Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Make Mine A Maxima: A Nissan Fan's First Auto Love

Although NFI is wrapping up its “Innovation For Fatherhood” partnership with Nissan, I’m really thankful to know that a car brand I’ve loved for years has shown a deep commitment to being an automaker dads can trust. Although I wasn’t a father when I made my first car purchase, I do want to share a story on how Nissan won me over thanks in part to my dad’s love for cars.

I’m not exactly what you would call a car buff, but my father was a bit of a collector. One of his favorite cars was his Datsun 280ZX, which he called “Tammy” for reasons still unknown to me. I always liked the sporty look of the car, and I remember playing a lot of “that’s my car” games with my brother whenever we saw one on the road. However, the car that first stole my heart was the 1988 Nissan Maxima.

When I finally got to high school and the reality hit that I could soon be driving, I crafted an ambitious plan that I was going to work at the local fast food joint, cut grass in the summer, and do house paintings in my neighborhood for money. I truly believed I’d save enough money to buy a Maxima but the time I graduated from high school.

My dreams were dashed and car ownership eluded me until I was around 19 years old. The 90s were upon us and while the Maxima underwent a change into its third generation shape at the time, I still wanted the boxier ’88 model. Luck would have it that a man who lived in my neighborhood was selling his sky blue Maxima. My father was skeptical, saying I shouldn’t buy a used car but everything checked out.

I loved this car so much that I even learned how to do maintenance and I’m not the handiest guy around. The engine was the same as another favorite car of mine, the Nissan 300Z, and it was zippy! I pushed the car to the limit, racking up well over 100,000 miles in five years. Because of my loyalty to the brand and a higher income bracket, I was able to upgrade my car to the fourth generation version in 1996. It was all black and it was customary to see me in the summer cleaning and waxing my car every weekend.

An accident some years later (which wasn’t my fault) totaled the car and I’ve missed it since. I’ll admit that I’ve owned other cars since then, but I still want a Maxima. It’s amazing how sleek the car looks now in its seventh generation, coming a long way from its inception in the late 70s. Should good fortune shine upon me in the near future, I can say without hyperbole that a Maxima will be the car that I’ll buy.

Chardon High Shooting: Symptoms of the Father Factor

Image by Aaron Josefczyk, Reuters.

On Monday, a teenage gunman shot five of his peers at Chardon High School. When this story first broke, my initial impulse was to skim the news for hints about the shooter’s family life, as I’ve become more aware that there is usually a “father factor” in these sorts of stories.

T.J. Lane’s motives for shooting his five classmates (three fatally) are still largely a mystery, and I will leave journalists to speculate on the mental processes leading up to Monday’s horrific events. However, I did discover that Lane’s story does indeed have a father factor. It would seem that the lifestyle choices of Lane’s father had a significant impact on him.

According to multiple news outlets, T.J. Lane was born to Sara Nolan, while she was in a relationship with his father, Thomas Lane. Sara and Thomas’s relationship was tumultuous and eventually ended in divorce after repeated incidents of domestic violence. T.J. stayed with his mother, and it’s unclear if he had much contact with his father afterward.

It’s reported that his father went on to marry another woman and started a family with her. But he was repeatedly abusive to this woman, and went on to get in trouble with the law for assault, kidnapping, and attempted murder.

Clearly, having an uncommitted and unstable father was a significant part of Lane’s story.

The knowledge that his father acted violently toward the women in his life must have had an impact on T.J., and the absence of an involved father probably left T.J. craving affirmation, acceptance, and without a clear idea of what a healthy relationship between a man and a woman could look like. T.J.’s Facebook page shows that he was dating a girl from his youth group, but that she recently broke up with him to date someone else. The new boyfriend is reported to be one of the victims of Monday’s shooting.

T.J. Lane is ultimately responsible for his own actions, but I have to wonder: would he have done this if his father had been positively engaged in his life? Would these three high school students be dead today if T.J. had a dad who cared about him and modeled healthy relationships with women? Would T.J. have shot his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend if his own father wasn’t abusive to T.J.’s mom?

These questions deserve serious consideration. As this shooting and its aftermath plays out in the media, I’d urge you to remember that the news stories we read are often just about the symptoms of deeper issues.

Many heinous events like these have a father story behind them. We’ve noted before how the D.C. sniper situation in 2002 was largely cause by two men with deep father-needs, and how the Tuscon shooter last year was affected by his negatively-involved father. And just this summer we saw a mass murderer in Norway whose life was marked by his absent father.

An involved father makes a significant positive impact on the lives of his children, and you never know what might be averted by ensuring that you are a positive and loving presence in your children's lives.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Get Off The Couch, Get In The Game

I grew up in a time where I was able to witness home-based video games grow from their clunky infancy to the heights of technological wonder we see today. I don’t play video games as much as I used to. In fact, my father, 62 years young, knows more about video gaming than I do. As a dad of a young daughter, I’m not totally out the loop as we have the Wii gaming system.

Like most parents, I was drawn to the idea that you had to get off the couch to play many of the games for the console. However, a new study reported that the benefits of “active” video gaming might not boost physical activity in kids. I don’t find this particularly shocking, as there’s only so much you can do physically in front of the TV in the family room. I do disagree with the idea that active gaming isn’t helpful. If fathers and mothers played the active games with their children, it could become a bonding family routine.

My daughter is about as physically active as an 11-year old should be. She loves to play active games with me and we always have a great time. For me, the dual benefit is that we both get to move around a bit and raise our heart rate, and further, we get to bond a for a bit. With some of the sports simulations, I’m actually playing games that mimic activity my child wouldn’t normally do. Perhaps we’re not getting the same benefit compared to an outdoor activity, but playing games with your family can be engaging.

