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The Father Factor


Thanks, Bil Keane!

Bil Keane, the creator of the “Family Circus” comic, died this week at the age of 89. His comic strip put smiles on the faces of readers for over 50 years with humorous moments in the life of a family that could have been yours, mine, or any average family.

The “Family Circus” comics captured a range of family experiences – from silly things kids say to the stresses of juggling work and family to favorite family traditions like vacation and trick-or-treating. The one-panel comics engendered laughs, but also left a sense of familiarity. As Keane said, according to the Associated Press, “I would rather have the readers react with a warm smile, a tug at the heart or a lump in the throat as they recall doing the same things in their own families.”

Actually, the “Family Circus” family was probably a lot like Keane’s family. The cartoon family has a similar number and gender of children (Bil was the father of one daughter and four sons) and the Mommy was modeled after Keane’s wife Thelma. Keane commented once that "I was portraying the family through my eyes. Everything that's happened in the strip has happened to me.”

If the life of Daddy, Mommy, Billy, Jeffy, Dolly, and P.J. in “Family Circus” gives us a picture of the Keane family, it’s pretty safe to say Bil was not only a talented cartoonist, but more importantly a great dad. As his son Jeff told the AP, "He was just our dad. The great thing about him is he worked at home, we got to see him all the time, and we would all sit down and have dinner together. What you see in the 'Family Circus' is what we were and what we still are, just different generations."

Thanks, Bil, for sharing your family with us through 50+ years of fun and endearing comics. Our condolences go out to your loved ones as they mourn your passing.

Here's a few favorite fatherhood moments from "Family Circus":

Ending the Baby Blues

I tend to be a pretty outspoken person about the things I care a lot about. Working at NFI has only made me more passionate about responsible fatherhood, resulting in my friends occasionally being subjected to a spontaneous rant or soapbox speech from me when the issue comes up in conversation. They must not mind too much, because they will sometimes send me news stories or songs about fatherhood, which gets me talking even more.

Case in point: one of my friends sent me this Baby Blues comic recently, and I knew there was a lot I could say about it:

This could be the official comic for National Fatherhood Initiative. The dad’s statement that “Dad school” is a 7-days-a week, 24-hours-a-day program is exactly why NFI’s flagship curriculum to help fathers build their fathering skills is called 24/7 Dad™ - being a Dad is a 24/7 job.

Even though fathers who enroll in 24/7 Dad™ have a graduation ceremony at the end of the program, Darryl, the Baby Blues dad, is right – you never graduate from learning how to be the dad your kids need. It’s a lifelong process that changes as your kids grow – and the good news is, if you keep doing your “homework” like Darryl, you should always get better at it as you go.

Darryl’s comment that being a Dad is what he really wants to do reminded me of something that Dave, a dad who went through NFI’s 24/7 Dad™ program, said about the impact it had on him:

"My kids didn’t want anything to do with me. Dope was more important to me than anything, including them … After inpatient treatment, I completed outpatient. Then I learned about the 24/7 Dads group. Then other things started to change … I got to see [my daughter] more and more. Now she’s home for good. I married her mother and we are really happy. Sometimes I think about the old days. But … I know I’d rather be a 24/7 Dad.”

So, friends, keep those news stories, songs, and comics about fatherhood coming. The Father Factor blog exists in part to give a platform for positive portrayals of fatherhood in our culture, and we need all of you to be on the lookout for good things we can shine a spotlight on. Not to mention that it’ll make my day when other people get involved in this issue.

But feel free to tell me you "get the point" if my enthusiastic soapbox speech starts getting a little long...

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