I’ll never forget the beeps. It’s been five years since first hearing the beeps from inside the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where my first daughter stayed two weeks due to pre-term labor.
She weighed four pounds, and I was scared to hold her with the wires coming from all directions. But the NICU nurses assured my wife and I that we would do no harm by holding and talking to her. She needed to hear the same two voices she heard throughout pregnancy. She needed to feel our presence in that cold, steel medical room.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America — one out of three — live in homes without fathers. Kids need their fathers.
Kids Need Their fathers…For Health
The same “NICU baby” from above recently proclaimed from the back of the car, “I want coffee, like Daddy!” as I ordered my favorite coffee from the Starbucks drive-thru. As I ordered a short cup of water to mimic my coffee, I realized something big — that for good or ill, the choices I make affect my children. As dad goes, so go the children. With Father’s Day in our rearview mirrors, we must be vigilant about impacting our children positively with the choices we make as dads.
Studies show that men who take care of their health with a good diet, regular exercise, and preventive screenings serve as role models for their kids’ health habits and are more likely to be around for all those important moments like graduations, birthdays and weddings. But more than being around, fathers model behavior for their kids, for good or ill.
Kids Need Their Fathers…For Growth
New research reveals that the love of a father is one of the single greatest influences on the personality development of a child. Results from the journal of Personality and Social Psychology Review showed that kids rejected in childhood felt more anxious and insecure as well as hostile and aggressive as adults.
Professor Rohner who conducted the research says, “children who feel unloved tend to become anxious and insecure, and this can make them needy. Anger and resentment can lead to them closing themselves off emotionally in an attempt to protect themselves from further hurt.”
The same is true for all children regardless of race, culture, and gender – the feeling and effects of rejection are universal.
Professor Rohner adds that the “same parts of the brain are activated when people feel rejected as when they suffer physical pain.” He continues, but ‘Unlike physical pain, however, people can psychologically relive the emotional pain of rejection over and over for years.’ His research shows a father’s input is particularly important for behavior and influences whether a child later abuses drugs or suffers mental health problems.
Kids Need Their Fathers…For Life
The National Center for Health Statistics reports that infant mortality rates are almost twice as much for infants of unmarried mothers than for married mothers.
Children whose fathers are stable and involved are better off on almost every cognitive, social and emotional measure developed by researchers.
How we start is usually a good indicator of how we finish. Of course we can make course corrections along the way. But giving kids a chance to start life in a healthy way matters. Involved fathers help infant mortality rates decrease and infant health increase. Being present and involved ensures children will grow and develop into mature, well-adjusted adults.
Dads matter–for good or ill. As dads go, so go the children. And as go children, so goes our society.
That is why National Fatherhood Initiative provides skill-building resources to help fathers increase their health literacy and get involved right from the start. Our Doctor Dad series of workshops help fathers learn about the well child, the sick child, the injured child, and the safe child. And our new Dad’s Pocket Guide contains practical tips on how dads can get involved with their newborns.
Parents, what was your most difficult adjustment after having a baby?
This post was originally written by Ryan Sanders for the National Healthy Start Association (NHSA). NHSA's mission is to be our nation's voice in providing leadership and advocacy for health equity services and interventions that improve birth outcomes and family wellbeing.
Photo credit: Sanders Family Archives
Last Thursday night at around 7:30, my wife and I took our two-and-a-half year old son, Vinny, for a walk. It was a beautiful night, warm with a cool breeze. The sun was just starting to set.
We approached the neighborhood playground and Vinny asked to get out of his stroller so he could go play. His chubby little legs carried him over to the slide, which he promptly climbed and slid down. He was having a blast.
As twilight progressed, the evening took on a magical quality. The air had a golden glow, the fireflies were coming out, and a few stars began appearing in the sky.
I stood next to one of those spiral slides as my son started to climb it. As he came around the bend, he saw me standing there and a big smile came over his face. He said, “Daddy? Daddy?” I answered, “What is it, baby?” He sat down right next to me and looked me in the eyes, still smiling. He just wanted “Daddy,” not something from Daddy.
Under normal circumstances, this would have been a great moment for me as a dad. But that night, it became a “remember-forever” moment that almost made me break down in tears. Because just an hour earlier, my wife and I had left the hospital after a three-day stay in which my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.
Let’s rewind back to last Tuesday. It had been at least a week during which my son was barely eating, was always thirsty, was constipated, and was wetting his diapers like never before. He was usually in a bad mood. It had really hit me that something was wrong when he was lying down on the changing table and I could see his ribs protruding.
