to ride a bike
  3. Son > Visit parents. Combine tasks 2 & 3.

Through all of this, Smith has learned people usually plan for one part of life ("I'm going to sell my company by the time I turn 30.") Most times, people "either don't know which steps to take to achieve that goal, or they don't plan what to do after the goal has been achieved."

While we know it takes quantity to ultimately get quality time, I think Ryan's plan of breaking done work and family life goals into weekly tasks is brilliant. We need to work against waking up one day and realizing our dreams and/or priorities have slipped from our radar. This takes a strategic plan. The truth is, what doesn't get scheduled, doesn't get done. This is true in work and with family.

Business Insider points out that after Smith explained this success tactic in an interview with them on Friday evening, he left the conference. While others stayed out late at a local pub, Smith drove three hours to Dublin and booked an early flight home to Utah. When his children woke up on Sunday morning, they spent all day with their father. This story illustrates in real life exactly the type of intention and focus we should have as husbands, fathers, sons, and leaders. It's the kind of focus I want to live out. Thank you, Ryan Smith, not only for having a great first name, but sharing a great strategy for us to follow.

Question > What's one thing you do to help manage work and family? Share your answer in the comment section or on , or  using #247Dad.

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24/7 Dad To Go App allows dads to customize time-sensitive checklists. These checklists can include items related to involved, responsible, and committed fatherhood. You can be an intentional dad too.

> Find the app and start being a better dad here.

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3 Ways to Leverage the Good News about Teen Dads

So much has been written and said about the problems created by teen pregnancy, particularly the problems it creates for teen moms and their children. Teen moms are, for example, much less likely to graduate from high school, or get a high school diploma by age 22, than are teen girls who don't have children. This disparity leads to other long-term disparities between these two groups including fewer employment opportunities and lower earnings for teen moms. And most of them receive little or no child support. These disparities place a burden on society as 63 percent of these moms rely on some kind of public assistance. Teen pregnancy places the children of teen parents at increased risk for a host of poor outcomes too numerous to mention here.

But what about teen dads? What do we know about their interactions with the mothers of their children? Do their interactions make things better or worse for the moms and children? Here's what we know.

Pregnancy_IconWe know they're much less likely to be involved in the lives of their children than are adult fathers. One primary reason is, quite simply, that a teen dad is rarely married to the mother. A whopping 88 percent of these parents are not married. Nevertheless, 20 percent of teen moms live with their "romantic partner" (most likely the father, but not necessarily a teen) within a year of giving birth. Even if all of these romantic partners are the fathers and are also teens, that's still a very low number of them living with their children. And that's unfortunate, because teen fathers who live with their children at the birth of their children are more likely to still live with them when these fathers become adults. 

Fortunately, there is good news about the involvement of teen dads not living with their children and the impact of their involvement.

  • Half of these dads visit with their children at least monthly with most of them spending time with their children frequently. Interestingly, this is about the same rate of visitation among older nonresident fathers. 
  • Some research has shown the quality of the father-child relationship does not differ when comparing teen and adult fathers, contrary to popular belief. Surprisingly, teen dads are more likely than adult dads to feel attached to their children.
  • Additional research finds a positive impact of teen fathers on teen mothers and their children when teen fathers are involved before and immediately after the birth of their children. These teen fathers have a protective effect by reducing the risk of depression of teen mothers and distress of infants.  

So when we take all of these facts into consideration, the picture of teen fathers' involvement in their children's lives is mixed. While the ability of teen dads to be involved in their children's lives is more challenging because of their lack of physical proximity, most of them are involved at some level and, when they are, have a positive impact on their children and the mothers. 

The question, then, for organizations and practitioners is: How can I increase teen fathers' involvement? There are several ways, and NFI's resources can help:

  1. Provide fathering education to teen fathers. NFI's 24/7 Dad® program is an excellent choice as organizations around the country have used it successfully with teen dads.
  2. Provide relationship education to teen fathers. NFI has partnered with The Dibble Institute to provide Love Notes, a program for teen dads (and couples).
  3. Provide education to teen moms on the importance of father involvement and how they can facilitate that involvement. NFI's Mom as Gateway™ workshop and Understanding Dad™ program are excellent choices.

