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Fathers

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    40,000 to an Audience of One

    Anger, hurt and fear are some of the emotions Ben Petrick felt when it was confirmed in 2000 that at age 22 he had early-onset Parkinson’s disease. He went from being a very gifted catcher with an incredible future with the Colorado Rockies to not knowing what tomorrow would bring.  

    “My entire identity was in baseball,” said Petrick. “I spent most of my adult life with 25 guys in a clubhouse or on the field. I had only wished for two things in life, to play pro baseball and to be a father. Now, one of those had been stripped from me and I had no clue how I would do the other with my physical limitations. I was very down. The disease progressed over five years to the point that there were many times I was not able to help care for our daughter.”

    In an effort to improve his quality of life, Petrick underwent risky surgery. Initially, the surgery seemed to be successful, but a short time later he developed an infection which landed him back in the hospital and unable to move. At this point, he told his father he thought that his family might be better off if they didn’t have to worry about him.

    “My dad looked at me and said, ‘Don’t you ever say that. You have a daughter at home who is counting on you. Quit thinking about yourself and think about your daughter.’ Not a surprising response from the man who had pushed me my entire life to be a better person,” he recalled.

    A few months later, Petrick underwent a successful second surgery. With medication, his physical ability was back to almost 100 percent. While his wife taught, he was able to help with their two daughters, Makena and Madison. He also gave private lessons and helped coach a local high school baseball team.

    “When the disease robbed me of the thing I loved, I was bitter and had no clue who I was anymore,” Petrick said. “Looking back, my baseball career seems like a million years ago. I am happy that I had the opportunity to play. I didn’t finish my career the way I wanted, but I am okay with that. My focus has turned to caring for my wife and girls. My oldest daughter could care less that I am not playing ball anymore. She just wants me to get on the floor and play princess. I figured out that my little girls gave me something that 40,000 fans in the stands couldn’t give me, a love that made me want to live.”

    It was only through adversity that Petrick figured out his real purpose in life.

    “When you marry and have children, you give your wife and kids a ‘Forever card,’” he said. “It signifies that I’ll be there for them yesterday, today and always. I had definitely been thrown a curveball, but in the darkest time, my purpose became clear: My job was to focus on the needs of those I love.”

    “I used to think that being a champion depended on what I did when nobody else was watching,” Petrick said. “Now I know it is about what I do before the eyes of two precious little girls.”

    To learn more about Petrick, you can check out his full story on ESPN 360 or read a collection of short stories from his life in the book, 40,000 to One.

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    Where Have All the Fathers Gone?

    Several years ago a company donated Mother’s Day cards for prisoners to send to their mothers, and they actually ran out of cards. The company also donated cards for Father’s Day, but guess what? This time, inmates only used a handful of cards. This shocked the company.

    A Pew research piece may offer some insight into why this happened. After analyzing the 2011 American Community Survey, Pew asserted that a record 40 percent of all households with children under 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family.

    On the surface this sounds like a victory for women, but the report's details tell a very different story. It shows that two very different groups make up these "breadwinner moms." Actually, 5.1 million are married mothers who earn more than their husbands, and 8.6 million are single mothers.

    “You would never guess from the triumphant headlines in the media that almost two-thirds of the family breadwinners are single mothers,” says Kay Hymowitz, William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of Manning Up and Marriage and Caste in America. “These mothers are not ‘top earners,’ they are the only earners. Only 37 percent of the ‘breadwinning women’ are married mothers who are making more than their husbands, and in many instances, this is because the husband lost his job.”

    A whopping 63 percent (8.6 million) of these moms are single mothers, 29 percent of whom are not working at all. More than half of the children in homes with single moms are growing up poor. According to the report, a growing number of these women never married. Other studies have shown that never-married mothers tend to get less financial assistance from their children’s fathers than previously-married mothers.

    The Atlantic responded to the Pew research by saying, ‘Employment and gender roles in the United States continue to shift away from the Leave it to Beaver model. Murphy Brown is winning,’” Hymowitz says. “It speaks volumes that the article’s vision of a single mother is a make-believe character who is a television news star.”

