Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sugar Coating Father Absence

There is a surreal piece in the June/July issue of Working Mother magazine called, "Why Don't I Have a Dad?" Often, articles that deal with how to handle tough questions from kids about their fathers' absence enter into the realm of "making adults feel better but doing nothing to actually help children."

This one, for example, says that when kids grow up in single-mother homes, they have a larger network of people involved in their lives, due to the increased support the mother needs. It sounds like a reasonable thought, but the reality - based on the research - is that single-parent homes have significantly smaller social networks - roughly half the size of a network that a child from a two-parent home will have.

The article also delves into the "wishful thinking" of "family diversity." It states you should celebrate how your family is "special." I am all for celebrating what we have, but not at the expense of making it seem like it is not such a big deal that a child is growing up without his or her father. There is just way too much evidence that it is bad for children. Adult fantasies of "family diversity" won't make the data disappear.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Thanks to Sue Shellenbarger for a shout-out in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal. In a follow-up to her recent column about gatekeeping at home, she recommends 2 great NFI products: 24/7 Dad Interactive and When Duct Tape Won't Work. Check it out!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

President Obama's Thoughts on Fatherhood

As Roland mentioned in his last post, last Friday President Obama hosted a town hall to discuss the role of dads.

He said some pretty interesting/encouraging things that I think all dads can relate to...including thoughts on obsessively watching Sports Center. Here are some of his most relevant comments: (You can read about the whole event at the White House's blog.)

The sacrifices fathers make.
And what it does mean is, is that fathers sometimes have to give up stuff that they'd like to do instead, like just sit there and watch Sportscenter....I like watching the highlights -- but sometimes instead of watching the third, fourth, fifth time Sportscenter, I just watch it once so that I can then spend time with the girls -- because they don't like watching basketball that much.

[Being a father] isn't an obligation. This is a privilege to be a father.

Gaining your kids' respect.
...You can't use anything as an excuse not to be involved with your children. Because kids -- they won't judge you based on whether you're wealthy or poor. They will judge you if you are abusive to their mother. They will judge you in terms of you not showing up when they need you. That's what makes a difference. And kids will respect their fathers if their fathers are showing kindness and are modeling -- that they're working hard and trying to do what's right for their families.

Balancing work and family and deciding to run for President.
...This was a joint decision -- was could our family handle it? And frankly, if it hadn't been for Michelle's extraordinary strength and commitment, I could not have done it and would not have done it. Now, I want to emphasize we are luckier than most; we've got more resources than most...but it was still a very difficult decision.

The person who suffered the most was me, because I would be calling from God knows where and they'd be having fun and laughing and kids don't talk on the phone that well. So I'd be, "Sasha, how was your day?" "Fine." "What did you do?" "Nothing." You guys have had those conversations.

You can read more in today's Dad E-mail.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

President Obama's Town Hall Meeting on Fatherhood

At the Town Hall meeting at the White House last Friday, I was delighted to be the first person to speak with the President. Below is my statement and his response. Of note, he called me a "young man" so there was clearly lighting that worked in my favor....

THE PRESIDENT: Okay. So what I want to do is just call on some folks. They can ask a question. They can share a story. Organizations that are doing great work on fatherhood, please tell us a little bit about the work that you are doing. And I want to especially hear from some of the young people who somehow ended up sitting in the back. (Laughter.) I don't know how that happened. I'm going to start with this young man right here.Go ahead. Introduce yourself. Stand up, please.

