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.
You’re probably aware that more fathers than ever carry more of the load at home while they continue to build their professional careers. As reported in NFI’s most recent edition of Father Facts, the gap between the number of hours that mothers and fathers care for their children and do routine household chores has closed dramatically. While this shift to a more egalitarian household has benefits for fathers, mothers, and children, there’s also a downside for fathers—an increase in stress in the delicate balance between work and family life. Indeed, recent research (also reported in Father Facts) reveals that more men than women report this stress. Many men say that they would trade their current job for one that provides for more work-life balance.
In light of this research—and my own struggles through the years to juggle work and family life—I was taken aback by Embrace Work-Life Imbalance, a blog post by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic that appeared on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network. Mr. Chamorro-Premuzic takes issue with studies on the harmful effects of excessive work because they “rely on subjective evaluations of ‘work overload’”. He goes on to say that work overload is only possible if you don’t enjoy and have fun at work and that we should, essentially, stop crying over spilled milk (he refers to people who complain about poor work-life balance as “self-indulgent”) and stop talking about work-life balance or, at the very least, redefine it.
Intrigued by his proposition, I kept reading to determine whether he has a point. His rationale for redefining work-life imbalance rests on the premise that the key to work-life balance is working hard at something that you enjoy (i.e. are passionate about). He asks the reader to consider five factors that, together, lead to the conclusion that we must “switch on” rather than “switch off” in relation to work. He says that too few people enjoy work. As long as we can engage in work we find fun, the amount of work we do is irrelevant.
I love my work and have a lot of fun doing it. (My daughters often say that I’m a “professional dad” given my work with NFI.) But while I don’t dispute Mr. Chamorro-Premuzic’s point about the need to embrace work-life imbalance from a general perspective, I wonder whether he would change his mind if he focused on the impact that a family has on a man’s view of work-life balance. (As an aside, many experts on work-life balance consider work-family balance to be a sub-category of work-life balance.) Does the value in embracing work-life imbalance change when a man has a wife and children? Absolutely! Why? Because a family changes the dynamics of the work-life equation. Without a family, work is life for many men because it defines us. The centrality of work in how men define themselves is the foundation for our struggle to balance work and family. When we marry and have a family, we expand our view of what brings meaning to our lives. The amount of work we do becomes relevant regardless of how much we enjoy it. Work no longer holds sway over our lives, and it shouldn’t. It should remain, however, vitally important. We should continue to work hard, embrace it, and enjoy it. But it must not own us.
What do you think? Do I have a valid point? Share your comments. We’d love to hear from you!
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Each week, we will post a review of one of the four films National Fatherhood Initiative has nominated for the 2012 Fatherhood Movie of the Year. These will not be your typical movie reviews, but will instead focus on what in particular makes the movie a good “fatherhood movie.” Our third entry is on Parental Guidance.
We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Andy Fickman, director of this film to get The Director's Guide to Parental Guidance. The movie stars Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, and Tom Everett Scott. Crystal and Midler play Tomei’s character’s parents, and are grandparents to her and her husband’s three children. Mom and dad have to go away for the weekend, and they struggle with leaving the kids with their grandparents.
The film does a great job of exploring issues around parenting, grandparenting, and marriage. There are several parenting themes in the film relevant to fathers and the film does well to shed light on postives and negatives of both the "old school" and the "new school" way of doing things. Here are a few examples:
1) Old School Versus New School: Technology
Perhaps not a main theme, but funny nonetheless, is the difference between how the "old school" uses tech and the "new school" uses it. For instance, the old school is depicted as not able to answer their phone; while the new school parents have a home that's basically a glorified Siri from the iPhone. I find this portion of the film hilarious. For instance, my dad never cared to own a cell phone; but now that he has grandkids, he owns a cell phone, can text me pictures and owns a laptop where he calls me to video chat via G+ and from his own Facebook account!
2) Old School Versus New School: Sports
A funny scene takes place over Grandfather (Billy Crystal) and the grandson's baseball game. Crystal learns the way baseball is played is very differenct than how he grew up playing. When Crystal played, you could actually strike out; whereas, in the grandson's game, the teams end in a tie and each batter hits until they get on base. There's plenty of comedy in this scene and viewers will find Crystal at his acting finest! In the day of giving every participant a trophy just for playing the game, I can see my dad shaking his head.
