The following is a post from Tony Prebula, Administrative Coordinator, Marketing and Communications at National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). If you would like to blog for us, email here.
Back when I joined NFI, I blogged about the lessons passed down from my grandfather. And I enjoyed being able to share the hope and excitement my wife and I had for having a family of our own one day.
It has been 7 months since then, and over a year since we started trying to have children. We’ve experienced loss, pain, disappointment, and at times despair. On more than one occasion over the last year, my wife and I have lost a child.
For the longest time I’ve imagined what it would feel like to hold my child with the hopes of the kind of person they would grow up to be. I imagine teaching them to ride a bike. Maybe even what the first fishing trip would be like. I imagine teaching my son how to honor his mother and all women. Or showing my daughter how she should be loved and respected in how I love my wife. I imagine being able to tell my children how proud I am for the kind of people they are. I don’t stop imagining these things. I remain hopeful, but it can get tough.
You see, as I get ready to head home tonight after work, I have already planned to spend the evening doing one of my favorite things—brewing beer. It’s a hobby I picked up when I lived in a townhouse with no cable or internet. I’ll have fun tonight. But all the while I will be thinking to myself, “What if”. I will be wondering what if my child were here. Instead of spending the night in the kitchen brewing, I could be putting together a crib. Instead of a quiet night waiting for my wife to get home from working late, maybe I would be giving my baby a bath. The hardest part is not their absence; rather it is in thinking of all the moments we will never have with them. To quote John Greenleaf Whitter, “For all the sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘What might have been’”.
In trying to sort through the emotions of the past few months, I’ve tried to put into words (probably for some healing or comfort) why it has been so difficult to find peace with it all. Strangely enough, I haven’t found any new insight to make it easier. I haven’t found enlightened peace. No, nothing like that. But what I am reminded of is the precious joy that family and children are.
My wife and I have been able to remember that no matter how hard we may try, we can’t just make children happen. Children are not given simply because you want to have them. No, children are gifts to be cherished.
I am so happy to work for an organization that recognizes children are indeed a gift to be cherished. And that part of this cherishing is to ensure that they have involved, responsible, and committed fathers.
In grieving, somewhat selfishly, for our loss, we are consoled knowing that our children are in a better place than we could have ever hoped to give them. And as my wife and I continue to wait and see what lies ahead for us, I know the gift will be that much sweeter. I can’t imagine how blessed I will feel when the day finally arrives. And I only hope that when it does that my children will know how much of a gift they are to me.
Tony is a graduate of the University of Maryland. He and his wife, Lacy, met at Maryland and were married in 2011. In his spare time, you will find Tony rock climbing, cooking and homebrewing. Connect with The Father Factor by RSS, Facebook and on Twitter @TheFatherFactor
For all the talk we hear these days about how “families can take many forms,” it seems there is one particular form that, if there was a popularity contest for family types, would be losing. It’s the one where dad is involved.
Every time I think NFI is in danger of exaggerating our claims around the prevalence of father absence and the lack of respect for the institution of fatherhood, a good reminder of our pinpoint accuracy smacks me right in the face.
The latest smack came in the form of a series of pictures in a book for toddlers. The book, First 100 Words, was sitting innocently on a shelf in my house. I mindlessly opened it and started flipping through, and came across the following picture.
In case you can’t make out what is going on there, it shows a picture of a family that includes “mommy,” “brother,” and “baby.” Where’s “daddy”? Well, he has his own separate, much smaller picture to the right of the larger “family” picture. (it is probably also worth noting that grandma gets the second largest picture)
Talk about a stark, visual representation of our culture’s general disregard for the centrality of responsible fatherhood. It is as if the editors did not want dad interfering with the pristine image of a mom-child family.
Moreover, this is a book designed to give toddlers their first lessons about the world around them. May as well get to them early with the notion that when we talk about family, we are really talking about a mom and her kids.
One might defend the use of an image of a mother-only family with the premise that we should be cautious about offending such families, or making them feel “left out.” But why is no one ever concerned with offending two-parent families? After all, 2 in 3 children still live in mother-and-father-present homes, and reams of social science research shows it is best, on average, for kids to live in such homes. So, shouldn’t we be “protecting” this family type?
These sorts of images reinforce the false belief that fathers are not as important as mothers. For a boy in a father-absent home, it reinforces the idea that he does not have to worry about being a central part of the family he will one day have. Mom’s got it covered! This attitude “empowers” neither men nor women.
For a child growing up with a father in the home, like my son, I am sure this image will be confusing. My 2.5-year-old son is too young to express himself about something as complicated as this, but this book -- along with a lot of other messages he will get from TV commercials, etc -- shows him that fathers are on the periphery of family. When he asks the question, “How now shall I live?” the answer provided by our culture will be vague at best. If it suits you to stick around for your family, that’s fine; but if not, don’t let the door hit you in the rear on the way out.
Now, you may say that it is just one book, and maybe it’s not indicative of what the general belief about fatherhood is in our country. But that is a cop out. If “just one book” published an image of a blonde girl struggling with a math problem, a ruckus would be raised. Or if “just one book” published an image of a minority being belittled by a white person, a ruckus would be raised. Because we know that images and messages matter; they communicate our culture’s values. When such messages are allowed to see the light of day, it is an indication that there is little fear of reprisal for publishing them.
