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The Father Factor:
Fatherhood Matters

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When Dad's in Jail—He's Still Dad: NFI Connects Father to Family

“I never had my dad or nobody tell me they were proud of me until this program..." —William Jones, recent graduate of NFI's InsideOut Dad, the skill-building program for incarcerated fathers. 

At National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), we often speak of our two approaches to engaging society about fatherhood. 1) Top-down: through communications campaigns and social media and 2) Bottom-up: our "boots on the ground" -- our work with community-based organizations and other civic partners to train and equip leaders to better serve the fathers in their communities.

One such example is our work in jails and prisons. The Richmond Times-Dispatch recently featured a program that's impacting the capital city of Virginia. The city jail uses our InsideOut Dad material that helps prisoners to be better dads. Read the following story; it shows what we really do.  

“The goal is to get everybody to communicate with their kids, to relearn some parenting skills you never knew you had,” Fries said. At the completion ceremony, the men shared how the program affected them. Below are excerpts from the news article:

King's Faith Movie: Bring it to Your City!

At NFI, we're excited to share the latest fatherhood film with you. We think this film will inspire you to be the best dad you can be. 

(Video) Are Dads the Missing Link in Education Reform?

24 million children without biological fathers in the home. This is a stat we at NFI mention a lot. The number can be so big that it loses its meaning. However, if you take time to break most societal ills down, you find that father absence is a big part of the problem. Fix the state of fatherhood and remedy many ills in society. Education isn't immune to the father absence crisis, both in America and globally.

Did Fatherhood Win with Super Bowl Commercials?

Aside 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.
 

5 Ways to be a Horrible Dad

Let’s face it; connecting with your child is difficult. It’s much easier to be a horrible dad. NFI is here to help you be the best at being horrible. Here are five tried and true ways to be a horrible father to your children.

Do Fathers Have a Role in Gun Control?

This is a guest post by Jason Bruce. If you are interested in writing for us, send an email.

Are boys obsessed with weapons? Is your home a toy gun-free home? I’ll be first to admit that I’m a toy-weapon tolerant dad. I allow my son to play with toy guns and swords. Boys naturally like to play with toy weapons and there’s nothing wrong with acting out make-believe combat with toy guns and swords.

I grew up without toy weapons at home. My solution was to make my own weapons. I made cardboard machine guns and grenade launchers like a young Sylvester Stallone in Rambo. I made Samurai swords out of tree branches and any L-shape object became a hand gun including my baby sister’s Barbie dolls.

7 Things a Great Dad Knows

We're already midway through January; if you're like us, you're in disbelief! However, we're still committed to helping you be the best dad you can be in 2013! After our first post for "New Year, New Dad!;" hopefully you've had time to reflect on your goals and are ready to tackle the year. In hopes of making sure your goals are in check and you've considered everything you need to for your family, use the seven questions below to help you assess the needs of your family and be sure you're setting the right goals for the coming year.

Here are seven questions that great dads ask themselves:

Top Posts of 2012: #4 — 5 Questions Every Father Should Ask Himself

The Father Factor Blog is closing out the year by revisiting some of our most popular blogs of 2012! We've enjoyed talking parenting tips and tools this year with you. Today is our fourth most popular blog post of 2012!

Top Posts of 2012: #5 — Communicating with Your Child

The Father Factor Blog is closing out the year by revisiting some of our most popular blogs of 2012!

Chardon High Shooting: Symptoms of the Father Factor

Image by Aaron Josefczyk, Reuters.

The Uncharted Territory of a Teen Daughter's Heart

For those of you who are fathers of teenage or soon-to-be-teen girls, Valentine's Day might make you a bit nervous. Your daughter's interest in boys, or more likely boys' interest in your daughter, might seem a bit scary to you. You want nothing but the best for your little girl, but you may not know how to navigate this uncharted territory.

As a daughter, let me encourage you to not back away from being involved in this part of your daughter’s life. She needs you, even if she doesn’t act like it. Take it from someone who is now glad her dad didn’t back away when the tricky stuff of teen relationships surfaced for the first time.


Talking to my dad about boys was the last thing I wanted to do as a fifteen-year-old. I thought my parents wouldn't understand or would freak out and tell me I was too young to be thinking about boys. Learning to be transparent with my parents about guys was a process and my dad gets a lot of credit for patiently helping me build a stronger relationship with him in this arena.

Three things my dad said during that phase of my life stuck with me to this day and helped me realize that my parents had my best interest in mind when it came to relationships.

In one of the first conversations I had with my dad about a guy I had a crush on, my dad told me, “Renae, your significance is not based on what a guy thinks about you or what your friends think about you. You are significant to your family and to the Lord and that is more important.” I knew that of course, but hearing my dad say that meant a lot and built my sense of self-worth.