Do you work with teen dads? Do you use a comprehensive approach that involves working with teen dads and teen moms?

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6 Steps to Becoming the Dad You Wish You’d Had

In my twenty-five years of pastoral, prison, and personal transformation work, I have come face to face with this reality—the most difficult piece of assisting men to heal from the past is actually just recognizing the need. We men tend to be a proud and often stubborn lot. It is not fashionable (yet!) to admit that our dads wounded us and that the wound continues to affect us today.

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It’s a wildly popular theme in Hollywood films (note the recent impact of The Judge [2014], the touching film, Real Steel [2011], the powerful and painful, Warrior [2011], or a classic in this genre, Field of Dreams [1989]), but it’s dramatically unpopular to identify with the wounded son.

Instead, we were told as kids, “just suck it up,” “real men don’t cry,” or other critiques our dads likely heard as they avoided their own sense of inadequacy and shame. The result? Very few of our dads knew how to get close to us, say the loving and affirming things we wanted and needed to hear, or were able to be physically affectionate with us. That cycle has repeated itself long enough. It’s time for real healing and change. 

In my first post on this topic called The Best Way to Build Strong Children, I noted Fredrick Douglas who said, "It's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." Though this quote is well known in fatherhood circles, I suggested it may not tell the whole story, or point us ultimately in the right direction. In my first post, I proposed that, "The best way to build strong children is to heal wounded fathers." This post helps us implement practical steps we can all take to become more engaged, more emotionally present, and more loving fathers.

Implementing the Solution

In my book, How to Be a Great Dad: No Matter What Kind of Father You Had, I openly and honestly tell my own story of healing as one example. There is no one-size-fits-all pattern for how we men heal, but reading my story has proved helpful for many men who have commented since the book was published. 

In the book, I have space to explain, expand on, and tell real stories about the six important steps I took to overcome the pain in my past with my dad, and to finally become for my three sons (now all teenagers) the dad I always wished I’d had. In the limited space here, I’ll briefly share the steps and encourage you to go deeper.

1. Identify a Father Wound.

Begin noticing the feelings you experience regularly beneath the surface of your life. Are you often sad, anxious, or lonely? Is it difficult for you to identify what you are feeling or to connect with others in a sincere, open, even vulnerable way? Do your relationship patterns indicate something is amiss? Is it hard for you to feel or stay close to people, to your wife, to your children? If any of this feels true for you, there may exist a wound that likely traces back to how your dad fathered you.

2. Embrace Your Father Wound.

Once identified, one of the most challenging steps for us men is to live with it instead of avoiding it. It is sometimes excruciatingly difficult for men to admit, “My relationship with my dad was not all I hoped it would be.” Or in some cases, much worse and more wounding. This step of embracing is one we often tenaciously avoid because it is so damn painful. But it is the key to healing. Alcoholics Anonymous brilliantly places an admission of the addiction as its very first step to overcoming and healing. Until we honestly embrace our wound and admit the difficulties it’s ongoing pain cause us, we cannot move forward. But when do this, healing and freedom are not only possible, they’ve already begun.

3. Grieve the Father Wound.

I wanted to bypass grieving, and did for many years. I was afraid of being overwhelmed by my own sadness. Grieving is not a skill I learned as a child, nor as an adult. Who teaches men to grieve our losses? We avenge them, ignore them, replace them, drown them in booze, sex, or success, but rarely do we feel our way through the pain to the other side. The only way to the other side of grief is through it. I had to learn how to grieve. It’s one of the skills I teach other men in my coaching. Once a man starts to grieve, he is well on his way to the healing and freedom that will allow him to emotionally engage with and stay close to his children.

4. Forgive Your Father.

Though we intuitively know the importance of forgiveness, few of us are good at practicing it. We were taught otherwise in the world of hard knocks. Its substitutes were often modeled by our dads—revenge, anger and outrage, cold neglect or rejection of the offender, or simply ignoring the offense and pretending it doesn’t matter. None of these work. So we attempt to forgive, usually too early in the process, because we know we should, or because we believe God wants us to, but it usually isn’t deep or restorative of relationship, or healing of our own soul because we are not forgiving from the real place of pain. How can we if we haven’t yet identified it, embraced it, and grieved? We try to forgive but it doesn’t do much, and often doesn't last. We stay angry, resentful, cold, or distant. It’s hard to love our children well when we are stuck in this place. We aren’t ready to forgive and move on until we have properly identified the wound and its effects in our life, and until we have grieved. Then forgiveness isn’t all that hard. It grows from a place of empathy and compassion. I illustrate this in my book as I tell my story of forgiving my father.

