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The Father Factor

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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.  

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“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:

  • Ronnell Glasgow, 26, said he grew up without his father in his life and was repeating that pattern with his own children, daughters ages 7 and 9.
  • Glasgow is behind bars at the Richmond City Jail, but even when he was out he said he thought giving them material things was enough.
  • Just weeks into a fatherhood skills training program at the jail, Glasgow said he had reached out to his own emotionally distant father and was communicating more with his daughters, who he said are no longer shy around him.
  • “I understand the importance of not having a father,” Glasgow said, adding that with his own father he was “building a relationship as a father and a man.”
  • One man described having a 15-minute telephone conversation with his daughter, who he rarely spoke to before. 
  • Another described overcoming fear of rejection and reaching out to an adult daughter and his surprise at her welcoming response. 
  • Another talked about writing to his 6-year-old son and getting a reply.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that one recent graduate said after the program, “Being there for my kids is better than any gift,” said William Jones, 22, father of four children. Jones is in jail on a probation violation and plans to enter an addiction-treatment program when he is released.

A new 12-week session of InsideOut Dad at the Richmond City jail starts tomorrow (Tuesday). What's the prison nearest you doing to teach fathers the skills they need to be better dads?

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Image: [Daniel Sangjib Min/TIMES-DISPATCH] Dennis Fries (left) an instructor for the InsideOut Dad program, gets a hug from William Jones, a participant in the class who wants better relationships with his four children.

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

KF OneSheet[1] resized 600At 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. 

King’s Faith is the story of a troubled, fatherless young man named Brendan King, who is trying to straighten his life out as his past continues to invade it. With the help of strong foster parents, especially his new foster father, Brendan works through his issues. 

On April 26, King’s Faith, a faith-based film from Faith Street Film Partners and Hopefilled Media, will hit theaters…and you can have a say in whether it will be shown in your community’s movie theaters!

The foster father, Mike (played by James McDaniel), is a great example of how a strong father can build confidence and resilience in his children. He shows the unique and irreplaceable traits a father brings to the parenting equation, especially for a “lost” boy looking for guidance from a responsible male role model.

Don't miss the opportunity to use the movie King's Faith to engage fathers, mentors and youth in your community. Watch this clip of Brendan King's new foster Dad (Mike) advising Brendan on how to make good decisions.

DEMAND THE MOVIE for your local theater at www.demandkingsfaith.com


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(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.

We recently wrote a column for CNN titled, "The Missing Piece in Education Reform—Dads". You can read our blog on it here.

Vincent DiCaro, National Fatherhood Initiative’s VP of Development and Communication, recently appeared on FoxNews Live to discuss the father-absence crisis and just how critical a fathers' role is in education. 

Gregg Jarrett interviewed DiCaro on the FoxNews Live show "On the Hunt" about the state of education reform and fathers' roles.

If you can't see the video, click here.

Jarrett points out that America's children seem to be in a deficit compared to other nations and asks the question, "What's hurting education in America?"

1) Children growing up in father-absent homes
DiCaro does well to point out that "The biggest change that has taken place in education over the last generation has nothing to do with schools, but everything to do with what has happened to the family... One in three of our children are growing up without their biological father in the home." 

2) Decline in marriage
Jarrett asks what's to blame for the decline of father involvement; unwed mothers or divorce or both? DiCaro makes clear that both contribute to what ends up being a situation where dad is just not there on a regular basis. DiCaro points out, "Out of wedlock childbirths have gone through the roof. We're at about 40% of all births are out of wedlock." He continues by pointing out that divorce is obviously still at a high rate. But DiCaro also mentions the "general mentality in our country that fathers don't play a unique an irreplacable role in their children's lives."

Jarrett asks about father absence and race. DiCaro makes clear that the father-absence issue is a global one. DiCaro says, "Father absence is not unique to any one community...this is a problem happening across the board." DiCaro continues, "...it isn't just in the United States, there was a global study done from Child Trends called the "World Family Map"; the report found, across the developed world, "children in two-parent homes do better in school than children in single-parent homes and this happens independent of income...this isn't about the haves versus the have-nots in terms of money, but kids who have two parents, and kids who have only one."

