It’s getting so close! And I may need your help!! Please stick with me to the end.
My earliest notes that I have found are dated in 1999. I was forty-nine years old, still busy as a civilian engineer in the aircraft industry, and a colonel in the Missouri Air National Guard. I had one daughter who had just graduated from The University of Missouri School of Journalism, a son who was attending college, and a second daughter still in high school. They were all doing well and my wife, Kathy, and I were so proud of them. It’s now 16 years later and our three children continue to thrive as are our three grandchildren and one on the way. And those notes, started in 1999, are now coming out as a book about fathering. My publisher, www.Familius.com, so incredible to have taken a chance on an unknown author, will be releasing “The Power of Dadhood: How to Become the Father Your Children Need” on April, 28th. (It can be ordered in advance by clicking on the title, or going to Amazon.)
It was not my original intention to formally write a book. I had never been a writer or even much of a reader up until this time. No, these notes were to be organized and left to my children to let them know about what I had learned while raising them--through the mistakes I had made in ignorance, and my desire to be a better dad than the one that had fathered me and my five siblings. It was written as lessons to my children, and hopefully to my nieces and nephews. But I found it could be useful to any parent, especially men, who commonly need more help in the world of parenting than women.
I used to stop at restaurants that provided free Wi-Fi on the way home from work to brainstorm and research fatherhood and parenting websites. I reflected on where I was as a parent and how I got to be who I am. I thought about the struggles my hard-working mother had raising six children without emotional or monetary support from my father. I was saddened by the impact having an absent father had on, not only me, but my brothers and sisters.
Most, if not all of us Smith kids, grappled with a lack of confidence and self-worth. Some had minor skirmishes with authority or teen pregnancies. All, but myself, failed to get a high school degree in a traditional fashion*. Subsequently, our next generation has a mix of remarkable achievements and of continuing struggle. Not surprisingly, those in the next generation who continue to struggle have father issues. I have two great-grandnephews whose parents are not married. This is a string of five generations, starting with my father, that have had father issues, i.e. having no idea how to be, or caring to be, a father.
Without some intervening event or miracle, the father absence issue (physical and/or mental) will continue and multiply. In my book, I call this situation the ‘Cycle of Despair’—fatherless girls looking for male acceptance and finding it in fatherless boys, anxious to prove their masculinity to someone who cares for them. These boys don’t know how to be a father and often run away from the responsibility. It’s a recipe for more fatherless children.
My original subtitle was “A Better Society, One Child at a Time”. I had chosen this subtitle because struggling homes cause a struggling society. My book is full of telling statistics about the startling increase in high school dropouts, teen pregnancies, drug use, crime, mental issues, etc. that all result from an absence of fatherly support. So, every father that receives mentoring and encouragement can help to serve, not only his children, but society.
This is how you can help!
I need a team of informal ambassadors willing to spread the word of my book's launch. Asking for your help is outside my comfort zone. But, this topic is worth it. I'm not doing this for personal profit, nor do I even expect a return on what I've invested in this project. I've noticed a need! While most occupations have a training program, too many new fathers have no clue how important they are to their child, nor how to handle being a dad. This is what I care about—helping these men and their children.
With the help of ambassadors, I can get the word out that my book is available to new fathers, to struggling fathers, to fathers that want to measure themselves against a standard, and to men deciding if fatherhood is for them. It is also for moms, grandparents, wives, sisters, aunts, and friends to give to the men in their lives. After all, many men are not likely to find my book on their own! Your help will get it into the hands of the men whose kids will benefit from my "regular guy" advice, one who has seen both the good, and the bad of fatherhood.
This is truly a grass-roots effort! The goal is to prevent a child’s struggle to deal with life without a committed father to care for them, or to mentor them. As a result, it is also a grass-roots effort to cure the ills of our society, without need for prisons, welfare, or psychologists.
I appreciate anything you are willing to do: forward this post, tell a friend, post it on social media, suggest a place I can speak or sign copies, mention it on your own blog, or buy it for a father you know. If you'd like to preview the book so that you can write a review on Amazon or elsewhere, or if you have ideas to share with me, please write to me at Mike@MichaelByronSmith.com. I would love to communicate with you and pass on book launch info!
Thank you so much for reading my blog posts on ‘Helping Fathers to be Dads’! I don’t always have the best answers about how to parent your children, but I am willing to throw out my thoughts, listen to you, and have a discussion! Our future belongs to our children and their children. Let’s give them the tools to succeed!
Thank you so very much!Mike
*Three siblings now have GED’s and one sister has gone on to receive her college degree!
Photo: Rachel McCarthy
Random Acts in Parenting
When I first entitled this article, I called it “Random Acts of Parenting”. Then I thought, no, that’s what my father did. He showed up occasionally then disappeared again, often for months. My father didn’t even meet the base requirements of parenting. He was visiting, not parenting. It’s tough to talk about my father like that because I still loved him, even though he wasn’t interested enough in our well-being to contribute as a father. Nevertheless, I changed one word, ‘of’ to ‘in’.