Dads are not a feared demographic; very few people are worried about ticking us off. NFI will do its part to expose negative representations of fatherhood and award positive ones, but until market forces start to move, little will change. We saw a hint of how powerful those forces can be when Huggies made a mistake with dads.
Here’s to hoping that the mistakes are always pointed out and the offenders learn a lesson.
UPDATE: A generous donor has offered to match dollar-for-dollar all donations given to our “Give a Second Chance” campaign through September 30, the end of our fiscal year. Your donation will now have double impact!
And don’t forget – anyone who donates $100 or more this month will receive a copy of Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance, an inspiring book of photography and stories of dads who have been impacted by National Fatherhood Initiative’s fatherhood programs in their local communities – and by your support that makes our work possible!
One of those dads is Shawn Kennedy, of Mobile, Alabama. NFI’s programs for new dads helped him get the right start in his fatherhood journey and connect heart-to-heart with his brand new baby daughter. Shawn told Lewis Kostiner, author and photographer of Choosing Fatherhood, about what he learned from NFI’s fatherhood program.
Shawn Kennedy […] and his wife lived in a small and lovely vintage South-style bungalow in Mobile. I had spent a few days with his father-in-law, who was taking Milt Scott from National Fatherhood Initiative and me around to meet the fathers in the area. Shawn has this beautiful baby girl in his arms, whom he carried with him all over the house. He even wore a shirt and tie for the picture. After I took the picture, I sat with him at his dining room table, and we talked. He said he was always open to learning how to become a better father. He told me [he] had taken some classes with NFI and learned a great deal about small things about fatherhood he never thought about. He was very clear with me: his family’s faith in the Lord gave him the strength to be a good and loving dad. I imagined he would be, always.
Because of the financial support of friends like you, we are able to help dads like Shawn be involved with their children and build their fathering skills no matter what stage of parenting they are in. Sometimes, the support and inspiration these dads find through our programs is the second chance they and their families need.
Your financial support is crucial to reach more families like Shawn’s. Will you make a donation before September 30? We have almost crossed the finish line for this fiscal year and your donation will be the final push we need to end strong and get started on our plans to help more dads next year.
Thanks for your support!
The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative. This post is his response to feedback from his original post The Moral Rationalization of Non-Married Fatherhood.
My most recent blog post titled “The Moral Rationalization of Non-Married Fatherhood” generated a lot of feedback, some positive and some negative. I argued that as a society we have rationalized non-married fatherhood to the point that it is no longer a moral transgression. It has become excusable and, thus, we no longer need to worry about children growing up without their fathers despite reams of data that show when children grow up in single-parent homes—the vast majority of which don’t include fathers—it is detrimental to children and our society.
Several of the responses we received indicated that some non-married fathers—primarily divorced fathers—took the post personally because they thought National Fatherhood Initiative doesn’t appreciate the yeoman’s work they do to be involved in the lives of their children. Nothing could be farther from the truth. NFI recognizes the contributions of and efforts that all fathers make to be involved in whatever circumstances they father.
Consequently, we offer support, guidance, and resources to fathers and the organizations that serve them without discriminating based on marital status. As I remarked in the post, my argument isn’t that a specific non-married dad can’t be a good father to his children. But when viewed through the lens of our culture and population at large, the conclusion that we have rationalized away the morality of non-married fatherhood is undeniable. It has moved us away from our society's need to address father absence in a preventive manner.
To better understand NFI’s position, it’s critical to separate personal experience and the emotion attached to it from the cultural experience and evidence attached to it. Non-married fatherhood results from one of two situations—an out-of-wedlock birth (e.g. a never-married father) or a divorce. From a personal perspective, I’ll wager that if you’re a never-married father you didn’t intend to become one. Likewise if you’re a divorced father you probably didn’t marry with the intent to divorce your wife and face the challenges that brings to raising children. But if you’re an involved, never-married or divorced dad, I’ll also wager that, against all odds, you have moved heaven and earth to remain involved in your children’s lives. Remaining involved requires a lot of hard work and emotion especially when considering the evidence that non-married fathers, on average, are less likely to be involved in their children’s lives as their children age. Therefore, the negative responses we received are understandable because they come from fathers who are not the norm. These fathers are involved in their children’s lives despite the challenges they face. All of us at NFI applaud their (your) efforts.
From a cultural perspective, however, it is undeniable that our society has become more accepting of non-married fatherhood. As an applied anthropologist, I have studied cultures across the globe and, in particular (surprise, surprise), the institutions of fatherhood and marriage and their symbiotic relationship. As noted in my post, marriage arose as an institution (across the globe) for raising children and serves as the primary mechanism societies use to connect fathers to their children. The evidence that fathers are the parent disproportionately separated from their children when they are not married (and not just in the U.S.) underscores the importance of marriage as the institution that undergirds father involvement. And, yet, I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve encountered in my personal and professional life who are perfectly fine with non-married fatherhood (and motherhood) becoming an acceptable circumstance in which to parent (i.e. a norm). They don’t even give it a second thought. The evidence, however, for the symbiotic relationship between these two institutions is overwhelming. Being married to the mother of your children is the single greatest predictor of father involvement. Quite simply it is much harder to be involved in your children’s lives when you don’t live with them. From a preventive standpoint, one of the best strategies we can implement at the cultural level to ensure that children grow up with an involved father is to see that more fathers are married before they have children.
