FathersArticles

Articles for Fathers

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    Being an Involved Single Father

    Jeff* celebrated his first Father’s Day when his daughter was 9-months-old, and he is thankful for that day with her. Jeff is a single father who shares custody of his daughter with his ex.

    “Our relationship ended shortly before our child was born,” says Jeff. “Things were crazy. I am an industrial engineer and teach people how to build cars for a living. I knew nothing about going to court and all that would be involved with being able to see my child.”

    Since he wanted to be an active father even before his child was born, Jeff took a class for new fathers through First Things First, along with other classes.

    “In spite of the circumstances, I did not want to be an absent father,” Jeff says. “My ex was very nervous about me taking care of our child by myself. There was a lot of tension in our relationship. Through a series of events, I ended up in the Dads Making a Difference class. That was a real game-changer.”

    In addition to learning communication and conflict management skills, Jeff found out more about the importance of a father’s involvement with his child. Plus, he learned what it meant to protect and serve both his child and her mother.

    “From the time I began the class to now, the transformation in the relationship between me and my ex has been amazing,” Jeff says. “A personality inventory we took in class helped me to understand her better, which led me to handle situations differently. The response surprised me. We have moved away from supervised visitation. In addition to getting more visitation time with my daughter, she spends every other weekend with me and that is pure joy.”

    In Jeff's opinion, being a first-time father and learning about caring for a baby has been a steep learning curve, but worth every minute.

    “I love spending time with my daughter,” Jeff says. “I want to nurture her in a way that will allow her to thrive. Being an engineer, I love math and science but I also love art and music. I sing to her a lot and enjoy playing with her, and watching her develop her motor skills. I can’t wait for her to walk.”

    Believe it or not, Jeff is an exception to the rule.

    In 2014, 17.4 million children in the U.S. were growing up in a home without their biological father. Moreover, data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing survey indicates that a third of non-residential fathers had no contact with their child five years after birth. Jeff has no intention of becoming a part of this statistic.

    Through various circumstances, including divorce and unwed births, there are many men who are missing out on the gift of a relationship with their child. While it can be complicated, unnerving and extremely challenging, don’t underestimate a child's need for a healthy father's involvement. Literally thousands of credible studies show that children need mom and dad engaged in their lives.

    So, if you're actively involved with your children, consider yourself blessed. On the flip side, if you are estranged from your children, remember that you can still make a change regarding that relationship.

    *Name changed.

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    Co-Parenting: Smoother Transitions

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    What You Need to Know About Sexual Assault

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    7 Tips for Dads of Daughters

    Joe Kelly knew his life would change when his twin daughters were born. He understood that he was stepping into a very important role as their father. What he didn't count on was the dramatic impact these girls would have on him as a man and their father.

    “The uniqueness of the father-daughter relationship can deeply enrich a man’s life,” says Kelly, first and foremost the father of twin daughters, and head of the national non-profit organization Dads and Daughters. He also wrote Dads and Daughters: How to Inspire, Understand, and Support Your Daughter When She is Growing Up So Fast.

    “Every single one of us grew up a boy. Sometimes that is a hurdle and sometimes it is an advantage. All of the time, it is a chance to grow in unique ways. Through our daughters, we can start to see and experience the world differently.”

    When his daughters were older teenagers, Kelly began reflecting on how much having daughters changed his life. He was curious to know if any other men shared this experience, so he interviewed a diverse group of men. He was actually surprised by how much they had in common.

    Kelly recognized that he had to be very aware of how he lived his life. He began thinking about the messages he was sending verbally and his actions.

    “You can tell your daughter she can be anything she wants to be,” Kelly says. “But if you then turn around and pick up a Playboy you may as well have saved your breath because your actions speak louder than your words. It is how I treat my daughter’s mother and the other women in her life and in the world that send a powerful message to my daughter and my son.