Even with the active games, getting outdoors is especially vital for families of young children. Your child may not be the next big star athlete but you can still introduce them to games that will inspire movement and activity. Playing catch, kickball, and even talking brisk hikes in your neighborhoods or trails are some fun ways you can get your kids off the couch a bit more. If your child isn’t that great at sports, you can still go outside and toss around a Frisbee or basketball.

Active video games are also evolving with the times, with some even featuring physical training. There are even studies that show active games can boost activity in kids. The bottom line is we shouldn’t think poorly of active video gaming, but fathers and families should certainly hit the power button at times and get active in other fun ways with their children as well.

Are you a video gaming dad? Do you play games with your child and family? Tell us more in the comments below or tweet to us at @thefatherfactor. You can also visit and "like" our Facebook page by clicking here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Do You Need a “Legal Condom”?

We often receive strange things in the mail here at NFI. But today, I received one of the strangest things yet. It is called the “Miss Legal Condom.”

The Miss Legal Condom is the size of a business card, and it is designed to “empower” single women to protect themselves from having a child that is not supported financially by the father. Sounds good in theory… but the way the “legal condom” achieves this is where things get weird.

The front of the card is pictured above. The other side of the card contains a sealed ink spot with two blank spaces for the potential father to give his fingerprints. He is also supposed to sign the card indicating that he will pay child support for 18 years should a child result from the "coupling" he is presumably on the verge of entering into… Talk about a buzz kill…

As I said, I think it is admirable that there are folks out there – in this case Girls Leading Change, LLC – that seek to help women and children avoid being left in the cold by unsupportive fathers. But the devil is in the details, and this idea appears to be a bad one for three reasons.

First, from the potential father’s perspective… How many guys, when they are about to have sex with a woman, are going to be willing to give their fingerprints and sign a card that essentially binds them in an 18-year contract? And how many guys, if they do sign and a child does result, will actually take seriously the obligations this pink business card binds them to, despite all of the legalese on the card?

Second, from the potential mother’s perspective… If you feel that you need to get the fingerprints and signature of a guy you are about to sleep with in order to have some level of trust with him, shouldn’t that be a signal that you should not be having sex with him in the first place?

Finally, from the couple’s perspective… Anyone who would be willing to take the time and responsibility to fill out the “legal condom” card is probably already using some other method of birth control anyway. So, they won’t need the legal condom. In other words, the people who would actually need the legal condom (those not using birth control responsibly or having irresponsible sex) are not likely to use this card.

But maybe I have been outsmarted… It has occurred to me that perhaps the real purpose of this card is not to provide insurance for unwanted pregnancies, but to prevent the sex from taking place altogether. Referring to my first point above, when a guy sees that a woman is willing to go to such lengths to “protect” herself from being hung out to dry, he may just decide that the “benefits” he will get from the relationship are just not worth the trouble. The card, simply put, may scare him away. In that sense, this could be a work of genius.

What do you think of the idea of a “legal condom”? Bad idea or subtle but effective sex preventer?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dads And Depression: Are You Passing Your Symptoms To Your Children?

I can admit to the Father Factor readers that I’ve struggled with depression over the years, with therapy and group sessions aiding me through the rough patches. Various things happened over the course of my life that led to my diagnosis, but I tried hard to mask the pain. This is a dangerous practice done by lots of people, especially men. This could prove to be even more troubling if you happen to be a father.

There is a disturbing lack of research showing what being a depressed father does to children in the home– until recently. A study undertaken by NYU researchers found that one out of every four children who are raised in a home with depressed parents soon develop mental health issues of their own. This nationwide study captured data from 7,247 US households where the parents and children all lived. Of that number, 6% of the fathers showed results that suggested they were depressed.

Further numbers in the research paper show other alarming stats: 15% of children with a depressed father showed symptoms; 20% of children with a depressed mother showed symptoms and, lastly, 25% of children living with two depressed parents showed symptoms. Factors influencing the depressive symptoms in parents included poverty, joblessness, and having a child with special health care needs.

Amazingly, this is the first large study done on male depression as it relates to fatherhood although there is plenty research on maternal and postpartum/postnatal depression. One could suggest that men are typically insular with their emotions and cope silently. Another point could be that many men don’t even know where to go for resources. When was the last time you saw a men’s mental health care center in your neighborhood? Do you know of any outreach groups doing work on a large scale?

I can tell you from my own experience that finding help for my depression was an epic task. I called therapists and counselors who all had many female clients but barely any male patients. Finding groups to talk about my issues also proved difficult, as I scoured the Internet and newspaper classifieds for assistance. Eventually, I did find some help.

It was important for me to move beyond my depression as a father. I know that my child watches every move, so it became necessary for me to make sure she doesn’t repeat my mistakes. If we want to make certain as fathers and parents to not pass on bad physical health habits, we have to start including our mental health in that equation as well.

Are you, or a father you know, suffering with depression? Do you think fathers pass on bad mental health habits to their children? Leave us a comment below or tweet to us at: @thefatherfactor. You can also like and comment on our Facebook page by following this link.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Minnie Driver And The Curious Case Of The Hidden Father

Image courtesy of Splash News

I became a fan of English actress Minnie Driver after her star turn in Good Will Hunting in 1997. Driver’s good looks and charm had her seemingly poised for stardom. She then starred in the box office flop Hard Rain, and while she kept acting in smaller films and TV, nothing came close to the fame she gained working on Good Will Hunting.

I read a story from British newspaper The Observer which featured Driver offering a revealing look into her private life. Before now, Driver had been mum about the identity of her three-year old son’s father. She was still vague in her revelation during her interview, only opting to say there isn’t much to the story.