If you’re a non-married father and you’re still struggling to come to grips with NFI’s position on the relationship between marriage and involved fatherhood, I ask you to consider the following question. If your son or daughter comes to you one day and asks whether it is better to be married to the mother or father of their children, what will you say?
If you are reading this, chances are good that you are already involved in your child’s life. Knowing this, we want to help make it easier for you to be involved and educated about the ages and stages of your child's development. We received such great feedback on our Ages and Stages Charts in the 24/7 Dad® curriculum - developed with contributions from Dr. Kyle Pruett and Dr. Yvette Warren - we decided to bring it you in a FREE online version!
The Countdown to Growing Up tool helps dads (and moms!) know about what to expect and not to expect in terms of child growth over the months and years.
You can also use the tool to make notes and save or print out your child's chart to take with you to a pediatrician visit for discussion if desired.
Be sure to click on the Complete Survey button once you have finished using the tool to give us your feedback. We'd GREATLY appreciate it!
To begin, simply enter the name of your child, then select his/her gender and age. If you have more than one child, we will provide you with an opportunity to enter his/her/their name(s) and age(s) after entering the information for your first child.
Depending on your child’s age, you will be taken through statements to answer Yes or No/Unsure for three targets: Physical Growth, Mental/Emotional Growth and Social Growth.
Please note, this tool is customized to track ages from birth to 18+ years and older.
For example, I chose to test "Fred," a five-year-old male for purposes of this review. For a five-year-old male, the Physical Growth milestone has statements like:
- Grows 2-3 inches but gains as little as 2-4 pounds a year. Children grow and gain weight at very different rates.
- Clearly right or left-handed.
- Learns to tie shoes.
You as the parent simply clicks YES or NO/Unsure box for each statement.
Using "Fred" as the example, the Mental/Emotional Growth milestone asks:
- Uses complete sentences with many words.
- Learns to name coins, colors, days of week, months.
- Takes basic care of self (dress, brush teeth).
- Helps with simple chores.
For the Social Growth milestone, statements such as:
- More settled and focused when with others.
- Begins to notice the outside world and where/how belongs.
- Enjoys doing things with parent of same sex.
Again, for you the mom and dad, it’s simple to click Yes or NO/Unsure for each item.
There is a section for "Additional Notes," which is optional for placing notes to yourself that will save and/or print with the PDF of the report.
Once you have chosen YES or NO/Unsure on each statement, you are taken to a list that reads: Milestones (Your Child) Has Reached. Below is an example from our test. Your report will be customized to your child's name, gender and age.
Additionally, a section is automatically created for your customized report that reads Milestones (Your Child) Has Not Reach, your additional notes from the previous page have now been added to the report.
Lastly, on the same report is invaluable “Tips to Help (Your Child’s Name) Grow" from physicians. This is free expert advice targeted directly at your child's gender and aged based on the information you provided in answering the statements. These tips from physicians offer you expert advice for what to watch for in your child's development as well as tips to help you grow your child.
Notice at the bottom of the above image, you have four options for what you can do with the customized report of your child:
1) View PDF
2) Save as PDF
3) Track Another Child
4) Complete a Brief Survey
Choosing “Save as PDF” will allow you to email it to yourself and then use it on your mobile device. For instance, if you have an iPhone or iPad, the PDF from your email can be saved in iBooks on your phone or iPad for easy, mobile and paperless reference at your child’s next doctor appointment.
There are two additional options, which are Track Another Child and Complete a Brief Survey. Please feel free to use this new and free tool for all of your children. Please also take a moment and complete our survey. We would love to hear feedback from you once you use the tool.
We know parents do not have a lot of time to study their children. We hope you this tool makes your life easier. Track your child’s growth today. Believe us, you will be prepared for your child's next visit to the doctor; and your doctor will never know how simple and easy it was for you!
Connect with The Father Factor by RSS, Facebook and on Twitter @TheFatherFactor.
NFI’s fiscal year ends on September 30 and we are celebrating the end of an impactful year by sharing stories of real-life dads and their children who have found second chances through our work in their communities.
Steven Gonzales of Sacramento, California, is one of those dads. Photographer Lewis Kostiner met him as he traveled around the country at his own expense photographing and interviewing dads who participated in NFI’s fatherhood programs in local communities. Mr. Kostiner shared his impressions of Steven’s relationship with his son in his book Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance.
Steven Gonzales worked fourteen-hour days, seven days a week. He lived amongst the ghosts of bygone eras of vintage cars. Steven was the owner of the body shop that consumed him. He also was a father who taught his children by example. He told me that he regretted not being home for dinner every night, sometimes having to run out to give an estimate. He told him his heart hurt when he had to do this. Steven and his son took me on a tour of the body shop. We visited the paint shop, rich in the aroma of the freshly sprayed paint. His son was so proud of his dad. My presence with the camera made the young boy feel important. He knew his father to be a very special person and that I was sent there to take this famous person’s picture. Steven and his son posed so proudly in front of the blue, beat-up Cadillac. I envied that boy and the life he had with his father. When I was done, they gave me a red t-shirt with the name “RED STAR California Original” [the name of the body shop] on the front of it. I felt as special as the son when I left.