Jarrett asks, "do you think the important role that a dad plays in education is underestimated?"

DiCaro says, "Absolutely. Us dads ourselves often underestimate our role. We often think, mom has that covered, she's going to the parent teacher meetings, she's helping with homework, so the kid's gonna be fine. But even if mom's doing these things, it's still critically important for dad to do them as well. You know, dads do things differently. We interact with our children differently. We play a unique and irreplaceable role in our childen's lives, and so we need to be just as hands-on with our kids' education, reading to them every day, helping them with their homework, going to the school, being there, present in the school; a man's presence in a school communicates a lot to his kids and other kids in the school as well.

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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

How 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.

horrible dad

Please share your ideas of how to be a horrible dad in the comment section.

1) The Horrible Dad ALWAYS Works Late. 

There are folks who say, “Meals are the perfect time to connect with family.” Well, not if your goal is to be a horrible father. Forget mealtimes and stay late at work. Typically, the horrible dad is great “yes man.” Your boss needs something? Great, you can do it—you’re a horrible dad to your children. There’s nothing of importance at home for you. Heck, spend time after work socializing with old friends and colleagues. Because what’s more important than connecting with coworkers you already see all day for five days per week?! Answer: nothing. Nothing is more important for you, horrible dad.

2) The Horrible Dad Talks About Himself ALL the Time.
If you end up making it home before 8pm, be sure you talk to your kids and spouse about your day at work and never ask your family about their day. There’s so much that can be learned about dad during family mealtime. You filed a TPS report today? Awesome. Your family really cares and wants to know every detail. You can also use dinner to argue with all family members present. Trust us, it’s what horrible dads do, and you can do it too! Your kids can learn so many things from you about selfishness at mealtime, which they can carry into adulthood.

3) The Horrible Dad Thinks READING to His Child is a CHORE.

Reading to your kids takes time and effort. The horrible father need not worry about this problem. 
From dads with younger kids to dads with college-aged kids, reading should NOT be a major part of the horrible dad’s life. Wouldn’t it be great for your kids to think of their dad as a lover of books?! Nope, says the horrible dad. Imagine talking with your high school or university student about a character from the same book they are reading—because you’re reading it with them! “Ha, that’s hilarious,” thinks the horrible dad!

4) The Horrible Dad ONLY Cares About His Interests.
You have a daughter who likes playing with Barbie dolls? Well, you think Barbie dolls are silly so you can’t spend time playing with them. The horrible dad only cares about what he likes. From watching his favorite movies and TV shows, you don’t waste time on something you don’t like. Be intentional about hating whatever your kids like. Have a son who plays with blocks? Boring. You get extra points for only talking about things that interest you at the dinner table.

5) The Horrible Dad NEVER Spends One-On-One Time with His Kids.
Listen up, dads. To be a truly horrible dad, be sure you NEVER connect one-on-one with your children. Good dads have reported that this is the best way to connect with their children. The horrible dad doesn’t bother taking his son or daughter out for ice cream. Taking a walk to discuss life with your teen? Who has time for that when you could be practicing your golf swing or working late?! Again, just another thing the horrible dad doesn’t have to think about.

What’s one thing from this list that you need to work on? Talk to us on social using #247Dad.

 

photo credit: dontshoot.me!

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.

toypistol smallAre 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.

Many parents forbid their children from playing with toys guns. Many view toy weapons as corruptors of children, exposing them to aggressive and violent behaviors and reinforcing gender stereotypes.

The tragic event in Newtown, CT put the debate on gun control in the spotlight again and many parents followed suit imposing their own toy gun control and zero-tolerance policies in their households. But is this the right response to the issue of violence? Should parents keep their sons away from toy weapons and impose a weapon-free zone at home? Should zero-tolerance policies be extended to playgrounds, schools and other public venues?

