Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The House that Ruth Didn't Build

A few nights ago, I got a chance to catch Ken Burns’ documentary “Baseball: 4th Inning, A National Heirloom.” In typical Burns fashion, it was well done and, along with a compelling play-by-play on the history of the game, it provided an excellent window into the lives and personalities of key players, such as Babe Ruth.

In Ruth’s case, I really first became aware of him as a boy in the 1970s when Hank Aaron was in the hunt to break his homerun record. Indeed, other than the fact that he could swing a big stick—and he made a rather tasty candy bar—I really didn’t know much about him.

Turns out that Ruth was born in Baltimore, which is not far from where I live today, and he had a very rough childhood. His father ran a local bar in town and had a difficult time parenting Ruth. It is reported that his dad beat him unmercifully because Ruth was a very rambunctious and out of control kid. When the beatings didn't work, his dad declared him to be “incorrigible” and shipped the 7-year-old Ruth to reform school.

This was a very difficult time for Ruth because his family almost never visited him. In fact, it’s reported that he told a fellow school mate that he was “too big and too ugly” for anyone to visit him. The only bright spot for him at reform school was that he discovered that he could really play baseball and, at 19-year-old, he was signed by the Baltimore Orioles. He also married shortly after this, probably because he longed for a family that he never really had, and had a daughter.

However, after he was traded to the Yankees and his fame began to grow dramatically, he moved his wife and young daughter to a farm in Massachusetts and began living an expensive apartment in one of New York City’s finest hotels. He also began living a life of self-indulgence, drinking heavily, partying constantly and frequenting prostitutes. He even took a long time mistress. He was rarely home due to the long baseball season and because he chose to “barnstorm” during the off season. Eventually, his behavior contributed to his wife’s nervous breakdown. When this happened, Ruth took a bit of a “7th inning stretch” to reflect but he soon returned to "playing" his life as usual.

I find it a bit ironic that a man who exhibited so much discipline at the plate chose to “strike out” consistently in his home. Moreover, his absence in his daughter’s life mirrored the absence of his father in his life. I wonder if his absence ever caused her to think that she was “too ugly” for him to visit. Alas, Ruth’s behavior is a cautionary tale for all fathers. Sometimes we recreate the very thing that we hate and let our pain become our children’s pain.

In 1923, the Yankees moved from the Polo Grounds to the newly built Yankee Stadium. In the first game at the new park, Ruth hit a well-timed home run and this caused the stadium to be forever dubbed “The House that Ruth Built.” I suppose that this is very accurate given the success of the Yankees franchise. But, I must admit that for me Ruth’s legacy is more of a foul ball than a homerun given what I learned about the home that he failed to build for his wife and young child.

The Time for Waiting is Over

By now, you have probably heard about the new documentary, Waiting for "Superman". If you haven't, take a look at the trailer here.

We at NFI had the privilege of seeing the film at its D.C. premiere last week, and we recommend it highly to dads and families. (it is out in LA and NYC now, with a wider release scheduled for October 8).

The film takes a close look at the types of students that our public school system is producing, and the results are not pretty. The United States ranks near the very bottom in reading and math in the industrialized world. Up until the 1970's, we were producing the best students in the world. What happened?

The film tries to answer that question and provides some strategies to turn things around. We are not experts on how to fix a large, complex educational system, but we do know one thing: dads can make an immediate impact on how well their children do in school. Today. They don't have to "wait" for the system to improve.

Without a single new program or additional dollar spent, children's academic performance can improve when dads read to them, help them with homework, talk to them about school, and encourage them.

We know from research that when dads do these things, children do better. When dads don't, children struggle. Education is not just mom's territory. Dads have to be engaged, too.

We want to challenge dads to contribute to school reform by starting with their own kids - today. We have created a discussion guide for Waiting for "Superman" and some other advice to help dads get involved. The film's official website also has some ideas.

So, dads, let's stop waiting for Superman to come save our kids. Let's be supermen!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Your Princess and Kissing Those Darn Frogs

I just finished reading a book called “A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue” by Wendy Shalit. Although the book was written in 1999, its wisdom is timeless. Indeed, it is quite remarkable to watch Shalit skillfully illustrate the troubling cultural messages being communicated to girls and young women about their bodies, sexuality and femininity. This book is still a must-read.

