Friday, July 29, 2011

Men at Work: Time and Turf Wait for No One

Husbands across the country can celebrate – Time magazine has printed (on its cover no less!) that married men and women do the same amount of work each day! (Chore Wars, 8/8/11)

This assertion is based on new U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data that shows that when you combine paid (your job) and unpaid (child care and housework) work, married moms work only about 20 minutes more per day than married dads do, the smallest difference ever reported (in childless couples, men actually work - paid and unpaid - 8 minutes more per day than women!).

While it has become popular for women to air their grievances about their lazy husbands and for the culture to permit them to do so, I think this data is not surprising to most people (is it?).

As the article points out, when mom comes home and starts her “second shift” of caring for the children, it is because dad is still at work… working.

In other words, just because dad’s “first shift” is longer than mom’s does not mean she is working more. She is working “differently” and, as most people also understand, she is often doing so by choice. As the writer of the story -- a working mom -- points out, she is exhausted by all the work she has to do because she decides to go home earlier than her husband does, and thus is the one who faces the children and messy house first.

But despite this, married dads are putting in 53 minutes per day of child care – three times more than they did in 1965 – while moms put in 70 minutes per day (about the same as they did in 1965).

But enough with the data. What is really going on here? Why do moms still feel overwhelmed?

A few of us at NFI have long asserted that the reason moms feel overwhelmed is that they have a powerful desire to be the lead organizer/scheduler/chauffeur/referee/cook/etc in the home, regardless of how much they work, and they often do so at the expense of dad’s involvement. Sharon Meers, in her book Getting to 50/50, writes extensively about this.

So, while dads have had to make room in the workplace for moms, moms have not been expected to (nor have they often been willing to) make room for dad in the home to the same extent. Clearly, out of necessity, working moms have had to allow dads to get more involved, but the fact that women still feel overwhelmed is a testament to the idea that they sometimes can’t let go of their traditional “dominion” over all things domestic.

So, really, the debate is no longer about time, but about “turf” -- and moms want to retain their “home turf” advantage.

This leaves dads in a “transitional” space in which they are expected to do a little more at home (but not too much!), and still be full partners at work. Thus, we have dads feeling even more work-family conflict than moms do! (see the Time article)

So, while it is helpful to have data that shows that dads are not slackers, we still have a problem to solve: how can we help moms feel more comfortable ceding some of their home turf to dads?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Out and About with Trees ...and Books?

This is a guest post by Ave Mulhern, NFI's Director of the National Responsible Fatherhood Capacity Building Initiative. She shares her memories of exploring the great outdoors with her dad as a child as part of NFI's campaign to help Dads "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer."

Being in the great outdoors was not a big part of my upbringing. I tend to be more comfortable in the great indoors.

That being said, I do remember some wonderful times being out and about with my father who had a love of books and trees. I am the sixth child of a family of eight. Five boys first, then three girls - I am the first girl. In a way, we were like two separate families. The wild, older boys were all car fanatics and they worked in my fathers business, a service station. When we girls came along, my dad was obviously an older, kinder and gentler version of a father. Don’t get me wrong, he was always a bit of a grump and in his later years, he was called (to his face) “Grumps.” This probably was due to a disappointing life for a bright and scholarly man on his way to becoming an attorney who ended up owning a service station fixing peoples cars. Life happens, but with this latter, gentler, girl family he was able to leave the grease behind, for a bit, and have an attentive audience of three to spend time with and share his love of learning - and we believed he knew just about everything.

My father Cornelius (aka Connie) was an avid reader. I can barely muster up a mental image of him not reading a book. He loved history books, business and real estate books, biographies, and nature books. In the summer, he literally took us to the library every single week – and if we didn't bicker in the car, we might get an ice cream at Chernoff’s Pharmacy. He took us to quirky old used bookstores and he owned a lot of books. One collection was the little Golden Field Guides - you know, those little pocket sized nature books titled Birds of North America, Rocks and Minerals, and SeaShells of North America? I suppose they have versions for other areas than North America? But the one I remember most is Trees of North America. I still have it around here somewhere.

