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The Father Factor

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Did Fatherhood Win with Super Bowl Commercials?

sb47Aside from all the great stories that come out of the Super Bowl from each team, let's talk the important stuff — the commercials! Since my teams are rarely in the big game, the commercials are my favorite part of the night. That said, if you follow me on twitter you know I found the Tide/Joe Montana commercial about "no stain being sacred" to be my favorite of the night.

While I'm certain my "fatherhood radar" is working at peak levels considering my working at NFI; I'm finding it more and more interesting how a brand not only spends it's money to be funny and memorable, but how much a brand perpetuates stereotypes of fatherhood in the process.

Here are four examples of commercials from the Super Bowl that are funny and/or thought-provoking, but most of them simply leave us wanting more from brands and fatherhood.
 
The Protective Dad | Got Milk?
This commercial was probably one of the stronger showings of fatherhood I witnessed with the Superdome lights going out! Depicting a dad who will do anything and that nothing is more important than his girls' milk for breakfast. Nice work!
 


The Fashionista Dad | Doritos 
Right before this dad's about to say "no" to his daughter about having tea time because he's going out to play football with his friends, he realizes she has Doritos. He's all in. Cute and funny, but still conveys the stereotype that a dad only cares about himself and is the unresponsible parent. Place a mom in the role of the father in this commercial and see if Doritos is in business by today.
 

The Servant Dad | Jeep | USO
This Jeep | USO commercial shows the sacrifice of all military families and does well to include dads. Nice work Jeep | USO and Oprah!
 

The Avoidance Dad | Kia "Space Babies"

While I am no stranger to making up answers as a dad, and I also laughed at this commercial when it aired live, it's funny but not. When one considers that what we celebrate we replicate -- do we really want to celebrate a dad making up where babies come from and avoiding the question until his son gets the info somewhere else? What's easier to say, a story about "space babies" or that babies come from a man and woman who are married to each other, like the characters in the commercial? Just a thought...
 

How do you think dads were portrayed in the Super Bowl commercials? 

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photo credit: marsmet481

Baseball’s Moral Center: A Lesson for Dads

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). If you would like to blog for us, email here.

If you’re as avid of a sports fan as I am, you undoubtedly heard that no one will become enshrined this year in Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. The uproar among a large segment of the sports community has been interesting to say the least. In fact, it’s been rather myopic.

baseballCries that the voting system is broken have been emanating from the mouths of sports pundits since the voting results were announced on January 9th, loudly enough to make someone think that the baseball world has been turned upside down by this “travesty.” Moreover, it could lead a reasonable person to wonder whether this “no vote” has ever occurred. The reality is that this isn’t the first time the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA)—the body of well-known and respected writers on America’s pastime that gives the thumbs up or down on inductions into the hall—has voted to not allow anyone in. Indeed, it’s happened no less than 8 times (the most recent time in 1996). But in our sound-bite world with its focus on the present to the exclusion of history (and its lessons), these pundits of the diamond have no doubt poisoned the well for so many Americans, especially young ones, who love the game.

From a historical perspective, I can think of no other game that better symbolizes the joy that fathers and children experience together within the context of sports. Images come readily to mind of fathers and sons and fathers and daughters playing catch, of children opening Christmas presents to find a brand new glove (and its wonderful smell), and of families spending an afternoon or evening at the ballpark eating hotdogs, nachos, and burgers. Some of the fondest memories I have of high school and college include cramming into the car with my buddies and driving to Texas Rangers games and sitting in the outfield for less than $10 a ticket. I didn’t care whether the Rangers won or lost (primarily because they usually lost) because I was there to watch the stars. (One of my fondest memories is of Bo Jackson hammering a fastball from Nolan Ryan that landed just a few rows out of my reach.)

Coming back down to earth for a moment, if you’re not familiar with the specifics of the vote, there were several former players eligible for induction for the first time who are, based on almost every statistical measure associated with their primary role as a player, some of the greatest to play the game. Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Mike Piazza were chief among them. (Other lesser-known but fantastic players eligible for the first time included Craig Biggio who, incidentally, received the highest number of votes.) Players on previous ballots included Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGuire, and Jack Morris. Does anything jump out at you about most of these players? If you said that most of them have been accused or admitted (in the case of Bonds) to using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), you win a prize.

Most of the players on this year’s ballot played in the “steroid era.” That fact alone doomed their candidacies this year and, possibly, forever. To qualify for induction, at least 75 percent of voters must select a former player for induction. None of the players associated with steroid use even came close despite their gaudy numbers. (Clemens at 37.6 percent received the most votes of these players). Players remain on the ballot for 15 years, a fairly short window in which to gain induction. With so many of these players’ vote totals being so low, there’s a possibility that they’ll never get their busts into Cooperstown. 

