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The Father Factor

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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. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is It Finally Time to Put Marriage in the Dustbin?

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

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

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

Where to Hang Your Hat

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can We Afford to Give Up?

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Start

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

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

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

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

To be clear, my problem with this belief is not that marriage should not satisfy someone's desire for meaningful, life-long connection -- I can't think of a better way to create such a connection. But focusing on that aspect of marriage to the detriment of marriage's primary function of raising healthy children has become a recipe for disaster.

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

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

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This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

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

This post originally appeared at NBC News Education Nation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This post originally appeared at NBC News Education Nation.

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

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

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

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

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

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1) Great Leaders Look "Beyond the Numbers"

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

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

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

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

2) Great Leaders Understand the "Awesome Responsibility"

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

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

3) Great Leaders Eat Last 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save $200 NOW through February 5th!

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

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

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

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

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

NFI's Top 20 Blog Posts of All Time

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

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

Here are the top 20 blog posts of all time: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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