Friday, February 25, 2011

Of Metal Mouths and (Hopefully Not) Pedals to the Metal

This is a post by Chris Brown, NFI's Executive Vice President

Check out this beautiful, joyful face! If you knew how my daughter and I spent most of a recent day together, you might be surprised that she ended that day in this state.

Lexi and I spent most of that fateful day toiling away at the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS is Texas’ version of a DMV) for her to take the road test for her driver’s license. Spending most of the day there, let alone an hour, isn’t what most people would call joyful. In fact, most people liken it to getting a tooth pulled without anesthesia. The DPS “examiners” aren’t exactly a friendly bunch. They stoke fear in even the most confident teen. But I must confess to the joy I felt in seeing my 16-year old as she experienced—to use her words—the best day ever!

This face is the result of a child reaching perhaps the most significant milestone before becoming an “official” adult. Lexi is now released from the shackles of her house arrest. Her new-found freedom is the culmination of hours spent driving around with her parents as she learned the rules and skills of the road, including the most fun skill of them all—how to parallel park.

And notice that smile! It’s not just any’s a $4,000 smile, baby! She not only got her driver’s license, she got her braces removed the same day. And that’s not all. It was her 16th birthday! A triple treat that our family will never forget.

Unfortunately, if you have raised a teen you know that the joyful days are fleeting. Her mom and I now we get to worry about her driving alone. No sooner had we arrived home from the DPS than she cajoled us into allowing her to drive to a friend’s house and share her freedom. I’ve also spent the last few days getting insurance quotes to add her as a driver to our policy. (I can hear the sucking sound of the vacuum cleaner attached to our bank account getting louder day by day.)

As I came crashing back down to earth, I could only lament the fact that in just a few years, I have another daughter to take through the same process. Indeed, I’ve already started to save for her “mouth o’ metal.” But I can also look forward to seeing her smile in the same way, and that makes it all worth it, except I can still hear that vacuum...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fathers Are Shoppers, Too

A series of events this past weekend nicely illustrated a “quiet revolution” that is taking place in supermarkets across America. Let's call it the FAST! Movement (Fathers Are Shoppers, Too!).

My wife and I have a 13-month-old son, who, like many 13-month-olds, loves bubbles in his bath. We did not actually have a bubble bath product, so we were using soap and some aggressive sloshing in the water. So, this weekend we decided to buy actual bubble bath.

My wife got to the baby aisle in the grocery store before me, so when I approached her, she already had two bottles of bubble bath in her hand. “Which one should we get?” she asked.

I could not have staged this better myself.

Earlier that week, NFI president Roland Warren and I had a conversation with the real-life guy at Johnson & Johnson who was literally responsible for bringing a baby bubble bath product to the company! As a dad, he knew that bath time was one of those activities that dads often enjoy with their children, and that bubble bath makes it an especially fun time. However, bubble baths can be very harsh, and may even lead to urinary tract infections if used too often. So, he directed J&J to develop a product that is both fun and mild enough for every day use.

Armed with this 'insider' knowledge, I suggested to my wife that we get the J&J brand, given that I had heard directly from the company – I really did! – about how great it is. We found J&J’s pretty, blue bottle of baby bubble bath on the shelf, placed it in the cart, and it is now part of our routine with our little one.

So, what’s the point?

The point is that this small transaction is indicative of what is happening in families all over the country. There is an oft-cited statistic that women make 85% of household purchasing decisions. The problem with this stat is that no one knows where it came from. Furthermore, new data, whose source is actually known, suggests that men have become much more involved in what families buy. Specifically:
  • One-third of men (33%) are the primary shopper in the home
  • 7 in 10 dads disagree that mom does most of the shopping for the kids
  • Dads control purchasing decisions in home electronics, travel, sporting goods, and entertainment options
  • Dads are considerably more likely than moms to be asked for advice on a purchase.*
This data paints a very different, more nuanced picture than the one painted by “women control 85% of household purchase decisions.”

Now, let’s not get carried away. Moms still do quite a bit of shopping – more still than dads do. But the point is that things are changing, they are changing rapidly, and now, more than ever, moms are not making decisions in a vacuum (or about vacuums for that matter!). Even when mom makes the actual purchase, like my wife often does, she makes it in consultation with dad – he is a “key influencer.”

This should make perfect sense. Moms may want to control the purchase decision, but they also want to nurture their families, which involves getting, not ignoring, their input on what she should buy for them.