In any case, the book has caused me to think quite a bit about the role that fathers should play in protecting the innocence of their daughters and in helping them develop a healthy, resilient and positive self-image--a tall order indeed in a culture that increasingly seeks to sexualize our little girls. (We now have retailers that are making thong underwear for 11 year-olds and skinny jeans for toddlers.) My view has always been that a father’s role is to help his princess find her “prince” (i.e. her self worth) without “kissing all the frogs.” For sure, today the frogs are more plentiful and aggressive in their call…And the stakes are higher than ever and the consequences of poor decisions can be long lasting and quite dire.

A case in point is the recent situation that actor Lawrence Fishburne (Mystic River, The Matrix) faced with his 19 year-old daughter, Montana. She agreed to star in a pornographic video to help her become famous. She stated, "I view making this movie as an important first step in my career. I've watched how successful Kim Kardashian became and I think a lot of it was due to the release of her sex tape. I'm hoping the same magic will work for me.”

Clearly, Fishburne was not happy with this situation but Montana wouldn’t listen to him. In fact, to block the release of the video, Fishburne’s friends even offered the film producer what he apparently considered too “modest a sum” -- $1M for all of the copies. The producer distributed the film and it reportedly sold so well that he offered Montana a multi-picture deal.

Granted, Fishburne’s situation is somewhat unique but you have to wonder why a daughter whose dad is an accomplished actor would choose this route to fame. But, the script of Montana’s life is a familiar screenplay with a predictable narrative. It’s worth noting that Fishburne and his daughter’s mother divorced when Montana was very young. You have to wonder if he was "on location" when Montana was a little girl making the critical decision whether to embrace or reject the immodest “Kardashian type” messages and values celebrated daily in our culture. All dads should be mindful that if you “exit stage right” from your daughter’s life, you are bound to miss important “cues.”

Ironically, frogs can be quite alluring and very deceptive. But, outside of fairy tales, there is no “magic” in them. And, that’s why our daughters need involved fathers who have built strong enough relationships with them so that they will listen when he says “be careful what you wish and what you kiss.”

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Midnight Smile

I never thought that being sick and up past midnight on a Thursday could be so awesome.

Vinny, our little guy, had caught something at day care last week, and by Tuesday we were both sick. I had a cough and congestion; he had a runny nose and respiratory issues. By Thursday night, his breathing had become labored and he was wheezing. My wife was more concerned about his breathing than I was. Chalk it up to a difference between moms and dads, I guess.

So she decided to call the doctor’s office (the answering service actually), and when we got a call back from Vinny’s doctor, she suggested that we take him to the all-night medical clinic.

We got there at around 8:30 p.m. After filling out many forms and waiting for many long minutes, we finally saw a nurse and a doctor. They put Vinny back on the nebulizer, making this the third time he has had to use it. They also gave him a dose of steroids to reduce the inflammation.

By the time this was all done, it was midnight. We were finally at the front desk checking out, and I was filling out more forms. My own congestion and coughing were getting worse, and I was falling asleep on my feet.

You may be wondering where the “awesome” part of this comes in...

Well, as I was filling out some medical form, I looked over at Vinny sitting in my wife’s lap. He was about 20 feet away. When he saw me looking at him, he flashed the most beautiful smile. I smiled back at him and said, “Hey Vinny!”

With that smile, my discomfort from the last 4 hours disappeared. My congestion and fatigue diminished.

I realized at that moment that this was not about me.

So what if I did not get to sit at home watching TV. So what if I did not get to surf the Internet or read a book. I had spent the last four hours, with my wife, making sure that our son was ok. And when he smiled at me, I knew that I had done something that was infinitely more important and fulfilling than any “self actualizing” activity I could have done with “my” time.

I get miniature versions of this feeling when I look at my son sleeping at night. I realize that even if I thought my day was “bad” that it was actually perfect if, at its end, my son is sleeping peacefully and comfortably in his crib.