    Research still consistently shows that children do better in every way when their two parents are present in the home. So what exactly are we celebrating? It isn’t about who makes more – it’s about helping families thrive.

    On Father's Day, perhaps prisoners took so few cards for a reason. Maybe it's because so many fathers have walked away from caring for and engaging with their children, although others want to be there. Oftentimes, a father's seemingly irreconcilable differences with the other parent keeps them from engaging with their kids.

    Whatever the case, guess who loses? The children.

    An analysis of 100 studies on parent-child relationships shows that having a loving and nurturing father is very important. It's as crucial for a child’s happiness, well-being, social and academic success as having a loving and nurturing mother.

    Dad, your kids need you.

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    6 Things to Remember When Your Kids Mess Up

    Many parents would agree that a great deal of parenting time is spent teaching children right from wrong, the importance of honesty, responsibility, good character and much more. These are many of the essential qualities they will need to be successful in life. 

    No matter how much effort we put into teaching our children, there are bound to be times when they disappoint us for one reason or another.

    “I can remember the first time my son really disappointed me,” says Jim Smith.* “I was angry at him and at the same time I was beating myself over the head trying to figure out where I had gone wrong in raising him. For a long time, I felt sorry for him. Instead of trying to help correct what happened, I tried to compensate. Just when I thought things had turned around, he would do something else. It is hard to get past not thinking it is always your fault when your children make poor choices.”

    This type of response from parents is common. Whether it’s bouncing checks, drug use, risky sexual behavior, driving recklessly, unhealthy relationships or lying, it hurts to see our children make mistakes, especially when their choices affect their future.

    Often when children, young or old, do disappointing things, the first reaction is to try and fix it. When problems arise, parents often try to control their child’s choices and remove the consequences, thinking that their actions are the loving thing to do, but that may not be true. Sometimes the most loving thing a parent can do is let go.

    When children are young, parents are typically directing behavior. When children enter the teen years and beyond, a parent’s role ideally shifts to coaching their children, along with helping them make their own decisions and accept personal responsibility for their choices.

    If you are dealing with disappointment in your older child’s behavior, consider these things:

    • See your child as separate from you and making his/her own choices.

    • Understand that their behavior is not a direct reflection of who you are.

    • Stop rescuing. Let them fall and experience the consequences of their choices. Experience is a great teacher.

    • Recognize that you can love your child while allowing them to make their own choices, as painful as that may be.

    • Make a conscious decision to go on with your life, knowing you have done the best job you knew how to do.

    • Take responsibility for those areas where you believe you fell short. Then move on and model healthy actions going forward. 

    Smith says that he finally realized that he did everything he could to teach his son right from wrong, but his son continues to make poor choices. 

    “I finally told him that it isn’t that you are a bad person; it is the choices you keep making, and you will always have difficulty because of those choices,” Smith says. “At some point I had to stop taking it personally and let go, realizing I could not change him.”

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    Dinner with the Smileys

    In November 2011, Sarah Smiley’s husband, Dustin, was preparing to leave his family for a 13-month military deployment. Before he left, his three sons, Ford (10), Owen (8) and Lindell (4) said that they would be sad to see their dad’s empty chair at the dinner table. As he was making preparations to leave, Dustin encouraged his wife to invite folks over for dinner periodically.

    Having made it through two of her husband’s deployments in 2001 and 2003, Smiley knew that dinner time could be a lonely time for the family. She realized that her husband was probably right about inviting people over for dinner. Yet, she found herself questioning how she would add one more thing to her already full plate.

    The idea of making sure the house was spotless and that the boys behaved well - then cooking something great for dinner - seemed overwhelming.

    After months of persistence from her husband, Sarah decided to float the idea past her boys about inviting people to fill her husband’s seat at the table. During one of their Skype sessions, Dustin asked the boys who they would invite to dinner if their mom did weekly dinners.