    "If a boy grows up believing that the size of a woman’s cleavage is more important than the size of her heart, he's on the road to disaster. As a man and father, I can help my daughters understand that it is not about looks; it is about what you are capable of accomplishing in life.”

    Research has shown that girls with involved fathers are more likely to be emotionally and physically healthier and more well-rounded. Dads and Daughters suggests these tips for fathers to inspire, understand and support their daughters:

    • Listen to girls. Focus on what is really important – what does your daughter think, believe, feel, dream and do- rather than how she looks.

    • Encourage her strength and celebrate her savvy. Help your daughter learn to recognize, resist and overcome barriers. Help her develop her strengths to achieve her goals.

    • Respect her uniqueness. Urge her to love her body and discourage dieting. Make sure your daughter knows that you love her for who she is. See her as a whole person capable of doing anything. Treat her and those she loves with respect.

    • Get physically active with her. Play catch, tag, jump rope, basketball or just take walks. Studies show that physically active girls have fathers who are active with them.

    • Involve yourself in your daughter's activities. Volunteer to drive, coach or teach.

    • Talk to other fathers. Together, fathers have reams of experience. There is a lot to learn from each other.

    • Help make the world better for girls. This world holds dangers for our daughters, but your overprotection doesn't work. In fact, it tells your daughter that you don't trust her! Instead, work with other parents to demand an end to violence against females, media sexualization of girls and pornography. Work to stop advertisers from making billions by feeding on our women's insecurities, in addition to all "boys are more important than girls" attitudes.

    According to Kelly, the greatest gifts a father can give his daughter are talking with her, listening to her and trusting her.

    If you are curious to know how well you are doing as your daughter’s father, you might want to take the quiz on Kelly's website, dadsanddaughters.org.

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    Quantity vs. Quality Time with Dad

    On average, how much time do you spend with your children each week?

    How much time do your children think you spend with them?

    You've probably heard that quality time with your children, not the quantity, is what really matters. A study published in the Youth and Society Journal, however, questions that line of thinking.

    The study indicates that bullying behavior increases when children perceive that their dads are not spending enough time with them.

    Andre Christie-Mizell is a psychologist and associate professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University. He studied the behavior and perceptions of 687 children ages 10 to 14 and living in two-parent homes in 2000. Plus, he looked at their parents’ work hours.

    He asked:

    • What is the relationship between the number of hours parents work and adolescent bullying behavior? 

    • What is the relationship between bullying behavior and youths' perceptions of the amount of time their parents spend with them?

    Interestingly, he found that the child’s perception of how much time they spent with their fathers most impacted bullying behavior. This is exactly opposite of what expected to find. Since mothers usually spend the most time caring for children, Christie-Mizell thought the mother's time away would be the determining factor.

    “The findings about fathers and mothers are important because it turns what most of us think is conventional wisdom — that mothers have the most influence on children — on its ear. This research shows that while it’s equally important for kids to spend time with both parents, fathers need to make an extra effort,” Christie-Mizell says.

    He suggests setting up a schedule for parent-child interaction in order to guide children’s perceptions. For example, you could reserve Saturday mornings for daddy-daughter dates or father-son time.

    Christie-Mizell says the interaction has to be purposeful and scheduled. You can't just rely on those random, last-minute trips with Dad to the grocery store.

    “Children need to know they have this scheduled time. And it’s important for fathers to try to keep to the schedule as much as possible. If fathers have to miss, then it’s also important that they explain to the child why they have to miss their scheduled time and how what they are doing instead affects their family,” Christie-Mizell says.

    A University of Michigan-Ann Arbor study explored time with Dad, too. It found that American kids in two-parent, intact families spend an average of 2.5 hours a day with their fathers on weekdays and 6.2 on weekends. For about half that time, fathers are directly engaging with the kids - playing, eating, shopping, watching television with them or working together around the house. The rest of the time, dads are nearby and available if their kids need them.