5. Love Your Children and Heal Yourself.

I teach men how giving the love to our children we may have not received from our dads is actually an extremely powerful means of healing our own wounded hearts. It is exceedingly difficult to give away what we do not possess, but when we reach beyond our past to choose to love our kids, while working out the first four steps above, it truly is remarkable how that act of giving brings healing in our own hearts.

6. Father Yourself.

This may sound a bit strange at first, but I tell my story to men who are moving through this journey that as we re-build a sense of ourselves as men who are healing, and as we learn to give away to our own children what we may not have received from our dads, we can actually learn to father ourselves in ways that we needed and bring further healing now. It’s remarkable. And it’s one of the key pieces of the coaching I do with dads who want to grow.

Has your relationship with your dad affected the way you father your children today? Do you see any impact or perhaps repetitions? Feel free to comment below and I'll respond.

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Post by Keith Zafren, founder of The Great Dads Project > Men who want to be great dads love the stories Keith Zafren tells, the practical skills he teaches, and the personal coaching he offers. Keith has spent seventeen years learning firsthand how to raise three great teenagers and stay close to them, no matter what. He coaches busy dads to not repeat the mistakes their fathers made, but instead, to create fantastic relationships with their kids. Check out his free video training course for men who want to be great dads.

What Makes a Parent a Smart Parent

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

"I think one of the true ways I've gotten smarter is that I've realized that there are ways other people are a lot smarter than me. My biggest asset as a writer is that I'm pretty much like everybody else. The parts of me that used to think I was different or smarter or whatever almost made me die." —David Foster Wallace

That quote from the American writer David Foster Wallace underscores one of the great lessons of life: There are plenty of people smarter than you, and you need to learn from them. This lesson applies to parenting.

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When I joined National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) 15 years ago, my daughters were 5 and 2. I had only begun my parenting journey. I knew that I had things to learn about being a good father and parent. What I didn't realize was how much I had to learn. As the old saying goes, "You don't know what you don't know."

Fortunately, my boss was Wade Horn, the first president of NFI and a child psychologist. Wade is one of the smartest people I know. He's a smart father and parent who, as a child psychologist, knows a bit about how children are wired. The most important lesson I learned from Wade? Never project your consequences on your children. Just because I didn't have a negative outcome as a consequence of a decision to engage in a risky behavior doesn't mean that my children won't have a negative outcome if they engage in the same behavior. I've applied that lesson so many times I've lost count.

Wade helped me through several difficult parenting situations. One of those occurred about three years into my tenure at NFI. My oldest daughter had become an extremely picky eater. It drove me nuts because, since my mid-20s, I've focused on eating healthy and staying fit. The fact that I had a child who wasn't eating healthily signaled my failure as a parent. I had tried many of the tactics recommended by nutrition experts to get children to eat healthy. Not one of them worked!

I was at my wit's end when I asked Wade for guidance. He smiled and chuckled when I shared my frustration and concern for my child, which initially made the situation worse as he must have thought my concern to be ridiculous. But then he explained that a lot of young children are picky eaters because it's one of the few ways they can exert control over their lives. It's not necessarily the parents' fault.

He identified, however, one way that I might have indirectly contributed to my daughter's choice -- my own picky eating habits. He pointed out that my diligence in eating healthy is type of picky eating that my daughter had undoubtedly noticed at the dinner table and during conversations about eating healthy I'd had with her and my wife, and seen in several other ways I'd reinforced that form of picky eating. He encouraged me to keep trying to expand her tastes, but to also let the situation play out as many children's tastes expand, as they get older. (I'm happy to report that hers expanded.)

