Thursday, April 28, 2011

Vote to Support the Courage of Military Dads

Recently, I wrote a blog post called “What Can Happen When Too Many Dads Choose Comfort Rather Than Courage” about my visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. While at the museum, I noticed a poster for the movie, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” It was a good reminder for me because I really wanted to see this movie. So last week, I did.

No spoiler alert here, but this movie had some very compelling fatherhood messages and themes. It was told through eyes of an 8-year-old German boy who lived near a Nazi concentration camp. His father was a commandant responsible for executing Hitler’s “final solution.” This movie was extremely effective in portraying how desperately little boys need to see their fathers as honorable and courageous. Unfortunately, this boy’s military father had linked his courage to a dishonorable cause and the results were tragic for millions of people, including his son.

I found it ironic that I happened to be watching this film at the time that NFI was launching a new Facebook initiative to enable the nation to select the 2011 NFI Military Fatherhood Award™ recipient. I hope that you will click here to cast your vote for one of the three courageous military dads who are honorably serving their children’s needs and our nation.

Indeed, we often do the least for those who do the most for us. Here’s a chance to set things right by voting. You can do so daily between now and May 13. Please feel free to spread the word by sharing this link - Vote for the 2011 Military Fatherhood Award - via Facebook, your blog, email, and Twitter. Thanks in advance for your help.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Guest Post: The Other Side of the Coin

This is a guest post by Shane Barkley, President of Dad the Family Shepherd & Savvy Dads, and author of Dad Cents.

"She hit me!," said one of my three daughters. Then another daughter yelled, "She called me _____!" I am sure this never happens in your home, but our daughters regularly remind my wife and I that debate always includes different sides. Just as debate has two sides, the way we approach our finances has two sides as well. The two sides of our financial coin are: 1) the short term, or the present, and 2) the long term, or the future.

I recently viewed a video by Dr. Caroline Leaf concerning our brain and new understanding researchers are gaining into its inner workings. Dr. Leaf has been studying the brain for the last twenty-five years and has some incredible insights. In the video, she explains that the two sides of our brain actually work differently than previously thought. Instead of one side being creative and the other side containing logic, the two sides function in the following way: One half of our brain thinks from the small picture to the big picture; the other half thinks from the big picture to the small picture. Stated another way, one half of our brain thinks from the present to the future; the other half thinks from the future to the present.

So what does our brain function have to do with money? Everything! Do you know someone who lives only for today and does not plan for the future? How about the person who lives for the future to the detriment of their life, or health, today? These perspectives are both unbalanced, especially when applied to our finances. We must teach our children to have a balanced thought process of the present and the future concerning the use of money.

Examples of living for today are not hard to find. One of the best examples of this problem is the United States government. What are we doing to the future of our children by passing on a fourteen trillion dollar (that is $14,000,000,000,000.00) debt to our children?

How does this need for balance affect our daily living? Trust me, I know the rigors of the wants and desires of our children—including what we as parents expect of our children—but balancing these desires with our actual cash flow is tricky. Do you have the recommended three to six months' salary in a savings account? I know very few that are able to keep those kinds of reserves for a rainy day. As a matter of fact, my family has difficulty with keeping this kind of reserve! When a job is lost or pay is cut, what happens to families in our country? Homes and cars are repossessed! The instability of our economy is challenging many families.

So what may be the best way to help your children understand how to think about money? It's the example you demonstrate in your financial life!

A survey of teenagers, completed in 2010, asked this question, "The biggest influence on the way I spend and save money is...?" The four choices provided in the questionnaire were teachers, the media (including TV, magazines, books, radio or celebrities), friends, and their parents. The answer 7 of 10 teens gave was... drum roll please... THEIR PARENTS!!!! (Notice the key words in the question "...spend and save..." which is another way of saying the present and the future!)

You may be thinking, "Oh, no!" But take heart! If you have not given your kids a good example thus far, you still can. My encouragement to you is, be intentional! Take the time to learn about improving your finances and allow your kids to participate in the learning.

Editor's note: Shane's book, Dad Cents, gives you the practical tools you need to help your kids avoid some or most of the mistakes you may have made with money. Shane is offering NFI's Dad Email readers and Father Factor blog readers a special on the book! Click here to order.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of National Fatherhood Initiative.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fathers, be good to your daughters

This is a post by Hännah Schellhase, NFI's Development Specialist

The secret heartache caused by broken families and father failure is frequently laid bare by the tabloids covering the lives of pop stars. Emptiness caused by divorce and absent or abusive fathers has been the catalyst for the ruin of many of Hollywood’s darlings.