Dad would drive to nearby Morris Arboretum armed with the little tree book and he would send us off to identify certain trees. I once successfully spotted a Beech tree based on his vivid description of how the enormous and magnificent branches grow out and down to touch the ground like a giant 70-foot-wide shrub - but underneath, those low branches create a sort of “house” or “fort” that you could play in. He reminded us that these trees must be planted with enough foresight to ensure the proper setting and enough room to mature into their magnificence. Dad drove us around town showing us where the township built the sidewalk around a 200-year-old oak tree preserving it for the future. We saw distinctive Horse Chestnut trees with spring flowers and fall conkers (nuts), the toxic but valuable Black Walnut trees, the beautiful star-shaped leaves of the Sweet Gum tree and the really wretched smelling fruit of the prehistoric female Gingko tree. (The male version doesn’t stink!)

To this day, there are two specimens of those magnificent beech trees, properly placed mind you, on the front lawn of a beautiful estate home nearby. I never pass by them without thinking fondly of my dad and our somewhat-outdoor adventures. My own children were not as interested as my sisters and I – but right now I am looking for that little Trees of North America field guidebook so I can take it with me to Wisconsin to share with our grandchildren. Hey, is Wisconsin considered North America?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Crossing the River Together

This is a blog post by NFI's Director of Program Support Services, Mike Yudt. In addition to being a father of two boys, Mike is a Double Duty Dad by being a mentor to a boy who is growing up without a father. Mike and his mentee recently went on an outdoor adventure together - Mike shares about this experience as part of NFI's campaign to help Dads "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer."

I’ve been mentoring a boy from Baltimore city for the past 4 years. His name is Aaron and he recently completed his freshman year in high school.

When we first met, he was a skinny 12 year old kid, but is now fast becoming a young man. My heart has been tied to Aaron for several reasons. Given what I do at National Fatherhood Initiative, I sense a special calling to stay connected to Aaron as much as possible since he does not have a relationship with his father. It’s a long story, but the short of it is: neither his mom or his dad are there for him, but he has been raised by his loving grandma.

I know that I can never completely fill the role that his dad is supposed to fill. However, that’s not to say that good can not come out of mentoring relationships. I would not be serving as a mentor if I felt that it wasn’t going to make a difference. The power of a mentoring relationship can go along way in helping fatherless children avoid destructive behaviors, experience the love of another adult, and feel affirmed in ways that they otherwise might not. Investing in the life of another child, whether as a mentor or as a father, can alter the trajectory of that child’s life. We need to have good men step up to the plate as mentors, just like we need an organization like NFI that can address the root cause of why mentors are needed in the first place.

Recently, Aaron and I experienced a special outdoor adventure together. We were visiting Patapsco State Park and ended up on a trail that took us down to a fast flowing river. The river was shallow enough to cross, but you had to be careful given how quickly the water was flowing downstream. We may have been able to cross the river without each other, but quickly realized that the best chance we had to get to the other side was to lock hands and move as a team. When doing so, we were able to cross the river together. And on the other side, I was able to have a conversation with Aaron about something that he was struggling with recently. Aaron is not a big talker, so I kept it brief, but to the point.

In many ways, I view my role as a mentor and as a father as helping Aaron and my children “cross the rivers of life.” Some of those rivers may seem impossible to cross. That’s why it’s critical that we as fathers commit to not only being present, but to being an active and engaged part of our children’s lives. I don’t know which rivers Aaron will be crossing in the near future, but I want to do my part in helping him cross those rivers successfully. Given the baggage that he has from his absent father, it’s especially critical that he have an extra set of male hands to do so...

Did Amy Winehouse have Two Daddies?

Last Saturday, singer Amy Winehouse was found dead in her home. She was 27 years old. Although the police state that her death is unexplained at this time, there is little doubt that her passing is the result of years of alcohol and drug abuse.

It is sadly ironic that Winehouse’s biggest hit and biographical anthem was the bluesy song “Rehab” where she declared “No. No. No.” to anyone who would suggest that she needed that kind of help. Indeed, her life imitated her art to the bitter end.

Given my work with fathers, there was one line in Rehab that I found especially disturbing. It’s when Winehouse croons, “I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine…” So, I decided to do a little research to find out who’s her daddy. After all, what kind of father would tell a daughter who was spiraling down into a deadly cycle of addiction that she’s fine?

Well, it turns out that her daddy, Mitchell Winehouse, who nurtured her unique vocal style by singing Sinatra songs to her as a child, clearly did not think that she was “fine.” In fact, it was reported that he was very concerned because his daughter exhibited early signs of emphysema and an irregular heartbeat, all linked to her chain smoking and crack cocaine use. It’s also reported that he often admonished saying, “Yes. Yes. Yes.” and encouraged her to stop touring so that she could get the rehab that she desperately needed.

So, if Winehouse’s real daddy was telling her to go to rehab, then who’s the daddy that she was referring to in her song? Could it be that Winehouse had two daddies?

