Regular readers of The Father Factor know that this blog is a great source of helpful tips for dads and funny/inspiring stories from fathers and dadbloggers about their experiences in fathering.
But perhaps you’ve wondered what else National Fatherhood Initiative does to fulfill our mission of improving child well-being by increasing the proportion of children who grow up with involved, responsible, and committed children.
Since 2004, NFI has distributed 6.3 million fatherhood resources to dads to help them be the best dads they can be. Troy is one of those dads. His story of connection with his son Xavier, despite the challenges of incarceration and loss, is an inspiration to those of us who work here at NFI. We hope it inspires and encourages you, too.
The story below is reprinted from NFI’s Executive Quarterly newsletter. Please consider supporting NFI financially with a gift of $25, $50, $100 or more to help us reach more dads and kids like Troy and Xavier.
Troy Gaines knows firsthand the pain of wondering why his dad didn’t care enough about him to be part of his life. But thanks to NFI – and the support of people like you – his son Xavier doesn’t have to ask those questions.
“My father, as far as I was concerned, didn’t have any kind of role.” Troy’s dad never said anything of substance to him, offer guidance, or even show up to watch Troy’s football games. Troy felt like he had done something wrong to make his father not want to see him. The pain made him want to lash out.
Troy looked for other people to fill that void and teach him things about life. Unfortunately, the people he turned to were the guys in his neighborhood who were doing “all the bad stuff.” Eventually, Troy ended up in prison.
One week prior to landing in prison, Troy became a father to Xavier. “I remember thinking that Xavier would feel the same way about me as I felt about my father. I’m not going to be able to connect with him and show him the path to growing as a man.”
One day, some men looking for drugs came to the wrong house and shot and killed Troy’s girlfriend, the mother of Xavier. This tragic event was a pivotal moment in changing Troy’s outlook on life. “I had to make a serious, serious change in me, my mind, the way I did things, and the way I presented myself to my community. I didn’t have all the answers and I needed to go to someone or go somewhere where I could find some guidance on fatherhood and being a better man.”
Thankfully, his facility offered National Fatherhood Initiative’s InsideOut Dad® program. InsideOut Dad® gave Troy the inspiration to make a better life for himself and the skills to connect with his son. Troy is now committed to being an involved, responsible, and committed dad. He helps Xavier with homework and goes to his football practices – the very things he craved so much from his dad.
“The [National] Fatherhood Initiative program helped me realize that you have to make some changes in your life because what you’re doing is going to affect your boy. Kids do exactly what they see their parents do. If I didn’t straighten up how I did, he would probably follow in my footsteps because he wanted to be like me. I tell my son at least five times a day that I love him. We love each other. I think he understands and believes that my focus is to be the best man in this world that I can.”
The positive impact that Troy is making in his son’s life is obvious. Xavier told us, “With my dad at my games, I feel better and I care more. I love him a lot because he is a very good dad. If you make a mistake, he’ll make you keep going and going and… make you lift your head up. My dad loves me and would do anything for me.”
These kinds of changes are only possible because of the financial support of people like you. NFI depends on the generosity of donors to make our programs available to dads like Troy. Ultimately, it’s kids like Xavier who really reap the benefits of your support. Please donate today to help us give more kids like Xavier a brighter future.
This is a guest post from Eric Cohen. Eric is the Co-Founder of Macaroni Kid. He lives in Southampton, New York with his wife and two kids. Follow the Chief Dad at Macaroni Kid on Twitter @MacaroniDad. If you are interested in writing for us, send an email.
As a kid, Hanukkah was my favorite holiday. Of course the presents played a big part of it, but what made it really special to me was how for eight nights in a row, my dad was home to share dinner and the festivities. Most of us who are now fathers grew up in a time when dad was the breadwinner and worked long hours, and mom was home with the kids. Family dinners were reserved for Sunday nights.
But Hanukkah was a special time. Work for my dad eased off and he made it a priority to spend time with us. Sometimes we’d take a family vacation. I celebrated Hanukkah under palm trees in the tropics and at a ski lodge in Vermont. My parents would pack the presents, menorah and candles and we’d have Hanukkah “to go”.