John Mayer’s song “Daughters” won the 2005 Grammy for Song of the Year. The lyrics carry a rebuke to fathers for how they treat their daughters because of the profound influence a father’s actions have on the psyche of a daughter. A portion of the lyrics reads:

I know a girl
She puts the color inside of my world
But she's just like a maze
Where all of the walls all continually change
And I've done all I can
To stand on her steps with my heart in my hands
Now I'm starting to see
Maybe it's got nothing to do with me

Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters too

Oh, you see that skin?
It's the same she's been standing in
Since the day she saw him walking away
Now she's left
Cleaning up the mess he made

So fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters too

Mayer has captured the cyclical nightmare that is created when a girl is mistreated or abandoned by her father. “Daughters” describes the emotional confusion daughters feel when their fathers are absent or uninvolved, either physically or emotionally.

A woman’s definition of her self-worth and the nature of love is often formed by early impressions of her father’s relationship to both her and her mother. Without a healthy family framework to define these things for her, a girl is often left scrambling to piece together meaning for herself, and has to work through significant emotional barriers in order to commit to a loving relationship or a healthy lifestyle for herself.

Taylor Swift’s new song “Mine” captures this struggle perfectly—learning to trust and love is an incredibly difficult thing for a daughter to learn if her father hasn’t modeled these things well.

The tabloid gossip confirms this in its own typically crass fashion: Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, and Chris Brown have all been made into public spectacles as the paparazzi followed their downward spirals.

Teen star Lindsay Lohan fell into drugs and alcohol and has ruined her career with courtroom scandals and immature behavior. Her mother is always at her side at court hearings—but where is her father? Michael Lohan spent Lindsay’s childhood years in and out of jail and in highly publicized affairs, finally divorcing her mother Dina in 2007. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but Lindsay’s first DUI was also that same year. Fathers, be good to your daughters.

Britney Spears’ meltdown between 2007 and 2008 was highly publicized by the tabloids, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief when she was placed into the conservatorship of her father, James Spears. It was after James became involved that Britney seemed to dust herself off and become stable again. But perhaps if her parents’ marriage had been stable during her childhood, the scandal and psychotic behavior later could have been prevented. When her parents divorced in 2002, Britney told the gossip-mongers that it was “the best thing that ever happened to my family” and “when I was a baby, they argued.”

An involved father committed to a loving relationship with the mother can make all the difference for what sort of woman a girl becomes. "Fathers, be good to your daughters, daughters will love like you do, girls become lovers who turn into mothers…"

R&B singer Chris Brown nearly ruined his career when his girlfriend, pop artist Rihanna, appeared in public with bruises in 2009. It turned out that Chris had beaten Rihanna several times during arguments, and he was later given a restraining order and five years of parole. Many fans were disgusted with his behavior—hitting a woman is despicable.

However, a father’s behavior is often shown to be a predictor of the behavior of his children, and Brown had spoken many times before the incident about how traumatized he had been by how his stepfather abused his mom. Brown grew up in a home where his mom was regularly beaten and verbally abused—and like most children, Brown later learned that it’s nearly impossible to break free from the cycle of "loving" like your family "loved."

Mayer’s song says “So fathers, be good to your daughters, daughters will love like you do,” but sons learn how to treat women from their fathers—sons will love like their fathers do.

If more dads were dedicated to being involved, if more dads were careful with how they loved their daughters, there would be so much less heartbreak as children try to enter adulthood without any idea of what real commitment, unconditional love, or an unbroken family looks like. There would be less need for songs like P!nk’s “Perfect” or Bruno Mars' “Just the Way You Are”, as the women in these songs might have had the chance to understand their worth and beauty from the affirmations of a caring father. So fathers, be good to your daughters too.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Are You Trying to Rob Your Kids?

This month’s focus at NFI is “Dad Cents,” and our plan is to give dads sound advice about ways that dads can improve their kids’ financial literacy.

Since I worked in banking, this area is near and dear to my heart. Indeed, I often use financial lingo when I am discussing fatherhood principles. For example, I talk about how important it is to “invest” in your child’s life and how critical it is for dads to make regular, substantial, and consistent “deposits” in their children’s relationship “bank accounts.” After all, chances are that one day – like when a daughter wants to date a junior member of the Hell’s Angels or a son wants to tattoo the name of his most recent girlfriend across his forehead – you may have to make a huge withdrawal. Frankly, if you have not made these deposits, the conversation could sound something like this…

(Scene—You rush into the lobby of the 'First National Bank of Your 15-year-old Daughter’s Heart' and quickly approach her window.)