I think that the answer was clearly yes. The other “daddies” were the drug dealers that made it easy for her to get the high that ultimately brought her very low. All the while, they were telling her that she was fine.

But, they weren’t the only ones.

You see, Winehouse certainly was no “candle in the wind,” but rather, she was a brush fire that the winds of fame helped stoke out of control. In her concerts, she was often high, drunk, and disorderly. Most troubling, at most shows, her fans just urged her on, like in this performance of Rehab at Glastonbury. She was barely standing and visibly incoherent. Yet, the people watching were gleefully smiling, singing, cheering, snapping pictures and taking videos. They were having fun at her expense. They were telling her, she was fine.

Yes, Winehouse had two daddies. One who loved her and gave her life. The other who used her and gave her death. And, unfortunately, she said “No, No. No.” to the wrong one.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Boogie Board Memories and Sandy Snacks

This is a blog post by Jason Katoski, NFI's Jr. Staff Accountant. Jason shares his memories of beach vacations with his dad and now with his two kids as part of NFI's campaign to help dads "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer."

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of July is the beach. As a child, my family would go to the beach every year (typically the week that the MLB had their Home Run Derby Contest and All-Star Game) and it was always the highlight of my summer. My favorite memories from the beach were when I would be on a boogie board in the water and my dad would try to set me up to catch the waves. Sometimes this didn’t work so well and a wave would wipe both of us out. That was always the best.

Now as a father of two kids (my daughter is 2 and my son is 7 months old) I have continued the tradition and we have been going to the beach with them every summer since 2009. We usually go for one weekend early in the summer to Ocean City and then later in the summer we go to Myrtle Beach for a week. It’s great to play with my daughter who likes to run to the waves crashing on the beach and then run back before the waves get her. My son loves the beach so much that he has decided his favorite food is sand!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Get Outdoors With The Lil’ Ones This Summer (And Don’t Forget The Nosh!)

This is a guest post by Madison Cowan, a chef, author, and restaurateur. In 2010 Food Network selected him as a contestant for their hit Primetime series, Chopped where he competed and won three consecutive episodes to become the first ever Chopped Grand Champion. He currently appears as a judge on Food Network's new show Extreme Chef. Most importantly, Madison is a hands-on dad to his daughter. Visit Madison's website at Madison shares his suggestions for outdoor cooking as part of NFI's campaign to help dads "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer."

Summertime in the city! And everywhere else for that matter. Absolutely nothing beats getting out in the fresh air, whether a back garden, rooftop, stoop or in a kiddie pool with a water hose over your head. Wherever you decide to take in the lovely weather be sure to bring along a bit of sustenance. I can honestly say, without question, one of my favourite ways to relax with the family is hanging out down at the beach dining alfresco.

The thing is, knocking up a picnic lunch doesn't require much planning or effort. Throw a few salad leaves together with grilled peach halves, blackberries, prosciutto, crumble over a bit of blue cheese and lightly drizzle on both olive oil and honey. Salt and pepper to taste, done. Or whisk up a quick Thai sauce of peanut butter, soy, toasted sesame oil, red wine vinegar, chopped garlic and ginger and dried chili flakes. Then pour over cold soba noodles with cooked chicken pieces and blanched broccoli florets, season to taste and garnish with thinly sliced spring onions and sesame seeds for a perfect meal in the park under the stars.

Short on time? Pop round the shops for ready made sandwiches, fresh cut vegetables, sparkling wine and a seasonal berry tart. We caught an outdoor movie recently where takeaway sushi, homemade popcorn and a few bottles of bucks fizz was the order of the day. Alternatively, you can't go wrong with a crusty baguette, cheese, fruit, chocolate and a libation of choice (juice boxes for the young'uns of course). And by all means, use what you have to hand. So shut down the computer, put away the video games, pack up the kids, sunblock, the dog and some sport equipment....nature is calling. Above all else these simple pleasures give our children an abundance of lasting memories and a love of the great outdoors for the ages. Isn't that what matters most?

This ain't about fishing

If you listen to your local country music radio station, you may have heard Trace Adkin’s new song “Just Fishin’.” If you haven’t heard it, you should… it’ll pull at your heart strings, even if you’re not a fan of country music.

This song resonates in a personal way with NFI’s Senior Director of Events and Logistics, Elaine Barber, because fishing with her dad is one of her favorite memories of childhood. Looking back now as an adult, she appreciates the significance of those moments together – as Trace Adkins says, it’s not just about fishing.