With my own kids, I want to ensure that what they remember most is the time we spend together around the holiday, not the new iPod, Barbie or video game. So we have a few traditions of our own that put the emphasis on family.
We do this by “theming” several of the nights of Hanukkah. One night is always “book night” where we exchange books as gifts. Each child gets a book or two, and my wife and I exchange books as presents. This is a nice way to share the gift of reading and remind our kids how important reading is.
Another night of Hanukkah we declare as “sock night” where everyone in the family gets socks. Gym socks, dress socks, ski socks and more have made appearances on sock night. As much as this is something we need, it reminds our kids that not every present has to be about fun and games, and the important thing is being together. We probably laugh more on sock night than any other night.
The next themed night we have is “trip night.” Prior to Hanukkah, my wife and I plan a family trip sometime in the new year, and on trip night we share where we are going with the kids. It’s a way of extending Hanukkah and promising more family memories.
The last themed night and maybe the most important one is “charity night”. On charity night we give the children each a budget and package of information about non-profits that we feel will interest them. Then they pick which one they’d like to donate to. One year, they gave a goat and two chickens to a family in Africa. Last year my son selected Doctors without Borders and my daughter the World Wildlife Fund.
The other four nights are devoted to typical presents and Hanukkah fun. But we have seen that the true joy of Hanukkah is spending time together and celebrating our family.
Question: What's the one thing that makes the holiday season special for you?
Join in and share your most memorable holiday by recording a video, sharing a picture, or posting a comment on this blog, Facebook or Twitter @TheFatherFactor.
photo credit: oskay
We're finishing up our "Thanks, Dad!" campaign this week. Through November, we’ve given you tips and advise for raising a thankful child, showing thankfulness in your home, creating a memorable Thanksgiving and now we want your family to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness that continues beyond the Thanksgiving holiday!
One of the best ways to express thankfulness is to give to others! Check out our five ways of saying thanks through giving and be intentional about teaching and modeling these ideas with your kids today.
- Give Your Time: Whether it's volunteering at the local homeless shelter, participating in a community clean-up day or taking an hour to make cookies for your neighbors, investing time to help or encourage others is a great way to cultivate a thankful attitude or to say thanks to those who have helped you. When you take time to get your kids involved in the process, they will have fun and you will connect as a family as well! It's important that you explain to our child what and why are you giving your time to help others. You can explain in more detail depending on the age of your child. The point here is to not only give, but to teach your child about giving in the process.
- Give Your Talents: If your kids have musical or singing talent, nursing or retirement homes always welcome having young people to play or sing for their residents. If you're a handyman, consider offering help a single mom in your neighborhood with seasonal "honey-dos" and bring your kids along to help. There's an opportunity to serve for every kind of talent!
- Give Your Things: A couple times a year, encourage your kids to sort their clothes, books, and toys and set aside items in good condition and donate to a homeless shelter. This will help your kids realize how much they have to be thankful for and to experience the joy of giving to others who have less than them. It will also provide you a way of getting your kids to clean their rooms; at least twice per year. Go ahead and mark two cleaning dates on your calendar!
- Give Your Thoughts: Giving doens't have to mean money. Encourage your children to take a moment to say something thoughtful to the people around them, whether it's "thanks," "you look nice today," or "I appreciate your friendship." Set the example by regularly saying thoughtful and encouraging things to your family members and others. Remember, this attitude starts with you--the parent! How you talk and interact with people teaches your children to react the same manner.
- Give Your Treasure: For those with more money than time, consider supporting charitable causes and organizations financially. Encourage your children to donate a portion of their allowance or income to a specific cause. Talk with your kids about the charitable organizations you contribute to and why you give to those groups. Again, it's important to give, but it's also very important that you children know the why behind the what. Use giving as a teachable moment for your family.
As you and your children give, you will find it easier to notice all the things you can be thankful for in your life. Start saying "thanks" by giving today!