    Children tend to do better in every area of life when dad is active in their lives. And believe it or not, dads are better off, too.

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    The Value of Father-Daughter Relationships

    Beth, a 26-year-old church secretary was in a particularly good mood. She was actually glowing when a friend asked if her boyfriend had proposed to her.

    "Her response took me by surprise,” says Ken Canfield, author of Seven Secrets of Effective Fathers and The Heart of a Father. "She told me her father initiated a phone call to her for the first time in a very long time. I noticed she had flowers on her desk and I asked who sent her flowers.

    "With a huge smile, she told me her dad sent them to her for her birthday. Beth’s response to her father’s attention made me realize something. Even grown women hunger for love, attention and affirmation from their father.”

    Research from Canterbury and Vanderbilt Universities shows that from birth on, a father's activity and presence uniquely benefits their daughters.

    “Many men operate off of the premise that if they were uninvolved in their daughter’s life as she was growing up, it is too late to make a difference,” Canfield says. “Thinking that the die is cast or the deal is done because our children are grown is something we must re-examine. It simply is not true. In a parallel vein, research shows the devastating impact of divorce affects adult children deeply. Contrastingly, the continued investment in your child’s life even when they are parents of your grandchildren will reap tremendous benefits for you and them.”

    Studies reveal that men tend to spend more time with their sons than they do with their daughters. In fact, fathers tend to back away from their daughters during the pre-adolescence and adolescence. However, a girl's need for attention and affection during that time period is even more important.

    “When a father abandons a relationship with his daughter, she can become frozen in time relationally with the opposite sex,” Canfield says. “A 50-year-old woman may look like an adult, but on the inside she is still working on issues that should have been attended to by a healthy, engaged father.”

    Based on research, we know a few more things about these relationships. Without a healthy relationship with their father, girls will find other ways to contribute to their development when it comes to relating to men.

    “When you are frozen relationally, it is difficult to know your place and how to develop a healthy relationship. It's because you are working from a point of need instead of working out of a position of co-equal,” Canfield says. “There is a void in her life. The search to fill that void prompts her to take risks in relationships, which usually result in some really poor choices.”

    According to Canfield, limitless healing and restoration can take place in father-daughter relationships. Here are Canfield's tips:

    • Initiate communication with your adult daughter. Affirm her for the positive contributions she has made to your life or in the lives of others.

    • Consider asking for forgiveness. The three toughest things for fathers to say are: “I was wrong, I am sorry, and will you forgive me?” Use these to deepen your relationship with your daughter.

    • Ask your daughter for three ways you can support her in the coming year.

    • Ask your child’s mother (who is an adult daughter) to describe how her father influenced her most significantly.

    • Affirm your daughter’s femininity by being sensitive to her emotional highs and lows.

    Cultivate an atmosphere of “no-strings-attached” love in your home. Be ready to listen to and support your children in every challenge.

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    Dad's Role in a Daughter's Marriage

    Sometimes the closeness of a father/daughter relationship can interfere with the couple relationship.

    For example, one couple was arguing over purchasing a $600 set of dishes. According to the husband, they could not afford them. As a result, the wife was furious.

    When she told her father that her husband would not purchase the dishes, her dad purchased them for her. Some might say, "Why is this a problem? He was just trying help."

    But most relationship experts would say the dad crossed a line when he got in the middle of something the couple needed to figure out for themselves. If she thinks she can run to her father and get what she wants every time there is a disagreement about spending money, two things will eventually happen:

    • The husband will grow to completely resent his father-in-law, or

    • The daughter will stop discussing these things with her husband and go straight to her father to get what she wants.

    Neither of these outcomes are good for the marriage.

    Couples need to openly discuss these potential pitfalls and agree ahead of time about boundaries and expectations within their marriage.

    For Fathers:

    While it may be difficult, it is important for you to step back emotionally once your daughter is married. Even though you enjoy doing things for her, it is better to ask yourself one question: Is if what I am about to do going to be helpful to their marriage?