In my time at NFI, I've had the benefit of learning from many parents, especially fathers, who are smarter than me. These parents include NFI's second president, Roland Warren. Roland gave me more practical advice than I can share here. What was the most important thing I learned from him? Good fathers do three things well: provide, nurture and guide.

Other parents I've learned from include Stephen Bavolek, author of the internationally-acclaimed Nurturing Parenting Programs, who assisted me in developing the first editions of our 24/7 Dad® and InsideOut Dad® programs. I've applied much of the knowledge and many of the skills we teach fathers in those programs to parenting my own children. I've also learned from the countless fathers and mothers who have contributed their wisdom on parenting in this blog The Father Factor, and the many experts in parenting whose research on parenting effectiveness has informed the programs and other resources I've developed at NFI.

Don't wait until you're at your wit's end before seeking advice on how to be a better parent generally and in specific situations. Part of being a smart parent is realizing you're not as smart as you think.

Question > What's one thing you could use parenting advice on now? Share your answer in the comment section or on , or .

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*The opening quote by David Foster Wallace is from Conversations with David Foster Wallace (Literary Conversations Series)

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

The Best Way to Build Strong Children

Fredrick Douglas said, "It's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." This quote is well known in fatherhood circles, but it doesn't tell the whole story. It can even point in the wrong direction. I want to add, "And the best way to build strong children is to repair wounded fathers." Are we willing to look at our need for self-repair?

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The Problem: The Profound Effects of Fatherlessness

24 million children will go to sleep tonight in a home where there is no father. Some of those children still have an engaged dad who loves them and is proud of them, even though he does not live with them. Although these fortunate children, such as my three teenage sons, may not have an ideal situation with two parents who live together and love each other, the reality is that many children who live with a mother and father don’t experience that ideal either. 

The striking and sad truth, however, is that most of those 24 million children are truly at risk, kids who do not have a caring father involved in their lives every day. The statistics are staggering.

Fatherlessness is linked to:

  • 63 percent of youth suicides;
  • 71 percent of pregnant teenagers;
  • 85 percent of all youth who exhibit behavior disorders;
  • 71 percent of all high school dropouts;
  • 75 percent of all adolescents in chemical abuse centers;
  • And 85 percent of all youths sitting in prison.

The Root of the Problem Lives in Us Dads

You might be surprised to learn that one of the significant factors producing these disturbing statistics of father absence is the deep wound that many men still live with from their relationship with their own father. This is especially true among the poorer communities in our nation. I worked with over 600 incarcerated fathers in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system over a period of six years. I can count on one hand the number of men who told me they had a good, strong, and loving relationship with their dad. Instead, most shared heartrending stories with me about being belittled, ignored, or abandoned by their fathers. Some were abused. Their broken hearts, messed up lives, and often non-existent relationships with their children revealed a tragic legacy of father-wounding relationships. 

How about you? Can you relate in any way to some of what these men so honestly shared with me? I sure did. Sadly, many dads can. 

In my work with men over the last fifteen years, many dads on the “outside” have shared similar stories of neglect, pain, rejection, and abandonment. Very few “free” men seem to be able to tell stories of loving relationships with their dads, of knowing and feeling their dad was proud of them, and of hearing words of praise and affection throughout their childhood. If you had a dad who gave you these gifts, you are blessed. Many of us didn’t experience a relationship like this with our dads.

Without being fully conscious of it, at least not on a day-to-day basis, many of us still feel the void, wishing we felt loved by our dad, knowing deep within that our dad felt and still feels proud of us, and being able to talk with our dad about anything. This yearning for our father’s approval, attention, and affection is a common result of a father wound.

The father-wound hurts, and we avoid the pain. The father yearning seems endless, and we avoid feeling hopeless. That is natural. I don’t blame anyone for avoiding pain. I tried to do it for many years. The problem is that our kids pay the price. So many men—myself included—struggle with feelings of inadequacy, not measuring up, not being good enough, and not feeling loved. There is hope. But when we check out—and that is the easiest way to go—we turn on the TV, or grab a beer, or get lost in technology, then we are just not present. We may go further into damaging or even dangerous activities and relationships.