What's one thing you could change in your weekly schedule to help you and your family show thanks through giving?
Visit our "Thanks, Dad!" page for more on how you can connect with your family and other dads just like you! Don't forget to say, "Thanks, Dad!" by recording a video, sharing a picture, or writing a short note on this blog, Facebook or Twitter @TheFatherFactor. Use the hashtag #ThxDad to tell the world why the dad in your life deserves thanks!
photo credit: Tim Green aka atoach
National Fatherhood Initiative's Vincent DiCaro was recently featured on CNN for writing "5 Ways to Raise Thankful Children."
Vince writes about the first time he heard his young son say "Thank you, daddy" and gives parents five ways to raise thankful children. He says, "I can say with confidence that thankfulness does not come naturally to children, mine included." But Vince continues, "Parenting, like having a good jump shot, is a skill that can be learned through the right techniques and practice."
There are things you can do to help cultivate thankfulness in your children. Read "5 Ways to Raise Thankful Children" and take comfort that if you make habits out of these guidelines, you will start to see positive results in your children. And for that, you will most certainly be thankful.
Visit our "Thanks, Dad!" page for more on how you can connect with your family and other dads just like you! Don't forget to say, "Thanks, Dad!" by recording a video, sharing a picture or writing a short note commenting on this blog, Facebook or on Twitter @TheFatherFactor.
photo credit: cheerytomato
Thanksgiving is here! Yeah, I can’t believe it either. It’s been a busy month and December is almost upon us. This month, we’ve shared ideas for raising a thankful child, showing thankfulness in your home, and now we have ideas for creating memorable Thanksgiving traditions! Check out our ideas and then read Thanksgiving traditions that NFI staff share with their family. After you read our traditions, tell us yours in the comment section!
Here are five ideas to get you started:
- Get Active: One of the things we often take for granted is our health and ability to engage in physical activity. Being active together as a family is a great way to create a memorable time together. You know you’re going to watch football at some point during the day. You also know you’re going to consume great portions of turkey and dessert. Consider getting outside and throwing the football during commercials or halftime to be little more active this year. You can always take a nap between games later!
- Get Creative: I’ve heard of families having their kids make handmade place cards for every person at the table or letting your kids act out a skit to say thanks to those who made the meal. The point here is to get creative and to get the whole family involved. Consider having everyone (parents and kids) draw a picture of the things they're thankful for this year and then post drawings in a high-traffic location. Make it competitive by offering two categories for best drawing awards; one for kids and one for the parents’.
- Get Alone: Okay, maybe this step is over-reaching, but if at all possible, try and get a moment to yourself…just to think! Yes, even if it’s only a few minutes, take time to reflect on what is truly important. Seriously consider the question: What do I have to be thankful for this year? If you can make this step happen, you’ll be ready to lead your family from a deeper perspective. Perhaps it’s your family’s tradition to spend a few minutes before or during the Thanksgiving meal to take turns sharing what you are thankful for or to express thanks for a specific person at the table. No matter your tradition, be sure you take time during all the busy schedules to be grateful!
- Get REALLY Traditional: There is no need to reinvent the wheel during the holidays. Keep it old school. You can learn a lot from your parents about traditions! What made the holidays special when you were a kid? Consider incorporating those traditions into your family’s list this year. Continuing traditions from the past is a great way to help connect your children with previous traditions that your kids may not have experienced.
- Get Your Mind Off Yourself: There’s no greater time than the holidays to consider ways you can serve and help others. Whether you spend time buying gifts or serving food, find a cause or opportunity to serve with your whole family. Serving as a family can make for a very memorable family tradition.
NFI Staff Answers: What Makes a Memorable Thanksgiving?
Now that you have five ideas for how to create meaningful family traditions, take a look at how some NFI staff answered the question, “What makes Thanksgiving memorable to your family?