So, I took him to the doctor that morning to see what was going on. They began doing a series of routine tests to see what was wrong. One of those “routine” tests was a blood sugar test that returned a result of 565.
This was when I heard “the word” for the first time. Diabetes. You know, that disease that your Aunt Bertha takes pills for because she’s eaten a few too many of her own apple pies. But in a healthy two-year-old?
At that point, our doctor told me that I should take Vinny to the emergency room so they could do some tests to confirm whether or not it was diabetes. I called my wife, and we met at the hospital 20 minutes later.
After a very short period of time, he was admitted and the diagnosis was confirmed – Type 1 Diabetes. The kind of diabetes that you just “get” and does not go away. The kind where you have to do blood sugar tests and insulin shots every day for the rest of your life.
My wife and I were in shock. It sounds cliché, but we really did not know how to react.
But the doctors were amazing. They immediately began preparing us for the new routine we would have to establish every day with our precious son. We learned carb counting, blood testing, and how to administer insulin shots.
By Thursday night, our new endocrinologist was comfortable enough with where we were in our knowledge and where Vinny’s blood sugar was to let us go home.
I can’t remember ever being so nervous in my life.
We were leaving the security of the hospital and left on our own. What if his blood sugar dropped and he passed out? What if his blood sugar spiked and something terrible happened? My wife and I never paid so much attention to our son’s mood, facial expressions, complexion, and demeanor in our parenting lives… But that is where the magic came from…
One of the best pieces of advice the nurse gave us as we left the hospital was to handle everything in a matter of fact way so that our son wouldn’t get upset. So, to ease our nerves, we went for that walk to the playground where he, in his own little 2-year-old way, showed his affection and appreciation for daddy.
I believe children are wired to crave connection with their parents – God makes them that way. My wife and I both work full time. We spend a lot of time with our son, but never three straight days, 24/7, in the same small room, playing with him, feeding him, reading to him, watching Disney movies together. While our stomachs were churning about his new disease, he was delighting in the fact that mommy and daddy were spending so much time with him.
So when we went for the walk, he was as happy as can be. He didn’t know that mommy and I were bundles of nerves. He just knew we were there, and he loved us for it.
The next few months are going to be tough. We are going to continue adjusting to the reality that our son has an incurable disease that needs constant management. But the silver lining – which I learned about on the playground that night – is that I will become closer than ever to my little boy. And every time he smiles at me, I will thank God that I have been given the opportunity to be the daddy to this wonderful boy, diabetes and all.
Last month at Pampers Cincinnati, OH headquarters, NFI president Roland C. Warren presented the big baby care brand with a Fatherhood Award™ for its “A Parent is Born,” “Welcome to Parenthood,” and “Love Comes Early” video series.
If you haven’t seen these online mini-documentaries, check them out as a Father’s Day treat. They really do an incredible job of showing how important it is for fathers to be involved in the “peri-natal period” (the time right before and after the birth of a child).
Pampers is a rare breed in the baby care world in that they are one of a few brands that understands the role dads can and should play in this area. Sure, moms still buy more diapers than dads do, but according to all the research we’ve done and seen, moms are more likely to support brands that support fathers. Moms don’t want brands letting dads off the hook.
To celebrate and commemorate the Fatherhood Award™ recognition, Pampers is unveiling new rewards in its “Pampers Gifts to Grow” catalog that are very dad-centric - BBQ tool sets, professional-caliber golf balls, stainless steel water bottle gift sets, and headphones, to name a few.
This quote from Fama Francisco, Pampers General Manager perfectly sums up Pampers enlightened understanding of this issue: "Pampers recognizes that today’s fathers want to be involved in the very important role of nurturing their babies and acknowledges that it is just as important for dad – as it is for mom - to bond with baby too. With all the attention on expectant and new moms, the role of an expectant or new father can sometimes be overshadowed. That's why this Fatherhood Award™ honor is a special thrill. Whether it's been via our web-based real parenting video series or our past partnerships with the likes of great dads, Pampers is committed to honoring and celebrating dads for the unique role they play in their babies lives!”
We love this! Especially the part about the “unique role” that dads play. Again, research shows that the different approaches that moms and dads take to child care have a significant, positive impact on child well being.
We thank Pampers for their dedication to fatherhood, and commend them for doing work that will last far beyond this Father’s Day.