Boys naturally gravitate toward weaponry not because of their desire to kill or hurt another human being but because of their desire to be heroes. Boys have a natural willingness to do great things, be adventurous and to be rescuers. They need to feel like heroic warriors and toy weapons help bring out their imagination and act out their fantasies. It is one way boys are molded to be mature courageous men.

Play is play and violence is violence. What’s essential is that fathers educate their sons to understand and differentiate the two in their playtime. Their make-believe games are opportunities to teach boys to distinguish between what’s right and wrong and what’s good and evil. Penny Holland, author of "We Don't Play with Guns Here," says toy weapons were "part of...making sense of the world (imitating) timeless themes of the struggle between good and evil."

Parents should recognize and respect what young boys are dreaming to be and experiencing in their play. Fathers were once young boys too and played fierce battles with evil monsters and alien invaders. We usually grow up wanting to be heroes.

Sometimes I wish my son would simply pretend he’s a magician or a race car driver; but right now he wants to be a gun-trotting Pirate and Captain America. All a weapons-tolerant dad like me can do is to play along with my imaginary laser gun and light saber and model to him the right and honorable way to save the day.

Do you let your child play with toy weapons? Why or why not?

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Jason is a blogger and social media specialist for the Colson Center. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and two kids. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonBruce) and visit his blog The Living Rice.

photo credit: AbrilSicairos

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:

1. A Great Dad Knows the Importance of Improving His Family.
Take the time to write down three things and post them in an area where they can be easily referenced. These things can be areas of weakness or things that you simply want to do more. These areas of improvement need not be statements; simply write one word to help you keep the ideas in mind this year. 

2. A Great Dad Knows the Importance of Communicating with His Spouse/Ex-Spouse.
This will be much easier if your living with your child's mother. But admittedly, it's often easy to not communicate with your child's mother regardless of where she resides! Be intentional about asking your spouse what she thinks of your goals and work together to agree about those goals. Single dads: the idea here is to work toward being on the same page as your ex-spouse with where you want to take the family regarding goals.

3. A Great Dad Knows What His Child Needs.
If you're a new dad, or the father of a teenager, you may find your children have different needs. Assess what those needs are by age. If we make goals at all, we tend to focus on ourselves. Be sure you are considering where your children are in developement when creating goals and making plans. For instance, you will find your travel plans change drastically depending on the age of your children. 

4. A Great Dad Knows His Child's Favorite Experiences.
Ask your children what their favorite memory was for 2012 and begin brainstorming other similar activities you can do this year. Work to create a time, perhaps over dinner, to let the kids not only talk about their favorite memories but come up with a list of things they would enjoy doing this year.

5. A Great Dad Knows His Schedule. 
A schedule is beneficial for children and parents. Consider stopping unnecessary routines and starting better ones. This may be one of the most difficult steps in the process. The point here is to reflect on your daily or weekly routine and see where changes could be made.

6. A Great Dad Knows His Family's Schedule. 
With school, dance, theater, and/or sports in full effect, check in with your family on how they are handling things. As a leader in the home, create appointments with yourself on your calendar to remind you about checking in periodically. It's too easy to get too busy and often consider EVERYTHING as IMPORTANT when in reality, not everything is important. Depending on your assessment, consider cutting back on activities as a family.

7. A Great Dad Makes Time for His Family. 
Schedule time each day to be intentional about being face to face with your spouse. Additionally, be intentional about being face to face with your kids daily. Of course this isn't easy. Strive to be creative and caring this year. If you can change daily routines with family priorities in mind, you'll notice a difference in your marriage and/or relationships with your kids.

Knowing these things will help you focus on being the best dad you can be this year. What would you add to this list?

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

5 questions every dad should askThe 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!