"We weren't together and he wasn't directly in the business," she said. “So I chose to protect him and not have a rain of publicity. I know, but it's ridiculous. He's not famous. There's no big story. I don't need to protect him anymore. He can fend for himself. He's a grown-up.”

The unnamed mystery dad was a writer on short-lived television series The Riches of which Driver was a co-star. Driver shared some opinion of the father’s parenting duties. “He's figuring it out. I mean, he hasn't been that involved; his choice. But he is now,” she said.

Driver’s cavalier decision to keep the father out of the limelight may be a manifestation of her own upbringing. Driver’s father was a married man with a family who had no idea that Minnie and her sister existed. Although Driver’s mother was her dad’s mistress, she doesn’t seem to hold any ill will towards her father for his choices. She even compared herself to her father, neatly saying he “lived his life.”

For Minnie's son, Henry, one can only hope that his mom and dad will become effective co-parents and allow a relationship to build as it should. Driver has seen many mistakes up close when it comes to fatherhood. It would make sense for her to include her son’s father in raising their child. While I find it curious that Driver shared the news after hiding the facts for three years, perhaps this is her attempt in giving Henry a chance to know his father in the best ways possible.

Father Factor readers, what do you think about Minnie Driver’s decision to speak openly about her son's father? Tell us in the comments below or tweet to us at @TheFatherFactor. You can also like and comment on our Facebook page by following this link.

Fond Memories of Family Firsts in the Nissan Pathfinder

This is a post by Kayla Cates Brown, NFI's Project Specialist. As part of NFI and Nissan's Innovation for Fatherhood campaign, Kayla shares her memories of one of her family's favorite vehicles.

I am a native Texan by birth and have been a licensed driver for over 30 years and can easily state that in Texas trucks are a big deal!

Almost any native Texan will give their opinion on which truck is the best based on their experience with owning or driving one. However, when I think about the trucks that our family has owned and used to navigate the many road ways in Texas, I fondly remember our 1999 Nissan Pathfinder.

As a family with two young daughters, we celebrated lots of “firsts” and adventures with it. Our oldest daughter, who is also now a licensed driver, remembers telling the neighbors the story of how the SUV found its "path" to our garage on New Year’s Eve 1998. The path began with driving to the "parking lot with lots of cars and trucks;" she was miffed that there were no purple colored ones. Then came the process of correctly buckling both car seats into the SUV, which many parents can attest is much easier said than done. Our daughter remembers driving around in big circles while offering comments to the salesman on how her "sissy" was enjoying the ride. Eventually the path progressed to a purchase and we brought home our first truck.

Other "firsts" we celebrated with the Pathfinder were:

  • It was the first and only car we have ever paid for fully in cash.
  • It was the first car we owned to have a soccer sticker on it – which for our family is a big deal, as we have spent the last 12 years cheering and watching our daughters play soccer. I officially earned the title "soccer mom" due to all the driving associated with this dedication.
  • It took us on our first trip to the hospital to get stitches for our younger daughter when she was 14 months old.
  • It moved us from our first house to our second house.
  • It brought our first adopted rescue dog, Daizy, home from the shelter.
We also shared lots of great family adventures in the Pathfinder while taking road trips to Angel Fire, New Mexico for skiing; many trips to Port Aransas Beach near Corpus Christi, Texas to enjoy some fun in the sun; camping at Inks Lake in the Central Texas Hill country; and lots of travel to Dallas - Fort Worth to visit our extended family.

I guess you could say the Pathfinder was the vehicle that assisted our travels, keep us safe and warmed our hearts. If only DVD players were an available feature in 1999, the Pathfinder might still be in our garage today...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Father Cannot Afford To Be Careless With His Children

Most parents will agree that taking a small child or children into a grocery store or on a shopping trip can be a test of wills, especially if you have a curious little one. Shelves are enticements to young eyes and hands all too willing to explore – and also tear down – the displays as they walk by. There’s also the danger of your child hurting themselves darting about all the grownups and not controlling their motions as well. As tempting as it may be to leave your child in the car while you try to quickly shop, it’s a terrible idea waiting to happen.

One upstate New York man is learning this very lesson now after leaving his six-year old napping child in the backseat of his car – which was still running – as he went inside a convenience store this past weekend to grab a drink. An unidentified thief, seizing the opportunity, hopped into his car and took off with the sleeping boy in the back. After a countywide search, the car was found a half-hour later with the boy unharmed and still asleep. The poor little guy was so tuckered out, he slept through the whole harrowing ordeal.

Whatever this drink the father had to snag while leaving his boy asleep in the back of his car couldn’t compare to the possibility of him losing his child forever. This is just a bad idea and indicative of an irresponsible parent putting their child in harm’s way. Naturally, the police are looking to charge the man with child endangerment and rightfully so. What if the thief was violent and hurt his son? What if a chase ensued and the thief wrecked the car with his boy still inside? The variables of the situation are not positive at all. And according to the news story, the family has already suffered tragedy involving a child previously.

I suppose it’s fine to be impatient at times, but when it comes to your children, a father needs to curb those feelings and remember that the main debt they owe their child is to keep them safe as possible at all times. This is especially necessary when you’re out in public with your children and an occurrence of this sort is highly preventable.

As the police lieutenant said who oversaw the case said, “People just run inside and figure they are only going to be gone for a couple minutes. I don’t care if you have nothing in the car, or your children, lock the car up and bring your kids inside.”

Or maybe, just get the items you need from the store later or with another adult to help supervise your children. Makes perfect sense to me.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

As We Anticipate the Oscars, Help Choose the 2011 Fatherhood Movie of the Year!