When I was 5 or 6, my Nana and Poppi had a motor home and we always used to go camping with them. I had a Snoopy fishing pole that my Poppi had gotten me and I always loved to fish with my dad when we were camping (which is funny because I don't even eat fish!) One time when we were camping, we forgot my Snoopy pole. I was so disappointed, but my dad made me a homemade fishing pole out of a stick, fishing wire, and hook -- with no reel! We used dough balls for bait and I caught more fish with that pole than ever before. We called it my Robinson-Crusoe fishing pole and my mom has it in her basement still 30 years later!

Flash forward 20+ years and in 2002, NFI awarded The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) a Fatherhood Award for a public awareness campaign they did titled "Take Me Fishing." One poster showed a picture of a little girl and her dad in a red fishing boat with the line, "Take me fishing because my wedding will be sooner than you think." I asked RBFF to provide me a copy of the poster which proudly hangs in my parent's house -- a reminder of all those wonderful times spent fishing -- just me and my dad.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Catch and Release: Like fishing, we have to let the kids go

This is a post by Evelyn Hines, NFI's Executive Assistant for Training and Technical Support. She and her husband have been married for 26 years and have three kids. She shares her memories of fishing with her daughter as part of NFI's campaign to "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer."

Before I came on board with NFI in 2001, my husband and I had taught our three kids to be expert fishermen and a fisherwoman. As our kids grow older, we know that one day we will have to let them go, like "catch and release" fishing, and let them explore other waters.

My oldest son caught a wonderful wife and got married last year. My 15-year-old son, Jacob, is obsessed with the Marines so we expect him to cast his net into the military in a couple of years. My daughter, Jesse (Jacob’s twin), proudly exclaims “spell my name like Jesse James – no ‘ie’ at the end.” Such a tough teen! She does not wear jewelry or makeup, and her favorite shoes are a pair of grey Converse high tops with blue laces. She still loves to fish with maggots, tie on weights, and can cast with a 20lb test monofilament line as good as the old timers. While she is concerned about reeling in a walleye, dad’s eyes are downcast because a young man may soon catch her heart.

We looked at her intently this Memorial Day on our annual fishing trip. She is such a free spirit. While the noon-day sun burnt us like a toaster gone awry, we noticed the tinge of glow to her skin and highlights that the sun added to her hair that comes to the middle of her back. She is blossoming into a level-headed, beautiful young woman. No one caught a fish on our trip this year. As her mom, I know it was an omen and not just a bad day without a good fish story.

Inevitably, a handsome man will catch her heart and take her away from her first love – her daddy. As her father, he may ask for fishing trips together with her and her family, but he will always be "second string."

She may one day catch a husband, but the hobby of fishing is something she can pass on from her dad as a legacy to her own children. I hope we catch fish with her on every occasion, especially when her daughter one day turns 15.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Vinny on the Rocks

In keeping with NFI’s July theme of hitting the Great Outdoors, I hit the Mediocre Outdoors with my 18-month-old son last week. We went into my backyard.

Being the thoughtful father that I am, I actually had a real goal in taking Little Vinny back there. It was a nice day out, he had been watching an Elmo video for a while, and I figured he needed some “free play” in the “fresh air” in order to develop properly.

So, there we were in my fairly large, fairly green backyard, and I just let him go to see what he would do. I had visions of him scurrying across the grass, wind blowing through his hair, giggling at the sheer joy of experiencing the wonders of suburban nature.

In addition, there was a dog in the backyard (his name is Junior and he is our dog), there were toys on the lawn, and the property has a few shaded corners under tall pine trees. Lots of great places for a curious kid to explore. This was going to be Great (or at least Mediocre).

Instead, Little Vinny decided to head right for the ugliest, most dangerous place in the entire yard – a small pile of sharp rocks underneath the deck.

This pile of rocks comes complete with a rusty iron rod sticking straight up out of the ground, whose purpose I have yet to determine in nearly three years of living in this house. There is also the rusty outdoor faucet sticking out of the concrete wall. And last but not least is the scramble of electrical wires populating said concrete wall. It would have been disastrous had he pulled on one of these dangerous, live wires – I would have lost my DirecTV service. But I digress.

So this is where my child decided he wanted to play.

My first instinct was to pick him up and move him into the middle of the lawn. I did this. He promptly turned around and returned to the dangerous pit in the darkness of the deck’s shade.

