Nothing prepares you for fatherhood. When I say nothing, I mean nothing.
Read a book before having kids, have kids, and then let me know how it works out for you. You can learn all kinds of things about parenting before becoming a parent, but until you actually have kids, you don’t know what you don’t know.
I had no idea what was coming my way when each of the two beautiful princesses you see in this image came into my life.
I speaketh from experience. I’ve been a dad for five years. Five years! Actually, I’ve been a dad for seven years cumulatively. But who’s counting? I can’t believe it. My, oh my, where does the time go?
With all my seven years of cumulative parenting comes experience. I know things I never knew I would ever know. Dads, you know what I’m talking about. Some things can’t be un-learned. For example, tossing your first-born daughter in the air repeatedly after she’s ingested large quantities of popcorn and milk isn’t the best idea ever. I’ll save the discussion of projectile vomiting for future posts. For now, know that popcorn/milk/tossing-your-kid-in-the-air is likened to the Mentos and soda experiment – results do not vary.
Speaking of daughters, I am blessed with two daughters, ages five and two. They are the most precious things in my life (in addition to my wife, of course). They make my life difficult, fun, interesting, and sometimes annoying -- but always better.
You will hear more than you ever wanted to know about each of them in the coming posts. The above image was taken on Father’s Day last year. I was new to Washington, DC and new to baseball actually. I’m pretty sure it was my daughters who told me the “Washington Nationals are the best team ever.” So, last Father’s Day I got to see the “greatest baseball team ever” play baseball and did so with the two cuties pictured above.
The above photo is a metaphor for my role at NFI. Stay with me here. I promise to be genuine with this platform, less stock-parenting photos and more realness. If you notice, I’m smiling in the picture. That’s because most days, I smile. But also notice this image isn’t perfectly done in a studio, because parenting isn’t done in a studio under perfect lighting with a team of directors all working to get your kids facing the camera (On second thought, a team of directors would've been helpful for this image, but I digress.).
Before joining NFI, I was in leadership at churches in Tennessee and Virginia. Born and raised in Tennessee, for several years after undergrad I was a writer and editor for a large publisher in Nashville. Most recently, I served in communications as a writer at Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM). I hold a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Master of Divinity. I had the privilege of studying under Charles Colson for a 13-month fellowship called the Centurions Program. Through Chuck, I experienced living proof that individuals can shape culture.
Writing at PFM, I learned the impact of incarceration on families and communities. Knowing 1 in every 31 adults in America is under correctional control changes why you wake up in the morning. Knowing most of the people behind bars either had an incarcerated father or are fathers themselves should change our actions and commitments. More than ever, I understand we must educate and enlist fathers to be dads – not only in prisons – but all around us. As fatherhood goes, so goes society, for good or bad.
I’m excited to be on the NFI team, contributing to and stirring the fatherhood conversation. I’ve been a father long enough to learn a thing or two – long enough to make a few mistakes and do a few things correctly.
Looking at the above image, I can’t believe a full year has passed since last Father’s Day. Time really does fly; we’re all busy with our daily routines. But I’m excited in hopes of connecting with other dads who are sharing the same pressures, worries and all things in between. I’m learning about fatherhood as I go; let’s learn from each other – especially from our mistakes! Stay tuned for my mistakes; I’ll be sure to write about them. I may also throw in a victory or two now and then.
Connect with me on Twitter. I promise I’ll reply to all tweets.
NFI received over 450 nominations from the wives, children, friends, and colleagues of our nation’s military dads. The votes are in and the public has picked its favorite dad...and the recipient of the 2012 Military Fatherhood Award™ is…Lt. William Edwards!
1st Lieutenant William Edwards of the U.S. Army serves at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and he uses his musical and cinematic talents to stay connected with his four children before, during, and after his deployments. He also helps other military dads stay connected to their children by making special effects filled action/comedy films with them they can send back home. Edwards is intentional in teaching his children the values they need to succeed in life.
Click here to watch Lt. Edwards’ home video, submitted by his wife and children, on why they think he was the best military dad!
Thank you and congratulations to all finalists -- Senior Airman Jonathan Jackson, U.S. Air Force and Lieutenant Dennis Kelly, U.S. Navy. Their bases, along with Lt. Edwards’ base, will receive a fully-stocked Fatherhood Resource Center kiosk from FatherSOURCE™, NFI’s fatherhood resource center.
