The mommy wars continue. Should today’s women dedicate themselves more to their careers so they can “catch up” to men – to “lean in” as Sheryl Sandberg suggests – or should they dedicate themselves more to motherhood because their kids need them?
How about a third way?
I propose that if moms want to do better at both parenting and work, they have to “lean in” to fatherhood.
Yes, moms should do as much as they can to support the involvement of their children’s fathers in their children’s lives, because it will help them thrive at both home and in their careers.
Research shows that two of the most powerful predictors of father involvement are mom’s perception of dad’s competence and the quality of their relationship with each other. In other words, moms can act as gatekeepers or gateways; they are largely responsible for either facilitating father involvement or holding it back.
When fatherhood is “held back” – when fathers are unable or unwilling to embrace the fullness of their roles – moms become disproportionately responsible for what is happening at home. And, logically, if mom is responsible for a disproportionate share of the tasks at home, it is going to be harder for her to dedicate herself at work as much as she may need to.
My own situation paints a picture. My wife and I both work full time, and my wife is fully supportive of my role as a dad. She lets me do things my way. I typically leave for work later than her and get home earlier than her, so I usually take our son to daycare and pick him up at the end of the day, I usually give him breakfast in the morning, and I usually cook dinner at night. He has Type 1 Diabetes, so I have to do what is needed to care for that complicated disease.
Because my wife trusts me to do these things with a level of competence, she is thriving in her career. When the daycare calls and there is an issue with our son, I usually take care of it, not because my wife is a bad mother, but because she is an hour away, and I am 5 minutes away. In other words, my wife rarely has to take off from work or leave work early to care for our son during the workday.
As an auditor who has to travel around the region quite a bit, if she was forced by circumstance (my absence) or choice (a belief that she parents better than me) to be the go-to parent for our son’s needs, her career would suffer. Neither her boss nor her clients would be able to count on her to be where she needs to be, when she needs to be there.
Furthermore, when she comes home from work, she doesn’t have to do all the housework and childcare by herself. We work together; she lets me contribute even though I do things differently. Thus, she is able to focus not just on “housekeeping,” but on being a mommy.
You may be thinking that moms obviously want help from dads. I think you are right, but it is part of human nature that we don’t always behave in a way that will get us what we really want. For example, mom wants dad to help at bath time, but vehemently criticizes him for using too much soap, so he is now reluctant to ever help at bath time again (this is a true story).
So, the key then is to help moms align their desires (more help from dad so she can thrive at home and work) with their behaviors (acting as gateways to father involvement rather than gatekeepers) so that moms, dads, and most importantly, kids, are getting what they need.
Well, NFI has “an app” for that. We just launched a new line of products and services designed to help mothers support father involvement.
Based on feedback from hundreds of organizations around the country using NFI’s signature fatherhood programs, the new materials will help mothers successfully navigate their relationships with the fathers of their children. Specifically, it will give moms the knowledge and skills they need to effectively communicate with the fathers of their children and to understand the critical role fathers play in children’s lives. Understanding Dad™: An Awareness and Communication Program for Moms is the flagship curriculum anchoring this new initiative.
This is just another way that NFI is responding to what is happening in our culture with practical, timely solutions that move people from inspiration (something needs to be done!) to implementation (here is an actual program that we can start using today!).
Question: What do you think is the most difficult thing about parenting?
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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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“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?
Just before Christmas, we had the pleasure of speaking with Andy Fickman, director of the new film Parental Guidance, in theaters now, starring 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. Much intergenerational hilarity ensues, driven by the great comedic acting of Crystal and Midler.
The film does a great job of exploring issues around parenting, grandparents, and marriage. Take a look at what the film’s director had to say about it. We are hopeful his wisdom, insights, and humor will inspire you to go see the film this weekend!
On if this film was personal:
Andy Fickman: I’m a father, I have a 15-year-old son, and I think every day on the set you are bringing your personal life into it... It became a very personal journey for me…
On if he was going in trying to make a “fatherhood film”:
AF: Billy and I spoke so much in development about fathers… we are a little bit in this weird position because, look what the mother lovingly does. The mother helps carry the child in her womb, she goes through all the physical changes while we sit on the couch, she goes through labor, breastfeeds and has that maternal bond that is so beautiful and so specific that every dad knows the look on a child’s face when the child sees the mother. Every dad knows that moment of lighting up, you know, “The nurturer is coming!” So for dads, we have that weird pace, which is, am I the dad who comes home from my 9 to 5 job, and I’ve got my one hour of story time? So entering [into the movie we wanted to explore] what are [dads] hoping to pass on to our children, and what are they learning that they are then going to pass down to their children?
