If you ask men what masculinity means to them, you may hear words like strong, manly, brave, and bold. From a woman, you might hear some of the same words as well as handsome, rugged, sure of himself, and protector. These adjectives have a place in romance novels and action movies, and certainly masculinity can involve these traits. But I have a much different definition of masculinity.

To me, being masculine is doing what you should do as a man. Sometimes being strong and brave help you do those things a man should do, but there are many other important things that require none of that. If a man were caring, thoughtful, loving, conscientious, and kind, masculine may not be the first words you hear from someone describing him. But these are the characteristics of a man who tends to and fulfils his responsibilities.

The question becomes, “what are the things a man must do to be a man?” This is precisely the question that is rarely ever asked, directly, and is a painfully missing lesson for most boys and young men. There is no set list of things a man should do as a man because it can vary from culture to culture, family to family, situation to situation. Also, almost anything you would list as general requirements could also apply to a woman, such as being confident in his (her) body, being honorable to the opposite sex, non-abusive, and sexually responsible.

There are, however, certain traits attributed to males that many think make them masculine, but are actually traits the should be avoided. Included in the things a man must NOT do to be a man are the following.

1)      A man cannot and should not prove his manhood by keeping a scorecard of how many women he has slept with. I’ve known men who have claimed to be accomplished in that area, but they are not necessarily attractive, engaging, or successful in life. There are even women who sleep with women, so indiscriminately sleeping around does not make a man.

2)      You cannot be a better man by constant competition with other men. Out-drinking, out-scoring, out-womanizing doesn’t make you a man. It makes you a drunk woman chaser who can shoot a basketball (but obviously not all at the same time). Neither are you a man by envying or bringing down the men that ‘out-do’ you.

3)      Being in control does not make you a man, unless you are in control of yourself. It is likely that the more you need to be in control of others, the more insecure you are. To conquer and control is good in war, but too often we confuse everyday life as the same as war. Being a domineering husband or father is not a man. Often, powerless men who need control of something, try to control women. 

Avoiding the activities above are important in being a real man, but you’re not there yet. A real man also has these characteristics.

1)      Caring--Someone who cares about others, especially family. A provider and guardian.

2)      Dependable--Someone who others can trust and rely on when needed. Someone who says he will do something, and does it.

3)      Consistent--Someone who is predictable in an emergency, constant in their emotions, fair in their reactions and judgments of others.

4)      Responsible--Someone who is accountable for their actions and not afraid to be in charge. A person with character who will take calculated risks to do the right thing.

Again, these characteristics are important for a woman also, so what makes a man a man? Well, just being male will take care of the biological, physical, and emotional differences. Those came about without any work on your part. The difficult part of being a man is doing the right things, and not doing the wrong things.

Simply, a man is a male who carries himself well. This is the example boys and young men need to see. A man teaches other males by his example. These males eventually and desperately need to be anointed by a respected man, hopefully a father, as meeting that requirement—of carrying ones' self well.

In his Introduction to his book “Man Enough: Fathers, Sons, and the Search for Masculinity”, Frank Pittman writes, “Masculinity is supposed to be passed on from father to son. Women, no matter how wonderful, no matter how loving, can’t teach it to us. If we don’t have fathers, we should have grandfathers, uncles, stepfathers to raise us from boys to men. If we don’t have men in our family, then our need for mentors begins early. If the males we know are the other teenaged boys or the macho heroes from the movies, we may get a distorted, exaggerated concept of masculinity.”


If you are a male, then being a man means avoiding the behavior that can lead you to false notions of masculinity, and embracing the values that bring respect to you. Nature will take care of the rest. So just remember this; a man is a male who carries himself well, and who passes the lessons and the torch of manhood on to his sons. If this isn’t done, they may learn from other confused/knuclehead males and/or the false images of masculinity which can pass on generation to generation, until a real man intercedes.

Don’t worry that your children never listen to you. Worry that they are always watching you.”   Robert Fulghum

We all know that the perfect role models for children are parents. That’s not to say that all parents are the best role models, but they are first and most prominent. Role models show the way, establish values, teach and mentor. If you were perfect, you probably wouldn’t mind being a role model. But if you are like everyone else, you aren’t perfect. That causes a dilemma. Do you deny any responsibility for being an example to others? Or do you carefully and consciously accept the role?

 "I am not a role model" said Charles Barkley in a Nike commercial. Barkley called for parents and teachers to quit looking to him to "raise your kids" and be role models themselves. I think he is half right and half wrong. Parents should be the primary role models for their children, but he is naïve if he doesn’t know that many kids don’t have good role models for parents, including fathers, if they have a father at all. In fact, 33% of children do not live with a father. In the  black community, that number is an astounding 63%! Because of these facts, boys are usually most impacted by a lack of a role model. All young men deserve a good example to look up to.