“We take out a bit of our furniture and lay 3 long tables end to end to accommodate about 18 people (in my small house). Everyone brings something and it is quite noisy. Before we pray we go around simply to say what we are thankful for. Many feel a little embarrassed to share- but everyone is smiling when done. This year for sure - we will think of my mom and how we will miss not only her, but her cole slaw!” Ave, program support consultant
“The girls give the turkey a name and then break the wish bone together. Grandfather plays the piano and we sing hymns before sitting down to eat.” Kayla, project specialist
“Each family member has a wooden acorn at their place setting and we pass around a little basket for everyone to put in their acorn as say what they are thankful for. Mom often makes cinnamon rolls for breakfast and then we enjoy the traditional American thanksgiving dinner. Every year my family watches the Dallas Cowboys play football… another American tradition!” Renae, outreach manager
“Watching football. Roasting chestnuts.” Vince, vice president
“Sharing around the table what you are thankful for. Going to see a movie (Bond, this year) then dessert afterward.” Melissa, vice president
“We like to watch ET after the dinner is finished and everything is put away. Its a good family movie that everyone enjoys.” Connie, senior graphic designer
“Each family member has three kernels of corn at their seat and shares three things he or she is thankful for, putting them into a basket as they share.” Michael, programming director
“We have dinner, go bowling, come back for dessert, and then play a family game of Pictionary so that members of all ages can play.” Lisa, programming director
You can see by reading our staff traditions that creating memories means a lot of different things to different people! Whether it's the classic American festivities of food, football and movies, or something unique and special to your family, establishing traditions and creating memories are a great way to make the Thanksgiving holiday meaningful for you and your children. The most important part of the holidays is that you spend time together as a family. That's what will make the holidays memorable and special for your kids - time with you!
What traditions make Thanksgiving memorable for your family?
Visit our "Thanks, Dad!" page for more on how you can connect with your family and other dads just like you! Don't forget to say, "Thanks, Dad!" by recording a video, sharing a picture, or writing a short note on on this blog, Facebook or Twitter @TheFatherFactor. Use the hashtag #ThxDad to tell the world why the dad in your life deserves thanks!
photo credit: rustiqueart
The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). If you are interested in writing for us, send us an email.
Now that the presidential election is over, pundits have taken stock of what the candidates did well and didn’t do well that led to victory and defeat, respectively. A lot of it is standard stuff—who made gaffes, did well or not so well with specific demographic groups, etc. Others, however, provide unconventional wisdom that gets folks to think differently. Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, provided such wisdom in a recent blog post.
Jim’s position as the head of, arguably, the most successful polling company in history places him in a position of authority regarding elections. Of this recent election he says, “Throughout this year’s long election season, I was often asked: ‘Who will be better for jobs and the economy, President Obama or Governor Romney?’ My reply most surely disappointed partisans from both sides: The president of the United States doesn’t make as much difference in terms of creating economic energy as you’d think, according to Gallup data.” Jim says that local leadership in cities is much more important to economic and job growth. He uses examples of similar cities with vastly different unemployment rates and economic growth to make his point. The differences, he notes, rest on the qualities of the leaders in those cities.
So what, then, is the role of national leaders? To provide an environment that helps local leaders to create good economies and jobs. This fact isn’t lost on many national leaders. The problem is that they have different ideas about how to create that environment, and those differences often lead to a dangerous game of chicken as the looming fiscal cliff illustrates, but I digress.
As the nation’s preeminent fatherhood organization, National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) understands and embraces its role in creating an environment that helps local leaders in all sectors of society to increase the involvement of fathers in the lives of children, and the benefits that involvement brings to communities and our nation. How do we do it? With a laser-like focus on our 3E strategy—educate, equip, and engage.
We educate all Americans, especially fathers, about the important role of fathers through public awareness campaigns, research, and other resources. We equip fathers and develop leaders at the national, state, and local levels with the tools (e.g. curricula, training, and technical assistance) they need to create a culture, programs, and services that encourage father involvement. We engage every sector of society through strategic alliances and partnerships. This strategy guides our day-to-day decisions and reflects our commitment to children, father, families, and our nation.