On how his relationship with his dad affected the themes of the film:
AF: My father passed away when I was 16 and I was very lucky that I had an uncle who became a surrogate, and I have three older brothers who became surrogates. But to this day my brothers and I talk about how lucky we were that our father provided such a role model for us, from education to social issues. So our challenge to us is we always feel like our responsibility is we have to pass down to our children what our father probably would have continued passing down to his grandchildren.
On the struggles grandparents sometimes face:
AF: Especially with the stuff in the movie where Billy is really struggling, he has some incredibly personal moments. The hardest thing to admit to anybody is that “I am not comfortable around my grandchildren” or “I don’t know how to talk to them.” I think those are very real things, and what we found throughout promoting the movie how many grandparent or parents have said that just because you have the title of parent or grandparent certainly does not mean you are comfortable with that title or that your relationship with your offspring is always a healthy one.
On helicopter parenting:
AF: That helicopter style of parenting is a very different world. There are whole stores dedicated to just early development of your child, and it’s great. But you also think about the classic line, “I was pretty sure I was just happy with a cardboard box.”
On if things really are better today for parents and kids:
AF: I remember we were talking on set one day about how great people are these days with health. True, I said, but make no mistake, all throughout history and all over the world, there are still kids born in a grass hut… So I definitely feel like it’s hard not to look a little like the marketing sham sometimes in modern society, where if we can come up with something, like the Snuggies commercial. “If putting on a bathrobe is too difficult for you, you need a Snuggies!” They’ll show commercial for things for children, where they’ll be like, “Tired of your child constantly falling off the bed? You need the new Bed Guard 2000!” That’s where we’ve gotten as a society, so when you put those generations together, it’s easy for them to Clint Eastwood squint their eyes at you and wonder, “Really, is that what you need?”
On the importance of strong marriages:
AF: From the very beginning, what we wanted to deal with was reality, and anybody’s who’s in a relationship knows that children can pose challenges. And what the husband and wife are dealing with is, I think, so universal. “What do I do for an hour of intimacy?” One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Tom grabs Marisa and takes her out on the patio and the kids are going crazy in the kitchen and he gives her a kiss, and she says, “Oh, that’s like a mini-date!”
Even his grandparents are talking and it’s very real. You don't get the impression that these are couples on the verge of divorce lawyers and dealing with the nastiness. You get the impression that these are two couples who are dealing with life and not always making great decisions, and just because I’m your spouse doesn’t mean I have to support you, and yet I am supporting you.
On the central importance of the relationship between mom and dad for the well being of kids:
AF: Bette has a line that a lot of people have really responded to when Marisa says to her, “You always take dad’s side.” And Bette says, “Yes, because children leave, and I’m gonna be left with him. You hit college and you said goodbye and your father stayed.” And I think that is so relatable to people.
Bette also says to Marisa, “You need to go and show your husband that you support him and believe in him and you want to be with him.” And Marisa’s character is coming up with so many excuses, the children being the entire excuse – the children, the children, the children. And Bette and Billy are saying, you aren’t even giving us a chance; you are assuming we are going to fail with your kids… In those moments, Bette’s trying to point out, especially in a marriage, that the one night away or those two nights away… you really need it. Two people are in love, they are human and sometimes it’s nice to be in that hotel where the phone’s not ringing, the kids aren’t screaming, and I think that’s important for those relationships, because as we all know, happy parents returning home are only going to be that much better for the kids.
On intergenerational parenting challenges:
AF: The three grandchildren are so raised to be a certain way that when they see the behavioral attitude changes that their grandparents bring to the house, it’s confusing for them because then, are they going to get in trouble with mom and dad for eating the cake. I think that’s what a lot of people deal with because there’s always the sense of, when you’re a kid, you always want to be around your grandparents, because they’re like, “Here's $10.” And you’re like, “Yay!”
On what he wants today’s dads to take away from the film:
AF: It’s twofold. One is a reminder to dads that we do play a part, we do have a role, and that role never changes. It’s easy to say, let your mom handle that, but it’s important that we’re handling that as well.