As a sixteen-year-old, I hid from my parents a correspondence I had begun with a guy friend (okay, he was more than a friend). My attempts at secrecy failed. Lesson learned: parents find things out. In a rather difficult conversation with my parents, my dad said, “I want to be the guardian of your heart, Renae. But I can’t do that unless I know what’s going on in your life, and I can’t know that unless you talk to me!” My dad’s willingness to challenge me like that helped me realize that he wanted to protect me from unnecessary heartache at a young age and that he would be my best guide in relationships with guys. But, I had to let him do so by sharing with him what was going on in my life.

As my parents and I worked through these situations, they didn’t always handle things in the best possible way, but their motive was always to do what was best for me. “We’re figuring this out as we go, Renae. If I’ve ever done something wrong for the right reason, this was it.” My dad asked me to be patient with them. In the end, we ultimately had the same goal – my success and happiness in life – and we’d get there in better shape if we were on the same team and had grace for each other’s mistakes.

It’s been ten years since those formative experiences. My parents and I are now navigating what our relationship looks like now that I am an independent adult. But those three lessons from my teen years stick with me: 1) My family loves me for who I am and my worth is not defined by other people. 2) Being open with my dad is a good thing. 3) It’s learning process for all of us and we need to have grace and understanding for each other.

So, Dads, if this Valentine’s Day your daughter brings home a little something from a secret admirer, take the opportunity to engage her and let her know you care about that part of her life. More importantly, make sure she knows through your words and actions that her dad loves her exactly as she is and will always work for what’s best for her.

You don't need to move the world - just your thumbs

For the month of March, NFI’s Dad Email is featuring tips and advice on how dads can use technology to help them build their relationships with their kids. Check out the resources from our “Tech Savvy Daddy” campaign here, which we’ll be updating with more information every week this month.

Last week, our focus was on “Mobile Connections,” or using text messaging to connect with teens. A recent Pew Research Study found that 75% of teens have a cell phone. Most of them have text messaging capability, and boy do they use it! 54% of teens texted their friends daily in 2010 (skyrocketing from only 38% who texted daily in 2008!). One out of three send more than 100 text messages daily!

For those of you who are fathers of teenagers, you probably feel like their thumbs are glued to their phone. But, as our Dad Email last week pointed out, if texting is teenagers’ primary means of communicating, why not speak their language? We put together a list of text messages that dads can send their teens to encourage them and build their relationship. Check it out here.

I work with a group of high school students at my church, and I quickly figured out that texting is the most effective way to communicate with them. When we were writing the suggestions of text messages for dads, I sent a text to the teens I know and asked them, “What’s a meaningful text message your dad could send you that would help build your relationship?” If we’re trying to help dads connect with their teens, why not get advice from them?

Here’s what I got back:
  • just check in and see how i was doing
  • maybe like i love u just wanted to remind u
  • probably a Bible verse or just a note that told me to hang in there, or an invitation to spend time with him. That always means a lot to me. :)
The point I got out of this is, dads: it’s simple. Your kids don’t need something incredibly profound from you. They just want to know that you’re thinking about them, that you love them, and that you want to spend time with them. (As busy as your teenagers are, they actually do want to spend time with you, too.)

One text I got back from a teen whose dad is not very involved hit on a much deeper issue. What would be meaningful for this teenager would be “for him to realize what he has put me through and to want to change that.” Clearly, there are years of hurt that need to be undone in this relationship and a couple text messages aren’t going to do much, but I think a little effort on the part of this dad to move closer to his child would do a lot.

I think that’s true for any dad-teen relationship, no matter how good or bad it is. A little investment in your teen’s life will go a long way. Even if it’s as simple as a text message to say “I love you.”

A Dad's Lesson: The Price of Fame

There is a verse from the Bible that says, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” I was reminded of the wisdom of these words recently after reading this Billy Ray Cyrus GQ interview where he shared his regret about how he has been raising Miley Cyrus.

The DC Sniper Story Revisited: Before the "Aftermath"

A few days ago, William Shatner, as part of his new A&E show called Aftermath, interviewed DC sniper, Lee Malvo. I have spoken and written about Malvo frequently over the years because his situation impacted me in several very personal ways.

First, at the time of the shootings, I had just moved from the Philadelphia area—the City of Brotherly Love—to the DC area. Now, Philly, despite the moniker, was no bastion of safety and security but at least we didn’t have to deal with snipers. I remember well that random activities like walking my dog, getting gas and loading groceries in the car became random acts of courage. It was indeed a very scary time that still haunts me a bit today.

Second, they caught Muhammad and Malvo sleeping at a rest stop in Maryland on Route 70. It turns out that this stop is the next exit up from my wife’s office. She is a family practice doctor in a little town called Myersville. It’s a very isolated and rural place and her office is just a “rock throw” from the highway. There’s a little BP gas station across the street from her office where she often fills her tank. You get the point…I have thanked God often that an alert trucker spotted Muhammad and Malvo’s car that October night.