In light of recent articles about “hating our lives, but loving our children,” which I blogged about here, my son’s midnight smile at the 24-hour medical clinic reconfirmed to me that when you love your children, and you are dedicated to their lives, nothing can make your own life less than beautiful.

Vinny's perfect smile

fit2father: One Thing You Can Do to Safeguard Your Kids

Did you know there is a family activity that is tied to lower rates of drug use and risky behavior in your kids? And no, it's not an 8pm curfew or some other draconian rule or punishment.

It's family dinner.

Not only does family dinner help you and your kids eat healthier, but research suggests that it may keep your kids from getting into trouble. That's why September 27th has been designated Family Day - with the aim of inspiring families to share dinner on a regular basis.

Family dinner is a great way of scheduling in regular time with your kids and gives you an easy way to keep up with their lives, find out how they're feeling about things, and spot signs of trouble early on.

Not sure what to talk about at dinner? Try these five questions and you're sure to spark some interesting conversation. Not sure about what to eat? You're on your own for that one.

Want more ideas on how to stay healthy with your family? Take our fit2father pledge and get our strategies for a healthy, happy family.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bullying the Bullies

Daddy bloggers are buzzing about James Jones, the father who (quite angrily) confronted his daughter's bullies on the school bus. This dad reached his breaking point and he took matters into his own hands.

What parent hasn't had to deal with a bully at one point or another? A community of similarly frustrated and sympathetic parents is now growing around Jones. There's even a Facebook page that is advocating on his behalf.

The video of his reaction is below. It's hard to know when to intervene in a situation like this, much less how to intervene. However, in the case of Jones, by berating these kids, he is continuing the cycle. There is still no one in this situation that is showing these children what it means to be respectful and how to solve conflicts. His reaction only perpetuates this behavior.

We've offered some strategies to help parents deal with bullies, but what do you think? How far is too far? How have you handled similar situations with your children?

Monday, September 20, 2010

I have driven a Ford lately

Besides a house, a car is probably the biggest purchase you will make in your life. And one of the pivotal times in your life when you decide to buy a car is when you are going to have kids. You have to say sayonara to the awesome, but impractical sports car in favor of something that can carry several passengers, luggage, groceries, pets, sports equipment, etc.

For me, this decision came in June of last year. My wife was 2 months pregnant, and we had just brought home a puppy who would grow to become a 70-pound adult dog. My 2002 Ford Taurus was starting to show signs of age, and I wanted something that would allow me to simultaneously transport a car seat, a large animal, me, and my wife. Since I can’t put a dog in a trunk, I knew it was time for an SUV.

I had always liked the design of the Ford Edge, and I had a great experience with my workhorse Taurus. The research I did online revealed that the Edge had been recognized as one of "Best Cars for Families" in 2007 by AAA and Parents magazine. It earned this title for its safety features, the ease of car seat installation, the ample interior space, and other family-friendly features.

That was all I needed to see. I went over to the Ford dealership in early July and purchased my low mileage 2008 Ford Edge.

It was an immediate hit with the dog. He loved to hop in the rear cargo space and go for rides. And it was large enough for him to sleep comfortably in during our 6-hour drive to our vacation spot that year. During the vacation, we had the ability to carry beach chairs, umbrellas, and other beach equipment while my wife and I sat in the front and the dog lazed in the rear cargo space.

Then, six months later, our son was born. As advertised, the car seat was very easy to install, and I felt safe driving our baby around.

And it still appeals to my “guyness.” It looks cool, has great acceleration, and a good sound system. Overall, I am very happy with my purchase.

The irony is that Ford did this without ever marketing to me as a father. Think about what brands like Ford could accomplish if they intentionally target dads as consumers and sell them on the family-friendliness of their products. Most families are two-car families, which likely means that both mom and dad have “their car.” The decision to buy the Edge for family purposes was totally my decision.

The “dad market” is still largely untapped, but more and more brands are starting to see the wisdom of reaching out to fathers, who are increasingly making home purchasing decisions. There is a huge opportunity here for Ford and others to really own the dad space. I look forward to seeing it happen.