And I think it’s also that we have different experiences that we are bringing to the table, and a child lucky enough to have both a mother and father can give them different pieces of wisdom. There’s that great moment in the movie where Billy’s watching baseball with his daughter and it’s a really sweet scene because you can imagine what it was like when she was 11 years old and he says, and then you got all girly on me… So hopefully that’s the sort of thing that we can not escape but continue in trying to learn their world as much as ours.
Get tickets to the very family-friendly and funny, Parental Guidance, rated PG.
Photo credits: Phil Caruso - TM and © 2012 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and
Walden Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Not for sale or duplication.
We call him the “24/7 Dad.” We believe that every child needs one. What we are talking about is an involved, responsible and committed father. We are talking about a dad who knows his role in the family. He understands he is a model for his sons on how to be a good man. Likewise, if he has daughters, he models what they should look for in a husband and father for their children.
In our fathering handbooks and training, there are five questions we think every responsible father should answer. As you read, ask yourself these questions. These five questions come with a guarantee: if you answer each one honestly and take action, you will become a 24/7 Dad!
The questions we ask dads fit into five categories and are as follows:
1. Self-Awareness. The 24/7 Dad is aware of himself as a man and aware of how important he is to his family. He knows his moods, feelings and emotions; capabilities, strengths, and challenges. He is responsible for his behavior and knows his growth depends on how well he knows and accepts himself.
Don’t run by this first category without some self-reflection. Be honest with yourself as a man and father. Do you know what part of the day you are likely to be most tired and annoyed? Be discerning about how you treat your children during these times.
The 24/7 Dad also knows his ability to be with his children is affected by the choices he makes. With your vocabulary, replace “I’m too busy for XYZ” with the words “I didn’t make XYZ my priority.” Hear the difference?
So, the 24/7 Dad asks himself: How well do I know myself?
2. Caring for Self. The 24/7 Dad takes care of himself. He gets annual physicals, eats right, exercises, and learns about the world he lives in. He has a strong connection to his family and community, and chooses friends who support his healthy choices. The 24/7 Dad models for his children that he respects and likes himself because he makes good choices. When’s the last time you were at the doctor? If your answer to this question is “I go to the doctor every decade whether I need to or not!” you may want to consider modeling a different standard to your son or daughter.
So, the 24/7 Dad asks himself: How well do I care for myself?
3. Fathering Skills. The 24/7 Dad knows his role in the family. He knows he should be involved in the daily life of his children. Consider this: Who dresses and feeds your kids? Who attends parent-teacher conferences? Who supports their sports and other interests/activities? Who helps with homework and tucks them in at night? Of course the daily schedules of work factor into this equation; however, if your answer to all of these questions (and more) on a daily basis is “mom,” we have a problem. The 24/7 Dad uses his knowledge of the unique skills he and his wife/the mother of his children brings to raising his children. In other words, he knows the difference between “fathering” and “mothering.” Said a different way, if you weren’t in the family, would anyone notice based on the daily household tasks?
So, the 24/7 Dad asks himself: How well do I “Father”?
4. Parenting Skills. The 24/7 Dad nurtures his children. Yes, nurturing is for men to do as well. He knows how his parenting skills help to develop their physical, emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual, and creative needs. His children trust and feel safe with him because he cares about and nurtures them through the use of proven parenting skills. The 24/7 Dad uses discipline to teach and guide his children, not to threaten or harm them. This is big; don’t miss this point. If and when you discipline, how are you doing it? Are you seen as the executioner of the house who comes down from time to time with his golden rules? Discipline is best done with the idea of instructing a child in the way he or she should go. This isn’t done in anger or simply because you have had a long day and are annoyed in the moment.
So, the 24/7 Dad asks himself: How well do I “Parent”?
5. Relationship Skills. The 24/7 Dad builds and maintains healthy relationships with his children, wife/mother of his children, other family members, friends, and community. He knows and values how relationships shape his children and their lives. The 24/7 Dad knows how the relationship with his wife/mother of his children affects his children and creates a good relationship with her for the sake of his children. He always looks to improve the skills he uses to communicate with others.
So, the 24/7 Dad asks himself: How well do I relate?
Dad, what questions would you add to this list?
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This post was excerpted and adapted from NFI's 24/7 Dad resource. Read the original post in our For Fathers section.
The following is a post from Tony Prebula, Administrative Coordinator, Marketing and Communications at National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). If you would like to blog for us, email here.
Back when I joined NFI, I blogged about the lessons passed down from my grandfather. And I enjoyed being able to share the hope and excitement my wife and I had for having a family of our own one day.