When their father is not around, where do young men go? In an interview with MTV, rapper Tupac Shakur said this, “I didn’t have a father, but I had pimps and drug dealers and robbers and killers telling me what I should do.” While most fatherless kids are not exposed to this kind of crazy, many never find a decent role model to follow and their future is at risk.

Even kids with good role models look up to their favorite athletes or heroes in some ways. That may not be fair to the athletes, but they should accept that role along with the money, or they can decline to be famous athletes. As a young military officer in uniform, I was no longer Mike Smith while in public--I was a representative of the US Air Force. I didn’t act much differently, but I acted more consciously and conscientiously. I took great pains to not embarrass the uniform. To embarrass myself would be on me alone. To embarrass the Air Force would be quite another thing. As a parent, you cannot always be yourself just as I couldn’t be a private citizen in uniform.

If a car cuts you off, you may respond one way if you are alone, but another if you are with young children. Police officers are held to a higher standard with regard to restraint. Restaurants are held to a higher standard for cleanliness. Airlines are held to a higher standard for safety. The military is held to a higher standard for teamwork and bravery. Role models are also held to higher standards, no matter what that role may be.

Do you know the best way to teach your children how to show kindness to others? It’s simply being kind to others yourself, including your children. It is paramount that you be a good example for them. If you smoke, drink heavily, or swear often, your children will see that as acceptable behavior no matter what you say to them otherwise. They trust that you know best how to act and react to all situations, and learned behaviors are hard to break. Of course, that trust may fade as they get older and they may look to others for guidance--some good, and possibly some bad.

My father was not a role model I chose to follow. Yet I find myself doing some things I saw him do. Most of those are innocuous habits, but I have made a bad choice or two from his example. I have learned from those bad choices, but not without some regret.

Here is an excerpt on the topic from my book,  The Power of Dadhood. 

“Know when your actions will come back to haunt you. Our kids watch us and learn from us from the earliest ages, even infancy. Be the man you want your children to model. As they get older, help them see what their actions tell others, and that life is all about the choices they make. They need to know why they make the choices they do, and how these choices impact both their own lives and those of others.”

The Role of Role Models

In my mind , the role of role models is to:
  • have good values
  • be good at what you represent 
  • be aware of your actions and of those around you 
  • know the situation you are in, and
  • be a good citizen

You can choose to ignore the tacit responsibility of being a role model, but why would you? It’s an honor that has been bestowed upon you by someone who respects you and your example. However, as a mom or a dad, you can’t deny your responsibility, nor can you ignore the example that you are presenting to your children. Be careful!

Good role models are vital to the future of our youth!

"I've failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”  Michael Jordan
I’m almost there! I must be! I’ve had enough restarts, non-responses, bad efforts, missteps, double-clutches, disappointments, slip-ups to fulfill any requirement for success. If failures lead to success, I'm on the brink. I’m ready for it so let it come forth!

I made a decision when I retired that I was going to do two things.

1) ‘Be there’ for my extended family, and
2) Be an advocate for ‘dadhood’.

To be clear, I’m not as much an advocate for dads as I am an advocate for ‘fathers being better dads’. Being there for my family has been easy. Or should I say an easy choice because they are awesome! The babysitting, handling of issues, hauling stuff in my truck, has often been taxing, but totally rewarding.

The advocacy of fatherhood has been much tougher! I started with no platform from which to speak and after 10 years of research/writing and 14 months of two or more ‘Helping Fathers to be Dads’ blog posts a week, my platform is now the size of a shoebox, thanks to the eyes looking at this page!

I’ve never expected quick success on anything. When it happened in the past, I was suspicious. Too easy—must not be good. Too easy—must not be what I thought it to be. Real success comes after much failure--that’s always been my way of thinking--because there is rarely a straight path to earned success. Is this a pessimistic thought process, or is it an optimistic thought process? On one hand, it’s pretty pessimistic to think nothing comes easy. But, on the other hand, to think of failures as necessary steps to success is an optimistic viewpoint. This kind of thinking encourages you to never give up.

Certainly, Edison had my philosophy. He failed 10,000 times before he invented the light bulb. But he knew there was answer and would not give up. I’m not giving up either. Edison’s one success has shown a light on the world. My dream would be to shine a light on one father at a time with each being a success. Of course, I would like one BIG success--like Edison’ light bulb, but I’ll take multiple small successes.