I was doing some browsing on the Web when I came across a blog entry
from Dr. David Katz, founder of Yale Universitys Prevention Research Center. The entry focused on the fact that men, especially fathers, need to turn a deeper focus on health and weight control. At NFI, weve made several references to the importance of health in men throughout our variety of resources and content
. However, the doctors blog featured a few sentences that made me question just how thickheaded are men about getting healthy.
We know that women are the guardians of the family health. We know that women, wives, mothers tend to do the heavy lifting when it comes to medical care, preventive services and diet, said Dr. Katz in his blog, no doubt sharing a sentiment long shared by many. However, I grew up around men like my grandfathers and uncles who were always on top of their health. Im particularly worrisome about my own health for a variety of reasons, some of which are hereditary.
Much like the meme going around that fathers are clueless when it comes to caring for their babies
, a lot of archaic notions about men continue to be perpetuated. I became especially aware of my health needs after becoming a father. In fact, my peers who became dads all followed suit. How some of us arrived to that point was actually simple: taking care of children is taxing! I remember feeling like everything was hurting while running after my toddler, saying to my doctor that I needed to feel whole again.
I do get Dr. Katzs overall point. As a father of five children and the editor-in-chief of the medical journal Childhood Obesity, he has an obligation to preach to the masses the importance of health. His blog was more so a call to fathers to set better examples for their children. I truly enjoyed his stance on saying that men who find working out and eating better to be feminine traits are acting un-guy like slamming the notion that men can eat and do whatever they want without repercussions.
Dr. Katz is simply urging dads to eat better so their kids will too. The rapid rise in stroke risks in children between the ages of 5 and 14 attributed to obesity is unacceptable. The old adage the apple doesnt fall far from the tree certainly applies in this case. Good health has to start somewhere, and fathers have a responsibility to lead by example.
I may not have been exposed to many men or fathers who were reluctant about staying healthy, but I do know we can all do better in providing a pathway to healthier living for our children by starting with ourselves.
This is a guest post from Ashley Kemper, a member of Long Island Heart Associates, in partnership with the Mount Sinai Medical Center. LIHA is a cardiology practice in Long Island, New York that has been keeping its community heart-healthy since 1994. Ashley provides some great tips on how dads can stay healthy in the New Year. As we like to say at NFI, to be a good dad, you have to be alive... and more importantly, the health habits you adopt set an example that your kids will follow!
Getting healthy is one of the most common New Years Resolutions. For many dads, this can be a challenge each year. As dads grow older, the motivation and ability to stay physically fit becomes more difficult, but the importance of maintaining health remains. Here are some tips to helping dads stay healthy in 2012:Plenty of exercise:
Whether your form of exercising is running, biking, or sports, some type of cardiovascular activity more than once a week is strongly encouraged. Exercising as a family such as a friendly game of football or skiing are great for improving fitness. Make sure you consult a heart doctor before engaging in any strenuous physical activity.Rest and sleep:
Exhaustion and lack of sleep can lead to poor health. As dads and most adults age, adequate rest becomes vital to recharging and having a healthy heart. A Long Island sleep study showed that losing sleep can come from stress, working long hours, or sleep apnea. Dads need to give themselves time to sleep and allow their body to recover for healthy living.Less drinking:
Its not uncommon to have a few drinks during the week with coworkers and friends. However, studies have shown that binge drinking doubles the risk of heart disease. The limit of alcohol consumption for people varies, so it is important to drink in moderation while maintaining a healthy balance of eating and exercising.
Staying healthy can be a challenge for dads, but these steps should be taken to enjoy a positive lifestyle.
This is a guest post from Angel Cicerone, president and co-founder of GetSweaty.com, an initiative to provide parents and educators with physical activity ideas and information for children.
If we ever needed proof of just how significant a role dads play in their kids physical health, we certainly got it during the development of GetSweaty.com, an internet site that provides physical activity ideas for kids.
We were recruiting children to star in our workout videos, so we held a casting call. The kids were required to be in good physical shape and able to perform the exercises.
In interviewing nearly 100 children during the process, we asked them all what kind of physical activities they enjoyed. By the end of the day, we had an amazing A-ha moment. The majority of the kids indicated their major activities consisted of doing something with their dads. My dad and I go biking every morning. I go running with my dad. My dad and I play tennis together. The story repeated itself in various iterations over and over throughout the day.