Thanks to all the family, friends and fans who voted. Special thanks to Capital One, the lead sponsor of the 2012 Military Fatherhood Award™. Check out what they are doing for the military here.
Also, special thanks to Huggies for their sponsorship, in which they will donate a diaper to the National Diaper Bank Network for every vote we received for the award, along with thousands of diapers to the Lt. Edwards’ base.
Each year, NFI’s Military Fatherhood Award™ is given to a military dad who displays an ongoing commitment and dedication to his children, makes extraordinary efforts to father from a distance when deployed, successfully balances military and family life, and makes an effort to mentor other military fathers and/or military children who are separated from their fathers.
Please visit National Fatherhood Initiative for more details regarding the upcoming award ceremony for Lt. Edwards taking place before Father’s Day.
HLN’s Morning Express with Robin Meade (@Morn_eXpress) featured National Fatherhood Initiative’s Military Fatherhood Award Finalists on the show this morning.
Visit HLN's Morning Express to watch videos of each Military Fatherhood Award finalists.
Go directly to National Fatherhood Initiative's Facebook Page to vote for your favorite military father.
This Sunday morning at 9:20 am eastern, tune in to Fox & Friends on the Fox News Channel to see our three Military Fatherhood Award finalists interviewed live!
And remember to cast your vote for your favorite once a day, every day until May 25 on NFI's Facebook page.
This is a guest post by Dave Taylor. Dave has been living the single dad adventure for almost five years and continues to fight for equal access to his children, while trying his best not to explain to them the behind-the-scenes reality of life as a divorced, single man. You can read about his travails and musings at GoFatherhood.com or find him on Twitter as @DaveTaylor.
I'm a single dad. I have three children from my marriage, a 15yo daughter, 12yo son and 8yo daughter. I have the kids roughly 50% of the time, which makes me a really unusual person in the world we inhabit here in Boulder, Colorado. In fact, I was having a fascinating discussion with my teen just last night about the hassles of two households which, we're both convinced, just sucks. No great solution to the problem, but there's no way that it's an optimal arrangement for anyone, unfortunately.
She observed that none of the other kids in her high school class bounce back and forth like she does, to which I commiserated and made my usual suggestion: "just come live with me". We talked a bit further, and she shared that almost half of the kids in her class come from broken homes, but that in every other case, the dad's vanished. Either he's literally in another state, he's missing in action or he's either been pushed out of the parenting role or abrogated it of his own accord. Her class of children have about 50% of the dads completely out of the picture.
I think it reflects a greater reality in our society as we fully enter the 21st century: men are being pushed out of the parenting role. I think that there are a lot of causes for this, including that a lot of us men are more interested in impregnating a gal than in stepping up and taking life-long responsibility for their offspring, whether it's easy or hard, whether the children are polite and respectful (read "compliant") or not. But that's not the only reason for this looming crisis, and a crisis it is.
I believe that our society has created the myth of the irresponsible father and that we now have men and, especially, women who buy into it so wholeheartedly that they don't believe there are honorable, trustworthy and reliable men still left. Watch the movies, endure a day of TV shows (especially daytime programming), or read contemporary best-selling fiction, that irresponsible man shows up everywhere! Just count, how often do you see men holding babies or grocery shopping in media portrayals?
What's happening is that we men, we fathers, are in danger of becoming second class citizens.
I know, I've seen it arise time and again, like when I would pick up my little girl at preschool and be the only man in the room. "Who are you? Why are you here? What's wrong with your wife that she isn't here for pickup?" was the constant vibe I got as i walked into the coatroom to wait. I've experienced conversations literally stopping when I walked in, like I was a gunslinger and they were in an Old West saloon.
Even years later, years into this experience of being a highly involved single dad, I experience a skepticism, a suspicion of my motives and comments about how I am so incredibly unusual when compared to most divorced dads. It gets old. And in my experience, not just our culture but the legal system also discriminates against men in both divorce proceedings and post-divorce issues.
A friend who is just starting down this lonely road commented to me a few days ago that he was thinking of trying to get full custody of his kids because his wife is an alcoholic, but realized that it would be just about impossible to win at that battle, however fabulous he was (and he's not, he's just a guy doing his best and occasionally challenged by his dark side, as we all are) and however horrible she might be (and she's not either, she just does what a lot of alcoholics do, unplugs and leaves the children to their own devices).
He's smack in the middle of the cultural morass that we've been stuck in since the 1950s, if not before: It's all too common for the outcome of a divorce to be that the children are fulltime with the mother and the father's role is writing checks and, if they're lucky, interacting with their children in very, very small amounts.