Then he started picking up the sharp rocks and throwing them. Some of them were hitting the concrete wall and bouncing back in his direction, missing his bare (chunky, adorable) legs by inches.

Then he started walking around the perimeter of his private quarry with one of the larger rocks in hand. I pictured him opening his fragile little hand, revealing a deep, bloody gash across his palm, smiling sinisterly at me and asking me to perform some tribal rite. Although that didn’t happen, I continued to operate under the illusion that he just hadn’t yet noticed the big, beautiful backyard.

So, I once again picked him up and placed him in the middle of the grassy yard. The sun was shining in his light brown curls. There was a glimmer of hope. I even recruited the dog into my effort to make the grassy part of the lawn fun. I did this by pointing at the dog and then pointing at Vinny. The dog looked at me stupidly. As I contemplated his dumb look, Vinny returned to his pit.

At this point, I gave up.

But after a few moments of reflection, a peace came over me. I reminded myself that if I was really interested in him exploring and having free play, then I would have to deal with whatever it was he decided to do. I saw that he probably liked walking on the rocks because it was a very different surface than what he is used to – uneven, a little shaky, and the rocks made neat sounds as they scraped together under his feet. He also likes to touch things, and the rocks would actually be sort of interesting from a toddler’s point of view. They were black, cold, and fit perfectly in his eager hand.

He was happy. So, I decided to be happy, too. I just sat back and watched him start his mining career. “So, this is what it is like experiencing the great outdoors with your child,” I thought to myself. As I thought this profound thought to myself, I also said, “Myself, are those mosquitos biting you?” I then came to a sudden realization that my legs were an itchy mess. I was getting killed by mosquitoes, so I decided to cut our excursion short and take Vinny back inside.

When I picked him up, he still held one of his rocks in his hand. I made him put it down on the deck before we went inside, and it is still lying there, a week later, as a reminder.

A reminder of my wonderful time in the backyard with my son?

No, a reminder that, for unknown reasons, I have a pile of sharp rocks under my deck! Why are those even there?! While I look into this, I wish you many grand adventures in your little piece of the outdoors, wherever, or however dangerous, it may be.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Get Out, Try New Things, Make Memories

This is a post by Tim Red, NFI's Director of Military Programming. Tim served 30 years in the U.S. Army and now heads NFI's efforts to help the U.S. military add fatherhood programming to its work to support military families, pre-, during, and post-deployment. Tim and his wife have four children and live in Texas. Tim shares his memories here of trying new things while camping with his children as part of NFI's campaign to help Dads "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer."

One of the best times I have ever had with my three youngest kids (at the time, ages 15, 12, and 9) was when I took them (just me and them) on a trip to Lake Texoma. Sheppard Air Force Base has camping grounds and cabins on this lake (by the name you can gather that it sits on the border of Texas and Oklahoma). We got a cabin for two nights (arrived on a Friday evening and left on a Sunday morning). The memories we made in those 48 hours will last a life time.

The kids wanted to make smores and I have never done that but we went up to the little store and bought the ingredients. We started a fire in the barbecue pit behind the cabin, untwisted coat hangers, and started cooking marshmallows. They were having so much fun doing this that they were even preparing them for these three young couples (without kids) that were in the cabin next door.

I cooked breakfast for the kids and I had so much smoke from the bacon grease that we had to open up the doors to let it air out (but it was a great breakfast and they loved it).

We rented a pontoon boat (and I don’t know a dang thang about boating – I was in the Army, not Navy, but the kids wanted to do this), packed up sandwich stuff and drinks and headed out on the lake. We'd stop and the kids would jump in the lake and go swimming. I let them take small turns driving the boat (don’t tell Sheppard AFB) and we made sandwiches and floated on the lake while we ate lunch. We took lots of pictures!

We played Uno, watched the deer feeding, played basketball/tennis, scared each other, and slept on bunk beds. There was a TV in the cabin that picked up 3 network channels – no cable – and I think that it may have been on for a total of one hour (if that long) – nobody could have cared less. They were either too happy doing something else or too tired to keep their eyes open.

Then when we had to leave Sunday morning, we cleaned up the cabin before leaving (it’s a military requirement). Everyone pitched in and did that with a smile on their face.

The smiles, the laughter, the fun, the wonder of new things were so special. And as a father, I enjoyed watching their faces light up from all of the different experiences. Just writing this makes me want to go again (but I will wait until it gets a little cooler). Next time, we will have to go star gazing…

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Encourage and challenge your children, but don't push too hard

This is a post by Mike Yudt, NFI's Director of National Programming. Mike is a married father of two young sons. Mike shares his thoughts on encouraging your kids to participate in outdoor sports as part of NFI's campaign to help Dads "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer."