So far my efforts have seemed like chopping down a Sequoia tree, yet only having enough wood for a nightlong campfire. But I know that campfire would not have existed without chopping down that Sequoia. I’ll attack that next Sequoia a little more smartly and perhaps I’ll have enough wood for a week’s worth of campfires. To push the analogy even further, I consider each of you who are reading this a log in my campfire—keeping me warm, giving me the fuel to keep writing because writing does not come easily to me. I would rather be flying airplanes, taking pictures, or bouncing my one year old granddaughter on my knee. I write because that’s how to communicate with a large amount of people, without repeating myself, on a very important topic.

It is so hard to get the attention of your audience. My audience is parents, especially fathers. There is so much information bombarding us all. Just in the blogging world there are 3,900,000 mommy bloggers. Only about 500 get much attention. There are far less dad bloggers. I couldn’t even find a discussion on the numbers of dads who blog. But I personally know of over 800 of them. For someone to find, or have time to read my blog, is like….difficult! But you did! Most likely because you’re family, a friend, or a friend of a friend. That’s okay though! We all have to start somewhere and word-of-mouth is the best way--if you have something worthwhile to say.

I blog because I wrote a book on fatherhood. I was told that I must blog to get a platform (basically an audience) to sell the book. It turns out that blogging is another way to reach my ultimate goal (and it’s not making money—that ship is leaking badly). My ultimate goal is better families and healthier kids through loving and nurturing dads! It’s my way of giving back for the wonderful life I have been blessed with, after a shaky start.

How this relates to being a dad

Parenting is not for wimps! To be good at it, you will experience “restarts, non-responses, bad efforts, missteps, double-clutches, disappointments, slip-ups” just like I have with my book and blog. And just like me, you will wonder if anyone is listening. Just like me, you’ll often chop down the proverbial parenting Sequoia tree and still not have two sticks to rub together. Just like me, you will want to give up at times. But unlike my competitive situation, you are the only father your children will ever have.

You can’t give up on your kids! Sometimes that means no longer helping them when doing so allows them to get deeper into trouble. That takes guts and knowing your children very well. Your decisions must always consider what is best for them, even though they will often disagree.

Good parents do make a difference. IMHO, fathers lag mothers in this area and need to catch up. Many are catching up!


Writing about dadhood/fatherhood has been a little like raising a kid. With the awesome leadership of my wife, our kids turned out to be very responsible people. I can only hope my book “The Power of Dadhood” turns out half as well!

Thanks to my readers for helping me help families!

PictureThe Badlands of South Dakota, Photo by Michael B. Smith
When it comes to bad fathers, I can think of three types. There is:
  • the idiot, 
  • the man who is clueless, and
  • the man who thinks or says he has no control of his circumstances. 
I'll  briefly discuss each.

The Idiot Dad

The idiot covers a lot of ground i.e. those whose values are suspect, narcissists, criminals, drug addicts, and more. Many, and maybe most of these “bad dads” are still loved by their children. That’s one thing clueless dads don’t know--how many mistakes you can make a still be loved by your children. Heaven help the children born to idiots.

When I am “helping fathers to be dads”, which is the name of my blog, I put my emphasis on those that just need encouragement, help or confidence to be a better father. First is the clueless dad.

The Clueless Dad

Dr. Frank Pittman, a noted psychiatrist and author, had this to say about fearful dads in his book, Man Enough,

“If fathers who fear fathering and run away from it could only see how little fathering is enough. Mostly, the father just needs to be there.”

Of course, not every clueless dad wants to run away from his duties as a father; he just doesn’t know how to be a good father. This usually happens with men who, as boys, didn’t have a father figure in their lives, or did not have good examples to follow. As Dr. Pittman suggests, you don’t have to do much more than be yourself to be a good dad, assuming you are not an idiot.

Little kids simply want someone to point to and be able to say, “That’s my dad!” And they say it proudly! As I write in my book, The Power of Dadhood:

“A Dad doesn’t need to be handsome, strong, athletic, macho, rich, eloquent, college educated, or even married to the child’s mother. Although many men want to be these things, they don’t make a man a Man or a father a Dad. A Dad does need to be loving, available, caring, interested, and involved, a nurturing teacher, disciplinarian, coach, cheerleader, and so much more.”

My capital ‘D’ Dad is shorthand for a good Dad. If you even attempt to do all the things in the last sentence of my quote, your teenagers and grown children will continue to say with pride, “That’s my Dad!”

The ‘No Control’ Dad

Here I must explain that the only “No Control” dad that is a bad dad is the one who doesn’t try very hard to be involved with his children, attempts to be involved in the wrong ways, or blames others for his failures. That being said, some men have mighty battles to fight to be the good dads they want to be.