This article is for good fathers. Fathers that are already actively loving, protecting and caring for their children. Being a father is a sobering responsibility for those men that care, and most do! But we often become so busy providing that we find it difficult to create new ways to connect to our wife and kids. Currently, one of my sons-in-law is in a career situation where he is often required to work up to 12 hours a day. There is not a better father than my daughter’s husband! But when he gets home, there isn’t a lot of time to see his two year old son before he has to go to bed to get the 10-12 hours of sleep he requires as a toddler. This happens to many men and an increasing amount of women. Smaller amounts of time require more special moments.
Oftentimes, even when the workload slows down, parents get into a routine of basic parenting--feeding, comforting, reading, maybe helping with homework. All good and necessary things! But wouldn’t it be good for you and the kids if you shook things up occasionally? ‘Random Acts in Parenting’ is just that—doing things with your kids that are not routine, that takes them by surprise. Not always do they have to be elaborate, just unexpected acts that show your love and attention. Children need routines for sure, but memories are made from breaking away from routines!
- Find an interesting post card and send it to your kid(s) through the mail.
- Surprise them with a ride in a helicopter or train.
- Go to a river and look for driftwood that looks like something else.
- Give them some money to pick out a book at the bookstore.
- Build an indoor fort on a cold day and crawl into it with them and read.
- Find a drive-in, buy hot dogs and popcorn.
- Camp in the backyard or at a campground and tell stories.
- Have a dance contest. Record it on today's fancy smartphones.
- Go on a hunting expedition with cameras. Look for shapes, insects, small animals, plants, etc.
- Write a thank you note, for being them, to slip into their lunch box.
- Spend special time with each child one-on-one, once a month, or more.
- Go fishing, or rent a nice boat and picnic in the middle of a lake.
- Have a pillow fight, mud fight, snowball fight, or a staring contest.
- Take off work a day they are home from school and go on a long hike.
- For more thoughts, check out a previous post of mine called Kids and Their Dads - A Photo Journal
You get the idea. Be adventuresome. I bet you have better ideas than I came up with to stir their imagination and break their routines. Even though you may remember routines that brought you together as a family, perhaps sitting down together for dinner most nights, I doubt you’ll recall a specific dinner unless it was your first time having lobster; or the time your dad served everyone as if he were a waiter at a fancy restaurant, with a white napkin on his left arm, speaking in a French accent.
When your children grow up, you’ll want to hear them tell happy stories of their childhood that make them smile or laugh. It’s not the routines or the specific required activities that they will remember. It’s the crazy stuff we do, the special out-of-ordinary things that we remember, that give us stories to tell, memories to cherish, and depth to our lives.
Let your kids know that you can RAP with the best of dads! Let them see your style of “Random Acts in Parenting”.
Rachel was 26 when she wrote this. My daughters have sent many loving notes of thanks.
There’s a different kind of love letter. Not the kind of letter that ranges from puppy love’s hearts and arrows to passionate expressions of heartfelt attraction. No, it’s the type of love letter that is deeply forged from a life of dedication and sacrifice. One that is not as likely to fade into yesterday’s news as time moves on and passions erode. It’s the letters and notes of love between family members. A beautiful example of a letter (entitled "Down of the Tracks") from a son to his father follows my introduction.
My kids have always graciously expressed themselves by thanking my wife and me for the things we did as their parents, especially my daughters. The note enclosed by my youngest daughter, Rachel, is just a random example. I didn’t need to get this note to be proud of Rachel, or to understand her appreciation, but I’m not sure if she knows how much it touched me at the time, or even now as I rediscover it six years later.
You take care of and mentor your kids because you want them to succeed in whatever life they choose for themselves. Your reward comes when they are happy and successful. Nothing else is necessary. Of course, you only have so much control and your children must do their part, and they usually do with your encouragement and love.
Every so often, a dad will get something extra. Something that will smack him between their eyes and test every cell in his body to keep him from getting emotional. That is when he finds out the little things he did were noticed. Those little things that add up to being a top-notch father, a true teacher and caring parent. Lucky is the man whose son or daughter will take the time, or even think to write a note of thanks to a parent. I am one of those lucky men. Both of our daughters are wonderful at expressing their appreciation for the things my wife Kathy and I have done for them. My son, not so much--and that is okay!
It’s not that my son is any less thankful. It’s just not his style--which is true for most sons. So don’t fret if you never receive a note like the beautifully written note below. You know if your children appreciate you just by how they act towards you. But it is admittedly special when you are a father and get something like the note you are about to read.
I have never met this lucky father or his son. It was sent to me by my sister who knows the father. He graciously allowed me to print it here. All the diapers, money problems, back talk, worries, time, and frustrations are all forgotten and melt away into a dripping pool of love when you realize your children appreciate all you have done for them. It’s extra special when they write it down.
Here is the letter from a loving son to his father, on his dad’s 60th birthday.
Down On The Tracks
So there he is again, his wrap-around sunglasses glued to his face, tongs in hand, flipping the Maull’s basted pork steaks on the back patio. Resting the lid back on the Weber kettle, he props his left hand on his hip, takes a swig of Budweiser with his right, and admires his freshly cut lawn. With just enough time left before dinner, the boy asks him to play long toss.
Mentor and apprentice. Father and son. They lob the baseball back and forth, broken only by the need to check the grill. Their passion for the game is a bond that strengthens what is already a relationship few are lucky enough to experience. The father knows that his son’s speed is a virtue. If only he could put a good swing on the ball. He thinks it every day.