As a father of two boys (ages one and three), I am often dreaming of who they will become as they grow older. Like most dads, I would love to see my sons take an interest in sports. Growing up, I played soccer and ran track (with a little bit of basketball mixed in). If I’m honest with myself, I would love to see my sons show similar interest in the great game of soccer and in running. But I often will catch myself as I want to make sure that I am not living vicariously through them and imposing something on them that they are not interested in. I firmly believe that as fathers we should expose our children to a variety of activities (not just sports) to determine where their interests and abilities lie.

My wife and I recently enrolled our three-year-old son, Caleb, in a four week program that introduced him to the basics of three sports: soccer, basketball, and t-ball. It was a great opportunity for him to enjoy these games, learn from people other than mom and dad, and play with other kids. At the end of the day, Caleb seemed to enjoy t-ball over soccer and basketball. In fact, one of my proudest moments came when he picked up a ball that was hit and threw it all the way from shortstop to third base to get the lead runner. I’m sure he wasn’t thinking about “getting the lead runner,” but his throw was spot on and I could not have been prouder.

Caleb is also currently enrolled in a swim class. In fact, he has his second to last class tonight. I am proud of him for getting in the pool with someone other than mom and dad. At this age, that’s a huge step for him and I know someday he will be swimming laps around me. And I’m sure his little brother Joshua will be as well given how hard it is to keep him out of the pool during Caleb’s swim class.

The journey of teaching our children to love sports can be a difficult one. I’ve had to check myself along the way to make sure that I am not placing unrealistic expectations on my children. The last message I want to send to my children is one of me being frustrated with them because they don’t take an interest (or show an ability) in what I enjoy. So the conclusion I have come to is this: as fathers, we should challenge our children to excel at all they do. But we should never push them too much so they cease to enjoy their childhood and don’t have free time to just be kids.

Over-programming our children’s lives is a phenomenon that is frankly not healthy for our children. Yes, kids need structure and programs certainly serve a purpose. If I didn’t believe that, I would not have registered Caleb for the sports and swim classes that he has enjoyed this summer. But my wife and I also make a point to allow him and his brother to have ample time to use their imagination and to make up their own games. And we’re constantly amazed at what they come up with.

Let’s allow our children the flexibility to be children, rather than scheduling every minute of their lives. Let’s be patient and encourage our children to try new things that can challenge them to grow. But let’s not give them an unnecessary burden to carry at such a young age. Just one dad’s thoughts…

Monday, July 11, 2011

How Baseball and Military Dads Motivated Me

This is a guest post by NFI's Director of Military Programming, Tim Red, who heads the organization's efforts to help the U.S. military add fatherhood programming to its work to support military families, pre-, during, and post-deployment.

As a Texas-based dad, baseball fan, and guy who works to support military fathers, last week was a rough one for me. Here's why.

As you have probably heard, a tragedy occurred last week at a Texas Rangers baseball game. Shannon Stone, a 39-year-old father (and firefighter for the Brownwood, TX Fire Department) lunged to catch a ball that was tossed into the crowd by player Josh Hamilton. He stumbled and fell over the railing 20 feet down to the concrete. He was conscious when they left the stadium and voiced concern about his 6-year-old son who was alone up in the stands and had witnessed his dad fall. Stone had driven a couple of hours from Brownwood to Arlington to take his son to his first Rangers game, and they had stopped at a sporting goods store to buy a new glove in the hopes that they would snag a ball at the game.

Stone had a massive heart attack on his way to the hospital and was pronounced dead at the hospital. Hamilton, the most important ball player for the Texas Rangers, is also a dad. He came back to baseball four years ago after years of drug abuse. His experiences have made him a very humble superstar, and as a father, he has talked about how Stone's death has affected him. He plans on reaching out to Stone's wife and son and helping them "when the time is right." He knows, as a dad himself, what a dads' sudden absence can mean to a family, and he wants to help.

On top of hearing about this heart-wrenching tragedy non-stop in the Dallas news, I also read four distressing testimonies by military dads. They were distressing in the respect that these dads are looking for answers about how to better support their families, but they are not finding them within the current support structures in the military. As a retired National Guard dad, I want them to have these answers. NFI wants them to have these answers. But it has been a slow process changing a "military family culture" that has been so focused on the stay-at-home family that it often forgets that dads need help, too.