Critical to NFI’s success is that we’re not static. Our strategy has evolved as the needs of fathers and local leaders have changed. NFI began as a public advocacy organization in 1994. The main thrust of our early years was to meet with national politicians on both sides of the aisle to argue for father-friendly legislation, convene local fatherhood practitioners via national summits on fatherhood so they could learn from each other, and partner with the Ad Council to launch a PSA campaign that garnered more than $600 million in donated placements. As awareness of fathers’ importance increased so too did the need among fathers and community-based organizations for high-quality, research-based tools that help fathers become more involved. In 2000 we started to add resources (e.g. curricula), training, and technical assistance to meet that need. Since then NFI has developed more than 100 unique resources, distributed more than 6.1 million of them, and trained more than 12,000 practitioners from more than 5,600 organizations.
As we near the end of our second decade of existence, we continue to evolve in new and exciting ways, but with our eyes fixated as always on meeting the needs of fathers and the organizations that serve them. That’s our commitment to every father, mother, child, and community. Jim Clifton of Gallup says, "Whether the country makes a historic comeback or slowly goes broke, it will do so one city at a time." At NFI, we agree with Clifton; and we also think our country's comeback has something to do with fathers.
Connect with The Father Factor by RSS, Facebook and on Twitter @TheFatherFactor.
photo credit: Thomas Hawk
Our "Thanks, Dad!" campaign is in full swing. We hope you're learning to be more intentional about creating an atmosphere of thankfulness in your home. We recently gave you helpful tips for raising thankful children. However, thankfulness isn't simply a nice idea to instill in your children - it's something to be acted out daily. If we're intentional and thoughtful, there are many ways we can show our thankfulness as a family each day. Check out our five ideas for how you and your family can show thankfulness. Then, tell us what your family does to model thaknfulness in the comment section below.
1) Do Something Nice: Doing something nice for someone else is a great way to show you are thankful. Be sure to talk with your child and explain that doing something nice for someone shows you are thankful. Consider with your child ways you can do something nice to help someone. Ask your son or daughter, "What do you think so-and-so would appreciate you doing for them?" or "What can you do to show so-and-so you're thankful for how they helped you?" You may be surprised at the answer you get from you child -- children have a way to being more thoughtful than parents in some cases. Be ready to listen and work together with your child to come up with something unique and thoughtful to do for someone else this week.
2) Write a Note: Make thank-you notes a habit in your house. I can't lie, this step isn't easy. I'm the worst at thank-you notes. I love receiving them so much, you'd think I would be better at writing them. In the midst of everything else on the family calendar, writing a note probably isn't near the top. However, as a way to help you, perhaps you can get your kids involved. Have them write thank-you notes after birthday parties or for Christmas presents -- let them use their creativity and create something special for their friends or teacher. Try and see this as a time to let them express their creative side -- not simply a task to mark of your growing to-do list. For instance, younger kids can draw and color pictures while older kids could write a note in their own words. It's never too early to start teaching your children the importance of thank-you notes. Don't think you have that kind of time? Try the cell phone apps that are available for download, you can still get your kids involved in the process by letting them pick the images and/or write the messages. You'll save a ton of time and still have something thoughtful to send someone.
3) Say Something Kind: From a young age, encourage your children to say "thank you" when someone compliments them, gives them something, or does something for them. Don't allow your children to shyly whisper "thanks" with their head down - make sure they look at the person in the eye and specifically thank them for the compliment/item/action. Help them understand that eye contact and a cheerful voice are an important part of genuine thankfulness.
4) Help Those in Need: There's no better way to model gratefulness to your family (and others) than to do something to help others who can't help you back. Ask your children to pick out food to contribute to a local food drive, spend time serving at a homeless shelter as a family, or encourage your kids to rake the elderly neighbor's yard. The point here is to reach out to someone in need and together as a family to serve. If cleanliness is next to godliness, serving others is next to thankfulness!