This presents a huge opportunity for marketers - they can capitalize on the shift in how families make purchases. Even with the new research available, many marketers are acting as though nothing has changed in the last 30 years; thus, they still almost exclusively make their pitches to moms. Why not include dads, too? Companies that can stay ahead of the curve on this (like J&J) could grab significant market share from their competitors who are still stuck in what we feel is an outdated model.

Dads - are you part of the FAST! Movement? Do you do much or most of the shopping in your family?

Editor’s note: NFI can help you figure out how to reach dads – we have been doing it for 17 years. Contact Vince DiCaro at for more information.

*All research taken from "Marketing to Dads - US - August 2010." Mintel.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Are you an Angry Dad? If not, well maybe you should be!

A few nights ago, while I was doing my P90X workout (yes, that’s a shameless plug.), I decided to check out the latest “The Simpsons” episode on Hulu. Ironically, the title of the show was “Angry Dad: The Movie,” so I knew that I was in for a treat…not. You see, The Simpsons show has made millions for decades “buffoonorizing” dads in the form of Homer Simpson. Thanks to the show’s handy work, when millions of adults and kids are asked to name a TV dad, Homer is sure the top the list. Not Cliff Huxtable. Homer.

Let’s face it. When it comes to TV dads, we have gone from “Father Knows Best” to father knows nothing. The vast majority of dads on TV, in series or commercials, are portrayed as dumb, dangerous or disaffected. Generally, fathers are not just the butt of the joke, they are the butt…

In any case, in the episode, an executive visited the Simpson home because he came across an animated cartoon that Bart created titled “Angry Dad,” which chronicled Homer’s immature antics. The executive thought this cartoon was great, so much so that he convinced a Hollywood studio to make it into a movie. So, the family headed to Hollywood to get it done. Interestingly, as Bart and the executive were heading in to see the movie producers, the executive assured him that the movie had real potential. In fact, he said, “Everyone has an angry dad…even me.” And then the scene showed a flashback 'thought bubble' of the executive’s dad yelling at him as a small boy.

Well, it turned out that the executive was right. The Angry Dad movie won a Golden Globe and an Oscar, of course, with Homer playing the part of the angry and inconsiderate dad through each award show.

Now, I like a good joke as much as anyone. After all, I recently blogged about my deep affection for the much-maligned fanny pack. But, I really think that there is a problem here, especially since the show's success is built upon the notion of the “idiot” dad that is so prevalent and damaging in our culture. Indeed, media has power to shape norms, attitudes and behaviors. (Just think about how many glee clubs have formed recently due to the success of “Glee.”) Also, it’s worth noting that in our recent national survey of fathers called “Pop’s Culture,” dads cited media/pop culture as the second biggest obstacle to good fathering.

Moreover, as I have watched the show over the years, I have detected a very clear pattern. If you rank the characters based on who is responsible and competent, the list goes like this:

1. Marge
2. Lisa
3. Maggie (a non speaking infant)
4. Bart
5. Homer
6. Abe (Homer’s father)

Interestingly, in a non-fiction book called “The Psychology of The Simpsons: D'oh!,” which analyzed the psychological themes in the show, authors Alan Brown, Ph.D. and Chris Logan described Abe Simpson as follows:

“Abe has the least amount of "power" in the Simpson family, and he is treated as little more than a child and is often ignored.”

D’oh! Indeed. And, come to think of it, the one dad on the show that really cares about his kids, Ned Flanders, is often made to look like an idiot as well, even by Homer.

So, before the legions of The Simpsons fans tell me that I am overacting and “Don’t have a cow, man,” I need to hear from the fathers. Are you an angry dad? I wasn’t before watching this The Simpson episode. Now…I am not so sure.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What Doesn’t Kill You? Being a Good Dad.

I just watched the film, “What Doesn’t Kill You,” with Mark Ruffalo and Ethan Hawke. Ruffalo and Hawke play childhood friends (Brian and Paulie) who get involved in Boston’s organized crime scene, landing them both in prison.

In addition to the obvious victims of their crimes, Brian leaves behind a few other equally important victims – his wife and two children.

His relationship with his wife is frayed before he even goes to jail as a result of his drug habit, violent outbursts, and lack of involvement in his children’s lives. When he leaves prison after a 5-year sentence, his wife seems willing to give him a second chance. Unfortunately, he starts falling into the same habits again, and is on the brink of completely ruining the second chance he has been given.

Paulie is now out of jail, too, and they are about to attempt an armored car heist. But shortly before the day of the heist, Brian has a conversation with his older son, Mark, who is about 10-years-old. Mark is sitting on the front step of their house, looking kind of sad, and Brian tells him that he is sorry for messing up. He tells his son that he is very proud of the man he is becoming, and then asks him what he can do to be a better father. His son simply says, “Don’t leave us again.”