NFI is active in communities like Steven’s, helping dads in all walks of life build their fathering skills and connect with their children. In some cases, the support and inspiration these dads find through our presence in their communities is the second chance they and their families need.
Your financial support is crucial to reach more families like Steven’s. As we end the fiscal year on September 30, will you make a donation to help us finish this year and start next year strong? We have almost reached our fundraising goal for the year, and your contribution will get us across the finish line and help even more dads and families next year.
As a special “thank you,” we will send a FREE copy of Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance to anyone who donates $100 or more. Of course your gift of any amount helps us reach our goal for the fiscal year and start our next year of work strong.
Thanks for your help!
The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). If you would like to blog for us, email here.
I’m an avid reader of business articles (e.g. what works in business) because they spark ideas that NFI has implemented to help us effectively pursue our mission. But rarely do I read such an article that helps build my knowledge about the cultural challenges we face in promoting involved, responsible, committed fatherhood. Recently, however, I read an article on research conducted by professors at the Wharton School (the preeminent business school at the University of Pennsylvania) that examines how people react to scandals of celebrities with huge brands, and it provided me with additional insight on how our society has dealt with the crisis of father absence.
The researchers conducted several studies on how people react to “moral transgressions” by public figures (e.g. athletes and politicians) and whether they were more likely to react with “moral rationalization” or “moral decoupling” to those transgressions.
In moral rationalization a person downplays the moral transgression. “It’s not so bad,” they say. “Everyone else does it.” Thus, the transgression becomes excusable.
Moral decoupling, in contrast, involves separating the transgression from other acts. It preserves the person’s outrage at the transgression and allows them to believe that it doesn’t affect other parts of the transgressor’s life, profession, etc.
Remember the Tiger Woods sex scandal? (Unless you live under a rock, I’m sure you do.) What about the Michael Vick dog-fighting conviction? What has happened since those two athletes came under scrutiny for their transgressions? They’re just as, and perhaps more popular, than ever.
Forgiveness aside (and I don’t discount the importance of forgiveness), these athletes have probably benefitted from a branding standpoint because of those transgressions. (Note how Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation has seen its donations rise in the wake of him dropping his fight against doping allegations.)
The researchers found that people engage more often in moral decoupling because it allows them to maintain their view that the act was immoral and that it had or has no effect on their performance (in whatever way they perform—on the field, in Congress, etc.). Fans of Tiger and Michael say, “Sure. What he did was wrong, but I see no reason why that should affect whether I’m a fan.”
So what does this research have to do with fatherhood? Do people engage in moral decoupling when they react to non-married fatherhood? Nope. The reason is that we no longer look at non-married fatherhood as a moral transgression. Consequently, we don’t have to separate a father not being married to the mother of his children from his ability to be an involved, responsible, committed father despite the reams of evidence that marriage arose in cultures across the world in large part to connect fathers to their children, and that it provides the best environment in which to reduce the risk that children will grow up facing a host of risks.
You see, non-married fatherhood (and motherhood, by the way) has become excusable. As we’ve seen a rise in the number of out-of-wedlock childbirths leading to more and more children growing up without fathers, we’ve engaged in moral rationalization rather than moral decoupling. We say, “It’s not so bad. So many people are doing it that it doesn’t really matter.” (You only have to watch one episode of the hugely-popular Jersey Shore or the many other reality shows and sitcoms that celebrate out-of-wedlock child bearing to see my point.)
Don’t get me wrong. My argument isn’t that a specific unmarried dad can’t be a good father to his children. But when viewed through the lens of our culture and population at large, the conclusion that we have rationalized away the morality of unmarried fatherhood is undeniable. It has moved us away from our society's real need to address it in a preventive manner.
Unfortunately, the consequences of this rationalization are a huge burden on our society as noted in NFI’s 100 Billion Dollar Man study. But perhaps even more frightening is that it has, sadly, set the stage for the current debate about whether fathers are even relevant any longer.
National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) recently recognized New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg with a Fatherhood Award™ in a ceremony at LaGuardia Community College.
Mayor Bloomberg was honored for his leadership in launching two initiatives to strengthen fatherhood and families in the city: the Young Men’s Initiative and NYC Dads, New York’s first city-wide effort to engage fathers and help them to connect with their children.
Mayor Bloomberg, a father of two daughters, has consistently demonstrated, through his administration’s policies and practices, a deep understanding of how father involvement not only helps children, but strengthens the entire city.
Upon launching the city-wide fatherhood initiative in 2010, Bloomberg said:
Strong families make a strong New York. But too many children in this city are growing up without their fathers. We want more children in our City to experience the encouragement, support and love of their fathers.