It became very clear that dads have a tremendous influence on the type and amount of physical activity a child engaged in. Moreover, it was evident these kids were having fun engaging in these activities and enjoying the time spent with their fathers.
As we began working with the National Fatherhood Initiative, we learned just how important father involvement is in impacting childrens physical health.
A recent study on the factors associated with the physical activity of preschool children found that a fathers BodyMass Index (BMI) -- a measurement of the relative composition of fat and muscle mass in the human body -- is directly related to his childrens activity level.
Another study looked at family lifestyle and parental BMI as predictors of the BMI of their
children. The study was conducted over a 9 year period and found:
- Fathers BMI is predictive of sons and daughters BMI
- BMI in sons and daughters is consistently higher when fathers are overweight or obese
- Obesity of fathers is associated with a four-fold increase in the risk of obesity of sons and daughters at age 18
With over two-thirds of all Americans either overweight or obese, we need to understand that dads and kids can work together to the benefit of their entire familys physical health. Physical activity not only keeps everyone healthy, its a wonderful and free opportunity for parents and children to bond and create positive lifelong habits, better health, and wonderful memories.
Check out NFI's It Takes Heart campaign to receive free, weekly information throughout the month of February (American Heart Awareness Month) on how to deal with all of your "heart" issues - taking care of your health, your kids' health, and your relationships, too!
This is a post from NFI's Director of Corporate Relations, Tom Patras.
Six months ago, during church, a friend surprised everyone by wheeling his 85 pound son on stage in a wheel barrow. Pointing to his son, he exclaimed, This is how much weight Ive lost! After receiving a standing ovation from the congregation, my friend went on to share that hed been facing serious health issues due to an unhealthy lifestyle. He finally woke up when our Pastor confronted him and said, What are you doing? You have a wife and kids and you are eating yourself to death!
As I listened to my friend, it took everything in me to keep from crying. I was happy for him, but sobered that my Pastors words could easily have been directed at me. Weight issues are a generational plague in my family. After many failed attempts at losing weight (and keeping it off), I felt discouraged and defeated. Id reached my heaviest weight ever and was frankly disgusted with myself. With health issues mounting, I knew I needed to change the trajectory of my life. So
inspired by my friends success with the Take Shape For Life
program, I decided that if it worked for him, why not me?
During my first week on the program, I had a pivotal moment. One day, a scene from The Biggest Loser came to mind. In the scene, a 25 year old girl was told by a doctor that based on the condition of her organs, she was living in the body of a 55-year-old woman. Suddenly the thought hit me holy cow, thats 30 years! Thats almost two generations! I then asked myself, What kind of an example am I setting for my children? What kind of legacy am I building for future generations? Do I want my wife and kids grieving over my untimely death because I wasnt willing to do everything in my power to fight for my health?
In that moment, I said, Im done! Im going to engage in (and win) this battle. Im going to be a chain breaker and change the legacy of my family for future generations.
Six months later, Im 68 pounds lighter! At 39, Im the same weight I was as a freshmen in high school. I have tons of energy, am much more confident, and feel better than I have in years.
No doubt there are fathers reading this post who are battling weight-related health issues you may be one of them. If so, I encourage you to join NFIs 30 Days to Be a Better Dad Campaign
and make it a priority to get healthy in 2011.
BUT, dont go it alone! 85% of people who try to lose weight without support gain it back within 2 years. Also, find a plan that teaches you how to build healthy habits for life. There is no magic pill or medical procedure that will allow you to eat whatever (and however much) you want.
Building a healthy lifestyle takes commitment, but you can only be a better dad if you are alive!
This is a guest post from Denise Pazur, executive director for The PDV Foundation, an organization dedicated to advancing suicide prevention. You can learn more at http://www.pdvfoundation.org.
It could well be the most frightening thing a parent can facedeath of a child by suicide.
Other sudden, unintentional deaths by murder or automobile fatality are horrific. Yet theres something incomprehensible about a son or daughter deliberately ending the life we as parents have given them. In this way, suicide stands apart from perhaps all other deaths.
Rates of suicide for American youths have tripled since the 1950s, and this should serve as a call to action for parents nationwide, especially fathers. The message is clear and resounding: suicide is the most preventable form of death there is, according to 16th U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher. Our children are dying by their own hand not because they want to die, but because they can no longer endure the psychache of living. This mental anguish is most often an outcome of mental illness, not bad or selfish behavior.