    If the answer is no, don't do it. OR, ask them how they would feel about you helping. If both aren't in agreement that it would be helpful, then don't do it. Let them figure it out.

    It's hard to believe that any guy will ever measure up and be good enough for your daughter. If you want their marriage to be successful, however, guard against criticizing your son-in-law.

    Recognize it is not your job to control things. And while she will always be your daughter, her husband comes first.

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    A Father's Love

    Jeff Harrell worked long hours in the restaurant business when his daughter was born. Alyssa was 3 months old when Harrell realized that she clearly had no interest in being with him.

    “That’s when I knew things had to change,” shares Harrell. “I did not want my child to grow up not knowing me. My wife and I decided that I would quit my job, although I didn’t have another job offer."

    While Harrell was stressed about leaving his job, he also felt a sense of relief because he believed better times were ahead. Fast forward more than 20 years, and daughters Alyssa and Emily will be the first to tell you that their relationship with their father is special.

    “I think one of the big things people love about coming to our house is hanging out with my dad,” Alyssa say. “More times than I can count, guys would come over, but they weren’t really here to see me or my sister. They were looking for my dad. He is a smart person and they can talk with him. He doesn’t tell them that their mistakes are ok and he encourages them to do better. Although he isn’t their bud, they open up to him and he doesn’t judge them.”

    Alyssa and Emily have a special bond with their dad, but that doesn’t mean they always agree with his rules.

    “My curfew was earlier than all our friends,” Emily says. “After dances, I had to come home instead of staying out with my friends. At the time that really irritated me because it seemed like I was the only one that had all these rules. Now I’m grateful.”

    Their dad instilled in them that the Lord wanted them to live a meaningful and impactful life. He also taught them the importance of staying away from compromising situations.

    “Both of our parents gave us boundaries,” Alyssa says. “I know that was a good thing. We have friends who are jealous of our relationship with our dad.”

    Harrell has no regrets about making career moves to be home with his girls. While some dads work hard and think they have earned the right to play golf on Saturday, Harrell believes he has earned the right to raise his children and that should be his main focus.

    “I have one shot to get this right,” Harrell says. “You don’t get to check certain boxes about what you will and won’t do as a dad. All the boxes are already checked. I signed up for the good, the bad and the ugly.”

    Here are a few things Harrell suggests to fellow dads:

    • Keep in mind your kids can either get wisdom and knowledge from you or they can get it from someone else.

    • They can either spend time with you or someone else.

    • Children can learn from suffering the consequences or seek wisdom instead.

    • Dolls, tea parties, race cars, concerts and Muppet theater are all great ways to spend your time.

    • If the relationship isn’t there before your kids leave home, it won’t be there after they leave.

    “You may think your kids don’t really need you, but that’s not true,” Harrell says. "Being 100 percent involved may cost you monetarily now, but in the end it pays off in dividends you can’t buy.”

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    Dad's Impact on Teens

    For decades, research has indicated a strong correlation between involved fathers and child well-being. A 2009 study published in Child Development specifically continues this trend for preventing risky sexual behavior.

    Researchers led by Boston College Associate Professor Rebekah Levine Coley surveyed 3,206 teens, ages 13-18, annually for four years. They asked teens from two-parent homes about their sexual behavior and their relationship with their parents.

    The study assessed this group of teens two different ways. Here are their conclusions:

    • Mom plays a role in preventing risky sexual behavior, but dad has double the influence. The more a dad engaged with his teen, from knowing their friends and activities to knowing their plans and encouraging family activities, the more dramatic the impact on decreasing risky sexual behavior.

    • The chances of a teen engaging in risky sexual behavior decreased when actively engaged fathers knew their teen well and participated frequently in family activities.

    • Young people involved with risky sexual behaviors reported lower levels of parental knowledge and involvement. Results actually showed that one additional family activity per week resulted in a nine percent decrease in sexual activity.