As this happens, we substantially lose time with our children, our emotional capacity to connect with them, and our hope to become the dad we wish our father had been for us. As we avoid our pain, our kids miss a dad they’re sure loves them, a dad they know is proud of them, a dad they can talk to about anything. 

I have no doubt you love your kids. But do you help them know it and feel it every day? That's hard to do when much of our energy and attention is going to avoiding the pain of a father-wound. As long as we avoid our pain, we pass it on to our kids. I wish I could offer a simple fix. I can tell you that there is a solution—but it is not easy.

The Solution: Self-Healing

When wounded fathers stop avoiding our pain, we begin to heal. It hurts to heal, but it also has immediate benefits, for our kids and for us. When we are free to love our children, to easily affirm them, and to openly show affection for them, we aren't just reducing the risk of theoretical statistics, we are filling them with security, giving them a strong self-esteem, and helping them feel truly happy as kids. And it feels fantastic for us as dads. It is so fun to have this kind of closeness with our kids.

What would the world be like if every dad did this? When dads who did not have great relationships with their fathers find freedom from pain and resulting issues of the past, the next generation—our children—are strengthened. We give them a gift that will produce the kind of legacy we all wish for every child. This is what halts and even reverses the staggering statistics of father absence. This is the path to healing the next generation and our society. As fathers, we must heal our own wounded hearts to fully enjoy and raise our children well.

Frederick Douglas may well be right that it's easier to build strong children than to repair broken fathers. But fathers are the ones who can best build strong children. We become free to do that with joy when we face our own father wound.

What do you think? Please share your reflections about how a father wound affects being close to your kids. And what you think about the need to heal our wound in order to be great dads to our kids.

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Keith Zafren is the founder of The Great Dads Project. Men who want to be great dads love the stories Keith Zafren tells, the practical skills he teaches, and the personal coaching he offers. Keith has spent seventeen years learning firsthand how to raise three great teenagers and stay close to them, no matter what. He coaches busy dads to not repeat the mistakes their fathers made, but instead, to create fantastic relationships with their kids. Check out his free video training course for men who want to be great dads.

4 Steps for Making Tough Parenting Decisions

How many times have you faced a tough parenting decision and wished you had a tool or process for helping you make that decision? In Engage the Fox, authors Jen Lawrence and Larry Chester describe a four-stage process that, while taught to students of business to help them make better team-based decisions, can help anyone, including parents, make better decisions regardless of setting or situation.  

  1. Gather
  2. Generate
  3. Evaluate
  4. Agree
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Let's say your child is having a difficult time with a teacher. Your child believes the teacher is unfairly treating your child, but your child won't confront the teacher out of fear of retaliation. What advice do you give your child? Several other questions might quickly pop into your mind, the answers to which will help you answer that ultimate question. These questions might include:

  • What evidence does my child have for the unfair treatment?
  • What about the treatment is, exactly, unfair?
  • Is that treatment really unfair?
  • If it is unfair treatment, is the teacher singling out my child or is this how the teacher typically treats students?
  • Will I have to confront the teacher?
  • Might I eventually have to go to a school administrator to resolve the issue?

The list of questions could go on and on. Clearly, this decision is a tough one.

Lawrence and Chester's process can help you critically think about this kind of decision and avoid a knee-jerk reaction that doesn't do you or your child any favors. If possible, bring your child's mom into this process from the very beginning. Because this is a process that improves team-based decision making, it's ideal for decisions made by families.

First, gather as much information about the situation as possible. Ask your child some of the questions that you can reasonably expect her or him to answer with accuracy. Your child can probably provide evidence for the unfair treatment and whether the teacher treats other students in the same way. If you know the families of some of the other students in the class, you could contact them to determine whether the teacher has unfairly treated their children. You might also have to talk with the teacher to get the full picture, even though your child might be adamantly opposed to that action. If you (and mom) decide the teacher is unfairly treating your child, move on to the remaining steps.

Second, identify possible solutions. Assuming that the teacher is unfairly treating your child, sit down with your child (and mom) and think through the possible solutions. These might include everything from letting the situation play out before taking more decisive action to confronting the teacher. Generate as many solutions as possible without initially judging them. Write down the solutions as you and your child (and mom) generate them.