My own son took his life a decade ago, when he was just 18 and had entered his senior year of high school. It is hard for me to think of him as someone with mental illness. But depression, anxiety and other mood disorders are indeed illnesses of the mind and the emotions. When left unrecognized, untreated or undertreated, they can be lethaljust as untreated diabetes or cancer can kill.
Why is it vital to strengthen the engagement of fathers with their children who may have mental illness? Because when a child is abnormally anxious, fearful, angry, self-loathing or disengaged from life, fathers may not recognize these as symptoms of a biologically based brain illness. They may encourage their children, especially their sons, to buck up under pressure.
Boys dont cry are among our parental narratives, words we feel may strengthen our children to endure future trial and trauma. But there are unintended consequences for not recognizing and addressing mental illness in our children.
This avoidance of the reality of our childrens mental health may place them at grave risk for behaviors that can lead to self-inflicted death. What can seem at first as normal adolescent outbursts may in reality be cries for help. I remember my son telling me, Mom, I know what Im doing. I remember his anger and rebellion against our rules as he neared his 18th birthday. I also recall thinking these were age appropriate for the most part, and would end when he graduated from high school and started life on his own. That day never came.
The call to action to fathers is compelling: fathers need to engage deeply in the emotional well-being of their children if our nation is to do better at reducing youth suicide. It is their role as parent and provider to safeguard their childrens healthincluding mental health.
As long as emotional nurturing of children is mom-centric, each child does not benefit from a fathers acknowledgment that admitting emotional struggle shows honesty. That seeking help shows strength. And that accepting help from others may indeed save a life.The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of National Fatherhood Initiative.
My father turned 50 at the beginning of this summer. He’s in great health, but I got a little worried when I noticed that he kept having doctor’s appointments recently. I asked him last week what was going on. He assured me that he was just getting his 50-year check-ups… physical, colonoscopy, prostate exam, cardio test, etc. And everything is fine!
I asked Dad why he thought it was important that he get these check-ups now that he’s 50. I expected him to say something about keeping up with his kids (there’s seven of us – the younger ones are still in high school or elementary school!) and being active for the many grandkids that we’ll be giving him in the future. (My dad figures that since he had seven kids, he should expect to have 49 grandkids. In his dreams, I say!)
I was a bit surprised by his answer to why he’s getting these check-ups. “So I can make sure I have many years to enjoy with your mom after you kids leave.” But when I thought about it, that makes sense. He is in good health now, so no cause for worry, and he is an active and involved father – going to my siblings’ sports games, helping them with homework, guiding them through the teen and young adult years. Parenting consumes an incredible amount of my mom and dad’s time and energy right now.
But eventually those responsibilities will be over. My youngest sisters will move out in about 10 years, and then it’ll be just Mom and Dad. Sure, they’ll always be there for us as adults. But they will only have to worry about taking care of themselves. Dad is taking steps today to make sure that those empty-nest years will be healthy and full of life, just like the parenting years. It will be a different kind of vibrant life, though – hopefully much calmer and less busy without a van-full of kids to cart around!
I’m glad that my dad is taking care of himself physically. But I also appreciate his motive for doing that – his commitment to Mom for life. Dad has every intention of staying healthy so he can enjoy a much-earned retirement and spend it with my mother. As their daughter, that gives me a great sense of security and a good example to follow.
This past Sunday, NFI participated in the Acumen Solutions Race for a Cause 8k as the culmination of our fit2father campaign, a six-week initiative designed to help fathers and their families live healthier lifestyles. Fathers and families from around the country took the fit2father pledge and the Acumen Solutions Race for a Cause allowed D.C. fit2father participants the opportunity to show their support for NFI and the issue of involved fatherhood!
From NFI staff and family, to local runners, and DC-area supporters, the NFI team had a strong presence. Daddy bloggers like Matt from DC Urban Dad
also joined the NFI team as we raced to end father absence.
Acumen Managing Director and NFI Board Member, Andy Schoka, connected NFI to this opportunity. This years Race for a Cause event was our best yet and Acumen Solutions is thrilled to have the NFI participate as one of our benefiting non-profit partners," said Shocka. "The 8K race was challenging and the 1 mile fun run was perfect for families and really aligns well with the NFIs fit2father message. Im incredibly thankful for the difference the NFI is making and Im pleased with the opportunity for Acumen Solutions to help contribute to the NFIs mission for years to come.
Missed out on fit2father? Stay tuned! We'll be launching our next opportunity for to get involved in one week!