As I watched a roundtable of BBWAA voters on ESPN discuss the results of the vote and its implications, one of the reporters said that he voted for many of the purported steroid users because “I vote in context.” He explained that because these specific candidates played in an era when many players (allegedly) used PEDs, voters shouldn’t discriminate against them. After all, he said, everyone was using them. He then proceeded to support his argument by drawing on a standard practice of many voters throughout the years—vote for players based on the era in which they played and not across eras (i.e. comparing the numbers from a player in 1920 with one in 1980 given changes in the game over that time). Moreover, the widespread use of PEDs created a “level playing field”; consequently, the numbers of these great players speak for themselves. Interesting as this argument might be, it misses the broader issue.

These players are accused—rightly or wrongly—of cheating, pure and simple. While most of these players haven’t been convicted in a court of law, they certainly have in the court of public opinion. (And, unfortunately, this era has painted such a broad stroke of PED use that some players who might be deserving of induction might not get in as a result of playing during that time.) That’s why so many voters didn’t vote for Bonds, arguably the best hitter in baseball history, and Clemens, arguably the best pitcher. Regardless of era, cheaters have not been allowed into the hall. (Do I hear a “Pete Rose” or “Shoeless Joe Jackson?”)

Herein lies the lesson for fathers. (Yes. I finally got around to it.) Fair play is baseball’s hallmark—an immutable law. That’s why cheaters, whether convicted or not in a court of law, don’t get into the hall. I surmise that many voters would rather keep a possible cheater out of the hall and let him into it later after his name is cleared than to allow a possible cheater into the hall and later learn that he did, in fact, cheat. Fair play is baseball’s moral center. As its moral center, it spans the chasm of time. It does not change regardless of era. As fathers, we must give our children a moral center to guide their behavior—a set of immutable laws that don’t change with the seasons. While the specific morals of this center might differ from culture to culture, the fact remains that giving it to our children is our most critical role as fathers. Fair play is one moral that I have tried to imbue in my daughters. Is it one of yours?

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photo credit: Poppy Wright

Throwback Thursday—Tony Dungy Receives Fatherhood Award

Today, you probably know Tony Dungy as the anaylst on NBC's "Football Night in America". But Dungy retired as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts after making the playoffs in each of his last 10 seasons (7 with Indianapolis; 3 with Tampa Bay). With his win of Super Bowl XLI, he became the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl as the Colts defeated the Chicago Bears. 

In 2002, National Fatherhood Initiative awarded Tony with a Fatherhood Award in San Antonio, TX. Long before Tony won the Super Bowl, NFI knew he was a Super Dad. Watch this clip of Tony receiving his 2002 Fatherhood Award and let Tony's words inspire and challenge you about the importance of being an involved dad today.

Tony’s recalls upon receving the Fatherhood Award:

In 1997 I got an award for NFL Coach of the Year. Five years later, receiving this award is really no comparison. This certainly means a lot more to me and it’s quite a honor and so humbling to be here with other dads recognized tonight. Watching these ads (tv ads were shown at the event) it's touching and every single one you can relate to probably the one for me that I relate to the most is the first one “Catch” with the little boy playing ball because we have a 10-year-old and yesterday he wanted to play baseball. We’re up in Indianapolis, we’re moving up there, and we don’t have all of our stuff, we had to go find a stick and we made a little taped-up ball and he beat me 23-2 with a stick ball.

So as we were talking about coming down here, I said (to my son), “What’s the most fun you’ve ever had with me?” And he’s got to do a lot of things, he’s been on the floor of the Metrodome, he’s went with me to the NFC Championship Game and stayed in the Ritz-Carlton and held my cord on the sideline, he’s been to Hawaii to the Pro Bowl and held my cord on the sideline, and he said, “Well, the most fun I’ve had was beating you in stickball!” And his reasoning was something that really touches this, I said “How can that be the most fun with all the things you’ve done?” And he said, “Because that’s what we did TODAY!” That’s what it is in a kids’ mind, it’s not what you do, it’s if you’re there to do it with them and I would encourage you to be there to do things with your kids. 

Visit our Fatherhood Award page to see a full list of Fatherhood Award recipients through the years.

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Join Us at "The Play-By-Play on Fatherhood"

flutieOn this Friday, unlike any other time in history, the wide world of sports and the world of fathers comes together!

Dove®Men+Care® and Dad 2.0 Summit are partnering for "The Play-By-Play on Fatherhood with Doug Flutie" and we couldn't be more excited to be a part of an event that will advance the public dialogue on responsible fatherhood.