What's worse is that it's then a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you only see your children for one afternoon a week, you will indeed lose touch with them and they'll act up when they're with you because they don't know you. They act up, you're out of practice parenting, so you get angry and upset, then they go home and say how mad you were. Doesn't take long for that cycle to result in you being the Checkbook Ex with almost zero time with children you don't even know.
It's a cycle that I see too often in the divorce community and it's dangerous, not just for us men, but for our children. How will they learn what a healthy mother/father relationship is? Where will they learn what it is to be a father, to know what to expect from a good man who isn't the Prince Charming of teenage fantasies, and to work with us men to create healthy, successful family units again?
But this isn't just about divorce and single parenting, this is a more pervasive problem with the role of men, of fathers, in our culture. Thirty years ago men had a known, specific role in our family unit, the "wait 'till your father gets home" and 'father knows best" world of women as day-to-day nurturers, but fathers as pivotal members of the family too. Now plenty of us men are home, moms are working fulltime. Times have changed. Indeed, our expectations of relationships and our willingness to work towards success have changed. Isn't it time to make sure we're still moving in the right direction before we find that us fathers are obsolete?
The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of National Fatherhood Initiative.
By Roland C. Warren --
Last week, the Associated Press reported that Nadya Suleman, a.k.a. Octomom, has run into some serious financial trouble. Apparently, she has amassed $1 million in debt to a range of creditors -- including her parents. It's also reported that she may have to resort to doing a porn movie in order to make ends meet.
For anyone one who has followed Ms. Suleman's saga over the last three years, none of this should be a surprise. She has made a series of troubling and unwise choices, most notably her decision to have 14 children with no apparent financial means to support them. Alas, actions have consequences, and although one can choose their actions, no one can choose the consequences of their actions.
You might recall that much of the initial reporting about Suleman's decision to have octuplets was positive, even glowing. Our culture tends to respond to these kinds of "scientific miracle" stories like proud 3-year-olds showing our adoring parents a new skill, boasting, "Look what we can do!"
But the tone of the news stories soon turned negative, even vicious, as reports surfaced that Ms. Suleman was a jobless single mother with six more young children who subsisted on a combination of welfare checks, food stamps and student loans. The situation got even worse after a widely seen interview of Ms. Suleman by NBC's Ann Curry. Ms. Suleman reportedly even received death threats.
Why were (and are) so many so incensed by this situation? Is it because children are involved? Maybe, but there certainly have been worse stories that involved children. Maybe it is because Ms. Suleman does not have the money to support her family. Possibly, but could one really make that case in this season of billion-dollar bailouts?
No, I believe the real issue is that Ms. Suleman has been smugly putting in our collective faces something about ourselves that we do not want to see and refuse to acknowledge. Ms. Suleman's story exposes the fact that for the last few decades, our culture has been carefully constructing a modern-day "Tower of Babel" in celebration of "personal choice," especially in matters related to sex.
We have constructed this tower brick by brick -- one brick to unlink marriage from childbearing, another to unlink fatherhood from family life. We have been on a march to climb our tower without taking the time to consider the consequences.
Worse yet, any courageous soul who dares to try and stop us on our "upward" march is shoved from the tower, sans parachute, as an example for others.
Ms. Suleman, a learned product of our culture, knows our dilemma well, or at least got her money's worth from the many PR consultants who have coached her. For example, when Ms. Curry asked, "Why is it responsible for a single woman without a job... to have eight more children?" Ms. Suleman responded, "Yes, I have chosen to be single... If there is a couple... just together, why are they exempt from being called irresponsible?"
When Ms. Curry queried why her fertility specialist, who knew that she already had six children, transferred so many embryos, Ms. Suleman responded, "It's a subject of choice... so he did not judge me. [He was] Very professional."
Even when Ms. Curry tried to challenge Ms. Suleman by suggesting that children need a father, Ms. Suleman had all the right answers. She said, "I absolutely believe that. And they do have a father."
The problem is that Ms. Suleman, like many others, has chosen to view fatherhood as merely a biological transaction. In a culture where choice trumps all, who can "cast the first stone" at a woman who undervalues the need for children to have a physically and emotionally present father in their lives? This is despite reams of social science research that support the fact that children need involved dads.
In short, the more Ms. Curry tried to turn the mirror on Ms. Suleman, the more the mirror was turned back on the culture that produced her.
