Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Boys will be violent...

By now, you may have seen news reports regarding the brutal beating death in Chicago of 16-year-old Fenger HS honor student, Derrion Albert. If you haven't, you certainly will, because someone captured the tragic events on a cellphone. The footage shows a group of male teens kicking and striking Albert with splintered railroad ties during the attack.

Boys will not just be boys. Too often, boys will be violent--deadly violent-- especially if they don’t have the guiding hand of a good father. My sense is that you won’t have to do too much investigating to connect the perpetrators of this heinous act to a family cycle of fatherlessness. This was certainly the case with the DC sniper shootings. In fact, research shows that male inmates overwhelming come from father-absent homes. A key and essential role of a good father is to teach his son how to use his power and strength in the right way.

Interestingly, boys are often encouraged--as is evident from the gang that attacked Albert--to define themselves by how they use their power. Real men, and good fathers in particular, define themselves by their ability to restrain and direct their power in the best interest of themselves, their families, and their communities. Indeed, the real difference between boys and men is the ability to say “no” to the wrong things and “yes” to the right things.

Out of the Spotlight but Back into Real Life

The Washington Post recently profiled Kenny Anderson, former NBA star and also father of seven children. The millions of dollars from basketball paydays didn't stretch quite as far as child support payments and Anderson's formerly lavish lifestyle. But on the other side of a finished NBA career and bankruptcy, Kenny Anderson seems to have grasped the really important things:

"Anderson says nothing woke him up to the realities of his new, post-basketball life quite like seeking custody of Kenny four years ago, just as his own career wound down.

"That was the turning point in my life," he says. "He was a big savior. He changed me. I'd never had custody of any of my kids. I was like: 'All right, I got my son. This is real here. I gotta teach him how to be a man, how to be better than me.' Every time I look at him, I look at stability."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Duncan's Prescription for Great Schools: Dads!

Arne Duncan, US Education Secretary, was in New Hampshire this week for a town hall on fatherhood and education:

"Duncan said fathers must move outside their comfort zones and get involved with their children, perhaps in ways they didn't interact with their own fathers.

'When fathers step up, students don't drop out. ... When fathers step up, young folks have greater dreams for themselves,' he said. 'We need to turn those TVs off at night, we need to engage with our children, we need to read to them.'"

We couldn't agree more! If you're a dad who is looking for ways to engage your school child, check out our range of resources for you and your children's school!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

No baby mama for Obama

I was delighted to see this article in the September 22 USA Today about a new book on the marriage of Barack and Michelle Obama. Christopher Andersen, a former editor of People Magazine, who called his book “Barack and Michelle Obama—Portrait of an American Marriage,” interviewed more than 200 people to get the details.

Although I have yet to read the book, on the surface, this is really good stuff. Frankly, I have often been frustrated, especially with stories about the President that encourage young people, in particular African American boys, to emulate Obama’s modeling as a black man, and even as a black father, but are strangely silent on the need to follow his example as a black husband.

Interestingly, the President and I share a lot in common—we are both African American men raised by single mothers, who attended Ivy League schools and who married accomplished women who graduated from Princeton in 1985. Accordingly, I think that I am on pretty sound footing when I state that, like me, the reason that Obama has been able to break his legacy of father absence is not because of his professional and political success, but rather because he is married to Michelle. No baby mama for Obama. You see, good fathering, like real estate, is about location, location, location and the fact that Michelle is in the house—White House or otherwise—is key to Barack being the kind of father that he never had.

That said, I do have one “bone to pick” with Andersen’s characterization of the Obama’s relationship. He states, “They’re devoted to each other. It’s unique…” Actually, it’s not unique…it’s marriage. And lots of couples in the black community are doing the same thing. The problem is that the press spends more time covering black rappers than black weddings and often fails to highlight the benefits of black marriage—and marriage in general. No doubt this neglect has been instrumental in facilitating a pernicious self-fulfilling prophesy that has yielded 2 out of 3 black children living in father absent homes.