5) Give as a Family: Set up a large jar in a prominent place in your house, let the kids decorate it with stickers or ribbons, and label it "The Thankful Jar." Encourage family members to put extra change or money they earn from their allowance in the jar. When the jar is full, discuss and agree to a charity or organization for which to donate the money. Or, let each family member take turns choosing a different charity to contribute to each month. Explain to your children that part of being thankful is giving to others.
What's one way you and your family show thankfulness every day?
Visit our "Thanks, Dad!" page for more on how you can connect with your family and other dads just like you! Don't forget to say, "Thanks, Dad!" by recording a video, sharing a picture, or writing a short note on on this blog, Facebook or Twitter @TheFatherFactor. Use the hashtag #ThxDad to tell the world why your dad deserves thanks!
photo credit: mtsofan
If you've been a parent for longer than one second, you understand children have a way of not being satisfied. Most likely, your child will not come out of the womb as a grateful child. And when she learns to speak, her first words will probably not be "please" or "thank you" -- this is life. Trust me on this one, I write from a few years of experience. The time will come when your child isn't satisfied. You bought the green toy -- she wanted the pink -- and only the pink will do!
Aside from throwing your hands up and saying, "forget it, we have birthed an ungrateful child who will never be thankful!" Take comfort in knowing you are not alone. I repeat: You are not alone. While your child may currently display ungrateful tendencies, he dosen't have to be ungrateful forever. With care and teaching, your daughter or son can learn to be an upstanding lady or gentleman.
How we show thankfulness is vital to whether our children will act and treat others with gratitude. When it comes to teaching your child to be thankful, Gandhi's teaching comes in handy, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Check out our four tips on how to raise a thankful child.
- Model Thankfulness. Say "please," "thanks" and "you're welcome" every day. Be sure this vocabulary is used by you and in your home. Parent, if you want your kids to be thankful, they have to see it first. I'm reminded of the saying, "Good manners are not only taught, they can be caught." It's vital that you not only teach your child to say "thank you" and "please" every day and at various moments, you must also use these words yourself. Thank your child for doing his chores well. Make sure your kids, hear you say "Thank you" to their mother. Don't limit thanks for actions - thank your family for being kind, patient, caring, or whatever character quality you notice about them that day.
- The "Thankful" Talk. During dinner or in the car driving to and from an activity, ask each member of the family what they were most thankful for that day. Make asking a daily habit. Taking a moment to reflect on the day will help everyone find something positive, even if it was a tough day. Plus, it will give you extra insight into what's going on in your child's life. As the parent, be the one to always stir the conversation to the positive side and give encouragement. Remember the objective of this conversation -- you're teaching your child to be thankful!
- Advertise Your Thankfulness. Hang a dry-erase board in a prominent place in your home and call it "The Thankful Board." I once worked at a company that had a "Kudos" board for its employees. This provided a great way to create an environment of encouragement and thankfulness. You can have your family write messages on the board to either say thanks to each other for something big or small. Also, you can use it to share something to your family for which they are thankful.
- Teach Thankfulness. Help your child understand why it is important to say "thank you." Explain to your child the "why" behind the "what." Of course, how much you explain will depend on the age of your child, but the point here is to not simply demand and be a dictator, but to teach your child why being thankful is important. With your teenager, try asking how he feels when someone says "thank you" to him. Use this time as a opportunity to teach him that other people also want to feel noticed, appreciated, and valued and that saying "thank you" makes someone else feel happy.
What one thing will you work on that will model thankfulness to your child today?
Visit our "Thanks, Dad!" page for more on how you can connect with your family and other dads just like you! Don't forget to say, "Thanks, Dad!" by recording a video, sharing a picture or writing a short note commenting on this blog, Facebook or on Twitter @TheFatherFactor.
photo credit: Vermin Inc
Tis the season to be thankful. Your dad deserves thanks and we want you to hear why. You can record a video, share a picture or write a note saying "Thanks, Dad!" Each week during November we'll hand-select a winner to receive a gift card to take dad out for Starbucks Coffee or enjoy one on us! Moms and daughters, you can participate too by sharing about the dads in your life.