Mayor Bloomberg also understands the link between the challenges facing the black and Latino youth of the city and the problem of father absence. One of the key changes in practice that was identified upon the launch of the Young Men’s Initiative was to encourage family-serving agencies in the city to “identify where obstacles to father involvement can be reduced.” This approach coincides with research showing that young men without involved fathers face significantly greater risks of failing in school, using drugs, becoming involved in the criminal justice system, and facing a host of other challenges.
NFI President Roland C. Warren said:
Mayor Bloomberg’s innovative thinking and powerful leadership are making it possible for New York City to be an example for cities across the country on how to effectively serve whole families. Too often, dads have been left out of the equation, but Mayor Bloomberg is ensuring that the city’s agencies will serve them, which will lead to stronger families and a stronger New York.
At a time when 32 percent of all New York City children under the age of 17 live in households without a father, and 54 percent of black and 43 percent of Latino children grow up in fatherless households, Mayor Bloomberg’s pioneering leadership on this issue is critical.
Warren presented the Fatherhood Award™ to Mayor Bloomberg at the first graduation for the CUNY Fatherhood Academy. As part of the Young Men’s Initiative’s effort to strengthen fathers and their families, the Mayor launched the CUNY Fatherhood Academy in collaboration with the Open Society Foundation’s Campaign for Black Male Achievement. The CUNY Fatherhood Academy is a free comprehensive program intended to promote responsible parenting and foster economic stability for unemployed and underemployed young fathers by preparing fathers to apply to earn a GED and enroll in, and graduate from college.
As part of the city’s important work to become more father-friendly, NFI was recently contracted by the Department of Youth and Community Development to train and provide technical assistance on NFI's 24/7 Dad™ fatherhood curriculum, which equipped the department’s fatherhood grantees to address the most critical needs of the city’s low-income, non-custodial fathers.
Inaugurated in 1997, NFI’s Fatherhood Award™ is presented each year to individuals, corporations, and organizations that make a substantial contribution to strengthening involved, responsible, and committed fatherhood. Among the recipients of the Fatherhood Award™ are: country music superstar Tim McGraw; former-NFL coach Tony Dungy; NBA superstar Dwyane Wade; newsman and author Tim Russert; and corporations such as Johnson & Johnson, Google, and Chevrolet.
National Fatherhood Initiative works in every sector and at every level of society to engage fathers in the lives of their children. Connect with The Father Factor by RSS, Facebook and on Twitter @TheFatherFactor.
Image: NYC Mayor's Office
A recent op-ed in The New York Times provides dads with more evidence of why they are important to their children.
The article is written from a health perspective – and the science of genetics and epigenetics can be very complex – but the takeaway for dads is this: your behavior and lifestyle choices over the course of your life become “imprinted” on your genes, and, consequently, are passed down to your children and grandchildren.
For example, if you experience a lot of stress, your body responds, the sperm you produce are affected by this response, and then you pass your “stress” on to your children.
Same goes for alcohol or drug abuse, malnutrition, obesity, and several other behavior-related phenomenon.
The lesson – living a healthy, stress-free life will give you a better chance of having healthy children!
The writer points out that, as a result of these findings, dads are now in a position to share the burden that pregnant moms have carried for years – that their health and lifestyle choices were being scrutinized because they were the ones carrying the baby.
It is good that dads will take on this added responsibility, and there are two sides to the coin. While dads will now share the blame for an unhealthy child (“He smoked his whole life before becoming a father and it messed up his sperm!”), they will also be able to share in the credit for a healthy child (“He has been a healthy eater his whole life and it got passed down to his hale and hearty children!”).
There is not much to say about the article other than that, but I was certainly expecting something different when I saw the headline, “Why Fathers Really Matter.” I expected a discussion of the social science research that details the unique and irreplaceable role that fathers play in their children’s lives; I wasn't expecting a science article. But that is because I am not “normal” – I have worked at NFI for 10 years so my expectations about the media’s discussion of fatherhood are probably different than 99.9% of the people on the planet.
Beyond that, I also noticed that the headline could be read in two ways, and I am not sure which one the writer meant. The skeptic in me read the word “really” in the headline this way: the ways that we usually talk about why fathers matter – that they play a unique and irreplaceable role in the upbringing of children -- aren’t the ways that really matter. The ways that really matter are solely in the purview of genetics – dads should be careful how they live because they can pass bad (or good) stuff onto their children.
But again, my 10 years at NFI have tainted me. The other more innocent way of reading the headline is this: fathers really matter and here is more evidence as to why they do.
So that I can sleep well tonight, I will assume that is what the headline means and dream about a world that is increasingly recognizing just how much kids need good, responsible dads.
I think that is a dream we can all share.
As we near the end of our fiscal year on September 30, we're turning to you to help us raise an additional $20,000 to end the year strong and reach even more fathers and families next year.
Lewis Kostiner could tell you from experience about the difference that National Fatherhood Initiative’s (NFI) work has made in the lives of dads and families. As a professional photographer, Mr. Kostiner traveled around the country at his own expense to meet dads who participated in NFI’s fathering programs through their local communities. Mr. Kostiner’s photographs and the stories of these families are collected in an inspiring book, Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance.
Jonathan Coughlin is one of those dads. A husband and father of five children, Jonathan serves in the United States Army and has experienced the challenges of being deployed away from his family in a war zone. He participated in National Fatherhood Initiative’s programs for military dads. NFI partners with military installations in all branches to help families prepare for deployment and equip dads to stay connected with their children.