3) Old School Versus New School: Health
Health and parenting takes a role in the film when the "old school" parenting lets the children have sugar for the first time. The "new school" doesn't let the children have sugar. This scene, although funny, will have the "new school" parent thinking twice before letting the grandparent watch the kids. After having ice cream cake for the first time, the daughter in the film grimly points out to her mother, "you lied, yogurt isn't like ice cream!" The battle over creating a health-conscious family contrasted with an anything-goes diet of grandparents is center stage in this film.
4) Old School Versus New School: Discipline
One of my favorite scenes in the film is at dinner. The entire family goes out to eat. The young mom played by Marisa Tomei begins to give her parents a lesson on how to talk to the children. Tomei says condescendingly to her "old school" parents, "Where you would say, 'quit your whining, you're giving me a headache!'; we say, 'use your words!'" For parents, this is an entertaining topic of discussion sure to last longer than the film.
5) Old School Versus New School: Marriage
Marriage is not left out of this film. The "old school" wife played by Midler does well to point out, "after the kids leave, your husband is the only one there!" Contrast this with the "new school" of leading a very busy life focused almost exclusively on the kids, and you have a nice topic for future discussion with your spouse and parents. Parents and intimacy is shown in real-life. At one point early in the film, Tom grabs Marisa and takes her out on the patio, and with the kids going crazy in the kitchen, he gives her a kiss, and she says, “Oh, that’s like a mini-date!” This film does well to depict the real difficulty of a busy family.
With regard to marriage and the mother-daughter relationship, Midler has a line that director Fickman says a lot of people responded to when Tormei says to her, “You always take dad’s side.” And Midler says, “Yes, because children leave, and I’m gonna be left with him. You hit college and you said goodbye and your father stayed.” Midler aslo points out to Tomei, “You need to go and show your husband that you support him and believe in him and you want to be with him.”
We learn from watching this film that your parents, for good or for ill, have an impact on you and how you parent. Oh, and that we all should relax, not take life too seriously and enjoy the family we have. Any movie that encourages a family to be closer; well, that's worth an award nomination in our eyes!
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At NFI, one of the most common questions we get is “So, what do you guys do?” This question often follows a long explanation of what we do. That was a joke…
But the question is a fair one, because we are not a “direct service” organization that can simply show you our office’s “underwater fathering” workshop. Instead, we enable direct service organizations to work with fathers. Therefore, it is always a bit harder for the public to visualize how we are strengthening fatherhood across the country.
But thanks to a new book, our job just got a lot easier. It is called Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance, a photography collection (and much more) from renowned photographer Lewis Kostiner.
In 2007, Kostiner began traveling around the country with NFI staff members to document the stories of real dads who had been through NFI’s programs at community-based organizations around the United States. We would choose a city, find out which community-based organizations in that city were using NFI resources, and then go meet with the dads at their homes, places of work, and with the service providers to capture the images and words that would do justice to their fatherhood journeys.
When all was said and done, Kostiner had photographed more than 150 fathers from all walks of life in 17 states and 39 cities who had at least one thing in common – they were all working hard to be the best dads they could be.
The visually stunning book tells their stories, and, as a result, NFI’s story. These are dads who were going through NFI’s 24/7 Dad® curriculum at their local social services agency. They are formerly incarcerated fathers learning how to be great dads through NFI’s InsideOut Dad® program. They are “regular guys” benefiting from community resources that NFI helped create.
Several prominent figures contributed to the book to round out these compelling stories. The foreword is by journalist Juan Williams, who urges our nation and its leaders to take seriously the need to strengthen fatherhood for the sake of our children. The book also includes an essay by NFI board member Roland Warren, who provides practical steps that dads can take to help themselves and others be the kinds of dads our children deserve. David Travis, Shipra S. Parikh, and Derrick M. Bryan also lend their voices to the book.
Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance should have come with a box of tissues, as it is hard to keep your eyes dry as you see these dads and hear their voices and their children’s voices. What those voices are telling us -- or, more accurately, screaming to us from the mountaintops -- is that every child needs a great dad.