From the blog: 

We call him the “24/7 Dad.” We believe that every child needs one. What we are talking about is an involved, responsible and committed father. We are talking about a dad who knows his role in the family. He understands he is a model for his sons on how to be a good man. Likewise, if he has daughters, he models what they should look for in a husband and father for their children. There are five questions every responsible father should answer. These five questions come with a guarantee: if you answer each one honestly and take action, you will become a 24/7 Dad!

The questions fit into five categories:

1. Self-Awareness. The 24/7 Dad is aware of himself as a man and aware of how important he is to his family. He knows his moods, feelings and emotions; capabilities, strengths, and challenges. He is responsible for his behavior and knows his growth depends on how well he knows and accepts himself. So, the 24/7 Dad asks himself: How well do I know myself?

2. Caring for Self. The 24/7 Dad takes care of himself. He gets annual physicals, eats right, exercises, and learns about the world he lives in. He has a strong connection to his family and community, and chooses friends who support his healthy choices. So, the 24/7 Dad asks himself: How well do I care for myself? 

3. Fathering Skills. The 24/7 Dad knows his role in the family. He knows he should be involved in the daily life of his children. Consider this: Who dresses and feeds your kids? Who attends parent-teacher conferences? Who supports their sports and other interests/activities? Who helps with homework and tucks them in at night? Said a different way, if you weren’t in the family, would anyone notice based on the daily household tasks? So, the 24/7 Dad asks himself: How well do I “Father”?

4. Parenting Skills. The 24/7 Dad nurtures his children. Yes, nurturing is for men to do as well. He knows how his parenting skills help to develop their physical, emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual, and creative needs. His children trust and feel safe with him because he cares about and nurtures them through the use of proven parenting skills. The 24/7 Dad uses discipline to teach and guide his children, not to threaten or harm them. So, the 24/7 Dad asks himself: How well do I “Parent”?

5. Relationship Skills. The 24/7 Dad builds and maintains healthy relationships with his children, wife/mother of his children, other family members, friends, and community. He knows and values how relationships shape his children and their lives. So, the 24/7 Dad asks himself: How well do I relate?

Read the full blog post: 5 Questions Every Father Should Ask Himself

Tell us: Which blog post did you like the most in 2012?

photo credit: Fabiana Zonca

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

communicating with your childThe 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. From today through December 31st, we'll post our top five blog posts of the year.

Today is our fifth most popular blog post of 2012!

We posted "3 Rules for Communicating with Your Child" and proposed thinking about communicating with our kids as a racecar driver thinks about race tracks! 

From the blog:

Odds are good you didn’t wake up this morning and say to yourself, “You know, I should communicate with my kids better…or more…” No, that has never happened - EVER. Something must change in how we view communication. We understand the importance of communication, but we need something to help us remember that how we do it daily is of utmost importance...

We wrote three rules that can help you as you talk with your child. They are the same ideas that a driver must consider as he approaches:

1. Know Your Racetrack: 

  • Short tracks = Infants and young kids
  • Intermediate tracks = School-aged children
  • Superspeedways = Teenagers
  • Road Courses = College-aged children and beyond

2. Practice, Practice, Practice. And then practice more.
When a NASCAR driver isn’t on the track, he is practicing. A driver’s life is about way more than that short moment on the racetrack. And all of his time leading up to the moment on the track is spent in preparation. When is the right time to practice? Early and often.

3. You Must Make Adjustments. 
If Nascar drivers know anything beyond the track and practicing; they understand the importance of making adjustments. Adjustments are crucial in racing. Likewise, you as a dad will learn by trial and error. It’s good to understand you can learn both when you’re away from your child and during the moments you are with them. Great drivers know the importance of making adjustments, from “Research and Development” to “The Pit Box.”

Read the full blog post: 3 Rules for Communicating with Your Child.

Tell us: Which blog post did you enjoy the most in 2012?

 

photo credit: camille.eric

Chardon High Shooting: Symptoms of the Father Factor

Image by Aaron Josefczyk, Reuters.

