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The Father Factor

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Multitasking: Good or Bad for Busy Dads and Families?

This is a post by Chris Brown, NFI's Executive Vice President.

We’ve known for years now that the “housework divide” between dads and moms has decreased with dads doing more of the workload than ever. This development is good news because NFI’s landmark national study on mothers’ attitudes about fathers and fathering called Mama Says found that moms want dads to help out more around the house. But what do we know about the impact of dads doing more in this world of dual-income families who always seem to be multitasking and on the go?

While this closing of gap seems on the surface to be a great development that should have a positive impact on dads, moms, and kids, a recent study reported in the L.A. Times suggests that this new picture of the dual-income American family isn’t quite as rosy as the data suggest. This two-year study examined 500 working mom-dad families from 8 urban and suburban communities. Researchers found that dads and moms did an equal amount of paid and unpaid work but that moms did more multitasking at home than did dads. Moreover, moms experienced more stress than dads about their perceived lack of attention to their families this multitasking requires. Dads, in fact, received a psychological boost from their ability to handle home and work tasks (super dad) while moms felt guilty about the divided attention this kind of multitasking requires.

What should we make of this data, and how should dads and moms respond in these families? A closer look at the study suggests that moms and dads should multitask together (e.g. wash dishes, do the laundry, take the kids to the grocery store). Dads and moms tended to gravitate to different activities with their kids—a sort of divide and conquer strategy. Dads engaged in more focused, fun, interactive activities with their children while moms focused on more routine childcare tasks and doing more of them at the same time. But when moms and dads worked together around the house it reduced the stress for both parents. It seems that dads should take a step back and ask what more they can do around the home together with moms, right? The article suggests as much, but I’m convinced the problem can't be resolved simply by dads and moms doing more work at home together, although that would certainly help.

I’m convinced that working moms and dads need to reduce multitasking. A recent spate of research suggests that multitasking isn’t all its cracked up to be. We’ve come to believe that multitasking makes us more effective when, in fact, it makes us less effective. It divides and conquers families. We’re much more effective and less stressed when we focus on doing one task at a time and doing it well whether at work or at home. Dads and moms can’t be as present and engaged with their kids and with each other when they multitask. Dads must ask not what more they can do, but what less can they and mom can do individually, together, and with their children.

Guest Post: Kids need an Open Door Policy with Dad

This is a guest post from Dr. Clarence Shuler. Dr Shuler is an author, marriage counselor, speaker and life & relationship coach. He is President/CEO of BLR: Building Lasting Relationships, a non-profit helping individuals and organizations develop mutually-beneficial relationships. Dr. Shuler and his wife Brenda have three college-aged daughters.

More than a few fathers and mothers gave me a warning when my three girls were young. Their warning was that as soon as my girls became teenagers that they wouldn’t want to spend time with me. Their warning troubled me.

Unintentionally, I almost made their prediction come true. It hit me in two ways. First, while on our family vacation to Disney World, I realized that my girls were getting what was left over in my time. My girls deserved and needed my best, so I changed my priority to focus on my girls after their mother and then my job.

Secondly, as a self-employed struggling new writer, I kept the door of my home office closed. My little girls love me, so they wouldn’t even knock on the door because they didn’t want to disturb me. Maybe it was the grace of God that had me move my office to the basement and keep my office door open.

Like clockwork, with an open door, all my girls from elementary school through high school as soon as they came home would come down to my office to say, “Hello” and touch base with me. It was a little humbling initially because they only wanted five minutes or so to say, “I love you Dad.” I responded, “I love you too. How was your day?” I didn’t ask yes/no questions.

My girls knew with my “open door” policy that they were and are more important than anything I’m writing. They said it gave them security knowing they had access to me. Even when I travel for a speaking engagement or consulting, my girls know that if they call, I’m going to answer my cell. I may ask, “Can we talk later?” But I’m going to answer their call.

I also began taking my girls on some of my trips so we could have some one-on-one time. This was more work because when I finished working, there was no down time, but I made memories with them forever! It was good use of those frequent flyer miles and hotel points!

Teaching and coaching my girls in basketball and tennis resulted in bonding more with them. Children and wives spell love: T-I-M-E!

The payoff has been my girls asking me to come see them in college and calling to share their lives with me. I often text them: “I LOVE YOU.”