But it is one thing for us to tell you that. It is another to look into the eyes of a child and really see that. That is the gift that Choosing Fatherhood gives you.
Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance will make a great addition to your coffee table or, if you work in a community-based setting, your waiting room. It can be purchased here.
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“And we’ll work to strengthen families by removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples, and doing more to encourage fatherhood – because what makes you a man isn’t the ability to conceive a child; it’s having the courage to raise one. Stronger families. Stronger communities. A stronger America. It is this kind of prosperity – broad, shared, and built on a thriving middle class – that has always been the source of our progress at home.” -- President Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, 2/12/13
Not for the first time, President Barack Obama urged the nation to strengthen the institution of fatherhood. He also made the important connection between marriage and fatherhood; two forces that work together to strengthen families and the economy.
The President’s timely comments ride on the heels of new research from the Pew Research Center (which we cited in a CNN.com op-ed on Monday) that shows that marriage is in decline, creating an enormous cultural and economic gap between those who marry and those who don’t. Thus, the President hit the nail on the head in tying the vibrancy of the middle class to the health of marriage.
The President has consistently voiced his support for responsible fatherhood, having formed the Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Task Force in 2007, of which former NFI president, Roland C. Warren, was part. NFI and Roland helped create this report on how the federal government can address fatherhood issues.
For NFI’s part, we are inspired to hear the leader of the free world choose to take time out of his most important speech to voice his support for fatherhood and marriage. Twenty four million children grow up in biological father-absent homes today, and we don’t have a fatherless child to spare!
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photo credit: white house
This is a guest post by Lori E. Allan. Lori's poem, "Absence" won first place in the Dudley Randall poetry competition at the University of Detroit Mercy. The poem talks about the struggle and disappointment that comes with the absence of a father. Below is the story behind the poem, followed by the first-place poem. You can find Lori here and here. If you are interested in guest blogging for us, send an email.
Many people deal with the absence of their father differently. My parents got divorced when I was four and that was the last time my father was around and was in contact with my siblings and I. My mother was so strong so I never thought of the separation as a bad thing. We were okay. I held on to God and sought him out for guidance, provision, and truth. Surprisingly, it never really hit me until I got older. There are certain things in life that a father should be there for. I was accomplishing so much and doing so well in my endeavors. I was eager to know how much more knowledgeable I would be if my father was around. I made so many decisions based on what I thought a father figure would want me to do and it got me pretty far, but I was missing out on the tangibility of a father.
Most of the people I went to school with in Detroit didn’t have a father around either and it was obvious. People cling to different things to fill that void without knowing it and it’s scary. I definitely saw that things would be easier on my mother if she had someone to raise us with. A father to be there financially, emotionally, and just someone strong to go through life with would have been amazing for her and she deserved it. I do understand that things didn’t work out and he wasn’t the right guy, but I have a hard time understanding how someone wouldn’t want to be the right guy. I co-taught a first grade class and they brought me so much joy! I couldn’t fathom how someone would ever want to miss out on everything you can learn from a child.
The fact that I am becoming the woman God wants me to be and that I am coming out of this situation the way that I am amazes me. I knew that I was in a very vulnerable position as a woman growing up without a father. It made me very cautious when dating. I had a pretty good idea of how I should be treated, but I needed an example from a father. It is so important for a guy to see the relationship you have with your father. I used my relationship with my Heavenly Father to fill that and I wasn’t always a good steward in my relationship with God. God has heard, “you aren’t enough” from me plenty of times. But in the end, He really was and has been. He’s been there through everything: scraped knees, graduations, sick days, performances, and heartbreaks. He’ll be there when I get married and when I have a child one day.
I have no hard feeling towards my dad. I realized that you can’t make someone be a father and everyone isn’t cut out to be one. Who knows, maybe things are better this way. I just really hope that wherever he is, he’s a man and he’s growing. Not for me, but for himself. Though God has done far more than I could ever ask think or imagine, it would have never hurt to have two fathers. My relationship with God is a special one and I couldn’t have asked for a better father.