Lewis Kostiner met Jonathan Coughlin at Fort Riley in Kansas and shared his thoughts on photographing this military dad in Choosing Fatherhood:
It was hard to imagine that, just a few miles from this serene picnic pond next to the U.S. Army base at Fort Riley, troops were training rigorously before they were sent off to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were all members of the 1st Army Brigade. It was a strangely quiet and removed landscape. Jonathan Coughlin’s family was what I always imagined the perfect American family to be: three boys and two girls and a loving mother. Jonathan […] lit up whenever [his children] ran in and out of my picture field. He would kindly let them know that they needed to behave. They boys grew restless as the twin girls took it all in. Rarely would a photographer be given the gift of photographing a family such as this. You could tell that, with Jonathan and his wife in their lives, these kids were going to do well. Jonathan was also a father to the soldiers under his command. He lamented to me that, in many ways, they had to come first, sometimes above his own family. His job was to train his troops well and keep them alive. He was so proud of them. They, too, were his children. When I left Fort Riley, I was so proud to be an American and happy I had a chance to meet and photograph Jonathan and his family.
Jonathan and the military dads that he leads are real-life dads who have found the support they need to balance their commitments to the nation and their families through NFI’s programs.
By supporting NFI, you are giving a second chance to military families like the Coughlins.
Will you help us reach more families next year?
As a special “thank you,” we will send a FREE copy of Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance to anyone who donates $100 or more. Of course your gift of any amount helps us reach our goal for the fiscal year and start our next year of work strong.
Thanks for your support!
The latest sortie in our culture’s “men are unnecessary” phenomenon has come from a Boise State University biologist named Greg Hampikian.
In an op-ed published recently in the New York Times, Dr. Hampikian makes a biological argument against men: because the male role in reproduction has been made obsolete by technology, men are unnecessary.
However, he uses this biological argument to make a cultural one. He does a cost-benefit analysis and concludes, based on the fact that men are more violent and live fewer years than women, that we don’t need men anymore. Another underpinning to his argument is research that shows that children being raised in single-mother households are “doing fine.”
Dr. Hampikian’s argument is flawed for several reasons, but I will address two of the more important ones.
First is the lack of logic in the whole thing. If what Dr. Hampikian argues is true – that men contribute nothing unique or valuable to the human race – then wouldn’t his very article be dismissed as irrelevant and unnecessary? After all, he is a man and had his opinion published, implying that there is something unique and valuable that he has contributed to society. Therefore, his argument is self-defeating.
Second, and most important, is Dr. Hampikian’s glossing over of the three-plus decades of social science research that have all but proven that fathers play a unique and irreplaceable role in their children’s lives. He cherry picks research from Sarah McLanahan, which, when inspected closely, is not as cut and dried as Dr. Hampikian wants you to believe. Dr. McLanahan’s research was on low-income, high-risk families – referred to as “fragile families” – so, of course, poverty was a primary concern for these families. But in her large body of research over many years, McLanahan explores, in depth, the contributions of fathers beyond another paycheck.
Furthermore, there is an enormous body of academic research out there, readily accessible by someone like Dr. Hampikian, that shows that across every measure of child well-being, independent of family income, fathers contribute something important. We cite a small sample of that research here.
The most troubling part in all of this is where this sort of logic can lead us – ideas have consequences. Could we not argue, using Dr. Hampikian’s scary and flawed cost-benefit analysis model, that there are “unnecessary” races or groups on the planet that could be eliminated? Isn’t that the calculus the Nazis used to justify the elimination of the handicapped? As a black man, this sort of thinking sounds all too eerily familiar.
Or can we afford, in a world where hundreds of millions of children are growing up in father-absent homes, to give men yet another reason to check out of their responsibilities as dads, even if those responsibilities are only financial? Take the black community. In too many of our neighborhoods, astronomical rates of father absence – over 80% in the worst cases – are making life very challenging for too many children. They are more likely to be poor, use drugs, fail in school, be abused, and face a whole host of other risks. If Dr. Hampikian takes a closer look at those neighborhoods, I am certain his vision of a men-free, and consequently father-free utopia, would take a big hit.
Since the chances of us ever seeing a women-only world are extremely low, the important question is not “are men necessary?” but “what does society require of the men who inevitably will exist?” It is a binary choice – we either encourage and inspire them to take seriously their responsibilities to society and to their families, or we expect nothing of them because they are essentially useless. I would not want to live in a world in which we decide the latter.
But, then again, if Dr. Hampikian had his way, I won’t have to.
It’s not easy being a dad. With juggling busy schedules at work and home, you can easily neglect yourself. How we handle our mental and physical health is vital to us and our families.
Your mental health affects your physical health. And your physical health affects your mental health. We know this, but it isn't something we consider daily. If you have a problem with your mental health, it will show up in your body. Likewise, if you have a problem with the health of your body, it will affect your mind and how you see the world.
Stress and its warning signs can take weeks or months to reveal itself. But, you can take steps today to handle stress better.