With my twins being 22 years old and my baby 21, I’m glad they want me in their lives. It isn’t about being perfect. I’ve certainly blown things; but forgiveness is a wonderful thing. It is about consistency. Often, I asked my girls how I was doing as their dad. We had some relevant discussions. They helped me father them better. We all made some changes. They appreciated me apologizing when I was wrong. It is about quantity time, not quality time. QUALITY TIME comes out of QUANTITY TIME.

What I’m trying to say is that my daughters love spending time with me, which is one of the greatest gifts that I continue to treasure.

"Say Uncle"

As President of NFI, I speak quite a bit about the need for dads to intentionally reach out and be “father figures” and mentors for children in father-absent homes. So, inevitably, since I grew up without my father around much, I am asked if a dad reached out to me. Well, the answer is “yes.”

He entered my life when I was about 7-years-old, around the time that my parents split up. Despite having a child of his own, he took time with my siblings and me. Interestingly, when my older brother and I first met him, he was introduced to us as “John,” but for some reason, we decided to call him “Uncle,” not Uncle John…just Uncle. Kids do the darndest things…

In any case, when I was 8-years-old, my 10-year-old kid brother drowned while we were on vacation. As you can imagine, I was devastated and could have certainly used a dad to help me make sense of it all but my dad wasn’t there. Uncle was.

I visited Uncle, who is now in his 80s, a few months ago and it struck me just how consistently present he was in my young life. So much so, that I have actually taken it for granted that he would always be there as if he was timeless and eternal. But of course, no one is. And now that he is moving into a season where one has more yesterdays than tomorrows, I realize just how much I will truly miss him when he is gone.

You see, just about every “first” that most boys do with their fathers, I did with Uncle. He gave me my first baseball mitt and taught me how to throw and catch. He took me fishing and helped me reel in my first catch. He took me to my first little league football game and cheered me on from the sidelines. He even took me to buy my first car and helped me fix it…often. Indeed, Uncle was first and foremost just there and I am truly thankful that he was.

So, I guess it was prescient that my brother and I named him Uncle right from the start. Because whenever the pain and sense of loss from not having my dad around was a bit too much for me to bear, I could always just say “Uncle,” and his presence would ease the pain.

French Laundry Father

Today's New York Times carries the poignant story of father absence and reconciliation. Noted French Laundry chef Thomas Keller was only five years old when his father left his family. Years later father Ed and son Thomas started a relationship that had been basically nonexistent.

When the elder Keller had a serious car accident that left him paralyzed, Thomas Keller and longtime companion Laura Cunningham embarked on a year of care giving alongside their busy lives as food industry celebrities and authors. The impact of that renewed relationship had remarkable effects on Keller's professional and personal life. I'd recommend reading the entire story, but I found this quote about Thomas and his father's reconciliation quite vivid:

"It turns out that genetics do matter. Thomas Keller discovered that he was like his father in many ways, not the least of which was his height. The two shared a strong sense of economy, an appreciation of routine and the understanding of how powerful teamwork can be..."

Who Really Wants Work-Family Balance?

Even in time of recession, work-family balance is still a popular topic. As is this recent study from the British Equality and Human Rights Commission. They surveyed over 2,200 British fathers about issues related to work, to childcare and household responsibilities, and to differences between mom and dad.

Some of the findings:
  • Fathers do want to spend more time with their children, and want to make their children a priority. 54% of dads with children under the age of 1 year felt that they spend too little time with their child.
  • More mothers (34%) than fathers (23%) believe that child care is the primary responsibility of the mother.
  • There is still a big gap between what flexible working options are available to fathers, and to what extent fathers are actually using those flexible work solutions.
This begs the question - do fathers continue to feel that using flexible work options is potentially damaging to their career? Or are there larger more diverse sets of reasons that fathers don't take the leave available to them?

Take Time To Be A Dad Today

Check out the inspiring ads just released by the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, a government project for which NFI is the lead contractor.

There are three ads in all, each one encouraging fathers that the "smallest moments have the biggest impact."

Below is my favorite. There are two additional ads: Double Dutch and Pizza, which are also very amusing.

Enjoy...and take time to be a dad today!

Duncan's Prescription for Great Schools: Dads!