My poem, "Absence" won first place in the Dudley Randall poetry competition at the University of Detroit Mercy. The poem talks about the struggle and disappointment that comes with the absence of a father. It isn’t about anger; it is about unanswered questions and voids that will linger on. A father will always be thought about and he will always be needed. His absence is more present than anything else in the whole world.
by Lori E. Allan
Empty in the photos
is the shape of a man
who has left a void
The strength of his arms
lifted the glass
apart from the frame
as he climbed out of the situation.
Behind the bars,
I am confined within
the seventy-two percent
of African-American children raised
in single-parent homes.
Struggle is the only thing
that shows up
in the house we live in,
the food we eat,
the look in my mother’s eyes.
Despite the chasm,
I can still hear the way he says my name.
He had a photographer’s urge
to stop and capture a moment
and never developed the photo.
The void is tangible;
I hold it in my hands
and wonder if there is
a significant difference
between who I am
and who I could have been
because of what he could have been—
I house his vacancy in a cautious frame,
passing it by when I have what I need
and climbing inside when I see that I don’t.
It is a black and white photo
that I see in color.
In his absence,
I see it all.
This week we have reached the perfect connection in romance and social media! Not only is today #ThrowbackThursday; but it's also Valentines' Day! We have a blog post from back in the day about Keith Urban and his view of...guess what? Marriage! That makes this #ThrowbackThursday post the perfect romantic post for Valentine's Day! Because what's more romantic than a celebrity who knows that loving his wife more than his kids is ok? Answer: nothing. Nothing is more romantic! Happy Valentine's Day, parents!
From the American Idol page:
Keith Urban has sold more than 15 million albums, is a four-time Grammy Award winner, and has won a People's Choice and American Music Award.He's won five Academy of Country Music Awards and had 14 No. 1 songs, including 28 Top 5 hits. In 2012, he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. His latest CD, "Get Closer," comes on the heels of his fifth consecutive platinum or multi-platinum release. It has produced three consecutive No. 1 singles: "You Gonna Fly," "Long Hot Summer" and "Without You."
From our throwback blog post on Keith Urban, Loving Your Spouse More Than Your Kids:
Urban recently revealed in an interview that he loves Nicole more than their two children. To do justice to what he said, I have copied the entire quote here:
"We're very, very tight as a family unit and the children are our life, but I know the order of my love. It's my wife and then my daughters. I just think it's really important for the kids...There are too many parents who start to lose the plot a little and start to give all their love to the kids, and then the partner starts to go without. And then everybody loses. As a kid, all I needed to know was that my parents were solid. Kids shouldn't feel like they are being favoured. It's a dangerous place."
We at NFI think what Urban said is worth repeating—perhaps today would be a great day to show your wife that she is more important to you than anything in the world—even more important than the kids!
We commented in the throwback blog post:
But research seems to back Urban's mentality. Generally speaking, the most important relationship in the home is the one between mom and dad. As Urban states, if their relationship fails, everyone loses. While we don't yet have research that shows specifically that marriages in which the spouses love each other more than the kids produce "better kids," we do know that kids who grow up in married homes do better, on average, across every measure of child well-being. We also know that divorce is not good for children. We also know that parents who are married to each other are closer to each other and to their kids than parents in any other family structure. Put that all together, and what Urban says looks pretty good.
What's one thing you will do today to show your spouse takes priority over your kids?
Writing for CNN’s Schools of Thought blog, NFI's Christopher Brown and Vincent DiCaro reveal the missing piece of education reform. Brown and DiCaro point out that "There is no shortage of answers about how to improve our nation’s schools, including more charter schools, school vouchers, standardized testing, lower teacher-student ratios and performance-based hiring, pay and promotion of teachers. However, what we find lacking in almost every debate about education reform is the role of families - especially fathers - and the support they can and should provide to ensure children’s educational success. If parents, educators and reformers are to make a difference in improving children’s educational success, we must expand our definition of education reform."
They continue, "children in two-parent homes were more likely to stay on track in school and have higher literacy, both of which are critical to overall educational success."