In a response to a November 12, 2013 article from the National Fatherhood Initiative, The Father Absence Crisis in America [Infographic], a father named Martin Bryant asks simply, How do i remain in my kids life if i am battling the system [sic]”

It’s a good question! We have to admit, and understand, that the courts will always favor the mother when all else is equal, sometimes even if the father has an edge. Then, if the father and mother don’t get along, which is often the case, then the mother can be very uncooperative, not allowing the father to see his children. If her anger towards the father is misplaced, she can even ignore the children’s needs to see their father. Examples of this situation are, unfortunately, way too numerous! What can a good man, a good father, do?

“You can do anything you set your mind to!” is a quote we often hear. This is an encouraging thing to say to a new father, or one fighting for custody. When you hear things like this, you want to believe them. But tell that to a man who has battled for months or years to see his children.

A quote by Gillian Anderson comes closer to the truth.

Just remember, you can do anything you set your mind to, but it takes action, perseverance, and facing your fears.”

Action involves getting help, learning, trying, and wanting to be a good dad. Perseverance means getting more help when needed, continued learning, never giving up, and never backing down from the things that scare you, that being “facing your fears”. If this advice scares you away too easily, then you will complain “I have no control”, and give up. That's a bad dad.

In the end, here is some advice from a man who has fought the battle to be involved in his children’s lives.

We great fathers, for the sake of peace of mind, must acknowledge that there are really compelling and valid reasons why the courts favor the mother. Instead of slowly committing emotional suicide, compromising our own happiness and — more importantly — that of our beautiful children, maybe it’s time, against all odds, to e-mail your ex and write this sentence: “For the sake of our child, let’s make peace.Peter Ehrlich, Single Fathers' Rights

Further from The Power of Dadhood,

Don’t ever talk yourself out of being there for your kids. Your involvement or your absence will have an enormous impact on your children. They want you there with them, and if you feel the same way, it will allow miracles to occur that could have been nightmares. Your greatest leverage and influence is when your children are young; you need to be there for them in body and spirit.”


While there are many bad dads in the world, their percentages are quite low. But the harm they do to their children and society is significant. We need to help the men who are or could become bad dads by talking to them, mentoring them, and just encouraging them. Everyone who reads this has the opportunity and potential of serving that need to some father they know. Do it!

Technology moves so fast, the odds are that you were born without the advanced tools of today, but those that existed the day you were born were not much of a challenge, depending on how early and how much you were exposed to it.

You may have heard the story of a four year old girl typing on her dad’s computer. Her dad walks in and asks what she is doing. 

“I’m writing a story,” she said.

“What’s it about?” asks her dad.

“I don’t know daddy, I can’t read!” was her reply as she pounded the keyboard.

Kids seem to be naturally attracted to computers, smartphones, iPads, etc. That’s not too surprising given the buttons, bright colors, apps, pictures, and quick response. Unlike many of us older adults, who grew up with pencils, typewriters, and board games, kids are not intimidated by today's new technology. Digital tools are natural to them, like trees, grass, and blue skies.  

My experience with my grandkids

My 12-month old granddaughter Rosie (the one taking the selfie above) gleams and bounces when she sees my iPhone. She reaches and grunts for me to give it to her while her mom mildly objects. I get a kick seeing her play with the icons, flicking them around with her thumbs and fingers. When I try to take it away from her, she has the iron grip of a pro-wrestler, and a primal squeal like I’ve never heard, except when her 21 month old cousin plops on top of her. Rosie has some fast fingers. She even got past her mom's passcode once!

When her older sister, Malia, was one and a half, I had an app called ‘Carl’, a character that repeated everything you would say. She giggled and laughed and then took the iPhone from me and looked in the charging port and asked “What’s in there Papa? What’s in there Papa?”  Today, at six, Malia can manuever around an iPhone screen like an Apple Genius!

My 21 month grandson, Ryan, the one that flops on his little cousin, is less ‘techie’ than the girls it seems. His love is good ol’ airplanes, trucks, tools, and tractors. But even he loves to watch “Barney the Dog”, an app I have used to comfort him on a long ride in the car. Ryan’s real love of my smartphone, though, is the fact that I can play tractor videos for him to watch on You Tube. He's obsessed!

Mind you—I don’t always allow my grandchildren to play with my iPhone. We read lots of books and have been to the zoo many times. We go to playgrounds, on neighborhood walks, tea parties, and streams where we throw rocks. Sometimes we just jam! Here, Ryan is doing his best Tom Cruise impersonation.

Good or Bad?

Toddlers adapt quickly to these innovations. According to Common Sense Media, 38 percent of kids under 2 years of age now use smartphones or iPads. Those numbers are no doubt going to rise. The question seems to be, is this introduction or use of these tech tools to such young kids good or bad?

My response to that question is like my response to most dilemmas, BALANCE is everything! But let’s get into a couple of the pluses and minuses of tech familiar toddlers.

Plus: They become familiar with tools they and their fellow toddlers will soon be using while activating their brain. And let's face it, it’s a great diversion to keep them happy when you are busy. 