He’s there for the boy regardless of his skills and potential. He’s at every game because his father was not at every game. He’s at every game because he owes it to his only boy to give him the best chance at success. He’s at every game because of the possibility of something great, but more importantly, he is there because of the possibility of failure. He’s going to lecture his son’s hesitation in the batter’s box. He’s also going to praise his consistency in center.
But for now they toss the scuffed cowhide back and forth. The seams leave the father’s long, right arm with precision, landing in the web of the boy’s mitt with a pop. The boy slings it back, his lanky appendages flailing wildly - their proportions so similar. As their deep forest of a backyard hums with life, dusk approaches. They get down to business.
“Give me one more runner, Dad.” He loves it; seeing his son track the flight of the baseball with ease, usually ending with unnecessary summersaults and sheepish, satisfying grins. Making him proud. Making his Dad proud. He is able to run and catch and laugh and play because of his father. His father made him. The boy is his father.
Innocence. Ignorance. Not knowing where life is going. Not caring. It doesn’t matter, because these are the moments that will stick. These are the experiences that do the molding. These are the memories that the boy will have forever. Because of his father, the boy will be there for his son one day. Because of his mentor, the boy will lead by example too, some day.
And so they make their way back to the patio. The grass springs back-and-forth as the father’s Reebok’s brush through the blades with each long, shallow stride. They construct a pile of meat and make their way up the pebble-patched stairs and into the house.
They eat and they lounge. The groundwork has been laid – the road paved. Wherever life takes them from here is secondary to the job that has already been accomplished. ‘Thunder Road’ hums from the mantle, and for a moment the room falls silent as The Boss bumbles “Heaven’s waiting down on the tracks”.
What a lucky father and, of course, what a lucky and loving son. Like the father in this story, I didn’t have a father quite like this one. What came to my mind was not my own dad, but my younger brother, Bob, who easily could have been the subject of this story.
Knowing my brother’s son, who just turned twenty-one, he will likely not write Bob a thank you note, even less likely a story like this. But maybe he will. My nephew, like my son, doesn’t express himself that way. However, I do know for certain that my nephew feels the same way about his dad as the son who wrote this letter! Like his dad, Bob’s one of the good ones!
“…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.”
Linda Eyre, “The Turning”
Yes, America has some problems--crime, drugs, mental health, poverty, out-of-wedlock births, anger, lack of skills or incentive, I could go on. These are not new problems, but how could we best minimize them? We could counter them with more police, more jails, more hospitals, and more welfare. Or we could prevent the circumstances that allow them to come about in the first place, before they get further out of control. In 1950, only 4% of births were out of wedlock. That number in 2008 was 40.6%. Currently, more than half of all births to women under thirty occur outside the marriage. Could this have anything to do with the problems I've mentioned? Could it be the fact that approximately one third of American children live without their biological father?
My book, The Power of Dadhood, was written principally as a mentoring book to help fathers be the best dads they can be. Secondarily, but very importantly, it is a book about repairing and preventing the ills of our society. It’s not that I have all the answers, but I think--very confidently--that I have the main answer. The answer, however, is a challenging one to be sure! That is, to do all we can to encourage and bring back the core family to prominence-- the core family being a father, a mother, and their children living under the same roof with rules all can understand. Since there will be dissenters, let me be clear that I understand other family situations exist that can work, but they don’t address the majority of the issues we face.
Here is a list of ‘what ifs’, pointing out what could be done to solve this most complicated of problems.
- What if, for two or three generations, children would be brought into this world with both a loving mother and a loving father, even if they are not biological parents?
- What if these parents had been brought up themselves by parents who had basic skills in how to successfully raise children?
- What if these parents started each day looking into their infant children’s eyes with smiles on their faces with constant chatter of encouraging words?
- And what if, as they grew older, these wonderful parents would challenge their children with new experiences and reward them for their successes?
- What if kids knew what was expected of them?
- What if there were rules, and the rules made sense to them, and the rules were strictly enforced?
- What if children knew they were loved and realized that the last thing they want to do is to disappoint those that love them?
Now I know there are limitations that make this scenario tough to achieve for many families, perhaps most families, but why? I have suggestions that, if they came to be, would likely turn the tide against the continued re-occurrence of many of today’s social issues.
It would help if:
- There were more emphasis in the core family. I defined the core family earlier as being a father, a mother, and their children living under the same roof. While it is politically correct in many quarters to support gay marriage and single mothers, which I understand, it seems politically incorrect to praise or encourage the idea of a core family.
- Religious or spiritual teachings were taught more frequently in the home. I have never been particularly religious because it wasn’t part of my upbringing. However, the idea of a higher power, the lessons of living a good life, the brotherhood of a common belief, and the simple knowledge of the teachings of the great religions will bring a spirit of love that will fill the voids that could potentially be filled with defeat, anger and hate.
- There were less of an emphasis on shock and profit and more on propriety. Because of the state of many families these days, rare are the barriers to keep young people from poor taste and impropriety. Therefore, behavior that should be unacceptable is acceptable by too many to be good for a respected society. Choosing an example, since impropriety exists elsewhere, segments of the music industry is rampant with lewdness, obscene language, and hate-filled lyrics making cop killing or degradation of women common themes. This music appeals to people raised without the “what ifs” mentioned above. They buy this message, share it with others who are also vulnerable to peer pressure; then those who sell this anger and hate profit from it and are therefore encouraged to sell more. I’m not so prudish as to deny adults their pleasures as long as they don’t affect others, but children should be protected at ages where their judgment is not yet sound.