Here are 14 tips to help you handle stress:
1) Exercise: Oh yes, the "E" word. We said it. Working out increases your strength and stamina.
2) Eat Right: Stress and diet are closely linked. You know what you should eat. The key is eating it and not settling for unhealthy, fast foods. One Big Mac may not kill you, but a Big Mac every meal? It may be time to consider changing your diet.
3) Get Enough Sleep: Get at least six to eight hours sleep a night. Take naps during the day if you can’t get enough sleep. Even “power naps”—15 to 30 minutes of rest where you close your eyes—help reduce stress.Think you're too good for naps? Winston Churchill took naps. He claimed naps allowed him to get twice as much accomplishment in one day. Churchill said of naps, “Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.”
4) Be Flexible: Be less rigid and competitive. Be more patient.
5) Get Real: Think about all the “shoulds,” “woulds, “coulds,” and “musts” in your life. Figure out which are worth keeping and which to get rid of.
6) Be Happy: This is easier said than done. Try to look at the good instead of the bad in the world. When you always look for the bad in everything, you develop an unhappy view of people and their actions. Don’t complain about stuff. Our words have power. Note to the complainer, a simple adjustment of our words could be revoluntionary to our happiness. Consider the one-word difference of this sentence: "I have to go to work today." or "I get to go to work today." The difference in this sentence is more than one word, it is a completely different mindset.
7) Laugh and Have Fun: Laugh and have fun with your kids. Laugh and have fun with others and yourself to reduce stress. This is a little different than being happy like number six. Truly developing a sense of humor goes a long way in how you think and see the world, but how others see you. Think about it: who would you rather be around? The complainer or the person who likes to laugh?
8) Communicate Better: Share your feelings when it’s safe to do so and don’t keep things bottled up inside. Getting problems out in the open, talking about them, and solving them reduces stress. At NFI, we have a principle that flows throughout our organization: Speak the truth with compassion. This changes how we interact with co-workers. Work to create an envirnoment with your co-workers and family that is one of love and respect; we are not talking about blatant disregard of others' feelings here. But we are talking about a true sense of honesty and being about to share what's on your mind, even at work, instead of bottling things up inside to take home to your wife and children.
9) Get Rid of Clutter: Life can get so busy that it gets out of hand. Make a list of things that need to get done and knock them out. Don’t worry about the small stuff. Leave it alone and focus on what’s most important. Recall the Stephen Covey strategy of "big rocks first." Clean your office, your garage, and anything else that’s messy. Don't wait for someone else to do it. It's your job as dad (I'm repeating this one as I write!)
10) Leave Work at Work: Get away from work and leave it behind. Bringing your work home is a sure way to stress yourself and your family. Keep in mind that you can bring work home in your head as well as your hands. Leave your thoughts of work at the door and focus on your family. Stop your car in your driveway or do something to separate your mind from work before jumping into the house. Home has it's own work. Once you're home, it's time to switch gears and focus on your family.
11) Date your wife: What's the saying? Happy wife, happy life. Well, this holds true for handling stress too. Think about it, if you want to add stress to your life, simply stop communicating and spending time with your wife.
12) Spend Time with Friends: Friends have a way of making things seem better. They can help you get real and tell you when you’re full of it. If you have a choice to spend a night alone or with friends, choose friends. If you don’t have a lot of friends, be intentional about making some.
13) Volunteer: Helping others is a good way to reduce stress because it builds self-worth. It also has a way of showing us that our lives are not as bad as we think when we help someone in worse shape.
14) Find a Hobby: A hobby can help you get away from life’s pressures and relax. A hobby helps you focus your time and energy on something you really enjoy. Consider prioritizing your hobby based on interaction with family and friends. For instance, one of my hobbies is photography. Some of my most relaxed weekends from work happen when I'm with my family out somewhere simply taking photos of our kids playing.
Consider these tips today, whether you are stressed out now or not. As a dad, it's not a matter of "if" the stress is coming, but "when!" It's how you handle the stress that will change everything, from yourself to those around you.
What is one way you handle stress? Share your tips in the comment section below; your comment may help other dads.
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This post was excerpted and adapted from NFI's 24/7 Dad resource.
photo credit: Amy McTigue
National Fatherhood Initiative is nearing the close of our fiscal year at the end of September. We have a lot of exciting things planned for FY-2013 and we’re looking forward to bringing you more expert advice for dads, fatherhood perspectives on events in pop culture and the news, and practical resources to help you in your fathering journey.
But we can’t do this without your support. We need to raise an additional $20,000 by the end of the month to enable us to activate the plans we have to change the lives of more dads and families next year.
Marvin Charles of Seattle, Washington, (pictured here with his wife, son, and father) is one of the dads whose life has been touched by National Fatherhood Initiative’s work. His example as a role model and his commitment to helping others is impacting dads in his community who need a second chance.
Marvin’s story was captured by Lewis Kostiner, a photographer who traveled around the country at his own expense to meet dads who participated in NFI’s fathering programs through their local communities. Mr. Kostiner’s photographs and the stories of these families are collected in an inspiring book, Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance.
