Monday, March 29, 2010

Teaching an "Old Dog" New Tricks

Renae Smith, NFI's Special Assistant to the President, had this to share about a movie she watched this past weekend:

This weekend, I watched the 2009 Disney movie Old Dogs with my family. Clearly, working at NFI has gotten to me, because about 15 minutes into the film I got a notepad to jot down the great fatherhood moments in the film.

Old Dogs is a family comedy that tells the adventures of Dan (played by Robin Williams) and Charlie (played by John Travolta), friends and business partners who are suddenly thrust into the roles of “dad” and “uncle” when Vicki, the woman Dan married for less than 24 hours during a drunken beach vacation, reappears and Dan learns that he is the father of 7-year-old twins.

While I can’t unequivocally recommend this film due to some suggestive innuendos, Dan’s transition from a 50-something-year-old man who has no clue what to do with children to a father who makes some significant sacrifices to be involved in his kids’ lives is heart-warming and hilarious. And it offers some insights into what kids really need in a dad.

Both of the twins, Zach and Emily, deal with their father’s absence in ways that reflect the different needs that boys and girls have that a father is uniquely positioned to meet. Zach has created a “Dad List” of things he wants to do with his dad that includes camping, learning to ride a bike, and going to his first baseball game. Emily decided that her unknown father was a superhero because, Vicki said, it was her way of explaining who he was. When Dan struggles with pretending to be a superhero or king when Emily asks him to play with her, Charlie tells Dan that Emily just wants someone to protect her.

As NFI’s president Roland C. Warren says, kids have a hole in their soul in the shape of their dad. Zach and Emily show us that the hole looks different for boys and girls. Zach needed a man to walk him through the “rites of passage” in boyhood, and Emily needed a man to help her feel secure and safe. While moms certainly play an important role in both those areas, fathers bring a special and unique presence in their children’s lives that can’t be replaced.

Vicki knows this is true - she wants Zach and Emily to meet Dan because she recognizes that there are things she can’t do for her kids that a dad can (even if it’s as basic as taking Zach to the men’s room when he needs to use the bathroom).

Dan ends up making his own “Kid List” of goals, which includes doing something special for his twins’ birthday. Setting goals like that is a good idea for any dad, but the last item on Dan’s “Kid List” is the most important one, and is the message that Old Dogs communicates in between the comic moments - “Be there.”

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dad Brain

Proof that your wife's pregnancy and your new status as dad does indeed mess with your head (in a good way!):

"[Hormone changes related to partner's pregnancy] also change his perceptual circuitry, increasing his ability to hear a baby cry, something many men can't do very well before their wives are pregnant. And a word to the wise for all the young mothers who are reluctant to let your husbands hold and care for your newborn. The more hands-on care a father gives his infant, the more his brain aligns with the role of fatherhood. So, hand over the baby."

Read the whole story here!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ignoring New Dads

We have several dads here at NFI who are expecting their second child (congrats, Paul and Mike!), and as you all know, Vince and his wife just welcomed little Vinny a couple of weeks ago.

It's interesting to hear their stories as they prep for the newborn. And it's also interesting to see how much new dads get ignored.

Several guys noticed that "dads" weren't even referred to at the hospital tour. Only "moms" and "support partners." Then, Paul's wife received a packet of information/samples, which included a teeny, tiny little brochure for him, choc-full of unhelpful, condescending information, and a url for him to visit that was centered around the word "mom."

This is part of the reason why NFI has developed our Healthcare programming and the New Dad's Pocket Guide, because we know how important it is to recognize and engage dads right from the start - in a way that is relevant and meaningful to them.

It's our goal to educate/engage dads, and to see our culture change so that dads are recognized and affirm as an important part of a child's life - right from the start. So both mom and baby get what they need - an involved, responsible, and committed father.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Say Uncle"

As President of NFI, I speak quite a bit about the need for dads to intentionally reach out and be “father figures” and mentors for children in father-absent homes. So, inevitably, since I grew up without my father around much, I am asked if a dad reached out to me. Well, the answer is “yes.”

He entered my life when I was about 7-years-old, around the time that my parents split up. Despite having a child of his own, he took time with my siblings and me. Interestingly, when my older brother and I first met him, he was introduced to us as “John,” but for some reason, we decided to call him “Uncle,” not Uncle John…just Uncle. Kids do the darndest things…

In any case, when I was 8-years-old, my 10-year-old kid brother drowned while we were on vacation. As you can imagine, I was devastated and could have certainly used a dad to help me make sense of it all but my dad wasn’t there. Uncle was.

I visited Uncle, who is now in his 80s, a few months ago and it struck me just how consistently present he was in my young life. So much so, that I have actually taken it for granted that he would always be there as if he was timeless and eternal. But of course, no one is. And now that he is moving into a season where one has more yesterdays than tomorrows, I realize just how much I will truly miss him when he is gone.

You see, just about every “first” that most boys do with their fathers, I did with Uncle. He gave me my first baseball mitt and taught me how to throw and catch. He took me fishing and helped me reel in my first catch. He took me to my first little league football game and cheered me on from the sidelines. He even took me to buy my first car and helped me fix it…often. Indeed, Uncle was first and foremost just there and I am truly thankful that he was.

So, I guess it was prescient that my brother and I named him Uncle right from the start. Because whenever the pain and sense of loss from not having my dad around was a bit too much for me to bear, I could always just say “Uncle,” and his presence would ease the pain.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cloudy with a chance of .... fatherhood?

In the last few years, a number of animated movies with very strong fatherhood themes have been released. Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, The Princess and the Frog, and Up, to name a few. I just got around to watching Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs over the weekend, and it can be added to that list.