Finally, I remember well the morning that the news reported Muhammad and Malvo had been caught. What especially caught my attention was that they said that the suspects were a 38 year-old man and a 17 year-old boy. I instinctively looked over at my 17 year-old son and thought: What would it take to turn him into someone who would shoot a woman in the face with no remorse? There’s a fatherhood story in here somewhere. Sure enough, a few days later, the Washington Post reported that they had found Lee Malvo’s father who had essentially abandoned him years ago. And the rest, tragically, is history.

In any case, what makes the Malvo story “news” now is that a celebrity is interviewing him and that he has suggested that there were supposed to be other snipers involved. That’s fine. But what makes this story important for me is what made it important years ago. Malvo’s story is less about crime than about how crime is connected to father absence.

“He was a kid who was brainwashed. He was a malleable teenager and lacking love in his life," Shatner said. "John Muhammad supplies the love and influences him to become a killer, and he becomes a coldblooded killer at the age of 17.”

Shatner’s statement is on point but it’s incomplete. Malvo had a mom who seemed to care about him but what he didn’t have was a loving father. Indeed, Muhammad did more than “supply” love. He became the father that Malvo longed for much of his young life. Of note, psychiatrist Diane Schetky, who served as an expert witness for the defense at Malvo's 2003 trial, quoted him as saying of Muhammad, “Anything he asked me to do I'd do. He knew I didn't have a father. He knew my weaknesses and what was missing.”

I often talk about “what was missing” in a child’s life—it’s a hole in a kid’s soul in the shape of his dad. Unfortunately, still today, Malvo shares a potential “weakness” with millions of other kids who are more at-risk to become prey for the many “Muhammads” of this world. However, these guys don’t always come as sniper trainers but rather as gang leaders, pimps and drug dealers who encourage children to sell their bodies and their souls.

It’s worth noting that a disproportionate number of Malvo’s fellow inmates tend to grow up in father absent homes. Despite this fact, we have done too little to address father absence in our nation. Indeed, most of the fatherhood programs that are committed to addressing this issue are grossly underfunded. I know that in NFI’s case, despite that great work that we have been doing to educate and inspire dads and the many testimonials from fathers, mothers and, even kids about the good work we do, it is a daily challenge to raise the needed funds for our important work. But, we press on because the stakes are high and we don’t have a fatherless kid to spare.

I suspect that Shatner’s Aftermath show will do well. Sadly, it seems that time and again we are more interested in the entertainment of the “aftermath” than what needs to be done beforehand to prevent it.

The Toy Story Dad…What's His Story?

This past weekend, my family and I went to see "Toy Story 3." Wow. What a great movie! The dialogue was clever and humorous. The characters and the plot were compelling and entertaining, and the movie has a wonderfully engaging blend of drama and comedy. My sense is that the Toy Story series has run its course. If so, the creators of the series ended on a very high note.

However, there was one aspect of the movie that left me a bit "animated." The plot builds around the fact that Andy, who is now 17, has lost interest in playing with Woody, Buzz and the gang. Accordingly, the urgent crisis for the toys is what would become of them now that Andy would soon be heading off to college.

At one point, there is a scan of Andy's desk and you see a picture from his recent high school graduation. There are three smiling faces: Andy, his sister and his mom. So, for me, the stuffed elephant in the living room was...Where is Andy's dad and what's his story?

Now, I know that this is just a movie, but, unfortunately, art can imitate life. With 24 million kids living in father-absent homes, Andy's family situation is too real and too common for too many children. Nonetheless, this was not an accident or an oversight. Somewhere during the creative process someone made the call to erase dad. Moreover, he was deleted and no reference was made to him. And, well, I am just not comfortable with this new normal.

Interestingly, there was a scene in the movie where I got a sense that Andy was not too comfortable with this either. Near the end of the film, Andy is holding Woody for what will probably be the last time and he says that Woody is his most special toy and that he has been with him for as long as he can remember. He added that Woody was always there for him and, best of all, Woody would never give up on him, no matter what.

Now, you can dismiss this like so much "psycho babble," but it seems to me that Andy, through his imagination and play, ascribed to Woody the attributes of an involved, responsible, and committed father. And, if you followed the Toy Story series, this is exactly how Woody behaved. He was always focused on being there for Andy regardless of the challenges and obstacles. Interestingly, the magic that made Woody a "real" toy was his commitment to Andy, just like what makes a man a real father is his commitment to his children.

In fact, if anyone ever questioned his priorities and purpose, Woody was quick to show them the word "ANDY" written on the sole of his shoe in permanent marker. What an amazing metaphor for what happens to a man when he becomes a dad. I have heard numerous times from fathers how something changed inside of them when they held their child for the first time. Well, I think that children are born with "magic" markers and when their dads hold them for the first time, they write their names on their dad’s souls to remind their fathers who they belong to.

I guess that's why I am a bit troubled by no reference or mention of Andy's dad. Because for all of the real “Andys” in the world, their history is linked to their destiny as men and as fathers. Accordingly, they have to come to grip with and make sense of their father's absence in a real way. And there is no erasing that.

See how National Fatherhood Initiative works with entertainment media projects to promote their fatherhood messages: www.fatherhood.org/entertainment

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