Minus: Since it is great pacifier, you mustn’t ever let it get in the way of reading books to them, taking walks, playing with trucks, dolls and building blocks. And don't forget to interact with other kids!

As they get older, exposure to digital technology can result in an increase of multitasking skills, complex reasoning and decision-making. Subjects like science and math are no longer boring as they become visual accompanied by interesting challenges, puzzles and spotting games. No longer do kids need to lug heavy bags with books to school. And yes, new interactive technologies make learning fun!

Have Rules!

However, parents should set up guidelines for times to use technology and tech-free times when kids are older. Consider granting tech usage only when physical activity has been completed or only after good grades have been achieved. This will be tough because the technology of today will not seem to be a luxury to them. However, they won’t miss anything because unlike the old days of TV and radio, everything is available on demand!

You must protect your children. They can find their way into an online chat room with strangers or click on an enticing ad that links to inappropriate content. Monitoring your child’s online activities is time-consuming, but absolutely necessary! Keep their laptops in a public area of the house.

It's your call

You will find experts that will tell you to minimize tech usage for young children and others that will tell you it will be an advantage if controlled. I tend to agree with the latter, but it is up to you. Balance in all things is as important in raising kids as it is on a tightrope.

This is my first review of a book, and I can’t say enough good things about this one.

 It’s entitled “The Turning”, by Richard and Linda Eyre. It is a book about core families, how they matter in the world and how forces from all directions are taking away the basic functions that are best done in a family, by a family. The credentials of the Eyre’s to write on this topic are without dispute. They have vast experiences as parents, world travelers, authors of several books, and leaders in family matters. Richard is also the former Director of the White House Conference on Parents and Children.

 I wish I could have read “The Turning” prior to writing my book “The Power of Dadhood”.  They take the time to explain how the core family has slowly broken down and why it has happened with little notice and without a coordinated effort to stop the trend. I was, however, able to perform a quick edit, prior to my printing, to add a quote by Linda Eyre.

 “…nothing is more responsible for the pain and suffering in the world than the breakdown of families; nothing can heal and renew the world like the revaluing of families; and there is not nearly enough focus on how dramatically the state of families affects the state of society.”

I couldn’t agree more with Linda Eyre’s statement. It is something I knew and felt in my heart prior to reading "The Turning". My experiences as a child and a father told me that when families are whole and work together, their offspring are much better prepared to take on, and contribute to, the world. The Eyre’s validate my personal experience with a much more global look at the causes of the family breakdown.

The Eyre’s go on to tell us what families can do to save themselves from the outside forces that effectively, if not purposely pull families apart. Some forces that relegate the family to a lesser role, you may not have even suspected. After you read their book, you will see how difficult it is to fight these outside forces without strong parents. This idea dovetails perfectly with my focus in “The Power of Dadhood”, which is how the participation of fathers can make or break a family and the families that follow. The lessons in “The Turning” explain why strong dads are needed with strong moms in fighting the forces that are taking over the roles of the family. When one of the parents is missing, the fight is almost impossible. And when one parent is missing, it is almost always the father.

I highly recommend this book for all families and to institutions that work with and for families! It is an invisible crisis to many and one that, if not resolved, will cause many other crises as a result.

Note: "The Turning" is published by "Familius". They publish many other books with the goal of strrengthening families and family values. Take a look by clicking on their name--and while you're there, check out  Rino Alaimo’s "The Boy and the Moon"!

Note to parents: This is a lesson on how to throw a tea party. But there is a bigger lesson here. It’s a lesson on:
1) how to be a fun family, 
2) how to create fond memories, 
3) how to pretend, 
4) how to show love, 
5) how to be a host or hostess, and so much more. 

But more specifically, let’s get to the tea party which was in celebration of my granddaughter Malia’s sixth birthday.

First of all, to throw a proper tea party, it helps to have a cool mom and dad!  They will help you plan the party and might even be your servers. Ask them to look like a fancy waiter and waitress, not like McDonald's or how they usually look.

Be sure to send fancy invitations and tell your friends it is formal affair which means wearing their fanciest clothes.*

You must have a very fancy table setting with your best tea cups, napkins, and...
...special gifts for your guests. Malia, my granddaughter selected fancy headbands for all.
When they arrive, your guests must be properly greeted and treated like royalty.
Oh, I almost forgot! Before you gather at the table for tea, I suggest you have an activity where you can catch up with all the latest news with your guests. Malia decided making beaded necklaces would be a perfect accessory to everyone's fancy outfits.