ME: Yes. My name is Roland Warren. I'm president of an organization called National Fatherhood Initiative. And first, just thank you for what you're doing on this issue. And a lot of folks have been sort of toiling on this issue for a number of years, and to have you come forward and step up and make this a national priority is really important.And one of the things I just want to say to you, that your message, in terms of the fact that even though you've had obviously tremendous success without your dad, the fact that you really needed him and that kids have a hole in their souls essentially in the shape of their dad I think is pretty important, because we really need to focus on that issue; that we got to change the legacy and help our kids pass on the legacy -- have our dads pass on a different legacy than maybe they inherited. I grew up without my dad, as well, and went to Princeton and things of that nature, but still needed him. That's one of the reasons I do the work that I do. So I really am delighted that you're doing the great work that you're doing around this issue.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Yes, I really want to emphasize this point about how just small moments and gestures can make a huge difference. A lot of folks know I love playing basketball. But it was my father who gave me my first basketball. Even though he wasn't a part of my life, in the few weeks that I was with him, he gave me a basketball. A lot of folks know I love jazz. It turns out he took me to my first jazz concert. I didn't remember this until later on in life, but just that imprint is powerful. And imagine if that's sustained every day. And especially, young men, when they hit the teenage years, to have somebody there who is there to steady them and to provide them with some guidance, that makes all the difference in the world. And again, this is not to take away from the heroic work that moms are doing. It's to emphasize moms need some help -- because if you're a single mom like mine was, and maybe they're going to school or working -- the pressures are enormous. And having somebody else there who's able to carry on that child-rearing responsibility is absolutely critical.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Father's Day week and weekend are always a busy time at NFI. Reminds me a lot of the Christmas season for a retailer..."everything must go!" This year was especially exciting for a number of reasons.

First, I had the pleasure of being at the White House last Friday. As a member of President Obama's Responsible Fatherhood & Healthy Families Taskforce, I accompanied U.S. Navy Chief Quartermaster John Lehnen, who last week received NFI's Military Fatherhood Award. John was part of a five-member panel of fathers who participated in a Town Hall discussion about Responsible Fatherhood with President Obama. We were delighted to bring John's great work as a father to the White House's attention. (Learn more about John and the Military Fatherhood Awards here.) Of note, John had a fantastic time at the event. He met with the President in the Oval office and rode with the President as they went to an event in DC. The White House media folks interviewed John and interspersed his remarks with President Obama's from the Town Hall to create a fantastic video on the President's blog. Check this out.

Second, I has an opportunity to speak at a Father's Day Rally that was held at the Lincoln Memorial. Folks were pretty enthusiastic, despite the rain. I shared this story about how I learned early on my fathering journey what it truly meant to be a dad.

Finally, I closed the day off at the Washington Mystics game. NFI was delighted to partner with the team to promote its "Dads and Daughters" Game. In addition, at half time, I gave a Fatherhood Award to a friend of NFI, Ted Leonsis, who owns the Mystics and the Washington Capitals. Ted is not only a great dad to his children but also a "double duty dad" to other children as well. Amazing guy, indeed.

All in all, it was a great day. Remember, everyday is Father's Day when you are some one's dad...and when you work for NFI!

Friday, June 19, 2009

President Obama's Fatherhood PSA

President Obama has recorded a public service advertisement (PSA) for the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, which is an entity that National Fatherhood Initiative runs with the US Department of Health and Human Services. See the ad at www.fatherhood.org!

Live Feed From White House Event on Fatherhood

Check it out: http://www.whitehouse.gov/live/. NFI president Roland C. Warren is there.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I wrote this article on fatherhood for the Sojourners blog a few days ago. It was a somewhat difficult piece for me to write because it exposed one of my "many" early fatherhood foibles and illustrates how easy it would have been for me to get this "fathering" thing so wrong so quickly. Thank God for the proverbial "do overs" that we get in life. I guess that the key--in golf and in life--is to take them when you get them.

Of Moms, Gates, and Father Involvement

Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal has a wonderful article today for her regular work and family column. She focuses on the impact of mom's approval or disapproval on the father's level of involvement in child rearing.

She gives 3 great ways to cut down on the chance of Mom acting as an exclusionary gatekeeper:

  1. Skills training
  2. Peer support
  3. Awareness
Amen. NFI's Pop's Culture: National Survey of Dads' Attitudes on Fathering found that, when dad is need of help, he turns first to the mother of his children. Obviously her response is critical at that point. And helping moms help dads is exactly why NFI produced a "Mom as Gateway" module for our popular fathering curriculum 24/7 Dad.