It has been 7 months since then, and over a year since we started trying to have children. We’ve experienced loss, pain, disappointment, and at times despair. On more than one occasion over the last year, my wife and I have lost a child.
For the longest time I’ve imagined what it would feel like to hold my child with the hopes of the kind of person they would grow up to be. I imagine teaching them to ride a bike. Maybe even what the first fishing trip would be like. I imagine teaching my son how to honor his mother and all women. Or showing my daughter how she should be loved and respected in how I love my wife. I imagine being able to tell my children how proud I am for the kind of people they are. I don’t stop imagining these things. I remain hopeful, but it can get tough.
You see, as I get ready to head home tonight after work, I have already planned to spend the evening doing one of my favorite things—brewing beer. It’s a hobby I picked up when I lived in a townhouse with no cable or internet. I’ll have fun tonight. But all the while I will be thinking to myself, “What if”. I will be wondering what if my child were here. Instead of spending the night in the kitchen brewing, I could be putting together a crib. Instead of a quiet night waiting for my wife to get home from working late, maybe I would be giving my baby a bath. The hardest part is not their absence; rather it is in thinking of all the moments we will never have with them. To quote John Greenleaf Whitter, “For all the sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘What might have been’”.
In trying to sort through the emotions of the past few months, I’ve tried to put into words (probably for some healing or comfort) why it has been so difficult to find peace with it all. Strangely enough, I haven’t found any new insight to make it easier. I haven’t found enlightened peace. No, nothing like that. But what I am reminded of is the precious joy that family and children are.
My wife and I have been able to remember that no matter how hard we may try, we can’t just make children happen. Children are not given simply because you want to have them. No, children are gifts to be cherished.
I am so happy to work for an organization that recognizes children are indeed a gift to be cherished. And that part of this cherishing is to ensure that they have involved, responsible, and committed fathers.
In grieving, somewhat selfishly, for our loss, we are consoled knowing that our children are in a better place than we could have ever hoped to give them. And as my wife and I continue to wait and see what lies ahead for us, I know the gift will be that much sweeter. I can’t imagine how blessed I will feel when the day finally arrives. And I only hope that when it does that my children will know how much of a gift they are to me.
Tony is a graduate of the University of Maryland. He and his wife, Lacy, met at Maryland and were married in 2011. In his spare time, you will find Tony rock climbing, cooking and homebrewing. Connect with The Father Factor by RSS, Facebook and on Twitter @TheFatherFactor
For all the talk we hear these days about how “families can take many forms,” it seems there is one particular form that, if there was a popularity contest for family types, would be losing. It’s the one where dad is involved.
Every time I think NFI is in danger of exaggerating our claims around the prevalence of father absence and the lack of respect for the institution of fatherhood, a good reminder of our pinpoint accuracy smacks me right in the face.
The latest smack came in the form of a series of pictures in a book for toddlers. The book, First 100 Words, was sitting innocently on a shelf in my house. I mindlessly opened it and started flipping through, and came across the following picture.
In case you can’t make out what is going on there, it shows a picture of a family that includes “mommy,” “brother,” and “baby.” Where’s “daddy”? Well, he has his own separate, much smaller picture to the right of the larger “family” picture. (it is probably also worth noting that grandma gets the second largest picture)
Talk about a stark, visual representation of our culture’s general disregard for the centrality of responsible fatherhood. It is as if the editors did not want dad interfering with the pristine image of a mom-child family.
Moreover, this is a book designed to give toddlers their first lessons about the world around them. May as well get to them early with the notion that when we talk about family, we are really talking about a mom and her kids.
One might defend the use of an image of a mother-only family with the premise that we should be cautious about offending such families, or making them feel “left out.” But why is no one ever concerned with offending two-parent families? After all, 2 in 3 children still live in mother-and-father-present homes, and reams of social science research shows it is best, on average, for kids to live in such homes. So, shouldn’t we be “protecting” this family type?
These sorts of images reinforce the false belief that fathers are not as important as mothers. For a boy in a father-absent home, it reinforces the idea that he does not have to worry about being a central part of the family he will one day have. Mom’s got it covered! This attitude “empowers” neither men nor women.
For a child growing up with a father in the home, like my son, I am sure this image will be confusing. My 2.5-year-old son is too young to express himself about something as complicated as this, but this book -- along with a lot of other messages he will get from TV commercials, etc -- shows him that fathers are on the periphery of family. When he asks the question, “How now shall I live?” the answer provided by our culture will be vague at best. If it suits you to stick around for your family, that’s fine; but if not, don’t let the door hit you in the rear on the way out.