Your Daughter: Good afternoon. How may I help you?
You: Hi. I need make a big withdrawal fast!
Your Daughter: Ok, sir. No problem. Could you please let me see some ID?
You: Sure.
(You hand her a copy of her birth certificate where you are listed as “Father.”)
Your Daughter: Everything looks in order, Dad. Please wait just a minute while I check your account.
(She turns away from you but then gets a strange look on her face.)
You: Is there a problem?
Your Daughter: Yes, sort of. I clearly see that you opened an account here a long time ago, but it doesn’t appear to have a sufficient balance for you to make a big withdrawal. When was the last time that you made a deposit?
You: Well, I don’t remember. I guess it’s been a while. You know, I have been very busy working and stuff like that. But, my wife has been making lots of deposits. Seems like every time I turn around she is heading here. Since we are married, can’t I just make a withdrawal from her account?
Your Daughter: Dad, no you can’t because we don’t offer joint accounts here.
You: Oh yeah…That’s right…I remember hearing that. What about a loan? Can I get one of those?
Your Daughter: I’m sorry…We don’t offer loans either. You can only withdraw what you have deposited.
(You start to get a bit upset…)
You: Well that just doesn’t seem fair! I clearly have an account. And, well, I need to make a withdrawal. Can’t you make an exception? After all, I am DAD.
Your Daughter: Dad. I am sorry. I just can’t help you...
(You are becoming more upset…)
You: Well, doggone it, I am not going to take no for answer.
(Your daughter gets a concerned and stern look on her face and you can see her reaching under the counter to push the button for security.)
Your Daughter: As I said, I can’t help you. You knew the rules when you opened the account. How can you expect to withdraw funds that you didn’t deposit? That’s just not the way it works here. All you had to do was make consistent deposits. Even small ones would have been fine because “interest”—your interest—would have compounded these deposits substantially over time. Taking deposits that don’t belong to you is, well, robbery. So, I need to ask you to leave now. Or, do I need to call security?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Honoring Military Dads

Voting for the 2011 Military Fatherhood Award is now open to the public!

For the first time ever, NFI is allowing the public to help us choose the winner of this special award. We received nearly 600 nominations of incredible military dads from all over the country. Then we painstakingly narrowed the field down to our three finalists -- and now you can help us select the winner.

Each finalist's friends and family have submitted a video of why they think their dad should win the award. Click the image below to view the videos and cast your vote for your favorite military dad! Voting closes on May 13, and you can vote once a day until then. The winner will be announced by May 27.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Guest Post: Teaching Your Children the Power of a Dollar

This is a guest post from Luke Swygard, Financial Representative with Northwest Mutual Financial Network serving the Maryland/Virginia area. He is a married father with two children and lives in Richmond, VA. Visit his website at for more information about his financial services.

The most precious moment of my day is walking in the door and hearing my boys racing to the door to see who can be the first to jump into my arms. Wow, what a feeling! Yes my boys are at the age where me coming home is still a cool thing, and I’m sure that will change over the years as it did for me and my father. Still today, I embrace excitedly some of the financial principles my father instilled in me and I smile each time I remember his wisdom.

The biggest principle he taught me is to never spend more than I earn. Simple. To the point. Not so easy. We live in a world today that demands we please ourselves, our spouses, our children, and our image. It’s a challenge to walk into Target or WalMart today and get through the store without your children looking at you with hopeful eyes that they might get something “special”…something that quickly finds its way to the bottom of the toy box. But how do we say no to that look, and better yet how do we teach them the value of an earned dollar and the power that it has to control us or help us?

Today I want to unwrap that power of a dollar and how we can teach that to our children. It’s invaluable to know the difference between a need and a want and talking with our children in simple economic principles. A need is food, shelter, and clothing. Moving forward from that…do we buy ramen noodles for dinner, or do we go to the finest restaurant in town? Do we rent a small apartment or do we live in a mansion on the water? Do we shop at Salvation Army or do we go to the fine clothiers in the fancy shopping center? Help your children define in needs and wants how to know what is prudent and what isn’t is extremely important. Thinking through that from my father’s advice, it’s all based on your income. You make a little and you live on less. You make a lot and you live on less. Either way there is distance between your expense and income, and that distance is in your favor.