Friday, September 17, 2010

My Girlfriend's Father--What a Man...

I found the below passage in a book that I was reading recently:

I'll never forget the night during my sophomore year, when my college girlfriend closed her eyes, wiggled out of her panties, and prepared to abandon her virginity. I was 20 at the time: she was barely 18. Her father had just dropped us off at the hotel, knowing full well what was about to transpire...The night before the big event he sat me down in their den. I prepared myself for an angry tirade. Instead, he spoke with the voice of a pensive diplomat. 'I'm glad she chose you,' he said...Although Karen's mother and father blessed our union, Mother Nature didn't. The next day, the Midwest was hit with an unusually ferocious snowstorm... [But] later that afternoon, her father came downstairs, holding his blue wool cap in one hand and a set of expensive gleaming car keys in the other. Prepared to trust me with his only daughter, but not with his brand-new Volvo, he shook the very foundation of parental propriety by offering to drive us to the hotel.
-"My Girlfriend's Father--What a Man!" by Eric Tisdale, Glamour Magazine


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Modern Media Men

This past weekend, I attended the Modern Media Man Summit, the first-ever conference dedicated to exploring the contributions of men and fathers in the social media world.

Here is the good and the bad from what I experienced.

The good: The people there really care. They care about fatherhood. They care about creating a new, better image of men that the mainstream media doesn't typically promote. People like and DadLabs were there representing this better way of looking at fathers.
The bad: There weren't enough of them. The attendance was pretty low. Granted, this was the first time this conference took place, but it would have been nice to see more people there.

The good: The corporate brands showed up. Chevrolet was the platinum sponsor of the event. They even had their whole fleet of new cars there for folks to test drive. Predictably, I tested the Corvette and the Camaro. (I liked the Camaro better). T-Mobile also sponsored and gave away lots of free stuff, including beer - a smart strategic move at a men's conference. Their presence was a great sign that brands realize they need to appeal to family men in order to sell products to families.
The bad: A few of the more detailed presentations during the conference revealed that the brands still need more "evidence" that reaching out to fathers makes sense. Apparently, there is not enough data available indicating that men make purchasing decisions in the home. Despite the "feeling" that men are making these decisions with women, and despite the brands' desire to reach out to men more intentionally, they still have cold feet.

The good: There is a plan. Folks in this space are organizing. They see the potential of creating a coherent, powerful community of dads online. They have seen the success that the "mommy bloggers" have had in helping 21st century mothers, and they want to have the same success - but achieve it in a uniquely male way. Such success will mean more men sharing more information about how to be better dads. And who wins when this happens? Their children and their wives.
The bad?: Can men organize and coalesce in the same way women can? Will we waste a lot of time and money trying to do so? I don't think so, but you never know...

A Little Girl Named "Inspiration"

Last Friday was a tough day for me. I had just boarded a subway train heading to my first of three speaking engagements. I was already pretty tired because I had to take another early morning flight. To make matters worse, I wasn’t looking forward to a tough call about this year’s budget with our VP of Finance in preparation for an upcoming board meeting. As you can imagine, it’s very difficult "sledding" so far this year due to the fundraising environment. We need lots of help and it seems like I am working twice as hard to raise half the funds. Indeed, I was a bit discouraged.

Then, I saw her.

She couldn’t have been more than three years old and she was sitting right across from me next to her mother. She had just the cutest little face, which was framed with a flock of perfectly twisted braids. And those eyes. Well, they were like big brown shiny buttons and they were locked on me like a laser beam.

Now, anyone who knows me knows well that I am a “sucker” for little kids. But, since I was in a bit of a funk, I was stubbornly determined not to engage her. Plus, I had to prepare for my important speech about fatherhood. So, I turned back to my work.

But, she would have none of it. I looked up again. And, there she was staring at me. She was transfixed. So, I had no choice. I smiled. And she lit up like a Christmas tree and smiled back as if to say, “Gotcha.”

I looked at her mother—who seemed to be carrying a heavy burden—and noticed that she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. And, I could not help but wonder where this little girl's dad was and when was the last time he smiled at her. In any case, before I could consider this more, the train stopped and the mother grabbed the little girl’s hand and headed for the door and then they disappeared into the crowd.