Where do I start?

First, if you know any 10-year-old boys, you know that they are often not very talkative, and especially not when it comes to emotional situations like this. So, for Mark to make this admission this way is very powerful.

Second, we often overcomplicate what it means to be a good father. Sure, there are skills that are needed, and habits that must be formed. But the most important thing -- the thing that children (the real experts on what fathers need to do) often articulate best -- is simply dad’s presence.

This is not to be underestimated. In a world where there are so many things competing for our attention, and in which there are so many temptations to succumb to, especially for men, it is easy to forget just how much a dad’s presence in the home communicates to his children.

A dad’s presence tells his children that there is nothing else in the world more important to him than them. Roland Warren, NFI’s president, calls it “thereness.” No one else can “do this” for you. The best role model or mentor in the world can’t show children what it means for their own father to actually be there.

The night before the heist is to take place, Brian envisions himself getting caught and being sent back to jail. After talking to his son, he knows this is not an option. He tells Paulie he can’t do it. Fortunately, Paulie understands.

The movie then closes with a scene of Brian sitting in the stands at his son’s football game. Mark makes a good play on the field, and then looks into the crowd and sees his dad stand up and raise his fist in the air to cheer him on. Cut to black.

What doesn’t kill you? Being the kind of father your children need you to be, that’s what.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

One Dad’s Limerick in Praise of the Fanny Pack

There once was a dad named Roland
Whose name sounded a bit like Holland

He often wore a pack
Near his fanny, in fact

And now the fashion world says
That he’s stylin'

Last week, this WSJ article informed us that the much maligned “fanny pack” is all the rage on catwalks from New York to Paris. NFI posted this article on Twitter and the tweets began flying quickly about how no self respecting dad would be found dead or alive in one of these.

Well, as a dad and fan of said pack, I felt compelled to come clean and "represent."

Now, it has been a few years, but when my sons were young and we were traveling, I proudly called the fanny pack my faithful and convenient friend. Granted, our relationship was more about substance than style. It enabled me to always have exactly what I needed for my very active sons at my finger tips, yet still be hands-free.

Let’s face it. The fanny pack has some other impressive and quite manly fans, such as rock climbers and first responder EMTs. It makes sense. As a dad (especially a new one) on many occasions I certainly felt like I was hanging on for dear life. And, good dads are nothing if not first responders to their children’s needs.

So, there you have it. I have laid myself bare--with my fanny pack strategically positioned, of course. And, in the slightly modified famous words of Martin Luther, as he stood before an inquisition, I say: “Here I stand. I can do no other…”

Friday, February 11, 2011

Guest Post: 30 Days (Or More!)

This is a guest post from Jeff Allanach, a newspaper editor in Maryland. Jeff is a married father of two children, and writes about fatherhood in his weekly column. You can follow Jeff on his Facebook page, Adventures in Fatherhood.

I’m at my best when I do one of two things: play with my children and write.

I feel like Superman when I combine the two, so I saw a great opportunity to leap tall buildings in a single bound when I signed up for “30 Days to Be a Better Dad,” the National Fatherhood Initiative’s program to kick off 2011.

I figured I would write in great detail about my efforts to hone my fathering skills as part of the program. I would share my triumphs with anyone who cared to read about them by answering every question the initiative asked and doing every task challenged of me.

I could do it, I figured. After all, I'm Superman. It would be “American Idol” and “The Justice League” combined in one string of blog posts.

I started out OK by answering a couple of questions in the first e-mail in early January. Yes, I know what my children need (a father who loves them) and we do follow daily routines (two, in fact, morning and night) they find comforting.

It wasn’t as much as I originally planned because I couldn’t find the time to write as much as I wanted. I shrugged, figuring I could still be Batman if not Superman. After all, driving the Batmobile is kind of like flying, right?

I checked off the first week, and waited in anticipation for the next one. When it came, I quickly read through it and gravitated to one tip in particular: “Stay focused.”

No problem, I said. I’m Batman. He has to focus to work all his cool gadgets. I went about my day, which slipped into a week, and then some. So much for staying focused. I tweaked my plan again, and figured I would be Aquaman instead of Batman. After all, talking to fish is kind of like driving the Batmobile, right?

The third week came, and I realized that I already do most of the activities the initiative suggested. I play with my children. I read with them. We bake cookies and have movie nights. The only problem was that it wasn’t the third week. I had fallen behind to the fourth week. I shrugged again, and figured I could be Plastic Man if not Aquaman. After all, being super stretchy is kind of like talking to fish, right?

