The Father Factor

Why Fatherhood Practitioners Are and Create “Upstream Heroes”

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Mar 19, 2020


“What’s a hero? Who do you think of when I say the word ‘hero?’”

Those are two questions posed by Dan Heath in a promotional video for his new book Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen, which was released earlier this month.


In the video, Heath asks whether you would initially think of people who “save the day,” such as firefighters and other first-responders. Makes sense, right? He also asks whether you would initially think of people who prevent problems from happening in the first place, such as the high school coach whose mentorship helped teenagers stay out of trouble or the person who invented “orange arm floaties.” They’re heroes, too, right? Sure, they are.

Heath calls those latter heroes “upstream heroes.” These heroes do things that keep bad things from happening but who, as Heath says, rarely get the glory. That’s because their work is often invisible. He shares an example of an upstream hero in public health whose persistence in challenging the federal government led to the implementation of a preventive public health program that has saved many lives.

As I watched the video, it struck me that fatherhood practitioners are upstream heroes. They’re heroes who work tirelessly day after day, week after week—often in challenging situations—to reduce the risk that children will experience any of the range of poor physical, social, and economic outcomes tied to father absence.

In the process, they help fathers become upstream heroes by increasing those fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives. Involved fathers are upstream heroes because they reduce the risk that their children will experience poor outcomes. (I don’t know whether Heath addresses upstream heroes who create other upstream heroes. I’ll have to read the book to find out.)

This concept of upstream heroes has given me an even deeper appreciation for the work our partners do across the country. From all of us at National Fatherhood Initiative®, we thank all the upstream heroes helping fathers, children, families, and communities across the country!

If you serve fathers, do you see yourself as an upstream hero?

If you don’t have a name for your current or planned fatherhood program, how about “Upstream Heroes?”

How to Mobilize Your City. County, or State Around Responsible Fatherhood

Topics: Featured, General Fatherhood Program Resources

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