The entertainment industry is eagerly looking forward to the presentation of the Oscars at the 84th Academy Awards on Sunday. Meanwhile, National Fatherhood Initiative is looking to you to help us select the 2011 "Fatherhood Movie of Year." As part of our efforts to shine a light on cultural messages that highlight the unique and irreplaceable role that fathers play in their children's lives, we've nominated four movies and are asking the public to vote for the one that best communicates the importance of involved, responsible, and committed fatherhood.

The four nominees are Courageous (Sherwood Pictures), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Warner Bros.), Moneyball (Sony Pictures), and We Bought a Zoo (Twentieth Century Fox). Visit NFI’s official Facebook page to watch the trailers of these four films and vote for your favorite!

Courageous (directed by Alex Kendrick; starring Alex Kendrick and Ken Bevel) tells the story of four police officers struggling with their faith and their roles as husbands and fathers. When a tragedy strikes close to home, together they make a decision that will change all of their lives.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (directed by Stephen Daldry; starring Tom Hanks and Thomas Horn) tells the story of a nine-year-old who searches New York City for the lock that matches a mysterious key left behind by his beloved father, who died in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Moneyball (directed by Bennett Miller; starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill) tells the true story of Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget by employing computer-generated analysis to draft his players. A divorced father, Beane must balance his love for the game with his love of his daughter.

We Bought a Zoo (directed by Cameron Crowe; starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson) tells the story of a widowed father who moves his young family to the countryside to renovate and re-open a struggling zoo. Based on a true story, We Bought a Zoo shows how a father learns to embrace his new life with his two children.

Given the power of film in shaping public perceptions, NFI applauds these four films for their efforts to depict fatherhood in a positive and powerful way. Tell us which one you think deserves to be recognized as "Fatherhood Movie of the Year" 2011 by voting on our Facebook page everyday until Sunday, February 26 (the day of the Oscars).

Friday, February 17, 2012

Was Tommy Jordan Out Of Line For Shooting His Daughter’s Laptop?

If you haven’t seen the video of North Carolina dad Tommy Jordan and his gun-toting tirade, the reaction to his daughter’s disrespectful words may seem a bit over the top. However, the IT company owner and proud father has become a YouTube sensation, amassing a whopping 26 million views in just over a week. If you’re in need of a back-story, Mr. Jordan caught wind of his daughter making slanderous remarks about her parents on Facebook.

After reading the unflattering comments left by his daughter, Hannah, on her Facebook wall, Jordan went into his own eight-minute video rant about the things he and his wife have provided for their child, and ended off the video in explosive fashion. Jordan unloads eight shots from a .45 pistol into the laptop, which reportedly gained the man a visit from the authorities, including Child Protective Services. Unapologetic about his reaction and not facing charges, Jordan says the family is closer as a result of what happened although he’s faced a bunch of tough criticism.

On the other side of the negative remarks however, Jordan has amassed a few fans of his version of tough love. While I can appreciate the sentiment behind Jordan’s actions, the use of the gun is where I hop off the train. I can’t endorse using violence to hammer home a point. In a series of news polls done on almost every major media outlet, voters are mostly in approval of Jordan’s actions. Even Dr. Phil himself said he was entertained more than appalled by the video clip.

Disciplining your child is a necessary thing for fathers to administer, although I’d argue that it’s an often difficult thing to do correctly. As children grow older, they have the potential to challenge their parents’ patience in a variety of ways. I don’t imagine I’d ever resort to shooting my daughter’s electronic equipment in order to get her to follow my lead. I hope that my words, steady presence and loving devotion is enough to make sure my child honors not only her parents, but also herself.

How about you, Father Factor readers? What do you think about what Tommy Jordan did? Tell us in the comments below or tweet to us at @FatherFactor. You can also comment on our Facebook page by following this link.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Hope For Peace Between Whitney Houston And Her Father

Over the weekend, the music world was shaken by the death of celebrated pop and R&B diva Whitney Houston on the eve of the Grammys. I still can’t believe she’s gone, especially after reading she was on her way to performing and recording again. A lot of speculation about Whitney’s death has swirled about, and I’ve largely chosen to ignore what I’ve been hearing simply because I prefer to remember her as being on a triumphant comeback trail.

Whitney’s mother Cissy Houston, a renowned singer in her own right, and Whitney’s famous cousin Dionne Warwick were typically the only family members fans heard about. Little was ever said about Whitney’s late father, John. However, I searched the Web and found that Whitney and John had a much closer relationship than what has been reported in the past. In this undated video clip, Whitney is shown singing to her father on her birthday during a concert sometime in the 1990s. It’s clear in the clip that she loved her father, although alleged legal troubles between the two became tabloid fodder.

I won’t bore you with the details over owed money and estates, but rather focus on the fact that at one point, Whitney’s father acted as her mentor and business manager. John even created a company, John Houston Enterprises, to help his daughter maintain her business affairs. The same firm later negotiated a record $100 million dollar, six-album deal in 2001 for Whitney, one of the largest contracts on record.

Whitney was never candid about she and her father’s relationship, but did defend her dad by saying that a $100 million dollar lawsuit in 2002 brought by John Houston Enterprises had nothing to do with him, but rather, a greedy business associate of her father. John, who suffered from diabetes and heart troubles, passed away a year later during the proceedings, and the business partner didn’t win one cent.

I came across a 2002 MTV interview featuring Whitney Houston’s spokesperson Nancy Seltzer that touched on the lawsuit. “When I spoke to John a week and a half ago, he said, 'It's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of. I couldn't do anything like that, and I didn't,'' Seltzer said. ''It's sad. It's two people who love each other who seem to be dragged into this public situation, which is neither of their own doing.”

It doesn’t comfort me knowing that all her life Whitney Houston has had to live under the glare of the public eye. She never seemed to adjust to fame and money; she was just a girl from New Jersey with a dream, undeniable beauty and a voice from heaven. What does comfort me, is that a genuine love between a father and his daughter existed, no matter the forces that tried to tear them apart.