- Social media made it easier for parents to block certain content from their children. I am a believer in free speech. I am not a believer in young people being exposed to pornographic language and hate filled rhetoric. Since free speech is essential to our liberty, it is up to the adults to control what children see and hear. This is admittedly a tough problem to control. The best tool is good parenting.
- There were something to intervene the cycle of despair. When a child is born into a situation with little support, everything about them suffers. Their confidence is weak, expectations are low, lessons are few, and there is acceptance of the circumstance they are in, which all contribute to them becoming just like their parent(s)-- this cycle repeating until something interrupts it. A few escape on their own--with just a little help. This is a goal of my book--to be a guide, a mentoring tool, or a reference to a father who doesn’t know how to prevent his children from continuing the cycle of despair.
- There were less divorces and separations. Of course this is a chicken or the egg problem. It would take less divorce and separation currently to make future divorce and separation less likely. Let’s at least encourage our youth to wait to both marry and to divorce.
- There were less need for two-income families. We are driven to keep up with our peers. When that isn’t enough, both parents work. Our positions in the company for whom we work become more important than our parenting. A large part of our younger children’s hours awake are spent being tended to by strangers whose attention is divided among many.
- Extended families lived closer together. It used to be that most grandparents, aunts and uncles lived relatively close to each other. They were available for support and camaraderie. Now, corporations have no trouble moving their employees wherever they need them. Often, companies require you to sign a statement stating you are willing to relocate, or you will not be hired. Many choose to move away on their own, looking to climb the ladder of success rather than staying close to family—a fair choice but one that hurts family ties and cooperation.
- Government didn’t take over the roles and duties of families. Churches, grandparents, neighbors, the sister/brother down the block, etc. used to be there for families in need. Now the government more often is involved in “at need” situations. Governments, however, can’t be close to people like friends and family can. The caring, love, judgment, pressure or encouragement is no longer there from those that care. There is no longer the pressure or help from loved ones to get out of a needy situation, and scrutiny is not nearly as efficient as it is with friends and family.
What is scary is that this has all happened so quickly. Centuries of traditions are now disappearing and it seems to have taken place in the last 50-70 years, parallel to the rise in out-of-wedlock births. If the pace keeps up, we will have a society, not centered on families, but driven by governments and corporations. Here is a quote by the great Winston Churchill on families. “There is no doubt that it is around the family and the home that all the greatest virtues, the most dominating virtues of humans, are created, strengthened, and maintained.” When families become weaker, we all become weaker.
A Social Experiment
I think the answer, if this Utopian example were tested, is intuitively obvious. But what if we could apply all the “what-ifs” above, added the list of suggestions, and performed an experiment to see if society’s ills would, in fact, be eased to some degree? How could we do this? Is it possible? Maybe the experiment is already happening--not as controlled or as perfect a situation as we would like, but a real life approximation of the experiment? I have a thought.
If I were to choose an organized group of people who were, without a doubt, champions of the core or nuclear family, it would be the Latter Day Saints of the Mormon religion. I am not a Mormon myself, and whatever your thoughts are about the other traditions of the LDS, positive or negative, they do not matter in this live experiment. This real-life study compares various statistics of the state of Utah and compares them to the other forty-nine states. Utah is 70% Mormon, not all of course are strict or practicing Mormons. But it is enlightening to compare Utah and its Mormon-influenced, family culture, with the rest of the US. While this information comes from a Mormon source, I believe it to be true and accurate due to the original sources of their data.
- Utah is second in the nation among the states in high school graduates, first in college attendance, and eighth in college graduates.
- Utah is in the top three states in having the least occurrence of all major diseases!
- Utah has the highest birthrate and the second lowest death rate.
- Utah in in the bottom 20% of all states in major crime.
- Drug use in Utah is half the national average and it ranks in the lower third of states in alcoholism.
- Finally, Utah has 77 out-of-wedlock births per 1000 while the national average is 203 out-of-wedlock births per 1000.
This data may not prove the importance of my “what ifs” to you, but it is at least an interesting discussion. Utah is by far closer to the ‘what ifs’ lifestyle I proposed, and if it ever came to be, it would diminish a life of negativity and promote success, save private and taxpayer money, and most importantly, improve and save lives!
The Good News
There is some good news trends. Fathers who are in the home today are much more involved with their children than in days past. The number of stay-at-home dads has tripled in the last decade and companies are much more likely to offer paid paternity leave. Commercials and media are showing fathers in a more positive light, and there are conferences like Dad2.0Summit that get people together to talk fatherhood. And the problem isn't a secret. Ninety-one percent of fathers agreed there is a father-absence crisis in the county. Most father absences are in the lower social-economic families, but fatherly inattention can occur in any home.
In conclusion, it is my opinion, and that of others far more knowledgeable than I, that the major societal issues of today can be reduced significantly by focusing on, and supporting, the core family--where lessons are taught, love is abundant, and support can be found.