Practical ways to help your children understand your thought process when you purchase things is a really fun exercise. Surprisingly you start making better financial decisions when you have to justify it to your children. Say you are at McDonalds and you are trying to decide between the happy meal and the value meal and you explain that by ordering three items off the value meal (value fries, cheeseburger, and small drink) for $3.00 versus spending $4 on the happy meal, you have the power of another dollar still in your pocket. The next logical question is what is the power of that dollar!

It still amazes me the time value of money. Albert Einstein referred to compound interest as the eighth wonder of the world and it truly is amazing. Realize for a second that a dollar invested today is worth thirty two dollars just thirty-five years from now. (Average rate of return in the market is about 7% over that time period). I know it is not an easy thing to tell your son or daughter that you aren’t getting a happy meal with a toy, but if you help them understand that by you saving that one dollar and setting it aside later for them that when they are 40 it will be $32 or when they are 75 it’s $4,096. Truly a wonder. Just imagine if you didn’t go to McDonald’s and you got the ramen noodles!

In summary there are really two thoughts. Spend less than you make and save the difference. If you do that you’ll find yourself getting ahead financially. Take your children to the grocery store and talk to them about why you pick one thing off the shelf and not another. Just last night I asked my five year old as we were looking at red onions which one was a better buy. He looked at the price per pound and promptly answered correctly. Have fun with your kids, do math in the grocery store, but never forget to tell them why it is important to know where your money goes. We worked hard for that dollar and we can make that dollar work hard for us, but if you’re not careful, the longing for what the world tells us will creep in and we’ll soon find we are strapped too tight or we don’t have enough money left over each month to save.

I leave you with one last challenge, what legacy will you leave for your children?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"Tiger Mom" and "Panda Dad"

A few months ago, I blogged about the "Tiger Mother" phenomenon and the lack of discussion about dads in all of the hullabaloo.

Well, two things happened this weekend that answered many of the questions I asked in that blog post.

First, I was at a bookstore and saw the actual cover of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother for the first time, and the text blew me away. It said, "This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs." This is a married mom whose husband lived in the same home as her and her children, and he does not even get a mention on the cover? - but the dogs do!? Furthermore, she has revealed that it was her own father who "inspired" her parenting techniques. But her husband is less worth mentioning than the family pets? Am I crazy, or is it OK for me to be upset about this?

The second thing that happened is that I found out that a dad actually did write an essay for the Wall Street Journal just last week asking the very question (and providing an answer) that we asked here on The Father Factor - where are the dads?

This dad, Alan Paul, lived in Beijing and wrote a book detailing his experience, Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Becoming a Star in Beijing. In his Wall Street Journal piece, he talks about how his parenting techniques are very different than those of the Tiger Mom, and he attributes these differences largely to the fact that moms and dads are simply different. He sums it up like this: "To make a sweeping generalization, moms tend to be more detail oriented, and order driven. Dads often care less about the mess, can live with a bit more chaos and more easily adopt a big picture view."

I think he is right, and research has actually verified those claims. He calls himself a Panda Dad, due to his propensity to "parent with cuddliness, but not [be] afraid to show some claw."

I like it! What I like best is that Paul is not afraid to talk about how the differing parenting techniques of moms and dads are both real and helpful to kids. And it is great to see a dad step into the fray and provide an important answer to an 'unasked' question. At a time when 24 million children in America - 1 in every 3 - are growing up apart from their fathers, it is critical that discussions about parenting don't ignore fathers.

Hats off to Mr. Paul for his work as a writer, and more importantly, as a Panda Dad!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fatherhood is Like Real Estate

A new study has found that one in five American moms have kids with more than one birth father. This is disheartening news for a number of reasons, but the analysis provided by the MSNBC story in which I read about the study ignores the most important reason.

Let's take a step back for a moment. As NFI's president, Roland C. Warren, is fond of saying, "Fatherhood is like real estate. It is about location, location, location." In other words, where a father lives in relation to his kids makes an enormous difference in the quality of his relationship with them. In fact, the most influential variable that determines father-child relationship quality is co-residence. Furthermore, fully 40 percent (2 in 5) of kids who do not live in the same home as their fathers have had no contact with their fathers in the last year.

So, let's get back to the story and the study. In virtually every case in which a mom has children with more than one dad, she is not living with all of the dads. Therefore, some of her children are living apart from their fathers. In fact, what we know from research suggests that it is likely that none of her children are living with their father.