As Dad 2.0 writes on a recent blog post:

"For football fans, you know Doug Flutie from the Hail Mary pass that beat Miami on national TV in 1984. You know about his subsequent 20-year career in the NFL, CFL, and USFL, despite the prevailing wisdom that he was too short to make it as a pro quarterback. You know about Flutie Flakes. What you may not know, however, is that Doug’s son was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old, and since 2000 the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation has raised more than $13 million to help improve the quality of life for people and families affected by autism. Doug is also part of Dove®Men+Care®’s latest “Journey to Comfort” campaign, which touches on fatherhood as never before. He’s amassed a lot of specific insights about how fatherhood changed his life, as it changes every man’s. And on October 26, he’s going to sit down with us and talk about them."

National Fatherhood Initiative has been invited to “The Play-By-Play on Fatherhood,” along with several dads who will explore, promote and champion fatherhood.

Join National Fatherhood Initiative and many other dads for the live-streamed broadcast on the Dove®Men+Care®Facebook page on Friday, October 26, at 10am Eastern. During the live-stream connect with the host and attendees by commenting on Facebook and tweeting to @DoveMenCare@dad2summit and of course @TheFatherFactor!

A Fatherhood Reminder from Yankees Manager Joe Girardi

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). If you would like to blog for us, email here.

As we hurtle into yet another post-season for baseball that, once again, involves the love ‘em or hate ‘em New York Yankees, I reflect on America’s pastime and the toll it can take on the players and managers who are fathers.

Unfortunately, we live in a society that loves a juicy story about fallen athletes. It can be hard to find an uplifting story about athletes who rise above the stresses and temptations of their sport, including those that affect the ability of athletes to be involved, responsible, committed fathers. 

joe girardi yankees managerBut look no further than Joe Girardi who, by all accounts, has been a fantastic father and husband during a playing and managing career that spans some 25 years. What has accounted for Joe’s success at home and on the field? A loving father and mother who were committed to their children and each other.

According to Gay Talese in “The Crisis Manager,” an article that appears in a recent edition of The New Yorker magazine, Joe grew up near Chicago, the son and grandson of bricklayers. He learned about competitiveness and self-discipline from his father. He learned about perseverance from his mother who battled cancer during Joe’s teenage and early adult years, only to eventually succumb to it when Joe was in college. Each of these qualities are essential to managerial success in a sport that has baseball’s ups and downs.  

What struck me most in reading this article is what Joe said to Talese as they drove to visit Joe’s father, Gerald, who, now stricken with Alzheimer’s, lives in a nursing home. “My dad was always there for me…He’s the one who played catch with me, he was the one who took me to Cubs games where I could see my favorite players, like Ron Santo and José Cardenal, in action.”

The time that fathers spend with their children is so precious, and so valuable. Something for all of us dads to bear in mind as we, too, fight the temptations and stresses that our careers and lives place before and upon us.

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photo credit: Keith Allison

March Madness: Friendly Competition for Dads and Kids

National Fatherhood Initiative recently launched March Dadness: Tips for Coach Dad on Leading Your Team to Victory, inspired, of course, by the March Madness NCAA tournament. Here at the NFI office, we'll be turning in our brackets for the office pool. At home, my dad and three brothers are finalizing their brackets. I asked my dad (father of seven) to share some fathering perspectives on this annual event. Here's his thoughts...

March Madness is one of our favorite times of the sports year because it affords three weeks of friendly competition between my three sons and I. We're a basketball family - all my kids play it, I coach it, and we follow it on ESPN. From the Jeremy Lin sensation to Duke's buzzer beater over North Carolina to sitting in the stands watching my ten-year-old twin daughters compete on Saturday afternoons, to say we like basketball would be an understatement. This March, like every other March, we'll be filling out brackets and tracking teams en route to the Final Four and National Championship.

As a dad, I've found this to be one of the ways to connect with my kids in a friendly, competitive environment. This works for both the teenagers still at home and those who are far from home - my 23-year-old son serving in the Air Force in Utah emails his bracket to us and calls home to join the pre- and post-game commentary. My sons are pretty competitive when it comes to researching teams as they fill out their bracket. The Monday morning USA Today newspaper with the full section on March Madness is passed around among the boys. My daughters, on the other hand, are more interested in watching the teams they like than in the bracket competition and will join their brothers around the TV at game time. (My 18-year-old daughter, however, did secretly make her own bracket last year.)

The lesson I've learned through this is that opportunities to have positive experiences with my kids, instead of always being in the mode of correcting attitudes and behavior, are valuable. Finding common interests and spending time together is important to building relationships, communicating love and value, and balancing the times when discipline and correction are required as a parent. It doesn't have to be basketball to successfully build an enjoyable experience between father and sons and daughters, but events that can be looked forward to and reoccur on a periodic basis (like March Madness) become a lifelong memory and something that both dads and kids can anticipate.