Note: For detailed and expert insights into the causes of the breakdown of the family and the solutions to change the tide, I highly recommend, “The Turning: Why the State of the Family Matters, and What the World Can Do About It”. The data herein (other than the Utah data) was collected by the National Fatherhood Initiative.
Each child is determined to catch that parachute. I'm confident they're having fun!
If ever there were two heavyweight fighters, they would be ‘Confidence’ and ‘Determination’. If you desire your child be a champion of their chosen world, which of these two characteristics would you most want them to have? Certainly, anyone who has both will likely become whatever they choose to be. The truth is, if a child has one, he may not have the other. As a young man I truly had very little of one characteristic, but a decent amount of the other. The ‘other’ saved me!
Having confidence will make life and its challenges appear easier to attack, allowing one to charge ahead with little reticence. Having determination will give one a voice shouting encouragement in their ear, “keep going--keep going”! There are, however, traps in both confidence and determination.
Confidence can trick you. It can prevent one from preparing properly, or from trying hard enough. Too much confidence can defy your true abilities or put off others a bit. Confidence is best worn on the inside showing through, not draped callously upon your personality.
Determination, on the other hand, can be brutal on your overall happiness. Your determination can make you go off in directions for all the wrong reasons. It’s not good to be determined to get even. It’s not good to go after a prize or be vindictive just because you want to prove a point. Determinism must have properly chosen goals. Misplaced confidence has the most failures. Misplaced determination has the most stress.
Of course we want our children to have both characteristics and to use them wisely. If they have one of these attributes, we concentrate on the other. But getting back to the question, if they are weak in both, which would you choose to emphasize--confidence or determination?
From my book, to be released in April 2015, “The Power of Dadhood”, I discuss confidence.
The Challenge of Confidence
"Self-confidence can be nurtured by introducing your child to challenging experiences, such as hiking the Grand Canyon, cleaning a fish, or joining a drama club. Kids become self-confident when they get over the fear of the unknown, when they overcome an inhibition, and when they accept that they don’t have to be good at everything, because no one has ever been good at everything.
The challenge must not exceed their capacity, or their confidence could diminish. Nor should you mislead them into falsely thinking they’ve achieved a significant success when it was too easily attained. Success does build confidence, but success built on sand will not contribute to your child’s confidence in the long run. Confidence gained by easy victories can be shattered by reality.
It may not be wise to convince your children that they are great artists or athletes if they will be judged more honestly in school or by friends. A more realistic view will not set them up for a fall, a fall from which recovery could be difficult. But, of course, praise any real talent and encourage any talent that shows promise.”
Confidence works both from within (how you feel), and from without (how others see you).
Once again from my book,
Determination--Intend is a stronger word than can.
“Knowing you ‘can’ makes your intentions that much easier, without all the gut-wrenching anxiety. However, many people can, or think they can, but never do. People with a can-do attitude have their wheels greased, but they have no engine if they have no intent. If we Dads and our children have both the engine (intention) and the grease (confidence), we have what we need to move forward. Not only can we get somewhere, but we can get there with little friction.”Determination can help you to focus and to overcome a lack of confidence.Which is it?
So, if your child needed both confidence and determination, which would you choose to emphasize? In my experience, if you’re not confident, then at least be determined and confidence will come. If you’re not determined, your confidence is like pajamas—comfortable as you lay around. What saved me was my determination! I was not confident about becoming successful, but I was determined to be so. I was, at the very least, determined to improve my situation in life, that being the only thing about which I was confident.
Although you can nurture a child to have confidence, you can’t let them get behind in their personal development as you do. Again, that’s when determination can help. It's how the military gets many of their recruits through basic training. That’s how the voice in your ear does its job, telling you to “keep going”! Mantras are voices at work, expressing through repetition what you want to achieve. When a goal is met through determination, an increase in confidence will follow. You can ask any graduate of basic military training, any mountain climber, or any Olympic athlete.
There is no wrong answer to my question because we will always want to encourage our kids to have determination, and nurture them to have confidence. Vince Lombardi once said, “Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.” Confidence can be with you one day and gone the next, but with determination, one will bridge those gaps. Never stop encouraging or nurturing either characteristic. That’s what makes a mother a mom, and a father a dad!
And someday, you may hear these precious words. “Because of you Dad, I didn’t give up!”
Photo: M Smith
“The first five years has so much to do with how the next eighty turn out.”
Have you ever had so much information thrown at you that it felt like you were drinking from a fire hose? This happens to me more often than I would like to admit, especially now that I’m older. Believe it or not, very young children can handle an explosion of new information much better than most adults. This is a time when we should be stimulating all their senses with gusto. If we don’t take advantage of this ability, we’ve done them a major disservice.
Similar to a skyscraper, a child’s foundation is the most important characteristic allowing further growth. I’ve written in the past about preschool kids (usually 3-5 years old) and what you can do to help them ‘learn to love’ learning. Let me take you back before they are considered preschool, back to their birth and days as an infant/toddler.
Here are two excerpts from my book, “The Power of Dadhood” which discuss early learning.
“…there is a fertile “window of opportunity” during the early years of life when a child is most receptive to emotional, social, and intellectual stimulation (Maeroff). Without this stimulation, a child’s development will suffer.”