I looked back at the previous 30 days to account for my time. How could I not find time to write? It’s what I do best. Saturday mornings are a great time to write, but I’ve been taking my daughter to gymnastics, so no writing then. It snowed several times, and that gives me a great opportunity to write because I’m trapped inside. But then again, the best time to make a snowman with your children is when it snows, so no writing then. Evenings are another good time to write, but then there’s homework and Wii Lego Star Wars with the kids, so no writing then. Let’s see, we also did a 500-piece Barbie puzzle, played Legos, and had a marathon session of Connect Four.

No wonder I didn’t have time to write as much as I planned. I was too busy being a dad, and being dad beats Superman every time.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Why Should Dad Care?

A recently released study by The Ohio State University suggests that in families with young children, the parents were more likely to have a stronger and more supportive co-parenting relationship if the dad was more involved in play activities than in caregiving activities with the child. On the flip side, if the dad spent more time in caregiving activities (i.e. preparing meals, bathing the child, etc.), the parents were more likely to be less supportive and more undermining towards each other.

Given that today’s dads have taken on significantly more responsibility in the home and family than previous generations of fathers, this is an interesting and, at first glance, a potentially concerning finding.

This increased likelihood of tension between parents when dad helps out with the kids might be due to the mom’s response to the father. The study noted that, “fathers’ increased involvement in caregiving might also arouse negative maternal gatekeeping behaviors (a particular type of undermining behavior) as mothers consciously or unconsciously try to protect their authority over parenting.”

NFI recently conducted a survey called Mama Says of 1,533 moms (a sample more than 10 times the size of the OSU study) on their attitudes about fathering. A couple findings from that survey are relevant here:

  • 84% of moms recognize that mothers and fathers parent in different ways.
  • 93% of moms think mothers are more nurturing than fathers
  • 66% of moms think they’d be able to balance work and family better if they had more support from the father.
The bottom line is that moms and dads are wired to interact with their kids in different ways. But different doesn’t always mean wrong. Different can actually be helpful, if both parties can recognize that.

Kids need both their parents to be involved in all aspects of their lives. How mom and dad divide parenting responsibilities will vary from family to family, but if both parents can be mutually supportive of each other, everyone wins – especially the kids.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Guest Post: It Takes a Healthy Heart

This is a guest post from Angel Cicerone, president and co-founder of, an initiative to provide parents and educators with physical activity ideas and information for children.

If we ever needed proof of just how significant a role dads play in their kid’s physical health, we certainly got it during the development of, an internet site that provides physical activity ideas for kids.

We were recruiting children to star in our workout videos, so we held a casting call. The kids were required to be in good physical shape and able to perform the exercises.

In interviewing nearly 100 children during the process, we asked them all what kind of physical activities they enjoyed. By the end of the day, we had an amazing “A-ha” moment. The majority of the kids indicated their major activities consisted of doing something with their dads. “My dad and I go biking every morning.” “I go running with my dad.” “My dad and I play tennis together.” The story repeated itself in various iterations over and over throughout the day.

It became very clear that dads have a tremendous influence on the type and amount of physical activity a child engaged in. Moreover, it was evident these kids were having fun engaging in these activities and enjoying the time spent with their fathers.

As we began working with the National Fatherhood Initiative, we learned just how important father involvement is in impacting children’s physical health.

A recent study on the factors associated with the physical activity of preschool children found that a father’s BodyMass Index (BMI) -- a measurement of the relative composition of fat and muscle mass in the human body -- is directly related to his children’s activity level.
Another study looked at family lifestyle and parental BMI as predictors of the BMI of their
children. The study was conducted over a 9 year period and found:
  • Father’s BMI is predictive of son’s and daughter’s BMI
  • BMI in sons and daughters is consistently higher when fathers are overweight or obese
  • Obesity of fathers is associated with a four-fold increase in the risk of obesity of sons and daughters at age 18
With over two-thirds of all Americans either overweight or obese, we need to understand that dads and kids can work together to the benefit of their entire family’s physical health. Physical activity not only keeps everyone healthy, it’s a wonderful – and free – opportunity for parents and children to bond and create positive lifelong habits, better health, and wonderful memories.

Check out NFI's It Takes Heart campaign to receive free, weekly information throughout the month of February (American Heart Awareness Month) on how to deal with all of your "heart" issues - taking care of your health, your kids' health, and your relationships, too!