Friday, January 28, 2011

Congressman Daddy

This post is by Renae Smith, NFI's Special Assistant to the President.

On January 5, 2011, the largest group of freshmen representatives to enter Congress in the past two decades took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. With an average age of 48 years old – eight years younger than the 111th Congress – many of these legislative newcomers are fathers raising young families.

Marin Cogan of Politico observed that this demographic profile of the 112th Congress was particularly noticeable on induction day: Little girls with ribbons in their hair and boys in satin suit vests lined the laps of several new members in the chamber, and talks of moonlit monument tours were on more than one new member’s itinerary. One of the freshmen, Democrat Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, cast his vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker with a little girl in his arms.

Some of the representatives brought their fathers to the official events as well, or memorabilia to commemorate their dads’ influence in their life: Florida’s Sandy Adams […] was joined by her father, a World War II and a Korean War veteran. […] New York’s Michael Grimm […] wore his late father’s gold ring, etched with the initials GG, for Gerard Grimm. […] “It’s been absolutely surreal,” Grimm said of the day. “My father could barely read or write. Now his son is a U.S. congressman. I can barely think of a better example of the American dream.”

The family affair continues beyond the ceremonial events of January 5. A very practical question that these 94 new representatives will have to answer is whether to uproot their family and bring them to D.C. or leave them at home and commute back and forth. Cogan discusses the pros and cons of both scenarios in Politico. Balancing work and family is a challenge for any dad, but the new Congressmen are certainly facing a unique juggling act.

Representing American citizens in Congress is serious responsibility with the opportunity to have a tremendous impact on the next generation. For these new representatives with young children, perhaps that responsibility has a more personal meaning. The next generation looks up at them every day and calls them “Daddy.”

The timing of this new wave of dads in Congress is significant. In the past 10 years, fatherhood has become a national priority. Congress allocated funding to support fatherhood programming and President Obama announced a national initiative to help engage dads in the lives of their kids. These representatives who are raising children and representing constituents have a unique opportunity to combine both those roles as responsible fatherhood legislation comes to the floor during this session of Congress.

Eventually their role as Congressmen will come to an end. But, as Illinois Representative Bobby Schilling, father of 10 children, said, “You won’t be a member forever. Everybody comes out of office at some point, but you’ll always have a family.”

Monday, January 24, 2011

Where are the "Tiger Fathers"?

Many of you have probably heard about (or participated in!) the firestorm around the new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. It is a memoir by author Amy Chua of what she calls the "Chinese way" she is raising her two, now teenage, daughters. Chua came to national attention when The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from the book earlier this month called "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior." I can't imagine why that title would spark controversy...

Either way, I just read the Time magazine cover story about her book here, and something interesting emerged. You would think that Chua's own mother inspired her Chinese mothering. But all of the examples she cites of how she learned to parent the "Chinese way" come from her father. She remembers her father as her inspiration. Yet, it does not seem that she is suggesting that today's fathers (or her own husband) have anything to do with the parenting approach she has adopted. It seems she has assumed that it is the mother's role to engage in "Chinese parenting."

I wonder why.

Maybe it is because real life Chinese fathers are not expected to be involved in the day-to-day care of their children? Maybe she also assumes that American fathers are even less likely than American mothers to adopt her approach? I would like to do more research to see what she thinks the father's role should be -- her own husband, a non-Chinese American, was the softer parent in their household.

Would she say that there is a fatherhood equivalent to the Chinese mother? She did not expect her husband to be that way even though her father was that way.

As I read the Time article, it did not answer my questions about Chinese mothering. It raised new questions about what Chua would have today's American fathers do.

Are you a "Chinese father"? What do you think of Chua's parenting techniques?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why no paid paternity leave?

The U.S. is the only western country that does not mandate paid parental leave (for neither moms nor dads) upon the birth of a child. On top of that, only about 15% of U.S. companies voluntarily offer paid paternity leave.

What this results in are a lot of dads who would like to take time off at the birth of their child, but who do not have the ability to do so. (We of course can take unpaid leave through FMLA, but not everyone is able to pull this off financially).

This is problematic. Much research has shown that there is a "magic moment" around the birth of a child when dads are most receptive to learning about and engaging in fatherhood. If you can get dads involved at these earliest stages, it is more likely they will stay involved for the long run.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has a policy (or lack thereof) that is interfering with new fathers' ability to connect with their children from birth.