    “We have known for a long time that fathers bring a unique set of parenting skills to the table,” says Dr. Cheryl Robinson, UC Foundation Associate Professor of Child and Family Studies. “This study is significant because it was conducted with teens in two-parent homes. The findings were no different than the vast amount of research with high-risk teens, those living in divorced or never-married homes. Children need father involvement.”

    This doesn’t seem like rocket science, but the reality is that many fathers struggle with their role as a parent.

    “The message to both moms and dads, but especially to dads is, be involved with your child,” Robinson says. “Just because they grow up and get taller than you does not mean they are adults. You have to continuously stay involved with them. Involvement gives you the opportunity to teach them, to help them develop good decision-making skills and to transmit values. You can talk all day and tell them not to do something. But if they are with you and see your behavior, they understand why they shouldn’t do those things.”

    Dad, your teen may be outwardly sending you messages that make you think your parental involvement doesn’t matter. Don’t let them fool you. Intentionally engaging your teen at every level can dramatically enhance his life.

    "Don’t be afraid to set expectations with your teen concerning family time, knowing their friends and how they are spending their time,” Robinson says. “They may roll their eyes, but you are providing a safety net that will help them navigate life’s treacherous roads for years to come.”

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    A Father's Presence Has an Impact

    A few years ago, Dewayne Belew began coaching his son Christopher’s basketball team at the YMCA. Christopher aged out of the YMCA basketball leagues after eighth grade, but since he still wanted to play, he and his dad would shoot hoops together.

    “Early on, Christopher wasn’t necessarily an outstanding player, but he had a great work ethic,” says Belew. “He would watch what characters in video games did and then try to emulate what he saw when we played together. He ultimately made the junior varsity team at his school, but he wanted more.”

    As Christopher and his dad continued to play, they looked for other competitive-play opportunities.

    “At that point our church, Wesley Memorial United Methodist, hired a new youth director, Nate Davis, who also happens to love basketball,” Belew says. “One thing led to another and we ended up opening the gym at the church on Saturday mornings from 8 to 10 for anyone who wanted to come play.”

    Initially, Belew, his son and Davis and his sons invited a few people to join them on Saturday mornings. Word spread quickly and before long they had a crowd of young adults in their 20s, high school teens and middle schoolers, male and female - all wanting to play.

    “If you had told me we would have a bunch of young people who intentionally go to bed early on Friday night so they can get up and go play basketball for fun on Saturday morning at 8, I would have told you no way, but that’s exactly what is happening. We have a lot of fun. My personal goal is to not let them outhustle me, but all of them outplay me.”

    In the midst of the game, Belew contends that a lot of learning takes place.

    “The guys all know that the gym is usually already set up for Sunday so whatever is in place has to be taken down before they can play and replaced before they leave,” Belew says. “We play hard. It is definitely competitive, but everybody gets to play. We’ve got some really talented players who teach those who are coming along. I love watching the young adults come alongside the teens to help them hone their skills.”

    Belew shared that a teen told him he plays basketball all over the community, but this is his favorite place to play because everybody plays hard, nobody is foul-mouthed and nobody gets angry. It’s fun.

    “In the midst of all of this we have the opportunity to model appropriate behavior around not just the game, but life in general,” Belew says. “We are a very diverse crowd on Saturday mornings. For many of these folks, it was the only time they engaged with each other. Now, they are building relationships. Before we start playing, we always gather at mid court to pray for each other and we give people the chance to share what is on their hearts. For me, and I think for my son and others, this has been life-changing on many levels. 

    Many young men’s lives are being enriched because one dad paid attention to something that was important to his son. Opportunities to speak life into our community’s kids are everywhere, and often, the only requirement is a little bit of our time. 