Pointing to research on marriage from Pew Research Center saying barely one-half - 51% - of adults today are married, down from 72% in 1960, the article says, "The decline of marriage, the rise of divorce and the increase in out-of-wedlock births - now 40% of all births - has contributed to the reality that more than 24 million children in America live in homes absent a biological father."
Brown and DiCaro do not write only to complain, but to offer real solutions for educational improvement. They point out several real-life things fathers can do at home and in school to help their children succeed:
- Attend school and class events, or even spend a day in the classroom—your presence communicates something to your child and to their teachers.
- Read to your children every day.
- Help with school work.
- Don’t let mom do all the work.
Some believe that school is “mom’s territory,” but fathers are just as important to their children’s educations as their mothers. Brown and DiCaro add that schools can help to create father-friendly environments by:
- Including posters, reading materials and visual cues that show dads are welcome.
- Distribute parenting resources targeted to dads, as well as moms.
- Hold seminars for staff members to remind them how important it is for dads to be involved.
- Create dad-centric events, like “Dad and Donuts Day” where fathers join children at school for breakfast.
Brown and DiCaro do well to explain, "Changing parents’ and schools’ views of parental involvement are part of education reform. But most importantly, we must also address and reverse the two most disturbing trends of the past half-century - the increase in the number of children growing up in father-absent homes and the decline in marriage. These two issues are inseparable and have a direct impact on our children’s success in school."
Read the full article at CNN's Schools of Thought.
photo credit: dcJohn
One of NFI’s goals is to be a voice for fatherhood on Capitol Hill. Over the years, for example, we have helped push through funding that supports organizations seeking to equip dads.
So, while there is funding for programs providing needed services to fathers, there is a general lack of funding available for organizations to obtain the “capacity-building” training and services they need to build long-term sustainability.
What is capacity-building? It is what organizations need to be more effective in their service delivery in the present and more viable organizations in the future. Leadership development, organizational development, program development, and community engagement would all qualify as capacity-building services.
That is why we have created an initiative to inform Congress that federal fatherhood grantees should be allowed to use a portion of their funds to procure capacity-building services and training.
While service delivery is the most important use of grant funds, those services need to be delivered by effective organizations – and that is where capacity-building comes in. It will help organizations do a better job serving fathers and ultimately lead to better outcomes for children.
We have set up a page on our website where you and/or your organization can make your voice heard! The grant program for fatherhood programs will be reviewed in Congress later this year, so now is the time to ensure that future grantees will have the flexibility to use some of their grant funds for capacity-building.
Here is what we would like for you to do:
As an individual – Use our special webpage to send your opinion directly to your members of Congress. The more voices that come on board, the more persuasive we can be!
As an organization – Sign on to become an "endorsing organization" of this effort to allow federal fatherhood grantees to use a portion of their funds for capacity-building services. Your organization's name will be listed alongside National Fatherhood Initiative as a supporter or this important advocacy effort.
We will soon inform Congress and the White House of all the people and organizations that are behind this effort.
Thank you so much in advance for helping us in this important effort. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact Vincent DiCaro, NFI’s Congressional liaison at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Each week, we will post a review of one of the four films National Fatherhood Initiative has nominated for the 2012 Fatherhood Movie of the Year. These will not be your typical movie reviews, but will instead focus on what in particular makes the movie a good “fatherhood movie.” Our second entry is on The Odd Life of Timothy Green.
In The Odd Life of Timothy Green we see on the big screen that fathering isn’t about WHAT your child does; but more about WHO your child is.
When Odd Life opened in theaters in August, we wrote Are You Putting Your Kid in a Box? and The Odd Life of Parents. So we've talked about the child's perspective and the overall parental perspective. However, we nominated this film as a finalist for our 2012 Fatherhood Movie of the Year based on it’s real and genuine depiction of fatherhood – and the lessons we learn about fathering through Jim, Timothy’s Dad.
The Odd Life makes a dad think about which dreams matter and which dreams don't. Most times, you and I dream the wrong dreams for our kids. When we dream of "the perfect child" we are typically dreaming of WHAT our son or daughter will be instead of WHO they will be as person. These lessons come about through the daily lives of the Green family, below are two such ways us dads are taught what's most important:
1) What Versus Who: Artist or Honest?