There is a warning! Moms may want to hang around because they are jealous they aren’t invited to the tea party. They will likely have one of their own since they are learning how to do it right.
There is a proper way to drink your tea. Your little finger mustn’t touch the cup and be lifted in the air in a lady-like manner... Ooops! Need more practice
After being so fashionable and behaving in a civilized manner for so long. It is always a good idea to remember what normal is...
Malia says, “Thanks for learning about tea parties. And thanks to my mom and dad for being such good servers. And, oh yeah, and for being great parents!”

It’s a good idea to invite your little sister. In five years or so, she may want to have her own tea party and you will want her to do it right. 
Glamour is all the rage for a proper tea party. Some will want to show off (like wearing fancy shoes)—but that’s okay.
...SO, have a little crazy time because there is a time for propriety in society, and a time for silliness, not frilliness. 
*Note to parents: You don't have to have real tea for a tea party. Nor do you need fancy china or silverware. Fancy clothes are usually not expensive clothes, just fun clothes. Be sure to have a camera on hand! And in the end, it's their party so don't be too strict about the agenda.
PictureBob, my father-in-law
It was my father-in-laws birthday this month. He passed away eight years ago but my thoughts of him were strong. I was lying in bed this morning, a chance to sleep late after a few short nights, and I looked at my digital alarm clock. It was 8:08! I had been tossing around for a while, trying to get more sleep to catch up. But as I opened my bleary eyes to see the time, all I could see on the clock was ‘B:OB”. This was the morning after his birthday so I figured this meant something.

Bob, my father-in-law, was the first older man that I spent years being around, my own father being distant, an alcoholic, and a wandering merchant seaman. I looked up to Bob as someone who seemed to be full of confidence and success. He had risen from a machinist to the Director of Quality Control for a major defense contractor, although he left that job soon after I met his daughter. Besides my future wife, Kathy, Bob had an older son who was a year older than me, and a much younger daughter.  Bob had a definite ‘head of the household’ attitude, but did little in the household except bring home the bacon.  My mother-in-law, a sweet and smart housewife turned teacher seemed to worship her husband. I was impressed by this seemingly together family. Their house, in my humble world, seemed to be a small mansion

Bob and his family had moved to the Midwest from the East Coast after being offered his Director’s job. They had some adjusting to do in terms of culture. They once asked a waitress in a small Italian restaurant if she had mussels. She was offended! Mussels were not common in the Midwest back then. Certain items from the East could not be found  in St. Louis, and things we knew and loved, like pork steaks and toasted ravioli were foreign to them, but they came around.

I was a simple, poor, but honest 18 year old kid when I met my wife and her family. Being from the East Coast, Bob did not trust me and my ‘act’—although it wasn’t an act. I had a car that barely ran. It broke down often and it was hard to start. Smoke billowed from the exhaust so badly that I had to coast past police cars hoping they wouldn’t stop me. Many times I was late getting Kathy home because of my car. Bob simply did not believe me and thought I was full of (sh)it! He took my innocent attitude as an attempt to put something over on him.

As time went on, he could see I was really who I seemed to be—a guy with a lot to learn, but not a con-artist like so many of his acquaintances and friends had been. He came to like me quite a bit, and I could tell it was real. And even though he had a son my age, my father-in-law started to lean on me to help him. I did everything from rebuild my mother-in-law’s Chevy carburetor to putting in an attic fan. Mind you, I had never done these things before, but I wanted to help him and my other ‘Mom’, so I learned as I went.

My father-in-law, (I called him Mr. Farr for the 6 years I dated Kathy), had no interest in performing or learning household maintenance. I was his go-to man. His ego didn’t need the self-satisfaction of fixing something on his own. So self-assured was he, that he had no problem asking his wife to get him some milk as he watched TV, even though she was in their bedroom and had to walk past him to the kitchen to get the milk for him. They were truly a family from the 50s! He had always been into gambling, sports, and leisure but became even more so after he left his corporate job. He also had an interest in having his own business and opened up a small bar and grill, which he later unsuccessfully passed to his son.

When Kathy and I started out as a married couple, we were strapped for cash. We decided to ask Bob (he asked me to call him Dad after marriage) for a temporary loan to buy some furniture. He agreed but said he would have to charge interest. I was a little surprised so I checked into getting a bank loan and discovered their interest was lower. When I informed Bob of this he said, “Well get the loan at the bank then." I don’t remember being angry about this, just perplexed. Why did he want to charge us interest? Maybe it was a good lesson because Kathy and I have never leaned on anyone since.

It turns out he was not a great father, but I think he was a victim of the times and his culture. In his world, more prevalent in the East, the male was truly dominant. It was also evident in how they treated their son versus my wife. The son could do no wrong and lived at home through his mid-thirties, while I did all the jobs around their house. Kathy, on the other hand, doesn’t ever remember being held by her dad. Whether this is literally true or not, it sends chills up my back!