Finally, I sincerely hope that in his book Andersen spent as much time chronicling the benefits that Michelle has received from being married to Barack. This article, like most that I have seen, focuses on the benefits that Barack has received. (e.g. “She is the reason he is where he is,” the author says.) I have been happily married for 27 years and I know first hand that a good marriage is about giving and receiving. Over the years, I’ve had women friends who weren’t big on marriage or who had children with guys who clearly weren’t marriage material say, “I can do bad all by myself.” Accordingly, I think that it’s essential that women hear from the First Lady that “you can do pretty darn well with him too.” No doubt, this is the way she feels. Just look at the portrait on Andersen’s book cover.

Great Opportunity for D.C. - Area Runners

For all the runners in the D.C. area - there is a great opportunity to get your running fix while supporting National Fatherhood Initiative! We've been named a beneficiary for the Acumen Solutions Race for a Cause 8K race on Sunday, November 1, 2009 in Arlington, VA. If we can get 100 runners to participate for us, a part of the proceeds will be donated to our important work.

Not a runner? Don't worry - you can walk, too!

Registration only costs $25 (until October 1). Sign up and learn more at www.theraceforacause.com. Don't forget to select National Fatherhood Initiative when you register!

Race Details:
Location: Arlington, VA
Date: Sunday, November 1, 2009
Time: 8:00AM

Race Fees:
$25 through October 1
$30 October 31
$35 Race day

The race will be on a fast, flat, out-and-back course that begins and ends on North Quincy Street, near the intersection of Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, VA. The event is produced in partnership with Potomac River Running. Runners of all levels, as well as walkers, are encouraged to participate.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Father-to-be's Lullaby

My wife is due with our first baby in January. We are excited, to say the least.

NFI's president, Roland Warren, is fond of saying that, during the mom's pregnancy, "Fathers need to 'birth their child in their mind.'" While my wife goes through all of these dramatic physical changes and feels the baby move and kick, I have to find more creative ways to prepare for my baby's birth.

One method that I have found to be very helpful is to play music at night for the baby. The baby is at a stage of development where he/she can hear what is happening outside the womb. Our CD of choice has been an album that National Fatherhood Initiative recognized at the 2003 Fatherhood Awards Gala - Golden Slumbers: A Father's Lullaby.

Brothers Dave and Jeff Koz created the album as a tribute to new dads and to give them a way to bond with their newborns - and help them sleep! Well, it has worked great for this father-to-be, as well.

NFI gave Dave and Jeff a Fatherhood Award for their work on this special album, and now it is helping me bond with my soon-to-be-born baby. If you have an infant or a pregnant wife, I highly recommend this CD!

Does anyone have ideas to share about bonding with your baby during pregnancy?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Good Player. Great Father. Take Two...

Following on the heels of the Brodrick Smith story, Tennessean.com reports that Vince Young stepped in to be dad to Trenton and Tyler, the two younger sons of the late Steve McNair. The boys' school hosted a Dear Dads event, and Young surprised Trenton and Tyler by showing up and having breakfast with them.

"Those are my boys," Young told the Tennessean. "I wouldn't say it was to pay anyone back; it was just out of love. Steve would do it for me. He pretty much did it for me when I was growing up. I have a history with the boys and I want to do anything I can. I am their big brother."

The one thing that seems absolutely clear here is that Trenton and Tyler need a father, and Young is willing to make the sacrifices necessary for the boys to have that. We need more dads (and father figures) like Vince Youngs, and not just for children whose fathers have been forcibly removed from their life by violence, but also for those children whose fathers are unable or unwilling to be involved. In any case, kudos to Young - for great performance on and off the field.

Friday, September 18, 2009

There's No Crying In Baseball

Except for this dad, who probably wanted to cry when his three year-old daughter threw back the foul ball he caught!

However, kudos to Steve Monforto for giving his daughter a big bear hug instead of flipping out.

From the newscaster: "Steve said his daughter seemed a little bit scared by the gasps when she threw the ball back, so he enveloped her in a bear hug."