Now, you may say that it is just one book, and maybe it’s not indicative of what the general belief about fatherhood is in our country. But that is a cop out. If “just one book” published an image of a blonde girl struggling with a math problem, a ruckus would be raised. Or if “just one book” published an image of a minority being belittled by a white person, a ruckus would be raised. Because we know that images and messages matter; they communicate our culture’s values. When such messages are allowed to see the light of day, it is an indication that there is little fear of reprisal for publishing them.
Dads are not a feared demographic; very few people are worried about ticking us off. NFI will do its part to expose negative representations of fatherhood and award positive ones, but until market forces start to move, little will change. We saw a hint of how powerful those forces can be when Huggies made a mistake with dads.
Here’s to hoping that the mistakes are always pointed out and the offenders learn a lesson.
The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative. This post is his response to feedback from his original post The Moral Rationalization of Non-Married Fatherhood.
My most recent blog post titled “The Moral Rationalization of Non-Married Fatherhood” generated a lot of feedback, some positive and some negative. I argued that as a society we have rationalized non-married fatherhood to the point that it is no longer a moral transgression. It has become excusable and, thus, we no longer need to worry about children growing up without their fathers despite reams of data that show when children grow up in single-parent homes—the vast majority of which don’t include fathers—it is detrimental to children and our society.
Several of the responses we received indicated that some non-married fathers—primarily divorced fathers—took the post personally because they thought National Fatherhood Initiative doesn’t appreciate the yeoman’s work they do to be involved in the lives of their children. Nothing could be farther from the truth. NFI recognizes the contributions of and efforts that all fathers make to be involved in whatever circumstances they father.
Consequently, we offer support, guidance, and resources to fathers and the organizations that serve them without discriminating based on marital status. As I remarked in the post, my argument isn’t that a specific non-married dad can’t be a good father to his children. But when viewed through the lens of our culture and population at large, the conclusion that we have rationalized away the morality of non-married fatherhood is undeniable. It has moved us away from our society's need to address father absence in a preventive manner.
To better understand NFI’s position, it’s critical to separate personal experience and the emotion attached to it from the cultural experience and evidence attached to it. Non-married fatherhood results from one of two situations—an out-of-wedlock birth (e.g. a never-married father) or a divorce. From a personal perspective, I’ll wager that if you’re a never-married father you didn’t intend to become one. Likewise if you’re a divorced father you probably didn’t marry with the intent to divorce your wife and face the challenges that brings to raising children. But if you’re an involved, never-married or divorced dad, I’ll also wager that, against all odds, you have moved heaven and earth to remain involved in your children’s lives. Remaining involved requires a lot of hard work and emotion especially when considering the evidence that non-married fathers, on average, are less likely to be involved in their children’s lives as their children age. Therefore, the negative responses we received are understandable because they come from fathers who are not the norm. These fathers are involved in their children’s lives despite the challenges they face. All of us at NFI applaud their (your) efforts.
From a cultural perspective, however, it is undeniable that our society has become more accepting of non-married fatherhood. As an applied anthropologist, I have studied cultures across the globe and, in particular (surprise, surprise), the institutions of fatherhood and marriage and their symbiotic relationship. As noted in my post, marriage arose as an institution (across the globe) for raising children and serves as the primary mechanism societies use to connect fathers to their children. The evidence that fathers are the parent disproportionately separated from their children when they are not married (and not just in the U.S.) underscores the importance of marriage as the institution that undergirds father involvement. And, yet, I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve encountered in my personal and professional life who are perfectly fine with non-married fatherhood (and motherhood) becoming an acceptable circumstance in which to parent (i.e. a norm). They don’t even give it a second thought. The evidence, however, for the symbiotic relationship between these two institutions is overwhelming. Being married to the mother of your children is the single greatest predictor of father involvement. Quite simply it is much harder to be involved in your children’s lives when you don’t live with them. From a preventive standpoint, one of the best strategies we can implement at the cultural level to ensure that children grow up with an involved father is to see that more fathers are married before they have children.
If you’re a non-married father and you’re still struggling to come to grips with NFI’s position on the relationship between marriage and involved fatherhood, I ask you to consider the following question. If your son or daughter comes to you one day and asks whether it is better to be married to the mother or father of their children, what will you say?