“Most people don’t realize the impact fathers have on their infant children. Many men think young children don’t really understand anything until they are older; then it’s time for fathers to get more involved. But infants are actively engaged in unconscious learning long before understanding comes. They absorb things like a sponge. An infant’s brain and nervous system without stimulation is like a sponge lying in the desert. In the wrong environment, the sponge is useless. There is nothing to soak up. The richness of the infant’s mind needs nourishment, and the father is a source unique from the mother to provide this nourishment.”
Wasting the potential of a young mind is as destructive as forgetting to pull the ripcord on a parachute. That is why you must engage them as soon and as much as possible with conversation, reading, imaginative play, artwork, etc. Doing so will exercise all those synapses in their brains, making new connections and paving the way for more and faster traffic.
In an article I wrote for the National Fatherhood Initiative, entitled The Magic of Learning to Your Preschool Children, I mentioned that a child from a high income family will hear many millions of more words than a child from a low income family and those words will be encouraging whereas the words of the low income family will be largely discouraging. School teacher, child psychologist and psychotherapist, Haim G. Ginott, PhD. was quoted as saying, “Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression. If nothing falls on a child, there no impressions. If the wrong words, examples, or treatment fall on a child in his early years, those impressions hardens and it is difficult to shake.
Dr. Ginott’s quote is backed up by Melinda Wenner Moyer, a parenting advice columnist who said, “Children who don’t go to preschool are usually from more disadvantaged families, which means they watch lots of TV and are yelled at more than they are praised, which some researchers believe can stunt cognitive development.”
Early childhood experiences are vitally important factors in determining future success or failure. A child’s early environment has a direct and lasting impact on the architecture of their brain. You want to build the best brain possible for them! So dads, get in the trenches with your child from the start! Look into their eyes, smile, and talk real words to them. It doesn’t matter that they don’t know what you’re saying, but the more you do so, the sooner they will understand. Also hold them and play with them often, sometimes with fun or educational toys, sometimes just you and them. Interact, praise, and challenge your child every day. Don’t think that stimulation and interaction in these early years is only the mother’s responsibility because you bring a different dimension, a different voice, a different style, and more love and attention—just what they need!
Note: This chart from the government of the United Kingdom outlines “Early Year Outcomes”, “a guide to making best-fit judgments about whether a child is showing typical development for their age, may be at risk of delay or is ahead for their age” for ages 0 to 60 months.
Photo: Kilauea Vocano, Big Island of Hawai'i by M. Smith
What they say is true! But first let’s clarify—the ‘they’ I speak of is not just anyone! No, I’m talking about the great ones, those being the great ‘thinkers’ and ‘teachers’ of the world, past and present. Even great thinkers may not speak to you and your beliefs at all times. But those thoughts, ideas, and beliefs that are common to all great thinkers, those you can usually take to the bank.
Michelangelo, Confucius, Thomas Jefferson, Einstein, Buddha, Churchill, Socrates, Plato, Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Ben Franklin, Lincoln, Edison, Aristotle and, of course, Jesus are just some of these great thinkers of the past. Some deal in philosophy, religion, some in science, and others in politics. There are others that are considered great thinkers by some, but crazy or evil by others. I have some in mind but I won’t name them here.
When we think about what all these great thinkers may agree upon, I think about Mahatma Gandhi and his seven social sins of humanity and how they say so much in so few words. I repeat them here.
The Seven Social Sins of Humanity
- Politics without principles;
- Wealth without work;
- Enjoyment without conscience;
- Knowledge without character;
- Business without morality;
- Science without humanity; and
- Religion without sacrifice.
In religion, at least in all the major religions, there is a form of Christianity’s ‘Golden rule’ that all abide to whether it is Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, etc. You can read the version from each major religion here. In some of those religions, I assume there are those that may think the ‘Golden Rule’ only applies to the treatment of those within their own religion. I doubt that is the true philosophy.
In everyday life, there are tenets we can all agree upon, such as;
- Respect yourself and others
- Setting goals
- Being grateful
- Keeping your word
My thoughts on all this always reflect back to parenting in general, and fathering more specifically. If I were to come up with a parallel for Gandhi’s Seven Sins in the area of parenting, it would be based upon what I have learned through my readings of the great thinkers in the world of parenting. They are:
The Seven Sins of Parenting
- Loving without showing it;
- Teaching without principles;
- Involvement without sincerity;
- Rules without consistency;
- Humor without compassion;
- Living without balance, and;
- Attention without passion.
Take note of these ‘parenting sins’ and evaluate your parenting style. It’s your dominant approach to parenting that counts when looking at this list. None of us are capable of avoiding occasional slip-ups in each of the seven areas. If we recognize our failures and vow to improve, then we will be among the best parents anywhere--and THE best parents for your own children.
I’d like to add one thought to those thinking of becoming a parent, or those thinking of doing those acts which can end up with you supporting a child. If you become a parent, be a parent. If your love creates, love your creation!
We all have differences in how we act and think, and what we believe. Hopefully, however, there are some truths we can all hang on to in which we will find agreement and commonality among us. This commonality will allow for communication which can result in less conflict between us. This includes communication in how we mother and father. I tried to find and discuss these commonly accepted truths of parenting in my book, "The Power of Dadhood: Be the Father Your Children Need". I hope you can share it with fathers who could use some mentoring or advice.