I am not sure what is going on here, but I am sure there is something going on here. It seems nearly every animated film deals, at some level, with "daddy issues," even if only as a side note.

My theory is that most of the men responsible for bringing these films to the screen are themselves fathers of young children - guys aged between 25 and 45 - and they are "living" this fatherhood thing day in and day out. Naturally, when they go to their typewriter to write a screenplay, or to the storyboard to create a character, fatherhood is foremost in their minds.

As for Cloudy, the best scene in the movie, in my view, is the "fatherhood moment" near the end. I won't give anything away for those who haven't seen it yet, but the scene really gives the entire film meaning. Much like fatherhood does for life. Either for good or for ill, fatherhood tends to be a life-defining institution that instills meaning in everything we do.

We either reflect fondly or sadly on our own relationships with our fathers. And when we become fathers ourselves, it brings joy, pain, or both into our lives. It is not surprising that the most creative among us - these filmmakers - are starting to see the storytelling potential of such a powerful institution.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Great "Milestone Marathon"

If there is one thing I have learned about babies in my first two months as a father is that they change --- fast! Since I am out of the house at work for about 10 hours every day, the changes in my now two-month-old son, Vinny, appear to be taking place at a supernatural rate. Even my wife, who spends all day every day with him, can't believe how fast he is changing.

Right now, the categories of change are in "physical size" and "level of interaction and alertness."

As for physical size, the little tyke came home from the hospital on January 17 weighing 5 lbs. 9 ounces. He has nearly doubled his weight in less than two months. Yep - he weighs about 11 pounds now. I will hold him for a few minutes in the morning before I leave for work, and then when I get home 10 hours later and lift him, I nearly dislocate my rotator cuff due to the "surprise" extra pound the kid put on during the day. What is my wife feeding him?

As for his level of interaction and alertness, he is making similar leaps and bounds. It seems overnight he went from staring blankly into space (or the nearest light bulb) to intense, sustained eye contact that would make a wolf blush. And when he is not sleeping or eating, he wants to be entertained. If you are not in his face (a la Earl Weaver arguing with an umpire) talking and singing and making weird noises, he will cry (or scream) to get your attention. He now smiles, and makes cooing sounds and other new faces that only a few days ago would have been the result of gas. Now they are "real." The pressure is on - I have to force myself to be entertaining whenever the little guy needs it!

Well, before I know it, I will be coming home to him playing cards in the basement with his buddies.

All that said, he still is a tiny baby who mostly eats, sleeps, and messes up diapers, but with each passing day, he makes noticeable strides towards college graduation. It is time to open up that 529 plan....

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Allan Houston Rocks. Literally, In This Case.

We were happy to see that the bloggers at Black and Married with Kids featured the great PSA that Allan Houston did with NFI for the Legacy Campaign. Allan is a great dad, and it's clear he has a driving passion to see guys be wonderful fathers - both for them and their kids! In this short segment, he has an entertaining discussion with son about marriage:

Friday, March 5, 2010

One final Olympics-fatherhood reflection...

Renae Smith, NFI's Special Assistant to the President, wanted to share this final reflection on the Olympics:

One of my favorite things about the Olympics was the personal stories of the competitors. (The sleep deprivation from staying up way too late watching the Olympics…not so much!) Natalie had a great post recently highlighting the role that Apolo Ohno’s father played in motivating him to excel in speed skating. I want to briefly comment on another well-decorated Olympian – for this athlete, being a dad was the motivating factor in his story.

During one of Bode Miller’s alpine ski races, the commentators on TV remarked on the change in Miller between the Torino Olympics in 2006 and the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. As the commentators said, Miller “talked a lot of trash” and partied a lot in Torino and despite being a contender in five races, he left without any medals. But, the NBC commentators noted, this year we saw a humbler Bode Miller, who ended up winning gold, silver, and bronze at Vancouver and becoming the most successful American skier in U.S. history. I would venture to guess that his change in attitude has something to do with the fact that he became a father between the Torino and Vancouver Olympics – his daughter Dacey was born in February 2008.

This San Diego Union-Tribune article describes Miller’s commitment to being involved in his daughter’s life, to the point of even cutting down his time in ski competitions. Miller told Tom Brokaw on Nightly News that no medal or victory celebration compares to being a dad and spending time with his daughter, which he said is the best experience ever. Maybe Miller’s new attitude and motivation at the 2010 Olympics came about, in part, because he now has someone more important than himself in his life – his daughter – and, as many dads can testify, becoming a father brings a change in perspective that often affects every other aspect of life.

The Vancouver Olympics are over and we wait four years to potentially see Apolo Ohno and Bode Miller at the next winter Olympics. But for both these athletes, the impact of fatherhood, either as a son or father, will continue well beyond their athletic careers and that’s worth more than any gold medal.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Let Your Kids Be All-Stars

Some of us were chatting in the lunch room the other day and I was impressed (and amused) with the ingenuity of one of my colleague's kids, so I thought I'd share their brilliant idea for a little inspiration.

Dave, one of the dads here at NFI, was called down to his basement by his three energetic boys - Pierce, age 10, Luke, age 8, and Jeremy, age 6 - to observe their very own NBA skills challenge. His boys love the NBA all-star game and decided to create their very own event.

These budding basketball stars transformed the basement with elevated toy basketball nets, roaming spotlights (provided by an energetic use of flashlights), and a charismatic announcer to present awards and even interview the winners. They even created a skills course with stations like in the real NBA contest by, for instance, cutting a hole in some cardboard as the target for the passing accuracy test. Dave and his wife had front row seats for the all star event.

Next time you're wondering what to do with your family on a rainy day, take some inspiration for Dave's creative kids and make an all star even of your own!

The all stars after their event(clockwise from L to R) Pierce, Luke, and Jeremy.