But I am going to turn lemons into lemonade and use these dads' testimonies as weapons to use in my negotiations with Military Family Programs around the country. I am hopeful that these dads' words will show folks just how important it is to support our nation's military fathers.

My rough week, as hard as it was, really reminded me that the work we do here at NFI is more important than ever. So, watch out - I have some lemonade to make!

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Family Legacy of Camping and Hiking

This is a post by Nigel Vann, Senior Director of Training and Technical Assistance for the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse. Nigel shares his memories of camping and hiking with his son Jesse as part of NFI's "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer" campaign. In addition to the generational legacy of outdoor adventures that Nigel shares, notice the great work-family balance technique he practiced - using business trips as opportunities for family memories!

Reading Mike’s recent blog took me back to when my son was younger (he’s now 26). We had great fun going camping – although we didn’t start as early as Mike! I really like the way that Mike emphasizes how what we do with our kids at an early age can have such a lasting impact. For me, it’s a key part of establishing a family legacy. Although my parents didn’t take me camping as a youngster, I was lucky that they were avid hikers and I have many fond memories of short family hikes as I was growing up. That’s certainly a tradition I’ve carried on and been able to pass on to my son.

Besides many hiking adventures, three camping trips with my son stand out in my memory:

The first, which may have been Jesse’s first camping experience, was at a local campground in Maryland when he was probably 5 or 6. I remember him being fascinated with the fireflies and enjoying the ranger’s campfire presentation, but my main memory is that it rained overnight and flooded the tent – so we abandoned the campsite and drove to a nearby restaurant for breakfast! That didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for the outdoors though – at least until he hit the teen years!

My second memory is of a camping trip north of San Francisco in 1993 when he was 8 years old. I was working with one of the Young Unwed Fathers Pilot sites in Fresno and took Jesse and his mom along for the ride. After my work was completed, we spent a day in Yosemite and then drove 2-3 hours north of San Francisco on the Pacific Coast Highway. We camped near a beach and spent the evening wandering around there. As we prepared to settle down, Jesse suddenly proclaimed “I saw a meteor!” His mom and I missed it and were never able to verify what he saw, but he still talks about it to this day.

The last time I remember camping with Jesse was also associated with a work trip for me. I was attending a Child Support conference in Phoenix, Arizona in 1997. Jesse was 12 and I took him along to see his birthplace in Tucson. Afterward, we camped at Oak Creek Canyon in Sedona for a night and then camped at the Grand Canyon for 2 nights. We spent a day hiking down in to the Canyon. Previously, I’d hiked down as far as Plateau Point a few times (about 12 miles round-trip). In fact, one time, a few years before Jesse was born I actually ran most of the way (I was running a lot at that time). Unfortunately, those memories clouded my judgment in 1997 – we started out later than we should have and I ignored the signs saying something like “if you reach this sign after such and such a time, you are advised to turn round now because it will be too hot later on.” Needless to say, by the time I realized we couldn’t make it to Plateau Point (around the 4 mile point) and we turned around, our return trip was hard, hot, and pretty unpleasant. The good news is that there were a number of water stations along the way and we did make it out – but I worried that I’d turned Jesse off hiking for life. However, that night at our campsite he was still enthusiastic and we vowed to do a father/son hike to the bottom one day.

He did lose interest in hiking and camping during the “interesting” teen years that followed, but he and his fiancée are now keen hikers (they actually completed a 2-3 week camping trip in California, Arizona, and Utah last year) – and he still reminds me every now and then that we have to make that father/son hike soon. When that happens, we’ll do so in memory of my dad, who also hiked part of the way into the Grand Canyon with me one time – he would have loved to be with us.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Investing in Your Child's Future. Or, You Know You're a Dad When Your Wallet Starts Emptying

You know you’re a dad when… your wallet starts emptying. I’m joking. Sort of.

As my 18-month-old son continues to grow, and my wife and I fall into our respective roles as parents, I feel like an anthropologist watching male-female gender role patterns play out before my very eyes. Which means my wife is doling out kisses and I am doling out money.

Of course, being a dad is more than just spending money. I cherish doing my share of day-to-day care for our little guy; I read books to him, play silly games, and I show him lots of affection. All in the hopes that someday he will have enough money to pay me back for all of this. Just kidding!

And of course my wife doesn’t just shower our child with love - she is as much a financial provider for the family as I am, and she spends money, too. Like when she bought that Kiss-o-matic 76™, which allows her to kiss our child more. Again, I kid – such a machine does not exist… yet.