Mr. Kostiner describes the role that Marvin plays in the lives of other dads and his own son:
Marvin Charles [...] spent most of his time keeping tabs on all the fathers and children in the National Fatherhood Initiative program whom he helped in his district. He picked them up and dropped them off and told them how to do this and how to do that. He never looked down on any of them, and his presence helped organize and prepare the children for their everyday journeys and, for the men, fatherhood. His clients struggled daily to survive, and he knew it. He did what he could to help them along. […] Marvin was a real community organizer, in the true sense. He was […] [there] to help kids and their dads. In his son's eyes, Marvin could easily have been elected Mayor of Seattle. Marvin carried his family's picture around with him all day long on his T-shirt, right in front of his heart.
Marvin and the dads he helps represent real-life families whose lives have been changed through NFI's work. These "second chances" are possible because of the support of people just like you.
Will you help us give a second chance to more families in the next year?
Donate $100 or more today and we will send you a FREE copy of Choosing Fatherhood: America's Second Chance.
If you can't donate $100 or more, any amount will make a difference in helping us reach our goal for the fiscal year and start next year on the right foot! Thanks for your support!
I didn’t cry at school this morning. Nope, I did great. But today is still not a normal Tuesday for me. As my wife and I dropped our firstborn at her class and turned away, there were no visible tears from me. I saved my tears for the drive to my office.
It was Darius Rucker who put me over the edge. You know, Country Darius not Hootie Darius. His song, “It Won't Be Like This For Long” made me think. It hasn't been long since we brought Bella home from the hospital. It hasn’t been long, looking back, when we were waking up at night and wishing she would sleep more than two hours at a time. It wasn’t long ago I picked her up and tossed her in the air with ease.
Time sure flies and as a dad to a daughter who started school this morning, some of my thoughts are as follows:
1) How will we deal with the increased expenses of school?
2) How will we manage busier schedules and still create time for fun and travel?
3) Will bears steal my daughter and try to raise her as one of their own because she’s so sweet and cuddly?
3a) Perhaps bears trying to raise my daughter wouldn’t be all that bad. If they are bears that love sweet and cuddly five-year-olds, perhaps they are like a group of real-life Pooh bears and we’ll love them as we do our daughter. They can live with us and we can all enjoy eating honey together….
These are some of my thoughts. I told you; it’s not my normal Tuesday.
So being stolen by a family of kind-and-gentle bears isn’t the most accurate worry as a parent. Besides, bears are probably more apt to steal children in the Shenandoah’s, not closer to metro-Washington, right?! I will Google “bear attacks in greater DC area” later. For now, know that my biggest fear as my daughter starts school is that others will influence her.
See, I have one of those good daughters. She’s sweet, really, she is. She’s kind too. She’s not like your daughter. I have been at parties and Chuck E. Cheese’s with your daughters (and sons) – they aren’t as awesome as my daughter! ; )
Aside from if she’s sleepy or hungry, she listens to her parents. She is a good big sister too. She considers her sister. Just yesterday (at Chuck E. Cheese’s, where else?) she “won” enough tickets to get two packages of Smarties. What did she do with the extra pack? Yep, she shared with her sister. I didn’t have to tell her and her sister didn’t even have to ask.
Bell had other tickets; what did she do with those? She picked an extra set of glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth. Yes, an extra set. You see, Bell has carried around glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth for some time (she may be running around the school with them right now!); but her little sister hasn’t had a set. After yesterday, all that changed. It was Bella’s idea to take the seven million tickets and pick a set of vampire teeth for her little sister. I haven’t seen a better example of sacrificial love in a long time.
I’m focusing on the wrong part of the story. My point is my firstborn is an awesome and considerate big sister and human being. Why? Because my wife and I have worked with her and molded her into this person. Over five years, we have created this machine/human being who says “thank you” and “may I” and “please.” This is no small accomplishment considering I rarely say these things.
But still, my biggest fear is other-lesser-well-meaning individuals will now influence her. Yeah, so maybe I can trust her teacher, but what about those other 20 rascals in her classroom? My wife and I are creating something here, and we don’t need others getting involved and messing it up!
Truth is, other kids will influence my daughter. She will learn to navigate her way through now unimaginable drama. One day her “best friend” will probably lie to her. One day she may be shunned by “the cool kids.” This will hurt her until one day she realizes that “being cool” only comes when you blog for a living and use social media to talk about them. I kid; but seriously, one thing is certain, while we at National Fatherhood Initiative teach about the impact of father absence, we also teach about the impact of involved fathers. We talk about how the lack of a father changes the lives of children and a society, but the truth is that active, involved and committed dads change families and societies too.
With all of our research on absent dads, we hold to the fact that parents are the number one influencers of their children. Did you hear that? Parents are the number one influence on children, not mean girls or sweet boys.
We know that children whose fathers are stable and involved are better off on almost every cognitive, social, and emotional measure researchers have developed. My biggest fear shouldn’t be the influence of fellow students and friends on my daughter. My biggest fear should be how I am influencing my daughter. There will definitely be a test. While I am nostalgic today, I know that this phase is flying by. My wife and I will keep “holding on” as the song says. We will keep hugging, kissing, loving and training our daughter. Because we know, as Country Darius sings, “it won’t be like this for long.”
What's the one thing you fear the most as a parent?