Reports have come out that Whitney will be laid to rest this weekend in New Jersey, right next to her father as she requested a time ago. Perhaps now, her troubled soul can rest comfortably next to the man who gave her life and love, just as it should be.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Uncharted Territory of a Teen Daughter's Heart

For those of you who are fathers of teenage or soon-to-be-teen girls, Valentine's Day might make you a bit nervous. Your daughter's interest in boys, or more likely boys' interest in your daughter, might seem a bit scary to you. You want nothing but the best for your little girl, but you may not know how to navigate this uncharted territory.

As a daughter, let me encourage you to not back away from being involved in this part of your daughter’s life. She needs you, even if she doesn’t act like it. Take it from someone who is now glad her dad didn’t back away when the tricky stuff of teen relationships surfaced for the first time.

Talking to my dad about boys was the last thing I wanted to do as a fifteen-year-old. I thought my parents wouldn't understand or would freak out and tell me I was too young to be thinking about boys. Learning to be transparent with my parents about guys was a process and my dad gets a lot of credit for patiently helping me build a stronger relationship with him in this arena.

Three things my dad said during that phase of my life stuck with me to this day and helped me realize that my parents had my best interest in mind when it came to relationships.

In one of the first conversations I had with my dad about a guy I had a crush on, my dad told me, “Renae, your significance is not based on what a guy thinks about you or what your friends think about you. You are significant to your family and to the Lord and that is more important.” I knew that of course, but hearing my dad say that meant a lot and built my sense of self-worth.

As a sixteen-year-old, I hid from my parents a correspondence I had begun with a guy friend (okay, he was more than a friend). My attempts at secrecy failed. Lesson learned: parents find things out. In a rather difficult conversation with my parents, my dad said, “I want to be the guardian of your heart, Renae. But I can’t do that unless I know what’s going on in your life, and I can’t know that unless you talk to me!” My dad’s willingness to challenge me like that helped me realize that he wanted to protect me from unnecessary heartache at a young age and that he would be my best guide in relationships with guys. But, I had to let him do so by sharing with him what was going on in my life.

As my parents and I worked through these situations, they didn’t always handle things in the best possible way, but their motive was always to do what was best for me. “We’re figuring this out as we go, Renae. If I’ve ever done something wrong for the right reason, this was it.” My dad asked me to be patient with them. In the end, we ultimately had the same goal – my success and happiness in life – and we’d get there in better shape if we were on the same team and had grace for each other’s mistakes.

It’s been ten years since those formative experiences. My parents and I are now navigating what our relationship looks like now that I am an independent adult. But those three lessons from my teen years stick with me: 1) My family loves me for who I am and my worth is not defined by other people. 2) Being open with my dad is a good thing. 3) It’s learning process for all of us and we need to have grace and understanding for each other.

So, Dads, if this Valentine’s Day your daughter brings home a little something from a secret admirer, take the opportunity to engage her and let her know you care about that part of her life. More importantly, make sure she knows through your words and actions that her dad loves her exactly as she is and will always work for what’s best for her.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Father’s Last Wish

Childbirth is, without doubt, the most miraculous event of a father’s life. Whether he’s a new dad or experienced papa, being part of helping to create a new life is a tremendous gift and honor for any father. Unfortunately, Mark Aulger won’t be able to experience any more births or spend time with his children as they grow. However, Mr. Aulger was able to see his youngest child come into the world just as his own life was coming to an end.

Texas parents Mark and Diane Aulger had been raising a family of four together while awaiting the birth of the fifth baby. Mark was diagnosed with colon cancer last April, with his health reaching critical levels in last month. After a final diagnosis gave Mark just days to live, the father asked for one last wish to hold his baby. Bravely, his wife underwent C-section surgery in order to honor her husband’s wishes. Baby Savannah was born on January 18, right next to her father.

Weak from the cancer, Mark was only able to hold his child for moments at a time. Just days later, Mark slipped into a coma and eventually passed away on January 23 – fighting for as long as he could to see his baby girl. Mark and Diane’s devotion to each other is touching and while saddened, the family is determined to keep dad’s name alive. “We're living day-to-day as if dad's still here," Diane said. "We know dad is here with us. They [the children] talk to dad. Mark was a very funny, funny dad.”

It is amazing to witness the strength of Diane Aulger, as she has to raise five children on her own. It is equally touching to see that as a father, Mark Aulger left behind a legacy worth upholding. That his family won’t dare forget the man and what he represented speaks volumes to what he meant as a father to his family. One photo (which can be seen here) shows the entire family surrounding their dad as baby Savannah rests on his chest. The photo perfectly captures how much they loved the man.

While his family may wish Mark was still here to continue his duties as a dad, they made his untimely passing as comfortable as they could. Giving Mark his dying wish, the Aulgers can rest well knowing they will continue honor him the best way they know how.

Friday, February 10, 2012

‘Eagle Daddy’ Should Change His Name To ‘Bad Daddy’

Earlier this week, I came across a news item that I am still trying to process days later. A four-year old boy Chinese boy by the name of Ho Yide was videotaped by his father (only known as ‘eagle daddy’) as the child shivered in freezing temperatures in his underwear on Chinese New Year’s Eve. I defy anyone to look at young Ho’s face and not feel sadness for the boy.

The eagle daddy’s assistant referred to this cruel treatment as “training” for the boy as the father claimed was born several months prematurely. Eagle Daddy says he’s making Ho endure these trials in order to build up his physical and mental toughness. To make matters worse, Ho’s mother can be heard laughing in the background as he cries out from doing push-ups in the cold.