Arne Duncan, US Education Secretary, was in New Hampshire this week for a town hall on fatherhood and education:

"Duncan said fathers must move outside their comfort zones and get involved with their children, perhaps in ways they didn't interact with their own fathers.

'When fathers step up, students don't drop out. ... When fathers step up, young folks have greater dreams for themselves,' he said. 'We need to turn those TVs off at night, we need to engage with our children, we need to read to them.'"

We couldn't agree more! If you're a dad who is looking for ways to engage your school child, check out our range of resources for you and your children's school!

To Fantasy Football or Not to Fantasy Football

A great proportion of "guydom" (and a good number of women as well) are about to enter into a fast-growing fall ritual - Fantasy Football. A recent article in Time magazine notes that it has become an $800 million industry! Wow.

Just the other day, the guys here at NFI had a debate (argument?) about whether or not it is "safe" for a dad to get involved in a fantasy football league (one that does not require payment, mind you). Our debate was not about the monetary risk, but the "time" risk - if you become obsessed with fantasy football for four months, where does that leave your family?

One group of dads argued that it is something that you can do with your children, allowing you a great opportunity to spend time with your children and even teach them basic math skills (in calculating scores).

The other group of dads said that you will inevitably end up spending a load of time tweaking your team without your children around, or you could also get your children obsessed with fantasy football to the point that they focus on nothing else but your team (rather than homework, chores, moms, etc).

Where do you fall on this debate? Play fantasy football and get the kids involved or don't play fantasy football so you can focus on your family more?

Songs of our Fathers

This weekend, I attended a concert of guitar virtuoso and three time Grammy® nominee Stanley Jordan. It was a pretty amazing concert for a number of reasons.

First, Stanley was a couple of years ahead of me at Princeton and it had been some time since I had seen him play. I didn’t really know him while we were in college other than to nod “hello” when we would pass each other on campus. We “played” in different circles that didn’t overlap…his a world of jazz and mine a world of football pads.

Second, Stanley developed a unique way of playing the guitar with both hands topping the fret board that creates a sound like no other guitarist. (Check out his rendition of “Stairway to Heaven.”) Even in college, he was becoming quite well-known for this technique. It’s really something to see and hear…

At one point in the concert, Stanley strolled over to the piano and began to play a song. Nothing unique about this since lots of folks can play multiple instruments. But then, he started playing the piano AND the guitar simultaneously. Amazing.

When he finished playing, he explained that the song was called, “Song for My Father” and then he spoke a bit about the importance of fatherhood. Here’s what he had to say in the notes of his fabulous new CD “State of Nature.”

Fathers of fathers, sons of sons
Timelessly linked.
Fatherhood, that precious profession;
That sacred occupation.
Passing on strength and wisdom,
Leaving no stone unturned,
Moving heaven and earth
To teach and protect,
To love and inspire,
And ultimately, to free.
For we are all children of mystery.

When Stanley finished his remarks and moved to the next number, I could not help but linger there a bit. Ironically, his unique ability to play two instruments simultaneously with such grace and skill is the perfect metaphor for what good fathers do. They balance family AND work. They balance affection AND discipline. They balance patience AND urgency. They do all of this—and much more—to create a “melody” that their children’s hearts need to see and to hear. Like Stanley’s music, it’s a thing of beauty.

Life's "Little" Interruptions

My life was interrupted yesterday. I was all set to head to work when I got a call from my wife. She told me that she was not feeling well and was heading for the emergency room. She said not to worry but asked that I get there as soon as I could. So, I grabbed my briefcase, etc. and headed out.

By the time I got to the hospital, she was already in a room and was hooked up to a few machines and an IV. They had already started to run some tests to check her blood. After an hour or so, the doctor came in and told us that the test results were fine and it turned out that she was having a bad reaction to some medicine that she was taking to settle her stomach. This was certainly great news and I have to admit, being a “man of action,” I instinctively checked my watch to see how long before I could get back to my “regularly scheduled programming.”