Ways To Win!
Enter to win a Starbucks gift card by saying "Thanks, Dad!" in the following three ways. Each week we'll pick a winner and notify you by asking for your mailng address.
1. Record a Video
Record a short video to your dad starting with "Thanks, Dad!" Share it on Google+, Facebook or Twitter using hashtag #ThxDad to tell the world why your dad deserves thanks.
2. Share a Picture
Post a picture of you and your dad or something that reminds of your dad. Share on our Facebook timeline, mention us on Twitter (#ThxDad), Pin us on our "Thanks, Dad!" board on Pinterest or use hashtag #ThxDad on Instagram (@TheFatherFactor) to enter.
3. Write a Note
Starting with "Thanks, Dad!" write a short message for the dad in your life and share it with us by tagging us on Facebook, mentioning on Twitter (#ThxDad) or commenting on our blog.
What to Watch for this month:
- Week 1: Raising Thankful Kids
- Week 2: Showing Thankfulness
- Week 3: Creating Thankful Traditions
- Week 4: Saying Thanks By Giving
Make sure you sign up to get the Dad Email™ in your inbox!
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.
The October 22nd issue of The New Yorker includes an article by Michael Specter titled “Germs Are Us.” Specter chronicles how our understanding of the relationship between humans and bacteria has evolved since the advent of antibiotics in the early 20th century. We know now that not all bacteria are harmful. Indeed, many bacteria live in symbiosis with their human hosts and confer health benefits including protection from some diseases. These bacteria include all of those we find in our mouth and gut that aid our ability to digest food and ward off illness. Unfortunately, the overuse of antibiotics indiscriminately kill bacteria including those that are our friends.
There are many bacteria, however, that aren’t our friends. That knowledge has given rise to an industry dedicated to the eradication of bacteria—just take a walk down the soap and disinfectant aisle of your local grocery store, and you’ll find all manner of anti-bacterial soaps, wipes, and sprays. There’s no disputing the fact that we’ve been liberated and are safer from the scourge of unfriendly bacteria, at least to an extent. But at what cost? As the old saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Scientists now believe that we’ve become “underexposed” to bacteria and no longer build the antibodies, particularly as youngsters, that we once did to ward of future illness. (This underexposure also extends to viruses, such as rhinovirus which causes the common cold.) Consequently, we’ve seen a rise in allergies, asthma, and obesity. Yes, even obesity has now been linked to the overuse of antibiotics that has caused a reduction in a bacterium that inhabits our guts and regulates two hormones that, in turn, regulate appetite.
It is this symbiotic relationship between bacteria and us—two life forms that need one another to survive in a state of health and well-being—that made me think in a slightly different way about the path our society has taken in its treatment of fathers as nice but not necessary. Our society is creating a huge, dangerous experiment as we systematically eliminate fathers from more families. And yet we’re conducting this experiment with the knowledge that it is doomed to fail. That’s where this experiment departs from our attempt to eradicate bacteria, and therein lies the problem.
In the years between Fleming’s discovery of penicillin and the realization that we were overprescribing antibiotics to ill effect, we didn’t realize what we were doing. Doctors know now that they must be judicious in their use of antibiotics, although they certainly have some work to do and some of the effects of overuse might be irreversible. We know from reams and decades of research that DNA isn’t the only necessary ingredient from fathers for the creation of healthy children who grow up to be well-functioning adults. Their presence and positive influence as children age is necessary as well.
In other words, children’s health and well-being depends on the symbiotic relationship they have with their fathers. Children can and do survive without fathers in their lives, but at what cost to them and our communities? We know that, on average, children from father-absent homes are at greater risk for a range of social ills. Communities with high rates of father absence suffer as well (e.g. high rates of poverty and violent behavior). And yet we continue with this dangerous experiment that we know will fail. Why is that? Especially when we know it has already failed so many children.
Connect with The Father Factor by RSS, Facebook and on Twitter @TheFatherFactor.
photo credit: Microbe World