    “My teacher!” said Lindell.

    “Maybe the Mayor,” said Owen.

    Ford said he had thought about asking Senator Susan Collins since he was studying government in class.

    Ford extended an invitation to Senator Collins to join his family for dinner, and to their surprise, she accepted. This turned out to be the launch of Dinner with the Smileys, a year of weekly dinners with interesting people that ultimately led Sarah, who is a syndicated columnist and author, to write the book, Dinner with the Smileys: One Military Family, One Year of Heroes, and Lessons for a Lifetime.

    The book chronicles their experience as Sarah holds nothing back and doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat the year without her husband. You will be laughing and crying as she describes the very real and sometimes messy moments deployment brings.

    For example, shortly after Ford extended the invitation to the senator, he decided that was a big mistake. When people started asking questions, it began to feel formal and full of expectations instead of fun. Sarah was not going to renege on the invitation; however she did decide the dinners would be on the boy’s terms. This meant casual, no expectations, no pressure and no dress-up.

    Although there were moments Sarah questioned what she had done, she was ultimately thankful she put forth the effort during her husband’s deployment.  She endured arguments with her tween son, a basement incident involving raw sewage, along with tears from missing her husband. She also had the joy of watching her boys do things they probably would not have done under different circumstances. Plus, the boys will never forget the friendships and memories made.

    The Smileys learned lessons through this experience that are too numerous to mention. They're too rich not to share, though – thus the book is a must-read.

    Here’s to all the moms out there who make it work no matter the circumstances.

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    40,000 to an Audience of One

    Anger, hurt and fear are some of the emotions Ben Petrick felt when it was confirmed in 2000 that at age 22 he had early-onset Parkinson’s disease. He went from being a very gifted catcher with an incredible future with the Colorado Rockies to not knowing what tomorrow would bring.  

    “My entire identity was in baseball,” said Petrick. “I spent most of my adult life with 25 guys in a clubhouse or on the field. I had only wished for two things in life, to play pro baseball and to be a father. Now, one of those had been stripped from me and I had no clue how I would do the other with my physical limitations. I was very down. The disease progressed over five years to the point that there were many times I was not able to help care for our daughter.”

    In an effort to improve his quality of life, Petrick underwent risky surgery. Initially, the surgery seemed to be successful, but a short time later he developed an infection which landed him back in the hospital and unable to move. At this point, he told his father he thought that his family might be better off if they didn’t have to worry about him.

    “My dad looked at me and said, ‘Don’t you ever say that. You have a daughter at home who is counting on you. Quit thinking about yourself and think about your daughter.’ Not a surprising response from the man who had pushed me my entire life to be a better person,” he recalled.

    A few months later, Petrick underwent a successful second surgery. With medication, his physical ability was back to almost 100 percent. While his wife taught, he was able to help with their two daughters, Makena and Madison. He also gave private lessons and helped coach a local high school baseball team.

    “When the disease robbed me of the thing I loved, I was bitter and had no clue who I was anymore,” Petrick said. “Looking back, my baseball career seems like a million years ago. I am happy that I had the opportunity to play. I didn’t finish my career the way I wanted, but I am okay with that. My focus has turned to caring for my wife and girls. My oldest daughter could care less that I am not playing ball anymore. She just wants me to get on the floor and play princess. I figured out that my little girls gave me something that 40,000 fans in the stands couldn’t give me, a love that made me want to live.”

    It was only through adversity that Petrick figured out his real purpose in life.

    “When you marry and have children, you give your wife and kids a ‘Forever card,’” he said. “It signifies that I’ll be there for them yesterday, today and always. I had definitely been thrown a curveball, but in the darkest time, my purpose became clear: My job was to focus on the needs of those I love.”

    “I used to think that being a champion depended on what I did when nobody else was watching,” Petrick said. “Now I know it is about what I do before the eyes of two precious little girls.”

    To learn more about Petrick, you can check out his full story on ESPN 360 or read a collection of short stories from his life in the book, 40,000 to One.