Dads, if you want to institute a family March Madness competition with your kids, download a bracket here. Sign-up for the Dad E-mail to get our latest March Dadness updates!

Get Off The Couch, Get In The Game

I grew up in a time where I was able to witness home-based video games grow from their clunky infancy to the heights of technological wonder we see today. I don’t play video games as much as I used to. In fact, my father, 62 years young, knows more about video gaming than I do. As a dad of a young daughter, I’m not totally out the loop as we have the Wii gaming system.

Like most parents, I was drawn to the idea that you had to get off the couch to play many of the games for the console. However, a new study reported that the benefits of “active” video gaming might not boost physical activity in kids. I don’t find this particularly shocking, as there’s only so much you can do physically in front of the TV in the family room. I do disagree with the idea that active gaming isn’t helpful. If fathers and mothers played the active games with their children, it could become a bonding family routine.

My daughter is about as physically active as an 11-year old should be. She loves to play active games with me and we always have a great time. For me, the dual benefit is that we both get to move around a bit and raise our heart rate, and further, we get to bond a for a bit. With some of the sports simulations, I’m actually playing games that mimic activity my child wouldn’t normally do. Perhaps we’re not getting the same benefit compared to an outdoor activity, but playing games with your family can be engaging.

Even with the active games, getting outdoors is especially vital for families of young children. Your child may not be the next big star athlete but you can still introduce them to games that will inspire movement and activity. Playing catch, kickball, and even talking brisk hikes in your neighborhoods or trails are some fun ways you can get your kids off the couch a bit more. If your child isn’t that great at sports, you can still go outside and toss around a Frisbee or basketball.

Active video games are also evolving with the times, with some even featuring physical training. There are even studies that show active games can boost activity in kids. The bottom line is we shouldn’t think poorly of active video gaming, but fathers and families should certainly hit the power button at times and get active in other fun ways with their children as well.

Are you a video gaming dad? Do you play games with your child and family? Tell us more in the comments below or tweet to us at @thefatherfactor. You can also visit and "like" our Facebook page by clicking here.

Cecil and Prince Fielder Have Long Road In Rebuilding Their Bond

While Detroit Tigers fans are no doubt celebrating the signing of All-Star first baseman Prince Fielder, the slugger returns to the place where his father Cecil won a World Series Championship – a father that he’s been at odds with for quite some time over reasons only known to them. Prince Fielder will undoubtedly face dozens of questions regarding the estranged relationship between him and his dad, although the elder Fielder has said the he’s been in brief contact with Prince.

“Well, we're having a few chats. We're doing a lot better than we were,” said Cecil Fielder Tuesday (January 24) on MLB Network Radio. “Time heals all wounds, man. Everybody has to come back together at some point. Number one thing, I'm just happy for him.”

Those words were a far cry from the violent talk from Fielder’s dad from last summer. Cecil told the Yuma Sun that he “wanted to drop a right on him instead of talking” to his son. In what should have been the feel-good story of the upcoming Major League Baseball season, the feud between the Fielders is still a prominent and tense issue.

Cecil Fielder and Prince’s mother Stacy underwent a tough divorce, which some writers say led to the split between father and son. Others have alleged that Cecil spent part of his son’s signing bonus without permission, and was embroiled in battling gambling and property debt issues as well.

Prince Fielder has never publicly addressed the split at length but the married father of two could possibly benefit in rebuilding the connection with the man he joined on the baseball field during spring training in 1994. News alternative Detroit Free Press even reprinted an old 1992 article featuring a story on Cecil Fielder and his baseball prodigy son, where young Prince even said his dad was the best homerun hitter in the game. Cleary at one point, they were inseparable and loving towards one another.

If Cecil’s words are true, perhaps they can reform their bond and give sons like myself and countless others hope. Hope that even those of us who don’t have our fathers in our lives that one day, we can try to rebuild the bonds. As Duk of the Big League Stew said eloquently of the Fielders’ situation in his column: fathers shouldn’t be apart from their sons.

Cleveland Indians Player Chris Perez Is Lucky To Have His Dad

It seems par for the course that fathers seek to bond with their kids – especially boys – playing the age-old game of catch, whether with a football or baseball. There’s something innate about that activity between fathers and sons; perhaps it’s an instinctive reminder for Dad that he once did this with his own dad – or at least wished he had. It’s something I definitely wished I shared with my own dad.

When I read the tale of MLB All-Star pitcher Chris Perez, and how he and his dad Tim bonded over Chris’ inclusion in the big name lineup last year, I confess I felt a tinge of envy. However, I’m glad to see that there are sons who look up to and value their dads even as they trudge along into adulthood and families of their own.