Jim and Cindy wish that fateful night—in their wishses for the pefect child—for "Our kid to be Picasso with pencil"! Essentially, Jim and Cindy wish for an artist. They get their wish! But not as they expect. You see, the Green's also wish for their child to be, "honest to a fault". The Green's are granted that wish as well. Timothy draws a beautiful image of his mother's boss at work. But upon review, he draws his beautiful picture a little to accurate, including facial hair for the female subject! The lesson for dads? Dream and wish all you want, but be careful what you wish for—you just might get it!
2) What Versus Who: Amazing Athlete or Positive Person?
That same night of wishing for the perfect child, the Green's wish for their kid to, "score the winning goal"! Sounds simple enough, right?! Wrong! Timothy ends the big soccer game by kicking the winning goal—for the other team! Also during the game, we see another wish fulfilled in Timothy, for the Green's had also wished that night for their child to be, "the glass half-full person"! They get the positive child. Timothy is a very positive kid. So positive he sits on the bench most of the soccer game, giving his coach water at one point, totally content with not playing in the game of all games! Again, there's a lesson for dads. Dream and wish all you want, but be careful what you wish for—you just might get it!
The Odd Life serves as a great reminder of what is truly important to instill in our children – that it’s WHO they are that matters more than WHAT they do. Daily, we as dads are to cherish our children, no matter what. The dad in The Odd Life depicts a father who does exactly that.
Dads watching this movie will learn many lessons; but one of the most important lessons is this: don't put your child in a box. Don't dream up skills and things that are seen and can therefore be contained. Instead, dream and model the unseen, like character, values and respect. It's more important to be honest than to be the next Picasso. It's more important to be a positive person than to be an amazing athlete. From NFI’s perspective, this film depicts an active, involved and committed father—and we can’t ask for more than that. For this reason, we nominated it for the 2012 Fatherhood Movie of the Year.
Each week, we will post a review of one of the four films National Fatherhood Initiative has nominated for the 2012 Fatherhood Movie of the Year. These will not be your typical movie reviews, but will instead focus on what in particular makes the movie a good “fatherhood movie.” Our first entry is on Beasts of the Southern Wild.
One of the hardest things for many dads to do is express love and reveal their emotions to their children. Often, and unfortunately, anger is the only emotion men are really comfortable expressing. This is true of Wink, the father in the highly-praised film, Beasts of the Southern Wild (it is up for several Oscars, including Best Picture).
If you are looking for a film with a sugar-coated relationship between a father and his daughter, this is not the film for you. It takes a very gritty, sometimes shocking look at what can transpire when people are faced with severe challenges, like isolation, grief and poverty.
But it is in the conflict where the true “fatherhood magic” happens in this film. Early in the film, we see that Wink is very hard on his daughter, Hushpuppy, played brilliantly by newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis (also nominated for an Oscar). He yells at her, expects her to fend for herself despite her very young age, and even beats her. In a particularly difficult scene, he slaps her repeatedly to the ground.
It is what Hushpuppy makes of this situation that holds an incredibly valuable lesson for fathers. Despite the mistreatment, Hushpuppy very clearly loves her dad and she knows that he loves her, despite his inability to effectively express it. This is critical for fathers to understand, especially dads who are facing particularly difficult circumstances.
For example, in NFI’s work with incarcerated fathers, one of the first obstacles we have to overcome in helping these men reconnect with their children is to convince them that despite what they may have done in the past, their children still need and love them.
In Hushpuppy’s case, she is willing to go on a long, hard journey to save her father’s life, despite the fact that he is not the Father of the Year. No, but he is her dad, and she desperately loves him.
By no means are we suggesting that dads should be callous in their behavior toward their kids, resting assured that their children will love them anyway. But what Hushpuppy teaches us dads is that we are entrusted with a sacred relationship that is forged in love, and it is up to us to hold up our end of the bargain and give our children the love they so desperately need and want from us.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is by no means a one dimensional film – you will learn a lot by watching it. But from NFI’s perspective, it is, at heart, a movie about why fathers matter. And for that reason, we have nominated it for the 2012 Fatherhood Movie of the Year.
Have you seen this film? What did you think about it?