Thursday, October 29, 2009

French Laundry Father

Today's New York Times carries the poignant story of father absence and reconciliation. Noted French Laundry chef Thomas Keller was only five years old when his father left his family. Years later father Ed and son Thomas started a relationship that had been basically nonexistent.

When the elder Keller had a serious car accident that left him paralyzed, Thomas Keller and longtime companion Laura Cunningham embarked on a year of care giving alongside their busy lives as food industry celebrities and authors. The impact of that renewed relationship had remarkable effects on Keller's professional and personal life. I'd recommend reading the entire story, but I found this quote about Thomas and his father's reconciliation quite vivid:

"It turns out that genetics do matter. Thomas Keller discovered that he was like his father in many ways, not the least of which was his height. The two shared a strong sense of economy, an appreciation of routine and the understanding of how powerful teamwork can be..."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Who Really Wants Work-Family Balance?

Even in time of recession, work-family balance is still a popular topic. As is this recent study from the British Equality and Human Rights Commission. They surveyed over 2,200 British fathers about issues related to work, to childcare and household responsibilities, and to differences between mom and dad.

Some of the findings:

  • Fathers do want to spend more time with their children, and want to make their children a priority. 54% of dads with children under the age of 1 year felt that they spend too little time with their child.
  • More mothers (34%) than fathers (23%) believe that child care is the primary responsibility of the mother.
  • There is still a big gap between what flexible working options are available to fathers, and to what extent fathers are actually using those flexible work solutions.
This begs the question - do fathers continue to feel that using flexible work options is potentially damaging to their career? Or are there larger more diverse sets of reasons that fathers don't take the leave available to them?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Wild Things

I saw "Where the Wild Things Are" over the weekend. The artistry and creativity of the film are top notch. However, I am not sure that the film's message is especially helpful.

Without giving too much away, the film is about a boy struggling to come to grips with his parents' divorce.

The story effectively explores the emotions that many children of divorce go through. But, in the end, it communicates that it is a child's responsibility, not the adults' responsibility, to "grow up" and "get over" his parents' divorce.

The only conclusion I could draw from the story arc is that divorced parents really have little responsibility for the behavior of their child or the consequences of their actions - it is up to the child to come of age and deal with it so that his parents don't have to feel guilty.

If you have seen the movie, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dads in the Delivery Room

NFI's Associate VP of National Programming, Ken Gosnell, just appeared on the Dr. Nancy show on MSNBC to debate the question: should dads be banned from the delivery room when their children are being born? Apparently a doctor in London has published a paper that says fathers (even male doctors) should be banned from the delivery room because it is better for mom.

Watch the segment here:

NFI's position on this is clear and research-based: when dads are involved in the pregnancy and birth, they are more likely to stay involved in their children's lives. So, no, dads should not be banned from the delivery room.

What do you think?

Monday, October 19, 2009

The "Fathering Gap" in Education

This article, from yesterday's Washington Post, Making the Grade Isn't About Race. It's About Parents, is one of the more powerful pieces I have read in a while. Written by an English teacher from T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA, it bravely confronts some of the most thorny issues around why some students do well in school and others don't.

The most fascinating thing about the conclusions he reaches about the "achievement gap" in education is that his students themselves - not the "experts" - are helping him see what the real issue is.

When he asked his students, mostly black, about why they don't study as hard as students from Africa, a student replied, "It's because they have fathers who kick their butts and make them study."

Another student said, "You ask the class, just ask how many of us have our fathers living with us."

When he did, not one hand went up.

Furthermore, when empirical evidence meets real world experience, you know you are onto something. Several studies, including a landmark study from the U.S. Department of Education, reflect the reality that this teacher is recognizing in his classroom - children with fathers in the home get better grades, are less likely to drop out, and enjoy school more.

Hopefully this article will help the "experts" - who like to focus on less important demographic data - rethink the solutions for helping our children do better in school. They, like this wise teacher, should start listening to the children they seek to serve.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

You Only Get One Chance

Since I've worked at NFI, people have often asked "What stands out most about your father?"

For me, it was my dad's unswerving commitment to just "being there," quite literally. In both middle school and high school, my dad was present at every single one of my sporting events - four games a week for almost the entire school year. And I was a cheerleader.

When I was at home visiting my dad this past weekend, I told him just how much his presence meant to me. His response? "Well, you only get one chance."

His simple wisdom struck me to the core, for many reasons. I think we often forget that every day is a new chance and each day is different - don't pass up opportunities to spend time with your family and make each day count.

But my dad's words also resonated because his health has quickly deteriorated this year. My dad is a diabetic, and for whatever reason, he decided to stop taking his medicine. It's been scary watching him deal with complications that easily could have been prevented.

Dads (and moms!), you only get one chance. Not just to watch your daughter cheer for every high school sports team in existence, but to see your grandkid sand develop lasting relationships with your children as they mature.

I'm hoping and praying that my dad will fully recover, but in the meantime, his story is a good reminder for all of us: you only get one chance. Don't let all the little moments pass you by - and take good care of yourself so that you're around for all the little (and big) moments to come.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Take Time To Be A Dad Today

Check out the inspiring ads just released by the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, a government project for which NFI is the lead contractor.

There are three ads in all, each one encouraging fathers that the "smallest moments have the biggest impact."

Below is my favorite. There are two additional ads: Double Dutch and Pizza, which are also very amusing.

Enjoy...and take time to be a dad today!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Jon and Kate Plus 8 Minus Jon = ?

Oh my. Where do we even start with this one?

How about with TLC, which, by the way, stands for The Learning Channel.

So what exactly what are we learning from the Jon and Kate saga? More importantly, what are the eight Gosselin children learing?

This week, Jon was cut from the show and now he is refusing to let film crews on to the property that he and Kate still share.

Well, I suppose TLC has reminded us of the time-tested truth that selfish pursuits like fame and money - pursuits that tempt all of us - can easily tear our families apart. If there is anything we can learn about the Jon and Kate saga, it's to reassess our priorities. Hopefully Jon and Kate will have the opportunity to do just that now that the cameras are off, and, while the Gosselin kids may have to give up exciting trips and photo-ops, they'll have the dad and mom they need.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

"Can" Versus "Should"

Don McNay, in a review of a book about President Obama, makes some profound statements about fatherhood: "I can say, from firsthand experience that having an absent father can hurt your development. I can also say, from firsthand experience, that having an encouraging and loving father can be the key to achieving greatness."

However, he comes to a conclusion that, after pondering it for a while, I found to be meaningless: "If Obama can do it, every other child of an absent father can make it too."

First, President Obama's case was not typical in that he was raised, during several key years of his childhood, by his married grandfather and grandmother.

Second, saying that something "can be done" is not nearly the same as saying it "is likely to be done." Every child can break the Olympic sprinting record set by Usain Bolt. That is a true statement - but does it have significance? Will every child break the record? What are their chances? The research on the consequences of father absence on children is clear that those children face significant risks that are not easily overcome.

Finally, just because something "can" be done does not mean we should be neutral or complacent about whether it "should" be done. Even if McNay's statement was meaningful or significant, would it mean that President Obama should immediately end his responsible fatherhood initiative? Should men, when they get women pregnant, just move on with the assurance that their children "can" make it without them?

We need to, as a society, give children their best chances to succeed. Going with the flow of father absence and hoping that something unlikely "can" happen is not fair to our children.