Perez shared with sports website The Bleacher Report on how he gifted his father with his 2011 All-Star ring, making it five sizes larger so that his dad could wear it.

Perez on the trying to surprise his father with the ring:

“Before entering the brunch, they handed out All-Star rings. When I picked mine up, they asked me to try it on. (I already had planned to give the ring to my Dad, so I had told them to make the ring 5 sizes too big for me.) My Dad was right next to me and noticed how big it was on me. I tried to play it off, but he kept making a deal about it.

Flash forward to after the game, my family and I are relaxing back in the hotel, and I pulled out the ring and gave it to him. He was shocked/surprised/happy/speechless. I couldn't think of anyone else that deserved the ring more than him; he's the reason I love the game, and the reason I became an All-Star.”

Chris Perez didn’t enter the game last year at the Midsummer Classic, but it’s a neat story showing that no matter how old you are as a son, you always want to please and gain the respect of your dad. Sometimes it’s tough to show our dads how much we love and adore them as adults, but I know as I speak for myself and other fathers that it never gets redundant to know that your children love you.

Tim Perez summed up his feelings about getting the ring from his son in a quick interview last summer. “I wasn't expecting it. We were in the room, and Chris just said 'I want to give you something,'" Tim Perez said to the Bradenton Herald. "My first reaction was, 'Son this is your ring. And he says 'No, dad, I wouldn't here without you.' I wasn't expecting anything. I was just a dad supporting his son.”

Tim Perez and his amazing humility is the very reason why fatherhood has to return to the forefront of the conversation when talking about combating societal ills. When a father does the right thing for his children, they become adults who respect the value and importance of what it means to be a dad when their time comes to be handed the torch.

Sure, I may pine for a time for my dad and I to have a similar bonding experience and I still have my baseball glove and ball from when I was 12 years old at the ready. Hopefully one day soon, my dad and I will have a moment to share and call our own just like Tim and Chris Perez.

Until then, I can only admire them from afar.

Even The Best Heroes Have Flaws

I’ve been trying to avoid cliché topics while blogging about fatherhood: easy, male-oriented things like sports, cars, and other supposed notions of manhood. However, it’s difficult to avoid, especially with the 2012 NFL Playoffs set to go underway next week. I’ll be the first to tell you, I am not a huge football fan these days. The years of being a Washington ‘Skins fan have begun to take their toll on my enthusiasm for the game.

To seriously date myself, over twenty-two years ago in 1989, a classic video game was born. To older gamers like myself, Tecmo Bowl – a clunky simulation of NFL football – was one of those iconic, male-bonding games that you just had to have if you owned a Nintendo Entertainment System. In high school, I can tell you that my studies suffered as result of playing this game to the point of aching thumbs and sleepless nights.

Although I wasn’t a Chicago Bears fan, I played them in the video game because I admired late Hall Of Fame running back Walter “Sweetness” Payton and I got a chance to meet him in Washington, D.C. during an event for teens and sports in 1990. He was still a vision of health, much stronger looking in person than on television and I didn’t get to say much to him. But I walked away thinking that I may have met the greatest running back of my time.

Payton played all 13 of his NFL seasons with the Bears, entering the Hall in 1993 after retiring in 1988. He unfortunately passed in 1999 at age 45 as a result of rare liver disease that made the muscle-bound Payton wither away. In the years gone by since his passing, books and articles have been written about Sweetness, but a story I recently came across nearly crushed my image of him.

Cleveland publication The Plain Dealer ran a piece last week focusing on an upcoming biography from writer Jeff Pearlman which digs deeper into Payton’s life – revealing dark secrets that could mar the legacy of the Bears legend. Infidelity, a child out of wedlock (that he reportedly didn’t acknowledge), drug addiction and a hidden affinity for fast food are all laid out for fans to read. I didn’t want to leap to judgment, but I couldn’t ignore what I read.

Pearlman, a former Sports Illustrated writer, was an old-school journalist who undoubtedly fact-checked with the best of them. Clearly he’s not accepting vague accounts from the reported 678 interviews he conducted to complete his book. I trust the writer to have interviewed close friends of the player and write the truth. The truth, it appears, was less than glossy – but does it take away from the fact that Payton did leave behind some “sweetness” along with his legacy?

In a series of interviews last fall, Connie, Payton’s widow, disputed Pearlman’s claims. She didn’t deny that her husband was troubled, but she also didn’t throw her husband’s name into the gutter, nor confirm any of Pearlman’s other claims. Mrs. Payton is also set to release her own memoir.