To the father, you should be ashamed of yourself. Not only are you crushing your boy’s emotional spirits, you also put him at risk for hypothermia and other illnesses as well. What father would take pride in toughening up their son by making them crawl around on a snow-covered New York street? Even on its cleanest day, no child should be walking on a city street without shoes and socks, no matter the weather. Take into account vermin and trash and whatever else hidden under the snow, it just makes the instance more heinous.

Eagle Daddy seems to care less what the outside world thinks. He’s already relayed a defiant message via his assistant that he ‘doesn’t care what others say.’ As his father, he has a right to voice to the public that what he does with his child is not our business. However, filming your son crying in the cold as part of a regimen to improve the child’s heath makes Eagle Daddy an unfit father.

I happen to think Eagle Daddy is a bad daddy. This is my opinion and one I’m sticking to although I doubt few will disagree with that assertion. This is not fathering, this is pure physical torture. Looking at the body of evidence, what of Ho Yide’s despair caught on tape displays the making of a good father? How does physical and mental abuse inspire greatness in a growing child?

I hope that the Eagle Daddy stops the abuse and realizes he’s doing far more harm than good. For now, I pray that Ho doesn’t grow into becoming a broken young man due to the cruel iron hand of his father. Ho Yide deserves better treatment from his father. It is truly too bad his daddy doesn’t see the error in his actions.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Tie That Binds

I think most folks who know me wouldn’t dare commend me on my sartorial tastes although I’ve been known to look nice in a suit or two. I always admired watching my grandparents go out on their dates when I was much younger; my grandfather loved nothing more than a crisp button-down shirt and an expertly matched tie. I quietly envied his ability to always look sharp no matter the occasion.

I didn’t know how to put on a tie when I was a kid. For church, my mother gave me a array of clip-on ties to choose from and for a while, that’s all I knew. I didn’t learn how to wear a necktie until I was 22 years of age. I can even tell you the month. It was June of 1995. It was the day of my very first official job interview to work at a mailroom for a large corporation in Washington. I thought that it was time I graduated from clip-on ties to a real one. All of my friends were just as clueless as I was about ties, so I called my father in a long shot to ask for his help.

My father and I, to this day, are not close. We were especially estranged at this point although he lived just 2 miles north from me. I took a chance calling him, after so many disappointing days and nights he would promise to see me and wouldn’t show up. The pain of his absence and the longing for my father still exists today. However on a hot summer day, my father heeded my call.

He came to my mother’s house, beaming. I wanted my dad to be proud of me. I tried to tie the necktie myself, making a mockery of it. My father, with his big laugh, stood in front of me and said, “son, let me show you what to do.” He doesn’t know this but it was like being five years old again. When I was in kindergarten, my dad took me to see the classic Sci-Fi film Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. To this day, I’ll watch the movie and I’ll pretend I’m at the Landover Drive-In in his big sedan watching it with him.

Much like that moment, I hold on to the tie lesson because it was one of the few times my father showed he cared about me. He actually was close enough for me to hug him but I feared I would push him away with my emotions. I just held all of those feelings of wanting my dad deep inside. The lesson was a painful reminder of all the things I wish he taught me as a boy that I missed out on in the 17 years he left our home.

It’s been nearly 17 years since that moment. 17 years I’ve been putting on my necktie the same way my dad showed me on that day. I refuse to learn any other method for the most selfish reason in the world. It’s the only thing tangible of my father I have, the only proof that at some point my father may have actually loved me.

It doesn’t hurt as much these days to know all I have are brief memories and small moments with my father. I’m slowly trying to heal from the absence although I’m not out of the woods yet. For now, I find satisfaction in putting on my tie and knowing my dad taught me a skill that I’ll value for life.

Are Dads Still Second-Class Parents?

I just read on the New York Times' parenting blog, Motherlode (we will discuss this title later...), that the U.S. Census Bureau considers the time that fathers spend at home caring for children while mom works "child care," but does not do the same for the time when mom is home with the kids and dad works. This is because the Census Bureau considers moms the "designated parent." So mom's time caring for kids while dad is away is "parenting" and dad's time is... something else.

The Times does not agree with this assessment. Nor do we. But should we really be surprised?

I mentioned we would discuss the title of the New York Times' own parenting blog. It is called Motherlode. Isn't that an assumption, in and of itself, that mothers are to be considered the primary parent? The tagline of Parenting magazine was, until very recently, "What Matters to Moms." Parenting books are written for moms. The tagline of the book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is, "This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs." This was a married mother with the father living in the same home, but he is apparently a lower life form than the two dogs. Most brands in their advertising pretend that dad does not make any family purchasing decisions (although a few notable exceptions, like Tide and Nissan are cropping up). The list goes on.

In other words, our culture surrounds us with messages - some intentional, some not - that moms are still the more important parent. So, we should not be terribly surprised by how the Census Bureau views this issue. After all, the government typically reflects cultural values and is not usually on the cutting edge of changing them.

But back to what the Census reporting is doing... Motherlode aptly points out that mothers are just as much a victim of this mentality. As their post says, mothers are "on the hook every time" when it comes to taking care of kids. In that sense, moms are the victims of their own success - they fought to achieve the status of being able to raise families in any situation, but now there is an expectation that they always will, and dad is off the hook.

This is not empowering to dads, moms, and, most importantly, to children who deserve to have both moms and dads responsibly and equally involved in their lives.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What We Can Learn From French Parents

This Saturday's Wall Street Journal had an article titled, Why French Parents Are Superior. Before I even read it, I knew there would be something to blog about...

Turns out that the reason the writer, Pamela Druckerman, believes that American parents have something to learn from the French is actually pretty simple (and I agree with her!). The article's thesis is summed up in this line: "They [the French] assume that even good parents aren't at the constant service of their children, and that there is no need to feel guilty about this."