Kathy’s brother and sister came to be distant from their parents. I’m not sure why. When Dad (Bob) was dying of cancer, it was Kathy and I who took off work to take him to the doctor. Kathy was there almost every day to help him and her mom, who was also not doing well health-wise. Kathy was always looking for their acceptance. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law were not around to help. After he died, we didn’t even think they were going to come to his funeral.  They did show up late but did not go to the cemetery. Something I don’t understand allowed Kathy’s brother and sister to not have the unconditional love of their parents.

While Bob may have lacked as a father, he was a loving grandfather. Time and a new environment had softened him up. He loved to tease and arm-wrestle my son and was very affectionate to my daughters. They all loved him very much! He had always been a likable guy and very charming, but as a grandfather he also lost his superior, cool attitude that had helped him be a success in his work.

Bob never did much for me in obvious ways, but he did more for me than any other man ever did. He smiled when he saw me, and I knew he liked me. Bob would give me pats on the back and squeeze the base of my neck. Most of all, he respected and trusted me. Bob always made me feel good about myself and I can’t think of a better gift.

Before we knew he was dying, but maybe after he suspected it, he came to me in his living room and told me, “Mike, if anything ever happens to me, I want you to take care of Mom”. Mom had been showing signs of dementia and he was worried about her. He didn’t ask me. He didn’t have to. Of course I, along with Kathy, would take care of her. And we did for the few years she survived after he passed away. It was this act, this trust of me to take care of the most important person in his life, which gave me the idea I was a good and trustworthy person. It is an important thing to hear trust and confidence from a loved one, especially from a male mentor. His request was a special honor to me!

The message in this story is how important it is to have another male in the life of a young man. My father-in-law wasn’t perfect and no mentor need be perfect. His fond attention and acceptance of me was something I needed so much. I looked forward to our times together and I miss him still eight years later. Dad (Bob) was the most important male influence in my life!

PictureThey include yourself, your kids, and your family.
Being a dad can be a challenge for sure. It scares some men away, even after they become fathers. But when you add the challenges your kids face, and you add the challenges of being a part of a family, then it can be overwhelming at times. While being a dad is not easy, it is tremendously satisfying--when done well. In my upcoming book, “The Power of Dadhood” (to be released in Spring of 2015, pre-order below) I spend quite a bit of time discussing these three interrelated challenges. Here, I will discuss some of the highlights of those challenges.

The Challenges as a Dad

The first thing that may come to mind as a challenge is time. Time never stops. It doesn’t stop to put aside your occupation. It doesn’t stop ticking as your children grow older. It doesn’t stop to allow extra time for hobbies, sports, or friends. And since time does not stop, then it has to be managed and prioritized. In general, what you spend the most time on is your priority. If you attempt to manage your time in a purposeful manner, you may find you need to change your priorities.

As an advocate for more and better fathering, I would hope you place much emphasis on caring and mentoring your children. Mind you, the best fathers may not spend the most time with their kids, but they do spend quality time with them. Some occupations, like over-the-road truck drivers or military personnel, make it difficult to spend time with their families. Other occupations make spending time with family a difficult decision when competing for higher pay or positions. Only you can decide, but decide knowing all the pluses and minuses. (Hint: what will you be thinking about in your deathbed?)

Other fatherly challenges I discuss are fear, personality, discipline, image, risks and consequences. All, or some of these, affect every man and how they father. The men that overcome these challenges usually have mentors--hopefully, their own fathers; and they are not afraid to ask questions. These challenges, however, can be a Mt. Everest to young fathers who were not raised by good men themselves.

The Challenges of Being a Kid

In my opinion, the biggest challenge for kids is fear, and sometimes the lack of fear. For children, it’s natural to sometimes be afraid, and those fears that are rational help protect them. True, some kids appear to have no fear, but it’s often a lack of respect for situations that can put them in danger or get them into trouble. This is where a dad can help his child. There are so many things of which to be afraid. The dark, bullies, worms, whatever. Help them face irrational fears so that they can conquer them.

As I say in my book, “Caution befriends the adventurous and betrays the meek”. Every child needs to learn about the dangers around them. Traffic is one of the most common dangers, but there are many. There are some kids, however, that have no fear of obvious dangerous situations. They will jump off a garage with a cape (towel) around their neck. They will go too far into deep water. They will throw rocks at each other.

Yes, fear and lack of fear are significant challenges of being a kid. But of course there are many more. Many kids lack confidence and must be given opportunities to learn it. Lack of confidence can lead into peer pressure which will take our children into directions we do not want to see them take. Dads can help build confidence in their kids in obvious and subtle ways.

Kids’ attitudes, their manners, paying attention, fitting in, are all learning challenges that can, and likely will take wrong turns without good, nurturing parents.