On the positive side, Walter and his wife started a foundation, which serves underprivileged children, and there is also a cancer research fund in Payton’s name. His oldest child, Jarrett, assisted with running The Walter and Connie Payton Foundation in the past.

The truth is, none of us will know what truly happened during Payton’s life except for the parties involved – which is immediately rendered one-sided because Payton isn’t here to defend himself. Until then, I’ll continue to think of Sweetness as one of the best ever to play the game and remember what his own son said during Payton’s Fame induction, “I am sure my sister will endorse this statement, we have a super dad.”

Payton was not only a role model for many in his sports position, but as a husband and father he was a role model at home. That’s why NFI places such an importance on helping men understand the value - and difficulties of - entering the union of marriage. Men considering marriage, or those organizations working with young men, may want to consider NFI’s Why Knot? program, a perfect place for men to start before making the vital leap into matrimony. Learn more at www.fatherhood.org/why-knot.

Q&A with Joe Ehrmann, author of InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives

Joe Ehrmann is a former defensive lineman for the Baltimore Colts and the Detroit Lions. He and his wife Paula have four children and are cofounders of Coach for America, whose mission is to inform, inspire, and initiate individual, community, and societal change through sports and coaching. Joe’s new book InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives was released on August 2 and is available for purchase on Amazon and other retailers.

NFI: You start the introduction to InSideOut Coaching by telling a moving story about driving home one night with your young son, realizing how much you love him, and recognizing that your father never felt that way about you. Why do you think a father’s love plays such a crucial role in a child’s life?

JE: Young people are hardwired to get that affirmation and love and acceptance, particularly from their dads, as well as their moms. Their basic self-concept of who they are is dependent on that relationship. Look at the tremendous number of dads who have abdicated that responsibility and leave children with huge questions about their identity and worth. Dads are one of the chief artists in painting the picture of who we are. As I travel the country, it’s the number one condition of children in America – it’s the lack of closure in those wounds as you grow from childhood to adulthood that continues to impact children’s relationships and identity.

NFI:
In an age when 24 million children are growing up with an absent father, we need dads mentor kids in their sphere of influence who need a father figure in their life. NFI calls this being a Double Duty Dad. How can coaches fill that role for their athletes?

JE: Sports engage more individuals, families, and communities than any cultural activity, religion, or group. 20-30 million children play youth league sports and 10 million play interscholastic high school sports. 40 million children stand in front of the one of the most influential adults in their lives. Coaches have an unparalleled platform and position to formulate children’s self-worth and identity. When you have players who don’t have a dad, it’s an incredible opportunity to be an example of what it means to be a man. Coaches can teach what fatherhood is, what a dad looks like. Coaches have an opportunity to help kids make sense of their relationship with their dad. The challenge is that coaching has been reduced to win-at-all-costs mentality.

NFI: Who was the most important coach in your life and what character quality of his made the biggest impact on you?

JE: I played for coaches from age 10 to 36. I looked back and charted every coach I played for and graded them if they were transactional (transactional coaches use players’ athletic ability for their benefit) or if they were intentionally transformational in my life (transformational coaches change the arch of their player’s life – they understand that’s the responsibility that comes with the power of the whistle). The most influential coach in my life was my college lacrosse coach Roy Simmons Jr., a man of great empathy and compassion. He was an artist – he saw the aesthetics not only of sports but of life. Lacrosse was a Native American sport, so he taught us about Native American history and took us to art museums. He coached me in a way that I saw things in myself that I had never seen before. When I started thinking about my coaching philosophy, I knew I wanted to be outside of the traditional model so I looked back at him.

NFI: Describe the InsideOut Coaching Process/Program

JE: It’s based on attachment research. Attachment is the formation and maintenance of relationships. 40 years ago a psychoanalyst in Great Britain working with juvenile delinquents asked how some parents had the ability to enable their children to attach to them, or to relate to them, in a way that optimized their development, but some didn’t. The answer has to do with how a parent has processed their own story about themselves. It doesn’t matter how suboptimal or abusive your childhood was, if you make sense of it and integrate it, you are not destined to repeat it with your own children.

My wife and I decided if that’s true in the parent-child relationship, it has to be true in the player-coach relationship. The biggest predictor of a coach’s ability to allow his players to attach to him in an optimal way is if the coach has processed his own story and understood the role of his father and coaches in the formation of his self-concept and developmental need. Once a coach develops his own narratives and makes sense it, it creates an empathic response to his players.


The InsideOut process is building your own narrative by asking 4 questions. 1: Why do you coach? Is it about you or your players? 2) Why do you coach the way that you do? Is the way that you run practices and relationships with players repeating the way you were coached or are you trying to be transformational? 3) What does it feel like to be coached by you? What does it feel like to be a young person with all the pressures (psychological, social, sexual, parental, etc.)? What does it feel like to have you as a coach in the midst of all their developmental needs? 4) How do you define and measure success? Most coaches have none of these things written out or know how to think through it. These questions can only be answered with integrity from your own narrative and life history.