Indeed, the truth is that choices are never personal; they are always communal. Her children are our responsibility, too -- your tax dollars pay for the programs that support her choices. Ms. Suleman's story illustrates that in our politically correct, choice-saturated culture, there are more and more things that you dare not say. However, the problem is that there are fewer and fewer things that you dare not do.
This post was originally published on May 8, 2012 on The Huffington Post
In a depressing interview on The Today Show yesterday, actor Ryan O'Neal spilled his guts about the multitude of problems he's had with his children and with his romantic partner of many years, Farrah Fawcett.
In the interview, Matt Lauer listed the various problems O'Neal's four, now grown, children have had, and then the conversation went like this:
Lauer: "Were you a bad parent?"
O'Neal: "Looks like it... Sure looks like it... I suppose I was."
Lauer: "Why did you fail as a parent?"
O'Neal:"Well, I wasn't trained."
Lauer: "Nobody's trained."
O'Neal:"Nobody's trained, so I found out..."
First, I can't imagine how difficult it would be as a man in my later years (O'Neal is now 71) to have to face the fact that I was a failure as a father. After all, being a dad is the most important role a man will ever have (along with being a husband). If you fail at that, then, in many ways, your life is a failure. At least that is how I think I would feel.
So, I felt a mix of pity, pride, and anger at O'Neal as I watched him make this admission. Part of me felt terrible for the guy; what a tough thing to face. Part of me was "proud" of him for having the courage to make this admission publicly; it is a hard thing for a man to admit he failed at something, especially in public. But another part of me was screaming, "Why didn't you realize this 40 years ago when your kids were young and you still had a chance! It's too late now, you jerk!"
Second, there is much wisdom, but also an omission in Lauer's statement that "nobody's trained" to be a good father. While this is true (our own research shows that about half of men do not feel prepared to become fathers), it is also true that many sons learn how to be good fathers by watching their own dads. I don't know anything about O'Neal's father, but it would appear that O'Neal did not feel like he learned anything from him. He may not have been trained, but wasn't there the possibility he could have learned by watching? Apparently not...
That said, O'Neal's experience should be a lesson to our culture -- we need to make sure we are doing more to prepare men to be good dads, especially in an era of mass father absence. One in three kids grows up without his or her father in the home. And they are not being "trained." What kinds of fathers do we expect boys to become? It's hard to be what you don't see. And what kinds of fathers will our girls decide they need to have for their children?
From that perspective, it is hard to be mad at the Ryan O'Neals of the world who grow up in a culture that de-emphasizes the importance of dads and then expects them to be good fathers. While he should certainly be held accountable for not being as responsible as he should have been, there is at least an explanation that provides context.
What did you feel when you watched O'Neal's interview?
There are still many unanswered questions about the tragic death of former NFL player Junior Seau. From our perspective here at NFI, many of the most important questions surround his family life.
While many people in the sports world gush about how great a player he was and all the good he did for "the community," things are much less clear when it comes to what he did, or didn't do, for his own family.
We do know that the day before he apparently took his own life, he sent text messages to his ex-wife and three children telling them he loved them. The fact that he texted his kids, and did not see them face-to-face before his death, raises questions. How often was he seeing his children? What was the extent of the estrangement since his divorce in 2002? Indeed, it was his girlfriend, not his ex-wife or children, who found him dead.
I also find it interesting that Seau never officially retired from football. Was his life so locked up, his identity so inseparable, from his role as an NFL player that he just could never bring himself to let go? Because of his divorce, was he not able to pour his life into his family, especially his children, in a way that would have saved him from what looks like an identity crisis? While he was too old to continue playing on the football field, couldn't he have continued playing with his children?
I don't pretend to know the answers to these questions. But having been around this fatherhood thing for as long as I've been, there are certain patterns that you start to notice. I think of the murder of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair in 2009, which we blogged about here.
I think of all the research I've read on what happens to men's health, and father-child relationships in particular, after divorce. In short, they disintegrate over time. Many men tend to view "the wife and kids" as a single "package," and when their marriages end, their relationships with their children often become strained. And often, the legal system and our culture make it more difficult for them to stay connected to their children over time. Also, men are more likely than women to remarry after divorce, and when they start new families, the old ones often get left behind.
More answers are certainly going to come in the next few weeks as to what happened with Junior Seau. We can only hope and pray that his children will be ok. We will continue to follow the story as it unfolds.