I doubt that I will ever see those eyes again. But, I will never forget them. And, I doubt that I will ever know this precious little one’s name. But, I have given her one nonetheless. I will call her…Inspiration.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ending the Baby Blues

From Renae Smith, NFI's Special Assistant to the President:

I tend to be a pretty outspoken person about the things I care a lot about. Working at NFI has only made me more passionate about responsible fatherhood, resulting in my friends occasionally being subjected to a spontaneous rant or soapbox speech from me when the issue comes up in conversation. They must not mind too much, because they will sometimes send me news stories or songs about fatherhood, which gets me talking even more.

Case in point: one of my friends sent me this Baby Blues comic recently, and I knew there was a lot I could say about it:

This could be the official comic for National Fatherhood Initiative. The dad’s statement that “Dad school” is a 7-days-a week, 24-hours-a-day program is exactly why NFI’s flagship curriculum to help fathers build their fathering skills is called 24/7 Dad™ - being a Dad is a 24/7 job.

Even though fathers who enroll in 24/7 Dad™ have a graduation ceremony at the end of the program, Darryl, the Baby Blues dad, is right – you never graduate from learning how to be the dad your kids need. It’s a lifelong process that changes as your kids grow – and the good news is, if you keep doing your “homework” like Darryl, you should always get better at it as you go.

Darryl’s comment that being a Dad is what he really wants to do reminded me of something that Dave, a dad who went through NFI’s 24/7 Dad™ program, said about the impact it had on him:

"My kids didn’t want anything to do with me. Dope was more important to me than anything, including them … After inpatient treatment, I completed outpatient. Then I learned about the 24/7 Dads group. Then other things started to change … I got to see [my daughter] more and more. Now she’s home for good. I married her mother and we are really happy. Sometimes I think about the old days. But … I know I’d rather be a 24/7 Dad.”

So, friends, keep those news stories, songs, and comics about fatherhood coming. The Father Factor blog exists in part to give a platform for positive portrayals of fatherhood in our culture, and we need all of you to be on the lookout for good things we can shine a spotlight on. Not to mention that it’ll make my day when other people get involved in this issue.

But feel free to tell me you "get the point" if my enthusiastic soapbox speech starts getting a little long...

One Father's "Duh" Moment

From Chris Brown, NFI's Executive Vice President:

The NYT Motherlode blog recently reported on a new study on the biology behind the “transition to fatherhood” and the different ways in which dads and moms parent.

The study found that oxytocin—the “love hormone” that is so often attributed to moms’ ability to bond with their children—is just as high in new fathers as in new mothers six weeks after the birth of their child.

The study reminds me of a nerve that is struck in me quite often when the popular press—and some of my friends—talk about the biological link between moms and their children as if there isn’t one between dads and their children other than the oft-cited contribution of half a child’s DNA. With all the recent reports in the press about women having children without fathers in the picture, it could lead a reasonable person to conclude that the only reason for dads at all is to have their sperm to conceive children. Perhaps we men should just get a room at the local sperm bank.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The research is rife with evidence of the need for involved, responsible, committed fathers. Almost all of this evidence is, however, from the social sciences which as an anthropologist is just fine with me. The problem with social science is that there is always someone who tries to punch a hole in the research because almost all of it is, well, social and “soft” and open to lots of interpretation. But as an anthropologist, my training focused heavily on biology and physiology, so I’ve been acutely aware of research that shows the biological foundation that connects fathers to their children. It seems to be much harder to argue with the evidence from the “hard” sciences.

I recall several years ago reporting at a conference on two studies that build on the biological connection between dads and their kids. One study found that girls who grow up with their biological dads go through puberty later than girls who don’t—a finding that should warm the heart of any dad with a teenage daughter. The researchers attributed this impact to the exchange of pheromones between fathers and daughters that affected the daughters’ biology. The other study discovered that a father’s testosterone levels—the “wandering hormone”—drops dramatically before and after his children are born thus preparing him for fatherhood through a greater estrogen to testosterone ratio. These studies, which have been replicated, didn’t create an “aha” moment for me when I learned about them and as they did for so many in the audience that day. As my 15-year-old daughter would say, I had a “duh” moment.