You would think that most American parents would "get" this, but with the introduction of terms like "hyperparenting" and "helicopter parenting" entering the vernacular in recent years, it is clear that our culture (at least our middle-class culture) has become too "child-centric."

Here at NFI, we often say that the most important relationship in the house is the one between mom and dad. If they are doing well, they are more likely to do well by their children. Children get a sense of stability and learn how to relate to others by watching their parents. So, to serve children best, mom and dad must focus on their own relationship first.

So, in that sense, NFI has always espoused (pun intended) a "French" ideal. This is counter to the American ideal which seems to have placed the parent-child relationship at the center (mom-child, really), with all other relationships (mainly mom and dad's marriage) in heated competition for precious time and energy.

According to the Journal article, this reversal of relationship priorities appears to be causing problems in many American households, where kids throw tantrums and adults have little time to themselves. Meanwhile the French are ambling along nicely with well-behaved kids, stable marriages, and healthy adult time. This notion is summed up in another key line in the article: "To the French couple, it seemed like the American kids were in charge."

In my short time (two years) as a parent, I can say that I have seen some of this, and my wife and I are probably a little guilty of it at times. But this is where I may get in a little trouble with both my wife and moms at large: in my own experience - which the Journal article seems to support - it appears to be American moms who are piloting the helicopter in the helicopter parenting equation.

Dads are certainly passengers on the helicopter and must share some of the responsibility. But my impression is that dads have bought much less into the overparenting hype, but because our culture is set up to establish and support mothers as the "primary parent," mom's parenting paradigm wins out.

The Tiger Mom phenomenon illustrates this point nicely. "Tiger Mommying" is overparenting to the extreme. But, as we blogged about on this very blog last April, the fatherhood perspective was largely invisible during that debate.  Moreover, the Wall Street Journal soon after answered questions about the lack of dads in the discussion, which we also discussed on this blog. The writer of that response, Alan Paul, made this statement, which will get us back to the American vs. French parenting question: "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."

So, America versus France...

What the American perspective does to dads is that they have to compete for attention from their wives, who are giving most of their time and energy to the kids. This is why one of the riskiest times for divorces is when all the kids have left for college: moms and dad have spent the last 18+ years pouring all of their love, energy, and attention into the kids and forgot how to love each other.

If what this new Journal article says is true, this is not happening as much in France. And that is a good thing for children, moms, and dads.

Tell us: is your parenting more American or French? What are the benefits (and disadvantages) of your approach?

2012 Super Bowl Ads Still Not Ready To Grow Up

There are two reasons people watch the Super Bowl every year. Mainly, the championship game is the centerpiece for diehard football fans. For those casual watchers of the sport, the expensive and typically entertaining commercials in between happen to be the draw.

Over the years, some companies have pandered to the mostly male audience with images that gratuitously cater to the oversexed nature of our world today. However, some noble attempts were made to steer away from the typical fare offered on Super Bowl Sunday.

Ronald McDonald House Charities offered a moving commercial centered on a family rallying around a young boy who is suffering with leukemia. With images flashing of the boy’s family members all showing support as he goes through therapy in images, the clip ends sweetly with the young man backed with love, as he should be.

Another great commercial was that of perennial tough guy Clint Eastwood and his classic gruff voice talking about America’s resolve in tough times for Chrysler Auto. One of the longer commercials at just over two minutes, the impression left behind is lasting.

A nice change of pace was Kia Optima’s “Dream Car For Real Life” spot in where the mythical sandman comes in to sprinkle dream dust on a sleeping couple. While the figure douses the wife just a dab of the magic powder, an accident has the sandman dumping half a bucket on her husband. The result: the husband’s macho dreams are amped up to ridiculous levels while his wife’s dreams are sweet and simple. A neat twist was at the end; the husband breaks past his dreams to crash his wife’s serene party and whisks her off into the sunset – all while driving the Kia, naturally.

According to Boston ad agency Mullen and their fourth annual Brand Bowl, Go Daddy was the least liked brand shown during the Super Bowl. The Internet domain name provider applied its typical lowbrow antics, employing longtime spokesperson Danica Patrick scantily clad in a version of heaven most likely conjured by the dream of high school aged boys. Once again using sex to sell its product, Go Daddy saw a huge number of negative tweets with replies growing tired of the company’s shtick.

Go Daddy has the dubious distinction of using a word in their company name – “daddy’ – and cheapening it to the point that it nearly derails the power of the title. Real daddies don’t sit around objectifying women at every turn or are consumed by lust. Some daddies are content to save that energy for the woman they love and to share only his best for his children. Instead of “Go Daddy,” perhaps more “Stay daddy” in the mainstream could help eliminate some of the negative connotation that the company applies to the word.

Let’s hope next year that companies like Go Daddy realize fathers are at home watching the game with their families, and perhaps use their platform for something other than cheap visual gags and silly humor.

Friday, February 3, 2012

It Must Be Tough Being A Military Dad

In my previous job, I traveled around the country quite a bit by airplane. I got a kick out of seeing military personnel returning home to loved ones at some of the international airports I visited, and I loved seeing families and friends hugging and crying with one another after reuniting. I always imagined what a deep feeling of relief it was for families, especially fathers, who were deployed abroad to come back home to loving arms.

This week, a little girl in Utah got the surprise of her life during a show-and-tell in her elementary school class. Five-year-old Baylee was speaking in front of her kindergarten class talking about the things she loves. As her teacher helps her with the presentation, she then points to a photo of her father, which makes Baylee perk up a bit. The teacher then points to the left and her dad walks in with little Baylee leaping into her dad’s arms – so excited, the cute kid loses a shoe!