B-52 Stratofortress, the aircraft I flew in the USAF.
In a past life, I made a living as a military pilot. I have always had a love of airplanes and still do. When I think about my flying career, I miss it quite a bit. The reason I don’t fly anymore as a hobby is because it isn’t cheap and life just gets in the way. Now, instead of flying airplanes, I write about Dadhood and spend a lot of time being with and doing things for my grandchildren. I wouldn’t trade any of that for my own personal F/A-18 fighter jet…well, I might give up the writing.
When I stopped and thought about my love of airplanes and my love of being a dad/granddad, I discovered there were so many ways a dad is just like an airplane. It turns out that a military aircraft is an especially great metaphor to describe a father who is also a great dad!
Let’s say your child is a pilot and you, Dad, are his aircraft. As a pilot, he can’t get anywhere as quickly and easily as is possible with your help. Here are father analogies to the main elements of an airplane.
- You have the engine (ability) to propel him to his destination
- You lift him, his spirits, and his confidence with your wings (encouragement)
- Your fuselage and cockpit (support and shelter) will protect him from the elements and provide a safe working environment
- Your rudder (advice) will allow him to turn (change) when corrections are necessary
- Your elevators (honesty) will allow him to control his ascent (overconfidence) and descent (lack of confidence)
- Your instruments (talents) will give him the ability to find his destination
If you are a really fancy aircraft (or a really good dad!) you have even more support systems that are invaluable to help your child complete his mission
- Your oxygen system (cheerleading) allows him to achieve very high altitudes
- You provide two-way communication with your radios (availability)
- Your navigation systems (knowledge) provide guidance
- Your radar (experience) helps him to avoid conflicts
- Your on-board computer (brain) is loaded with necessary information to proceed
- Your landing gear shocks (your presence) will ease his landings
And there is one last thing your pilot needs from you, his aircraft, to be used only in the direst of situations--that being a parachute/ejection seat (a safety net). Your pilot must be trained to never abandon his mission unless his safety is in jeopardy. In other words, every effort to get out of a tough situation should be made before giving up and bailing out. But dads should always be available in emergencies.
For the non-aviation-enthusiasts, I used words like propel, lift, protect, control, destination, change, achieve, communication, guidance, avoid conflicts, information, ease, and safety. All words that could be used to describe the relationship between a father and his child.
It may sound like the aircraft is doing everything for the pilot, but nothing will happen without his action! The pilot decides where to go. He starts the engines. He handles the controls. He decides what route to take, and he lands where and when he desires. The aircraft cannot do any of this for him. Although critical, the aircraft can only be a facilitator and support system.
Now a kid without a dad can still get places, still succeed. It’s a lot tougher to get where they want to go, or to even know where to go--but many do! They have to work much harder and use their imaginations. Those are the kind of kids, like burgeoning pilots, that will hang around airports and listen in to the conversations. Maybe they will find an aircraft (mentor), that will take them for a ride, because they see the determination of a young pilot wannabe.
Unfortunately, many more kids fail from lack of support of a fatherly figure. Those who fail just can’t overcome the extra burdens of self-starting, the persistent failures without someone to pick them up or teach them life lessons, lack of confidence, or lack of any vision of what it’s like to fly. So dads are a lot like airplanes. Not all of us are sleek F/A-18 fighter jets, but that doesn’t matter.
Enjoy your mission and happy landings! Over and out!
- All military aircraft have the support systems necessary to help their pilots. And powerful they are.
- All dads have the support systems necessary to help their own kids! That's "The Power of Dadhood"!
The most popular film in 1987 was a comedy about three bachelors who suddenly find themselves in care of an infant girl. It starred Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg, and Ted Danson--Danson’s character being the father of his ‘love child’, left on their doorstep by the mother.
These three men know nothing about caring for a baby and that’s where the comedy comes in. Feeding, changing diapers, crying are all challenges that befuddle these men, but in the end, they are all charmed by this little bundle of joy. What made me think of this movie was a video sent to me by a long distance friend who had read an article of mine on Super Bowl commercials featuring dads. This video features... three men and a baby, at a baseball game.
My friend’s son went to a Seattle Mariners game with a couple of buddies, one of whom brought his infant daughter. A ground rule double was hit into the crowd and the ball was caught by a fan who gave the ball to the baby. The baby did what babies do--she started chewing on it. This scene was caught by the station broadcasting the game and shown again to a nationwide audience on the MLB network. Three men and a baby at the game together! It made me smile! Watch the video, then some thoughts about the movie and the baseball baby video.
The bachelors in the movie represented what most people think of men and babies, much of it being true. Most men who have never been around kids are very naïve about them. Wanting to be a dad is very common among most men, but knowing how
to be a dad takes a little time, at least as far as the nitty-gritty basics go. Sure, there may be some females that would also be inept, but I’d place my bets on any woman learning quicker, or having a second sense about what to do over a man.
I’m almost hesitant to say that, because political correctness tells you not to put people in assumed roles, but generally, moms do a lot of parenting things better than dads. However, if you have read any of my previous articles, you know I am a huge advocate of fathers being loving, caring, responsible and equal
parents. Just because moms are better at some things, does not take away the importance of a male influence, a dad’s love.