Friday, September 10, 2010

fit2father: Have You Taken the Pledge?

We recently launched the fit2father™ Campaign and got an overwhelming response! Dads and families across the country have pledged to take part in a six week campaign to improve their fathering skills and to get healthy.

fit2father™ is based around three key strategies/principles:

  • Condition - living an active lifestyle
  • Nutrition - making healthy choices
  • Connection - connecting fathers and families
Studies show that fathers have a significant impact on the health and well-being of their children. A father’s body mass index is directly related to a child’s activity level. Being fit and being a father go hand in hand.

For our main office and for those in the DC area, the fit2father™ campaign will culminate in the Acumen Solutions Race for a Cause. We are excited for fathers and families to come out and support the fatherhood movement. Not only will this benefit NFI, bit it will help fathers everywhere.

If you have not taken the pledge or are interested in a race in your area visit

If you want to become part of the fatherhood movement become a Fatherhood Ambassador today!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

He's Worth It

From Renae Smith, NFI's Special Assistant to the President:

I took a road trip this summer to visit a college friend in New Jersey. One of the things that I noticed during my time in the Garden State was the billboards lining the highways. I actually found it to be a bit distracting because where I live and work there are no billboards, and I wasn’t used to looking at things along the road while driving. But one in particular caught my eye.

It was an ad for a drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic in the Philadelphia area. It had a picture of a man holding a toddler with the words “He’s Worth It” written underneath.

Children are good motivation for a host of positive life changes, including getting clean and staying sober. When a dad realizes that his kids need him to be present and involved in their lives, and when he has a heart-to-heart connection with his kids that makes him want to be there for them, he’s more willing to invest the effort and sacrifice to give up the habits that could take him out of the picture. These habits aren’t just limited to substance abuse addictions – unhealthy eating habits that could cause serious medical problems and long hours at the office can also prevent Dad from being involved, both in the long-term and now.

Two examples illustrate this: When NFI’s president Roland C. Warren realized that his family medical history put him at risk for a shortened lifespan, he decided to exercise, change his diet, and lose weight so he could be around not only for his two grown sons, but also for future grandchildren. As Roland likes to say, “To be an involved, responsible, and committed father, you have to be alive."

Second, research shows that men who are released from prison are significantly more likely to have a successful re-entry and avoid additional run-ins with the law if they have a family to go back to. Their relationship with their children motivates them to be law-abiding citizens and avoid the activities that put them behind bars and separated them from their kids.

NFI is focused on helping dads develop a heart-to-heart connection with their children that motivates them to stop bad habits and cultivate good ones. After all, the kids are worth it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Small Ways to Make Big Connections With Your Kids Daily

I was recently a guest host on a BAM Radio! program about connecting with your children. Dr. John Trent shares some really great, practical insights on how to stay meaningfully engaged in your children's lives.

Listen here.

Five Girls Getting Fit2Father?

This post is from Brittany DeFrehn, NFI's Manager of Outreach.

Here at NFI Headquarters we are pounding the pavement…literally.

We are launching our Fit2Father campaign and gearing up for the Acumen Solutions Race for the Cause 8K. Particularly, five of us at headquarters…all girls…have joined together to get ready for this race. You might be wondering why five girls, none of whom have children and all of whom come from different backgrounds, are so excited about working at the National Fatherhood Initiative and spreading the word about fatherhood.

The answer is simple. We realize fatherhood impacts so many aspects of our society. For those interested in education, children in father-absent homes can have lower school performance. For those concerned about hunger, children in homes without fathers are 36% more likely to be below the poverty line. And as for our national outlook, more involved fathers now means more children who become more involved fathers in the future, making an impact on future generations.

So, why wouldn’t we care about fatherhood? Whether you’re a dad, someone who works with dads, have a dad, never had a dad, are married to a dad, or you are just like us five girls who are passionate about making a difference in the lives of children…Make sure to spread the word about NFI and come out to the Fit2Father Walk.