Third, evaluate the options and select the best solution. Use a critical thinking tool, such as a list of pros and cons, to evaluate the options. Using such a tool will help you and your child (and mom) arrive at a decision that is as objective as possible. If your child's mom is the more analytical of you two, ask her to lead this step. 

Before you move on to the final step, it would be a good idea to step back and gain some distance from the situation before making the final decision. In their book Decisive (another great book on critical decision making), authors Chip and Dan Heath recommend that people "attain distance" before making a final decision because short-term emotion can lead to poor decisions (e.g. by clouding judgment). Attaining distance can involve taking a few days or more to let the options sink in before making a final decision. It can also involve asking questions that shift your perspective, such as, "If I had a friend in the same situation, what would I tell my friend to do?"

Finally, you and your child (and mom) should agree on the final solution. It's possible that your child won't agree and you (and mom) will have to make a unilateral decision in the best interest of your child. But hopefully, by following this process, your child will see that the decision you see is the right one.

Parenting is full of tough decisions. Having a process in your parenting toolbox that can help you critically identify and evaluate options and decisions will make you a better parent and enhance the relationship you have with your child (and mom).

What's the toughest parenting decision you face today?

How do you make the tough parenting decisions?

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The One Investment You Never Regret Making

Have you ever invested in a "sure thing" only to lose your money? Maybe a friend gave you a hot stock tip and you tried to ride the wave. Or, perhaps you found that local startup and jumped in quickly so you could get in on the ground floor. You just knew these were winners! You were glad to invest and eagerly anticipated the return as you leafed through travel magazines and perused new home floor plans. But, the returns never came. In fact, it got worse and worse, never better. 

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The planned gains quickly became losses, and as the daydreams of green turned into nightmares of red, you knew your money was never coming back. You quietly (or loudly) mourned its loss and held a personal wake in honor of the dearly departed dollar bills. For some of us, this has happened on a small scale; but, for others, this approach led to financial ruin.

Even so, we knew there were risks when we invested. We read the prospectus (or maybe just the back-of-the-envelope scrawl penned by the wild-eyed entrepreneur). We have heard the adage that financial investing is all about balancing risk versus reward. The higher the risk, the greater the potential for reward. Every investor searches for the holy grail of low risk and high reward, only to find that these two characteristics hardly ever align.

There is one arena however where this is perfectly true: our investment in our children. This is one place where an amazing economic reality exists - we never end up regretting the time we invested with our children. The returns are often exorbitant, generating immense relational value; and, the risk is completely non-existent. In the end, this investment actually leaves our emotional bank account more full than when we started.

I suppose one could invest so much time with your children that you neglect your spouse or cause your health to fail. You can only eat so many funnel cakes at the state fair before the effects (and the flab) eventually set in.

However, has it become cliche for fathers to over-invest in their children? Are we observing a national epidemic of kids who suffer from over-connection with their dads? Have we amassed statistic upon statistic of the ill-effects on society of all these way-too-fathered children? Hardly.

Fathers, we understand risk and reward. Money given to one thing often means money not given to some other thing. We get that and readily accept it as a cost of doing business. Yet, when it comes to our most precious commodity - our time - why wouldn't we put that time into an investment with infinite return and infinitesimal risk?

Do we realize that our money may actually be increasing in quantity; but, our time is not. Time is a finite resource. None of us know how much we have left, but there is one thing we each know for sure. The amount of time we have left on this earth is less than we had yesterday. Our time is dwindling, perhaps slowly, perhaps more quickly than we know.

So, let's commit that while we have our children around, we fathers will back-up our dump truck of time at our front door and unload it completely all over them. We will shovel our currency of time into the lives of those little ones. It is a risk-less investment and once we have made it, we - and our children - will be all the richer for it.

Question: What's one way you've invested in your child lately?

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The Opportunity Costs of Absent Fathers

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

350 Practitioners on the Challenge of Maternal Gatekeeping

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

102814blog-1350 Practitioners Speak Out

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

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

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

Helping Practitioners 

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

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

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

Have you reviewed our resources that address maternal gatekeeping?

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

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

adrian peterson child abuse discipline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

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

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

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

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

Going Against the Grain

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

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

The Next Step

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

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

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

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

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This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

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