On Monday, a teenage gunman shot five of his peers at Chardon High School. When this story first broke, my initial impulse was to skim the news for hints about the shooter’s family life, as I’ve become more aware that there is usually a “father factor” in these sorts of stories.

T.J. Lane’s motives for shooting his five classmates (three fatally) are still largely a mystery, and I will leave journalists to speculate on the mental processes leading up to Monday’s horrific events. However, I did discover that Lane’s story does indeed have a father factor. It would seem that the lifestyle choices of Lane’s father had a significant impact on him.

According to multiple news outlets, T.J. Lane was born to Sara Nolan, while she was in a relationship with his father, Thomas Lane. Sara and Thomas’s relationship was tumultuous and eventually ended in divorce after repeated incidents of domestic violence. T.J. stayed with his mother, and it’s unclear if he had much contact with his father afterward.

It’s reported that his father went on to marry another woman and started a family with her. But he was repeatedly abusive to this woman, and went on to get in trouble with the law for assault, kidnapping, and attempted murder.

Clearly, having an uncommitted and unstable father was a significant part of Lane’s story.

The knowledge that his father acted violently toward the women in his life must have had an impact on T.J., and the absence of an involved father probably left T.J. craving affirmation, acceptance, and without a clear idea of what a healthy relationship between a man and a woman could look like. T.J.’s Facebook page shows that he was dating a girl from his youth group, but that she recently broke up with him to date someone else. The new boyfriend is reported to be one of the victims of Monday’s shooting.

T.J. Lane is ultimately responsible for his own actions, but I have to wonder: would he have done this if his father had been positively engaged in his life? Would these three high school students be dead today if T.J. had a dad who cared about him and modeled healthy relationships with women? Would T.J. have shot his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend if his own father wasn’t abusive to T.J.’s mom?

These questions deserve serious consideration. As this shooting and its aftermath plays out in the media, I’d urge you to remember that the news stories we read are often just about the symptoms of deeper issues.

Many heinous events like these have a father story behind them. We’ve noted before how the D.C. sniper situation in 2002 was largely cause by two men with deep father-needs, and how the Tuscon shooter last year was affected by his negatively-involved father. And just this summer we saw a mass murderer in Norway whose life was marked by his absent father.

An involved father makes a significant positive impact on the lives of his children, and you never know what might be averted by ensuring that you are a positive and loving presence in your children's lives.

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.

Ironically, several weeks ago, I wrote “For Father's of Older Children—No Time for an Achy Breaky Heart” when the report came out about Miley doing bong hits of salvia at her 18th birthday party. Recently, I have found a few blog posts like this one from Jim Daly of Focus on the Family and this one by Melissa May for “Modestly Yours” to be quite compelling as well.

In any case, Billy Ray’s regret is a poignant reminder of how critical it is for all fathers to protect their children. Indeed, many will come along to sell our children the “whole world.” But, as Billy Ray unfortunately discovered too late, the price is just too high.

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

Boys will be violent...

By now, you may have seen news reports regarding the brutal beating death in Chicago of 16-year-old Fenger HS honor student, Derrion Albert. If you haven't, you certainly will, because someone captured the tragic events on a cellphone. The footage shows a group of male teens kicking and striking Albert with splintered railroad ties during the attack.

Boys will not just be boys. Too often, boys will be violent--deadly violent-- especially if they don’t have the guiding hand of a good father. My sense is that you won’t have to do too much investigating to connect the perpetrators of this heinous act to a family cycle of fatherlessness. This was certainly the case with the DC sniper shootings. In fact, research shows that male inmates overwhelming come from father-absent homes. A key and essential role of a good father is to teach his son how to use his power and strength in the right way.

Interestingly, boys are often encouraged--as is evident from the gang that attacked Albert--to define themselves by how they use their power. Real men, and good fathers in particular, define themselves by their ability to restrain and direct their power in the best interest of themselves, their families, and their communities. Indeed, the real difference between boys and men is the ability to say “no” to the wrong things and “yes” to the right things.

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