The Challenges of the Family

The core family, the basic sociological unit, is in big trouble. In 2010 single parents accounted for around 27% of family households with children under the age of 18, and 80% of those households were headed by women. For black children the single parent figure is 52% and these numbers are growing. That’s another story told excellently in “The Turning”, by Richard and Linda Eyre. The challenges I discuss in my book also happen in functioning two-parent homes.

As I said, a family is the basic social unit. A family must act as a team, have defined yet flexible roles, and treat each other with respect. There are many challenges and one of the most important is communication. From my book,

Different parental roles require coordination. No one can read another person’s mind. If parents have bad communication habits, these can be especially hurtful to your children. Poor communication habits can cause assumptions, and assumptions can cause grave mistakes. Misunderstandings can grow into faultfinding. Soon your family system is not functioning well, and no one, most of all the children, can be at ease.”

Outside influences and how they are dealt with are always a challenge to the family. Tolerance within and outside the family is also a challenge. Is your family very diverse? Are they cooperative? There are so many questions, so many possibilities, and so many ways to deal with things. When families can properly deal with all these challenges, they and their children can be very successful. When many families can do this, then society will be much more successful.


So we see how complicated parenting can be. Just when you think you’ve got it together as you enter Dadhood, you realize your kids have problems, fears, and obstacles. And while you and your wife work on those issues, you find you both have different ideas on how to approach them. Meanwhile, TV, movies, social media, schools, friends, grandparents, etc. all inject ideas into the realm of your family. Good luck! There are many challenges, but NEVER give up the fight for your values and your children.

PRE-ORDER using the button below. My book will definitely be out before next Father's Day. A perfect gift for any father in your life.

Yes, along with their moms, kids need their dads! I’ve said it in so many ways. The statistics prove it. It makes sense biologically and sociologically. And we all know it, although we don’t all live up to it. But do you know what? Men need kids too! They don’t need kids like kids need them, but I think most men are happier as fathers. Not all men of course, but the vast majority would have more fulfilling lives with children-- even those that don’t think so or admit it. Some men don’t realize it until it is too late.

In a report to the August 2000 meeting of the American Sociological Association, a study of father’s interaction with their children in intact two parent families stated that nearly 90% of the fathers surveyed said that being a father is the most fulfilling role a man can have.

That is certainly true in my experience. When I was a kid, I had a dream of being a jet pilot. I was fortunate enough to fulfill that childhood dream. It was challenging and satisfying to have done so. But what do I have left from that now that I am retired? Memories? Yes, good memories for sure, but they hardly measure up to, not only the memories I have of my family, but the accomplishments of my children and the joy they have brought into to my life!

I have a friend from college who just visited me from Los Angeles. He recently retired, never married and is an only child to parents who have long since passed away. He was telling me how simple Christmas is to him. He just asks himself what he wants for Christmas and then he goes and buys it—and he’s done.  Now if you just said wistfully, “I wish it were that easy for me.” Then you are most likely kidding yourself. I used to look forward to Christmas. Then I didn’t. Now I do again. Why? I had kids. The kids grew up. Now I have grand kids!

My college friend has a few friends but they are usually busy with their families, especially on holidays. Or maybe they are busy with their kids’ activities. My friend has never been to a children’s soccer game, coached a baseball game, cheered a son in basketball, or watched a daughter’s dance recital. He may have never wanted to do these things, and there have been times I didn’t want to do these things either. But I am so happy I did! My friend will never know the pure joy of being a grandfather, because you have to be a father first. Being a grandparent is something that has been more fun than I ever imagined, and far less work! 

Just this week, my wife and I bought our grandchildren a child’s toy riding tractor. We unveiled it the day before I wrote this and watching them enjoy it, and their happy faces made that purchase pay back a hundred times more than what I would have spent on myself. After all, happiness is the desire to give, especially to kids, and more especially when they are yours.

Having kids is an incentive for anyone to achieve more, to learn more, to be more responsible, to be more involved in the community, to interact with other family members, to meet more people with kids, and even to live longer. When you are a young man, you want to achieve for yourself. When you are an older man, you may more likely want to achieve for others. Family and children fill this need perfectly.

I truly respect men who do not want children and do all they can do not to have them. It’s responsible, honest, and respectful. But if you have brought children in this world, you also have to be responsible, honest and respectful with the choice you have made. You will be a better man for it!

There was a line in the movie “As Good As It Gets” when Jack Nicholson says to Helen Hunt, “You make me want to be a better man.” Well, that may be true for us when we meet ‘the one’. However, when you have children, you really should want to be a better man! If that’s not true for you, then spend Christmas with yourself and/or your single buddies. It’s okay with me if it’s okay with you. 



    Mike Smith


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