Shellenbarger hits the nail on the head with this one!

He Say She Say

Hip hop culture/music is notorious for touting a high-rolling life filled with women and money, but once in a while there comes along a musician who goes back to the roots of hip hop by making a thoughtful commentary on culture.

Once in a while, someone like Lupe Fiasco appears on the music scene.

Mr. Fiasco is not without his shortcomings; some of his lyrics play into the very culture he purports to hate.

But, his cultural relevance shines through with a very poignant song, "He Say, She Say" which gives two views of father absence: that of the mom, and that of the child left behind.

It starts out with the mom's perspective:
She said to him, "I want you to be a father / He's your little boy and you don't even bother / You see what his problem is / He don't know where his poppa is / No positive male role model / To play football and build railroad models"

And then switches to the kid's perspective:
Now I'm fighting in class / Got a note last week that say I might not pass / Kids ask me if my daddy is sick of us / 'Cause you ain't never pick me up / 'Cause you ain't been kicking it since I was old enough to hold bottles / Wasn't supposed to get introduced to that / I don't deserve to get used to that

None of America's kids deserve to get used to that. If only more musicians used their status to say something so relevant and thoughtful...

What Daddy Dilemma?

I am not sure what the point of this article is by Melissa Harris-Lacewell. It suggests that President Obama has a dilemma on his hands because he grew up without his father and he became President, yet he talks about the importance of fathers being involved in their children's lives ... Big dilemma!

Wait, why is that a dilemma? The President had a very unusual upbringing (that mostly involved his married grandparents raising him) that almost no children with uninvolved fathers will have.

Ms. Harris-Lacewell also says that the experiences he had as a result of being raised by a single mother (adolescent angst, search for self-identity, etc) were his recipe for success, and that children who grow up with fathers will not have these experiences .... What? Doesn't every teenager have those experiences? How about the 40 or so other Presidents in our nation's history who did grow up with their dads. They obviously had experiences that led them to the Presidency.

Like I said, I don't understand the point of the article ... Do you?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tiger Daddy

This story from the New York Times about Tiger Woods' fatherhood is really amazing. It covers a whole host of issues (marriage, divorce, parenting, father absence, deployment) in a very thoughtful way.

If there is one thing you can conclude from the article, it is that Tiger Woods seems to love being a father. There are several quotes from him that reveal his love for daddyhood. For example:
"I love to teach, and to be able to teach Sam, and as soon as I can, start teaching Charlie a few things, that’s fun. I live to be able to do that."

Perhaps the most interesting question the story raises is how Tiger is going to avoid his own father's mistakes. His father, Earl, had a family before he had Tiger, and, due to his long military deployments, he "lost" that family to divorce. Now that Tiger is away for long stretches playing golf, how will he handle his own work/family balance dilemma? Big question ...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A time to advise

Washington Post's Tom Shales had a nice article on the forthcoming "16 and Pregnant" documentary from MTV. Tonight's opening show profiles Maci and Ryan from Chattanooga, TN. Ryan doesn't come across very well, post birth of his son:

"But though Ryan shares an apartment with Maci and their son, he won't share parenting duties. He's petrified of changing a diaper and not much more comfortable at feeding time, finding it convenient to run out and play pool with friends. At home, he's not so much couch potato as couch zucchini, lying down and staring sideways at the TV. When the baby cries, he always sees it as Maci's problem, then complains that arguing with her about the baby is "wearing me out." Ryan's idea of being a good father is to have the baby's name tattooed on his torso."

Yes, Ryan's behavior isn't helpful or attractive or defensible. However, the author's use of the word "petrified" is revealing. Perhaps it isn't that Ryan is a bum, perhaps he's scared out of his wits of the responsibility of an a human life in his lap, perhaps he doesn't have the skills to be the provider/guide/nuturer that he would want to be, and perhaps he is mourning the premature death of his boyhood.

And if we saw Ryan's reaction in light of those fears, perhaps we would have a bit more sympathy and a bit less condescension for him.