But in all seriousness, we just opened a college savings account – a 529 plan – for our son. It was yet another in a long line of events that have made it very “real” that I am a dad. You mean, one day I am going to have a child in college? And it will cost how much? (For those of you wondering, the average cost of one year at a private college is estimated to be $76,406 in 2027; public college, here we come!)

The interesting thing about this process is that my wife really pushed me to take the lead in opening our account. Like it was “dad’s job” to do this. And I think, on the whole, dads are the ones who take care of this sort of thing for their families. That’s why most investment and insurance companies market to men and/or fathers. It speaks to our instinct to provide for and protect our families.

Interestingly, the guy who I worked this all out with is a new dad himself. You may know him as this guest blogger on this very blog. Sean and I observed together that now that we are dads, we have to take very seriously the need to plan ahead for our families.

And that is a central part of being a dad – sacrificing the “now” for the future. Gone are the days of using that extra money to buy cool (but useless) gadgets, fancier cars, and expensive nights out with your friends. That extra money is for our kids now.

Do you have any examples of how you had to sacrifice in the present to make for a better future for your kids? Please share!

The Ones that Should Never Get Away...

At NFI, July’s theme is "The Great Outdoors," with the tagline Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids this Summer. With this in mind, I was reminded of a compelling commercial by Zebco, a leading provider of fishing tackle. It's titled “Don’t let your kids be the the ones that get away." (Check it out here.)

What a powerful reminder to all dads this summer that life is not so much about what you do, but rather, it's about who you’re with, the memories and the relationships that are formed and strengthened.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What Camping Can Do For You and Your Children

This is a post by Mike Yudt, NFI's Director of National Programming. Mike, his wife Kelly, and their two sons are avid campers. Mike shares his thoughts on camping with young kids as part of NFI's campaign to help Dads "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer."

I often hear many people say that they do not like the idea of camping and can’t understand its appeal. I’ll be the first to admit that camping is not for everyone. And among those who do camp, there can be a sense of competition as to what is really camping and what is not. To me, that whole discussion misses the point.

The beauty of the outdoors is that it's something that all can enjoy in some form or another. In a day and age when so many jobs keep people tied to an office, it is critical to impart a love for the outdoors into your children at an early age. It will bring balance to their lives and a sense of rejuvenation. After all, who doesn’t like a breath of fresh air after a long period of being indoors?

So, as a father of two young boys (three and one), I along with my wife decided to “break them into camping” at an early age. With both of them, their first camping trip came within their first five months of life. I’ll never forget those first camping trips and the ones that have followed. Children, especially very young children, have a way of expressing awe at the beauty of nature in ways that we as adults cannot fully understand or appreciate. My wife and I are getting glimpses of this as we watch our boys respond to every sound of nature, point to every animal, and pick up every stick or rock around them for a close examination.

The beauty of camping, especially for children, lies in this: it’s a break from the routine of sleeping inside in the comfort of a bed. It represents an adventure… An adventure that your kids will surely love if they are introduced to it at an early age and with a positive attitude.

If a child grows up camping, he or she will undoubtedly like it because they don’t know any different. I understand that for some adults camping is a stretch. The idea of roughing it in the woods apart from a bathroom facility, water or electricity just doesn’t sound like a good time. My encouragement is to find a form of camping that meets your needs. Maybe that’s pitching a tent in your backyard or in the yard of someone you know. Maybe you secure a camp site at a state park that has all of the amenities you need: restroom facilities close by, running water and the option of reserving a site with an electrical outlet.

Whatever you do… commit to exposing your kids to the outdoors as much as possible. If you do, I’m convinced that in the end we will have happier, healthier children who can someday be in a better position to find those quiet , peaceful places to turn to in order to decompress from all that is happening in the world around them. Just one dad’s thoughts….

Do your kids pass the "crash" test?

Some time ago, I was speaking to a gentleman who did a fair amount of consulting for General Motors in the area of auto safety. He recounted how, in recent years, GM had shifted its focus and philosophy for auto safety from crash resistance (making cars that withstand crashes with minimal damage) to crash avoidance (make cars that can sense and avoid crashes before they occur).

As I listened, it stuck me that this was a wonderful and challenging metaphor for fathering. As dads, are we trying to “build” children that can avoid societal crashes (e.g., drugs, crime and teen pregnancy) before they occur? Or are we satisfied to try and salvage their broken lives, hoping for “minimal damage” once the crashes of life occur? Something to think about...