I defy anyone, no matter how tough they are, to hold back tears of joy after hearing Baylee excitedly wrap her arms around her father Sgt. Adam Page. “How did you ever make it,” said Baylee repeatedly as dad was overcome with emotion. Watching Sgt. Page hold his daughter was a priceless moment that none will ever forget.

Sgt. Page had been deployed to Afghanistan, and has since returned to his native Utah. It will be the first time he’s lived with his family since the birth of his little one. One must wonder, how tough was it on this dad while he was away from his family. I was away from my daughter for just 8 months once for work, and I was so sad without her. I can’t imagine the weight dads who serve in the name of our country have to carry.

Thankfully, there are resources and other helpful things that can assist military fathers while they’re deployed abroad. Video chats, email, letters and even simple phone calls can help ease the pangs caused by the distance. The rewards, if dads and families can be patient and loving, are moments like we saw between Baylee and Adam. It is beyond obvious that as much as he could be, Sgt. Page was a solid fixture in his child’s life.

For military dads soon to be deployed or already serving abroad, NFI offers a handy resource called Deployed Fathers & Families: Guide For Military Personnel. This guide provides fathers with great tips such as managing money, taking care of medical needs, and also covers legal matters as well. Click here to learn more about our offerings for military dads.

And don’t forget there’s just a few days left to nominate a military dad for NFI’s annual Military Fatherhood Award! Click here to nominate a military dad today! Voting ends this Sunday, February 5 at 11:59 PM EST!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lessons From My Grandfather

I joined the National Fatherhood Initiative in early December as a recently married man of five months. Coming to work for NFI as a newlywed has given me a pretty unique experience. Before getting married, my wife and I had talked about our hopes for a family and being parents. Working in an environment that affirms and builds up the role of the father, I’ve had time to “think ahead” and prepare for my hopefully growing family.

Hearing and sharing stories in the NFI office of our experiences at home, and also of our fathers, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my youth and childhood. I had a very happy childhood and am blessed with the parents I have. But there is one thing that I keep to myself mostly—how much I wish I could have known my grandfather better.

I only had the privilege of seeing my grandfather a couple times before he passed away. He was, as I remember, a quiet man. Not serious, but quiet. He had experienced a lot in his life. In hindsight, what I thought was a serious grandfather was more a man, who in seeing his son happy with his children, found peace in reflecting on his own life.

Perhaps he found consolation or healing in seeing his son carry on a tradition. I think he found joy and was proud of my dad for all that he had accomplished. He was a man who knew that it was not the material things that make a man wealthy, but the richness in his love for and from his family. I’m sure my grandpa was proud of my dad.

I owe a lot to my grandfather. Listening to my dad talk about him, I can see that he showed my father how to be a man, how to be a father, and how to love. My grandfather taught my dad everything that my father has passed on to me. Because of my father's example and his daily service to his children, I learned what fatherhood is. My father laid down his wants, desires, needs, and sacrificed his own life for us. I hope I can be the same kind of father to my children as my dad was to my brothers and I.

The most important thing my father taught me was how to love my wife. Yes, like all families, my parents disagree from time to time. But there has never been a doubt about just how much my father loves my mother. I’ve heard it said, "The greatest thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother." I believe that to be true. My dad showed me how to love my wife by his loving and steady example. And again, I hope I can love my wife, Lacy, as well as my dad has loved my mom.

While I give great thanks to my dad and grandpa, I also am deeply grateful to my mother. Witnessing her gentleness, mercy, and care for my father, I have learned how to be loved. My mother "completed the picture" and witnessed to me how I should accept love from my wife. I saw how happy she made my dad, and she showed me that as a husband, I too one day deserved to be loved in the same fashion.

I am excited for what lies ahead. With the great examples my parents have given me and by God’s will, I feel that I will be ready and prepared to be a father for a growing and loving family.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fathering For A Lifetime

Last week, NFI’s Director of Military Program Support Services Tim Red sent out an email to our staff in where he bravely and candidly spoke of a moment shared with his oldest son, Travis. After attending the funeral of his son’s good friend, it gave Tim and Travis a moment to reflect and reconnect the bond between father and son. Inspired by his bravery, I too shared a bit of my own fears and concerns regarding fatherhood with the staff and felt enlightened by Tim’s ability to open up about such a private matter.

When I think of devoted dads like Tim, I always imagine they have all the answers and because of his background, I expected that he handled tough times with flair. With 30 years of military service, I was certain Tim had seen it all. I originally asked Tim if I could share his story on our blog and he was gracious enough to allow me to do so. I called Tim last evening and what was initially meant to be a quick phone call turned into a 30-minute conversation that changed my life.

Tim and I had an honest and open discussion, which allowed me to learn that part of being a father is also realizing your shortcomings and showing vulnerability. To hear from Tim that raising his oldest child had been difficult for him just astounded me. I was listening to this strong man admitting that even after being a dad of 21 years, he’s continuing to learn lessons about fatherhood.

I had to fight back my emotions hearing Tim tell his story of the trials he faced with Travis although I hung on to every word. Tim’s fearlessness inspired me to devote myself to what I do here at NFI, and to also apply the lessons he shared with me in my own life. Being an involved, responsible and committed father became an even greater responsibility to me by way of our chat.

Although tragedy had to happen in order for Tim and Travis to find a new way to reconnect, stories like this are precisely why I’m proud to be a part of the National Fatherhood Initiative family. As I grow as a father and as a man, I can always look back fondly to the chat Tim and I had, realizing that you can never learn it all in one lifetime. Dealing with the ups and downs of fathering can make even the mightiest of us feel stretched thin. However, it’s good to know that we have an entire lifetime to get it right.