When I started coaching, I had a clear purpose statement about the intent - why I was coaching, what I wanted to accomplish in the lives of my players. I coach to help boys become men of empathy and integrity who will lead, be responsible, and change the world for good. Every practice, drill, and game are designed to help fulfill that purpose.

NFI: What motivates you to do what you do through Coach for America and your other initiatives, such as Building Men and Women for Others?

JE: I’m a product of the 1960s – I was in college during the convergence of the civil rights, women rights, human rights, and war on poverty movements. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s not a better venue to address these issues than sports. Sports are a metaphor for change. Secondly, I have my own narrative. I’m in touch with my own anger, abuse, and issues I’ve dealt with. I’m very empathic when I think about my own players. When my brother died, Victor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning was influential – he says that the greatest of all human freedoms is the ability to choose how you will make meaning out of your circumstances. I’ve taken the painful parts of my life and figured out how to make meaning out of it to help others. I’m making sure that at the end of my life, I will have been relationally successful and have left a mark to make the world a better place. For me that venue is sports and coaching.

NFI: Anything else you want to share with us?

JE: It is the moral responsibility of every citizen to step in when children have parents who can’t or won’t take care of them. That’s what NFI’s Double Duty Dad initiative is about – when you see children who are abandoned or needing, it ought to touch us. If there’s one problem in America, it’s an empathy deficit. That’s the result of the socialization process of men who are denied access to their feelings or emotions as they grow up. The three scariest words to a boy are “be a man” – we’re telling boys to disconnect their hearts from their heads. So when men become dads, they don’t have the empathy to connect with their kids, and that’s where the problems begin. We need to create empathy – humans are wired with empathy, it’s what separates humans from animals, but it needs to be nurtured.

Thanks to Joe Ehrmann for taking time to talk with us! Check out InSide Out Coaching by clicking here.

Encourage and challenge your children, but don't push too hard

This is a post by Mike Yudt, NFI's Director of National Programming. Mike is a married father of two young sons. Mike shares his thoughts on encouraging your kids to participate in outdoor sports as part of NFI's campaign to help Dads "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer."

As a father of two boys (ages one and three), I am often dreaming of who they will become as they grow older. Like most dads, I would love to see my sons take an interest in sports. Growing up, I played soccer and ran track (with a little bit of basketball mixed in). If I’m honest with myself, I would love to see my sons show similar interest in the great game of soccer and in running. But I often will catch myself as I want to make sure that I am not living vicariously through them and imposing something on them that they are not interested in. I firmly believe that as fathers we should expose our children to a variety of activities (not just sports) to determine where their interests and abilities lie.

My wife and I recently enrolled our three-year-old son, Caleb, in a four week program that introduced him to the basics of three sports: soccer, basketball, and t-ball. It was a great opportunity for him to enjoy these games, learn from people other than mom and dad, and play with other kids. At the end of the day, Caleb seemed to enjoy t-ball over soccer and basketball. In fact, one of my proudest moments came when he picked up a ball that was hit and threw it all the way from shortstop to third base to get the lead runner. I’m sure he wasn’t thinking about “getting the lead runner,” but his throw was spot on and I could not have been prouder.

Caleb is also currently enrolled in a swim class. In fact, he has his second to last class tonight. I am proud of him for getting in the pool with someone other than mom and dad. At this age, that’s a huge step for him and I know someday he will be swimming laps around me. And I’m sure his little brother Joshua will be as well given how hard it is to keep him out of the pool during Caleb’s swim class.

The journey of teaching our children to love sports can be a difficult one. I’ve had to check myself along the way to make sure that I am not placing unrealistic expectations on my children. The last message I want to send to my children is one of me being frustrated with them because they don’t take an interest (or show an ability) in what I enjoy. So the conclusion I have come to is this: as fathers, we should challenge our children to excel at all they do. But we should never push them too much so they cease to enjoy their childhood and don’t have free time to just be kids.

Over-programming our children’s lives is a phenomenon that is frankly not healthy for our children. Yes, kids need structure and programs certainly serve a purpose. If I didn’t believe that, I would not have registered Caleb for the sports and swim classes that he has enjoyed this summer. But my wife and I also make a point to allow him and his brother to have ample time to use their imagination and to make up their own games. And we’re constantly amazed at what they come up with.