There has been some movement in Congress to change this, but the bad economy has stalled those efforts. The Family Leave Insurance Act and the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act are two bills that would guarantee paid leave.

Were you unable to take paternity leave when your child was born because your company wouldn't pay for it? Let us know.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Father Factor in the Tucson Shooting

"The family was contemptuous. It wasn't the son. It was the father."

Those are the words of a female neighbor of alleged Tucson shooter, Jared Loughner. As details about the Loughner’s family begin to emerge, a not unexpected picture is coming into focus. Apparently, Loughner’s father, Randy, was far from a positive force in the life of his son and family.

Another individual who used to spend a lot of time with the Loughners said the family's home was "cold, dark and unpleasant" and that he always felt "unwelcomed."

Most importantly, this same former friend said he never observed “a particularly loving relationship between the Loughners.” Finally, and sadly, Loughner once told this friend that he loved his dog more than his parents. More details are here.

This is not entirely different than what we learned about the D.C. sniper after his shooting rampage in the fall of 2002. As details of Lee Malvo’s family life emerged, it became clear that he did not have a close relationship with his father – he was, in fact, desperately yearning for a close relationship with his father and tragically chose John Muhammad to replace him.

Decades of research show that boys who have fractured or nonexistent relationships with their fathers are more likely to act out violently than sons who are close to their fathers. Unfortunately, our nation’s prisons are filled with men who had poor relationships with their dads.

Clearly, there were a number of factors that led to Jared Loughner’s heinous act, but to ignore the “father factor” is to ignore an important root. We will continue to monitor this situation as more details of his family life emerge. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

You can only be a better dad if you are alive!

This is a post from NFI's Director of Corporate Relations, Tom Patras.

Six months ago, during church, a friend surprised everyone by wheeling his 85 pound son on stage in a wheel barrow. Pointing to his son, he exclaimed, “This is how much weight I’ve lost!” After receiving a standing ovation from the congregation, my friend went on to share that he’d been facing serious health issues due to an unhealthy lifestyle. He finally woke up when our Pastor confronted him and said, “What are you doing? You have a wife and kids and you are eating yourself to death!”

As I listened to my friend, it took everything in me to keep from crying. I was happy for him, but sobered that my Pastor’s words could easily have been directed at me. Weight issues are a generational plague in my family. After many failed attempts at losing weight (and keeping it off), I felt discouraged and defeated. I’d reached my heaviest weight ever and was frankly disgusted with myself. With health issues mounting, I knew I needed to change the trajectory of my life. So…inspired by my friend’s success with the Take Shape For Life program, I decided that if it worked for him, why not me?

During my first week on the program, I had a pivotal moment. One day, a scene from The Biggest Loser came to mind. In the scene, a 25 year old girl was told by a doctor that based on the condition of her organs, she was living in the body of a 55-year-old woman. Suddenly the thought hit me – “holy cow, that’s 30 years! That’s almost two generations!” I then asked myself, “What kind of an example am I setting for my children? What kind of legacy am I building for future generations? Do I want my wife and kids grieving over my untimely death because I wasn’t willing to do everything in my power to fight for my health?”

In that moment, I said, “I’m done! I’m going to engage in (and win) this battle. I’m going to be a chain breaker and change the legacy of my family for future generations.”

Six months later, I’m 68 pounds lighter! At 39, I’m the same weight I was as a freshmen in high school. I have tons of energy, am much more confident, and feel better than I have in years.

No doubt there are fathers reading this post who are battling weight-related health issues – you may be one of them. If so, I encourage you to join NFI’s 30 Days to Be a Better Dad Campaign and make it a priority to get healthy in 2011.

BUT, don’t go it alone! 85% of people who try to lose weight without support gain it back within 2 years. Also, find a plan that teaches you how to build healthy habits for life. There is no magic pill or medical procedure that will allow you to eat whatever (and however much) you want.

Building a healthy lifestyle takes commitment, but you can only be a better dad if you are alive!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Have you Taken the Pledge? 30 Days to Be a Better Dad

Happy New Year! NFI is kicking off 2011 by encouraging all dads to get off to a strong start by pledging to be the best dads they can be. Take the pledge by clicking the link below and we will send you a weekly email this month with a special focus, tips, and activities for that week that will get you on track.
Make sure to to keep us updated on your own progress and follow along throughout the month as we feature real stories, as other dads take the pledge.