However, in the "analysis" of what this new data means, the MSNBC story says nothing, I repeat nothing, about how this trend will affect father involvement. The article essentially talks about the impact on moms. It mentions that it may have an impact on kids, but gives no specifics, and seems to suggest that the impact on children would only be the result of the impact on mom.

If the reporter had called us before she wrote the story, we would have certainly given her some data to show what happens, on average, when kids grow up without dads. Here are a ton of examples. I find it surprising that, given all we know about how father absence affects children, and all of the social and cultural "movement" taking place to renew fatherhood in America, that a story like this, in a major news source, can still be written. In my view, it completely misses the mark.

What do you think?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Are Your Kids Sleeping with the Enemy?

This past summer, my 15-year-old niece spent about 2 weeks with me. I always look forward to spending time with her. She lives with her mother—my sister—full time. Since her dad has not been around as much as she would like, I, as her uncle, have become a “Double Duty Dad” to her.

In any case, whenever we are together, it’s always a unique opportunity to get a peek into what’s happening in the teen world these days. On this occasion, I decided to ask her about texting, which was an appropriate topic since her cell phone, like most teen’s phones, appeared to be surgically connected to her hand. So, I asked if she ever had a problem with her friends sending her text messages during the school year, late into the night. She quickly told me “absolutely” and that it’s a big problem. Although she knew that she needed to get her rest, she admitted that she is extremely tempted to respond to these nightly messages, lest she miss some important “news.”

My conversation with my niece caused me to consider two things. First, I could not help but think about the countless number of children who are engaged in nocturnal texting while their dads think that they are fast asleep. Second, I could not help but wonder why a dad would allow his child to keep a cell phone in his or her room overnight anyway. Let’s face it, unless a kid is a “first responder” (i.e. an EMT, firefighter or police officer) or President of the United States, there is really no reason—despite what a kid may say—for them to have a cell phone overnight. In fact, the more that they protest, the more reason there is for you make the nighttime bedroom a "no cell phone zone." Indeed, to quote Hamlet: "[They] doth protest too much, methinks.”

Now, you may think that I am being a bit harsh, or that I am a cell phone hating troglodyte who wants to make living with your teen…well, complicated. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a dad who raised two teen boys, I remember well the challenges and the need to pick your battles. But, if your teen is “sleeping with the enemy,” much is at stake. Here’s why.

Recently, bestselling author Po Bronson along with Ashley Merryman wrote a great book called, “Nurture Shock—New Thinking About Children.” It’s an excellent book that I highly recommend. But even if you can’t read the whole book, I strongly suggest that you read the chapter titled, “The Lost Hour,” which discusses the fact that children are getting an hour less sleep than they did thirty years ago. Bronson and Merryman lay out clearly the considerable research that suggests that this lost hour costs our kids IQ points.

Also, a lack of sleep has also been linked to a negative impact on a child’s emotional well-being, ADHD, obesity, and “fall asleep” car accidents. Furthermore, the impact of lost sleep is especially critical for teens because of the change in their circadian clock as they move through puberty.

Let’s face it. As a “tech savvy daddy,” it’s just as important to know how to limit your children’s use of technology as it is to know when and how to encourage them to embrace it. I know this can be difficult because technology tends to change faster than parenting techniques. That’s why I encourage all dads to step into the mix on this issue. Trust me. Your kids will sleep better. And so will you.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Being There

Hamish McLennan recently stepped down as global chairman and chief executive of Young & Rubicam, a major advertising agency. He talked about why he stepped down in this piece from Bloomberg Businessweek.

One of the key lines from the piece is this: "My daughter is 13, and my son is 11... I don't want them to leave home and say, 'Well, you had a great career, but we don't know you.'"

To say the least, it takes a lot of guts just to realize this, and then it takes even more guts to actually take action on it by leaving a position that was surely earning him a lot of money.

However, McLennan is not alone in how he surely felt before making this brave decision. Research is now showing that fathers feel MORE work-family conflict than mothers do. And most companies still view work-family conflict as an issue they must resolve for women, not for men.

But there are efforts afoot, backed by a diverse set of organizations, to address how these issues deeply affect working fathers. Stay tuned for more on what NFI is doing in this area.

But for now, the best way to learn about this issue is to simply listen to the words of Mr. McLennan, who says at the end of the article, "At 44, I'd rather be known as a good father than a good CEO."

Wise words. In fact, it is probably a good exercise to say to yourself, "I'd rather be known as a good father than a good (fill in the blank)," because whatever you can fill in the blank with is probably less important than being a good dad.