Let’s allow our children the flexibility to be children, rather than scheduling every minute of their lives. Let’s be patient and encourage our children to try new things that can challenge them to grow. But let’s not give them an unnecessary burden to carry at such a young age. Just one dad’s thoughts…

Keeping the Father in the Family & Keeping the Scholar in Scholar-Athlete

It was good to see that an NFL team was smart enough to draft Myron Rolle. Despite being the top high school recruit in his class year and an All-American at Florida State, many pro teams were lukewarm and questioned his commitment to football because Rolle choose to forgo playing his senior year to accept the Rhodes Scholarship, thus keeping the “scholar” in scholar-athlete. (Check out the video here to see just how impressive this young man is.)

With the considerable money at stake, I certainly understand concerns that Rolle’s skills may be a tad rusty after taking a year off but some of comments by NFL prognosticators were just nonsensical. For example, former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick said Rolle's intellect could be a hindrance on the field: "If you want to create hesitation on a guy, make him think. This guy can't help but think." Huh???

I played football in college at Princeton and I raised a son who was a scholarship football player at the University of North Carolina. One thing that I remember vividly is that whenever I made a “bone head” mistake, my coach would admonish me to get my head out of my—shall we say—hindquarters and get it in the game. That’s “coachspeak” for think. So, it makes me wonder if there is not something else going on here. Could it be that some don’t want other college players to follow Rolle’s lead and take full advantage of their scholarships by making their studies a priority? That would certainly make life more difficult for college coaches because practice times usually conflict with biology lab times. Well, I hope this is not the case, especially given the dismal graduation rates in many top college football programs and the need for more African American men--football players or not-to earn college degrees.

Interestingly, it’s not hard to see why Rolle has taken the path that he has. On hearing Billick’s comments, Rolle’s father, Whitney, said, "These people, they feel as though you can show commitment in only so many ways. We have taught all our kids if you're going to do something, do it 100%, so to hear these people say that they question his commitment to football, it's a disgrace.”

I couldn’t agree more…Fortunately, Rolle has gotten some good coaching at home over the years.

One final Olympics-fatherhood reflection...

One of my favorite things about the Olympics was the personal stories of the competitors. (The sleep deprivation from staying up way too late watching the Olympics…not so much!) Natalie had a great post recently highlighting the role that Apolo Ohno’s father played in motivating him to excel in speed skating. I want to briefly comment on another well-decorated Olympian – for this athlete, being a dad was the motivating factor in his story.

During one of Bode Miller’s alpine ski races, the commentators on TV remarked on the change in Miller between the Torino Olympics in 2006 and the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. As the commentators said, Miller “talked a lot of trash” and partied a lot in Torino and despite being a contender in five races, he left without any medals. But, the NBC commentators noted, this year we saw a humbler Bode Miller, who ended up winning gold, silver, and bronze at Vancouver and becoming the most successful American skier in U.S. history. I would venture to guess that his change in attitude has something to do with the fact that he became a father between the Torino and Vancouver Olympics – his daughter Dacey was born in February 2008.

This San Diego Union-Tribune article describes Miller’s commitment to being involved in his daughter’s life, to the point of even cutting down his time in ski competitions. Miller told Tom Brokaw on Nightly News that no medal or victory celebration compares to being a dad and spending time with his daughter, which he said is the best experience ever. Maybe Miller’s new attitude and motivation at the 2010 Olympics came about, in part, because he now has someone more important than himself in his life – his daughter – and, as many dads can testify, becoming a father brings a change in perspective that often affects every other aspect of life.

The Vancouver Olympics are over and we wait four years to potentially see Apolo Ohno and Bode Miller at the next winter Olympics. But for both these athletes, the impact of fatherhood, either as a son or father, will continue well beyond their athletic careers and that’s worth more than any gold medal.


Let Your Kids Be All-Stars

Some of us were chatting in the lunch room the other day and I was impressed (and amused) with the ingenuity of one of my colleague's kids, so I thought I'd share their brilliant idea for a little inspiration.

Dave, one of the dads here at NFI, was called down to his basement by his three energetic boys - Pierce, age 10, Luke, age 8, and Jeremy, age 6 - to observe their very own NBA skills challenge. His boys love the NBA all-star game and decided to create their very own event.

These budding basketball stars transformed the basement with elevated toy basketball nets, roaming spotlights (provided by an energetic use of flashlights), and a charismatic announcer to present awards and even interview the winners. They even created a skills course with stations like in the real NBA contest by, for instance, cutting a hole in some cardboard as the target for the passing accuracy test. Dave and his wife had front row seats for the all star event.

Next time you're wondering what to do with your family on a rainy day, take some inspiration for Dave's creative kids and make an all star even of your own!


The all stars after their event(clockwise from L to R) Pierce, Luke, and Jeremy.

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