Kids need to see and feel the differences in their parents. Certain traits are obvious--a deeper voice, a still gentle but rougher touch, or a different attitude or interactive style towards the child. In an article titled, “How Men and Children Affect Each Other’s Development,
” written by Kyle D. Pruett, he states,“If fathers have the capacity to nurture their children competently but differently from mothers, does this matter to the children? Apparently so, according to two decades of research. Eight-week-old infants can discriminate between their fathers and their mothers, and respond in a differential way to their approach. Yogman [a researcher] compared videotapes of comfortably seated infants’ response to their mothers’ approach and their fathers’. In anticipation of their mothers picking them up, babies settled in, slowed their heart and respiratory rates, and partially closed their eyes. When they expected their fathers to hold them, babies hunched up their shoulders, widened their eyes, and accelerated their heart and respiratory rates.”
Beyond the differences in the sexes, a mother and a father have different personalities and styles to which the child learns to adjust. And very importantly, a boy needs a proper male model to watch, and a girl needs to be loved by a male that she trusts.So getting back to ‘Three Men and Baby – Baseball Style’
- It really warmed my heart to see these guys at a ballgame with an infant!
- I was impressed that the baby girl had noise protection. I could be wrong but it could have been the mother’s idea. At least I wouldn’t have thought to do that.
- I thought it was great that the mother trusted the father to take care of the baby at a ballgame. Many wives would have insisted that if the father was watching the baby alone, that he should not go to the game. (I’m assuming the mother knew. If not, he may be in some trouble now.)
- I was impressed that the friends of the father seemed to have no issue with having the baby there. Just knowing that about them makes me assume they are great guys! One of the friends (my friend’s son) was actually holding the baby. This is a wonderful scene that is far more likely to happen today than in the recent past.
- I thought it was hilarious that the guys let the baby chew on the ball. A mom wouldn’t have let her put her mouth on a nasty ball. Hopefully it wasn’t a spitball!
Dads are different than moms. Most of the time, that’s okay!
Friends and family. Great examples as Dads
The Super Bowl is finally upon on us. The two teams playing, the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks most likely deserve to be there, that is if nothing comes out of the controversy--like air coming out of a football! This “deflate-gate” cheating controversy, whether true or not, can be a signal to kids that cheating is common to get ahead or, hopefully, a chance to explain to them why cheating is wrong. But back to the Super Bowl game itself. Although I’m mostly a baseball guy, I have to admit that the Super Bowl is the premier single-game sporting event in the US.
Beyond the game itself is the camaraderie, food, and yes—the commercials. The Super Bowl brings about a lot of the public’s attention, which advertisers jump on with both feet and millions of dollars! There have been some good ads over the years, my favorites usually being those heart-tugging ads featuring the Budweiser Clydesdales. But I think I will find a new favorite commercial this year.
Marketers are coming around to the notion that men are parents too! We fathers could use some good publicity because dads have been easy targets in commercials and TV sitcoms for years. Al Bundy, Don Draper, Peter Griffin in Family Guy, Homer Simpson, Ray Barrone did not do us well. A sleaze, a tease, a goofus, a doofus, and a self-absorbed dolt. They are all entertaining, but they leave an impression of incompetence and/or disrepute that many young people have burned in their heads. On the other hand, I was raised on the fathers in “Fathers Know Best”, “My Three Sons”, and “Leave It to Beaver”… all good models of fatherhood. So what if they were perfect beyond our means.
Nissan, Toyota, and Dove have all made ads this year showing dads in a positive light.
- Toyota’s dad ad features football player dads and their kids talking about what it takes to be a good father in its "One Bold Choice" campaign for the new Camry. Kurt Warner, DeMarcus Ware, LaVar Arrington and Fred Jackson are featured fathers. I wonder how many other pro football players could have qualified to be in this commercial.
- Nissan has a #withdad campaign. #Withdad is a celebration of, and inspiration for, dads who find innovative and exciting ways to make life better for their kids and families.
- The Dove Men Care #RealStrength commercial is pure fatherhood! Just everyday ‘dad-child’ interactions that touch the heart, but are also routine.
- And dads never stop being dads as told by Amy Purdy in another Toyota commercial. Amy lost both legs and kidneys to become a competitive snowboarder and, amazingly, a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars”. Her father’s uncompromising devotion to her saved her life!
What’s so great about these commercials is that young men see them, millions of them! Image is so important. And they see being a dad as a really cool thing—which it is! Unfortunately, the images many young men see is the misdirected machismo of young fatherless friends, or entertainers who are angry, have low morals, or will just do anything to make a buck.
Besides doing something nice for dads, advertisers also benefit from these dad-centric ads. One reason moms are portrayed on most commercials is because they control the spending on most everyday products. But the median income for U.S. households headed by single women is only $26,000, not much buying power at all. But the median income for married couples is $84,000, therefore a married woman has much more spending power!
Let’s keep families together because they want to stay together! They will want to work hard to stay together if they have their eyes open to all the responsibilities, difficulties, and especially the joys beforehand. For this to happen, we all have to help them--you, me, even advertisers!In Toyota's "One Bold Choice" choice commercial, a young man is asked what kind of dad he wants to be. His answer, pointing to his father, "This kind!" That answer should be every dad's goal!