Check out the video. And no worries, the Phillies gave the family a signed baseball, so Steve did, in a sense, still get to keep his first foul ball!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Good player. Great dad.

Brodrick Smith is a young dad. And a pretty good football player. But he recently made the gutsy and sacrificial choice to leave a full ride football scholarship at Minnesota to be closer to his young son Blake. And driving his decision was his experience with his own mostly-absent father. Read the rest of the story here.

"Being a man, I'm out here trying to do good and get my education and play football," said Smith, a sophomore wide receiver who enrolled at K-State this fall. "I thought in my head that I had a dad who wasn't there for me, and I didn't want that for my son."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Genes or Dads?

A new study by researchers at the University of Oregon asserts that genetic factors are more important in determining when a child will first have sex than whether or not they have a father in the home. According to a BBC story on the report, "The more genes the children shared, the more similar their ages of first intercourse, regardless of whether or not the children had an absent father."

I have a few problems with their conclusions:
1) On just about everything else where there is a genetic predisposition towards a behavior, we do not allow that genetic predisposition to act as an excuse for the behavior. Think about addictions. Drug addiction has genetic markers. Yet we don't say that a drug addict therefore has no control over whether or not he uses drugs. That would be letting the genes act as an excuse for bad choices.

2) Simon Blake, from a sexual health nonprofit called "Brook Advisory Centre," while disagreeing that genes are the overriding factor, does not then conclude that father involvement is important - even though the study showed clear correlation between early sexual activity and father absence. He instead points to the need for "better education." I guess it is hard to disagree with that, but it ignores the clear father factor that exists here.

I guess this gets back to the age old "nature versus nurture" question. What do you think? Is it genes or dads?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

When "Pop" Flies...

Ever wonder why there seems to be fewer African Americans playing major league baseball? Could it be linked to the fact that 2 out to 3 black kids grow up in father absent homes? My good friend--and cousin to former MLB All-Star Bobby Bonilla--has some interesting thoughts on this. Check them out here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

To Fantasy Football or Not to Fantasy Football

A great proportion of "guydom" (and a good number of women as well) are about to enter into a fast-growing fall ritual - Fantasy Football. A recent article in Time magazine notes that it has become an $800 million industry! Wow.

Just the other day, the guys here at NFI had a debate (argument?) about whether or not it is "safe" for a dad to get involved in a fantasy football league (one that does not require payment, mind you). Our debate was not about the monetary risk, but the "time" risk - if you become obsessed with fantasy football for four months, where does that leave your family?

One group of dads argued that it is something that you can do with your children, allowing you a great opportunity to spend time with your children and even teach them basic math skills (in calculating scores).

The other group of dads said that you will inevitably end up spending a load of time tweaking your team without your children around, or you could also get your children obsessed with fantasy football to the point that they focus on nothing else but your team (rather than homework, chores, moms, etc).

Where do you fall on this debate? Play fantasy football and get the kids involved or don't play fantasy football so you can focus on your family more?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

They said it!

Having the opportunity to work with a wonderful group of high-school teens gives me plenty of opportunities to hear about the joys and disasters of being a teen. And more often than not, both the ups and downs involve family members. So last night I asked them the following question:

If you could give parents everywhere a piece of advice about parenting teenagers, what would you say?

The answers were candid and thoughtful; here is the synopsis of their responses:

  • Don't be my coach. Be my parent. Just be there and tell me I did a good job, but let the coaches do the coaching.
  • Communication is really important to avoid hurt feelings.
  • Trust us to do the right thing. You raised us right, so let us make decisions.
  • Give us space when we ask for it.
  • Notice when we do things right, not just when we do things wrong.
  • Spend time with us and really listen to what we say.
  • Don't embarrass us in front of your friends or tell people stuff about me.
  • Take time to understand what is going on in my life so you know what I'm going through.
  • Don't always be a parent...sometimes be a friend, because I tell things to friends that I wouldn't tell to my parents.
  • Listen to us, because we might say something you hadn't already thought of.
In any case, a poignant reminder that kids need moms and dads investing in them every day.