Just then, a nurse rushed into the room and told us that we needed to move to another room quickly because they needed this one for a patient in critical condition that was on an ambulance in route. Moments after we settled in the new room, the PA began to blare “code blue” this and “code red” that. It all sounded like a foreign language to me but not to my wife, who quickly grew somber. She is a family practice doctor and she decoded the announcement and told me that the incoming critically ill patient was a small child, probably a baby. We said a quiet prayer…

Soon there was a storm of activity of rushing feet, urgent commands that nearly muffled the wailing of the mother of the child. However, almost as quickly, it was silent again—sort of an eerie hush. So I decided to leave our room to see what was happening. As I approached our old room, the curtain was pulled back just far enough for me to see him…a little baby boy no more than 6 months old laying on an oversized gurney. He just looked adorable laying there. He had the cutest little face with a small tuft of blond hair tumbling gently on his forehead. And, he looked so peaceful—almost as if he was sleeping—but he wasn’t…his day had been interrupted.

It’s been a long time since I have been this close to someone who was dead. And, I have never been this close to a death so quick and so young. It was really difficult to take it all in and I could not help but to think back to how my day started and the “interrupting” call that I received…and the one that the father of this little boy received. Like me, I am sure that he had a day planned with lots of “important” stuff too. Now, he had to come to terms with a painful loss, an interruption of life-changing proportion.

Over the years, I have been fond of reminding dads—rather “tongue in cheek”—that what makes you a dad is that you have kids. Otherwise, you’re just a guy. But I had not really thought about what it means to be a dad in this situation. How does one view his identity as a father in light of the death of his child, especially one so young? Does one wrestle with a sense that he is now a dad in name only? I don’t know.

But I do know a few things for sure. First, 6 months, 6 weeks, 6 days, 6 minutes and 6 seconds before this father received the call, he had hopes and dreams of many “firsts” to share with his son that will never happen. Second, I know first hand as a father that despite the joy and blessing that babies are, at times, they place demands on us and they often interrupt our sleep, our plans and our life. Finally, I know that this father, as he cradles his little guy in his arms for the very last time, will look into his son’s face and think…I would give just about anything for another chance to pardon his interruptions.

The Other Casualties of War

Relationships. Families. Those are the casualties of war that you don't see in the news everyday.

USA Today had an insightful, emotional article today - Troops' Families Feel Weight of War. It profiles several different families as they struggle to reintegrate after not just one, but several deployments.

NFI and Lockheed Martin's 2009 Military Fatherhood Awardee, QMC John Lehnen of the U.S. Navy, said something so telling at this year's award ceremony: The hardest part...when you're gone...your family grows without you...you come home to strangers.

That's exactly what this article is saying. One of the military fathers profiled is having a hard time reconnecting to his teenage son, and his son is acting out:
Scott, at 15, says his dad still seems to treat him like the 12-year-old he was before the last combat tour.

He says he loves his father and is proud of his military service but feels distant from him and often finds it easier to just leave the house and go skateboarding...

One a recent Sunday, before his father left on a trip, Scott suddenly threw his arms around his dad and hugged. "I didn't know what to do," Mark says. Father and son had shed that kind of physical affection one or two combat tours ago. "I lost that connection," Mark concedes.
Military families sacrifice so much for our freedom, both on and off the combat field. After the war in Iraq started, NFI developed a suite of resources specifically for military dads, to make sure they are able to reconnect with their kids. And the response we've had to these resources is overwhelming - the Deployed Fathers and Families Guide is being used by ten of thousands of families in all branches of our armed forces. You can learn more at www.fatherhood.org/military.

There is hope; these families show an amazing resillience and commitment to making it work. And, if these families can make it work, almost anyone can.

Work-family "balance" or "choice"?

In this piece from the Wall Street Journal, General Electric CEO, Jack Welch, pulls no punches in telling working moms that if they choose to spend more time with their families, they are likely giving up the highest levels of career advancement. Thus, he says, there is no such thing as work-family balance, only work-family choices.

He makes some valid points, but he takes his argument to an extreme and among the things he leaves out of his analysis is the fact that working fathers are equally susceptible to being “left back” for not being there "in the clutch,” as he puts it.

In fact, working fathers who spend "too much time" with their families may be even more stigmatized than working mothers, as it is less expected of them to leave work early for the ballet recital.

Do you think Welch's views are representative of today's corporate CEOs, or is he part of the old guard, being replaced by a younger generation of corporate leaders who are more attuned to the work-family balance needs of both men and women?

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