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    Courageous: A Movie About Fathers

    The movie Courageous tells the story of four men with one calling: to serve and protect. As confident and focused law enforcement officers, they stand up to the worst the streets have to offer. Yet at the end of the day, they aren't truly prepared to tackle the challenge of fatherhood. When tragedy strikes, these men wrestle with their hopes, their fears, their faith and their fathering.

    “I loved being a part of this movie,” says Renee Jewell, who plays Victoria Mitchell, wife of the lead character, Adam. “The experience was eye-opening and faith-building for me. We worked hard to make the movie very real for people. Whether you are a married, never-married or divorced dad, this movie will speak to you.”

    Local folks may recognize Jewell’s face on the big screen because she grew up in Hixson and Ooltewah.

    A big takeaway for Jewell from the movie was recognizing how much she appreciated her father for being there for her and encouraging her to follow her dream.

    “I remembered my dad talking about wanting to be an artist, but he was discouraged from following that path. He ended up going into engineering,” Jewell says. “I loved the arts, especially music. “Knowing the importance of following your passion, my father encouraged me to follow my dream. What he did for me growing up gave me the opportunity to do amazing things including being a part of this movie.”

    An overarching message of the movie is that the decisions fathers make today create a legacy one way or the other.

    “Something that hit me while we were filming was that for a long time fathers and mothers alike have been checking the boxes – going to church, putting food on the table, going to the soccer game – and assuming that is good enough,” Jewell says. “The reality is that isn’t good enough. We need to be pouring into the hearts of our kids engaging them and building relationship with them. Even when things don’t go the way we anticipated, it doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility of being the parents our children need us to be.”

    The movie is full of intense emotion as well as hysterically funny moments. Its message: It takes courage to be the father children need.

    A courageous dad:

    • Invests at least five minutes a day learning how to enhance his fathering skills.

    • Surrounds himself with other like-minded men.

    • Prays for his children.

    • Demonstrates to his kids how a man should treat his wife, and how women should expect men to treat her.

    • Understands his role in disciplining his children.

    • Accepts that his wife and children are healthier emotionally, physically and mentally when he is intentionally present, and acts with wisdom and discernment for their greater good.

    • Teaches his children how to forgive, deal with temptation and to serve.

    • Stands for what is right even when he is standing alone.

    “Every father should go see this movie,” Jewell says. “It’s a life-changer.”

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    Why Fathers Matter

    Dr. Warren Farrell, psychologist and author of Father Child Reunion, was intrigued with why children with active fathers do so well. In an attempt to better understand it, he spent more than a decade analyzing worldwide research.

    “I knew when I started this research that dads were important, but I had no idea how important,” says Farrell. “We are 100 percent certain that children do better in 26 different areas when they grow up in intact families. Children clearly pay a price when their fathers walk away or mothers keep dads away.”

    A father's impact starts at birth. For example, boys who have contact with their father show greater levels of trust at only 5 or 6 months. A study of black infants found the more interaction the boy had with the father, the higher his mental competence and psychomotor function by the age of 6 months.

    As children grow, fathers teach children to have empathy. Dads are usually more firm about enforcing boundaries. Teaching children to take boundaries seriously teaches them to respect the needs and rights of others.

    “Fathers also play a huge role in teaching delayed gratification, the single most important highway to maturity,” Farrell says. “When children are allowed to do something without having to do anything to get there, it undermines this process.”

    Children with fathers present in the home do better academically, especially in math and science. This is true even if they come from weaker schools. A study by two Harvard researchers found that even when race, education, poverty and similar socioeconomic factors are equal, living without a dad doubled a child’s chance of dropping out of school.

    Another study of boys with similar backgrounds found that by the third grade, boys with present fathers scored higher on every achievement test. They also received higher grades. The more years children spend with single mothers, the fewer years of school they complete.

    “When fathers are present, children have better mental health,” Farrell says. “They are more likely to get along well with other children, sleep well at night, be trusting of others, and are less likely to be aggressive or participate in risky behavior.”

    The National Center for Health Statistics reports that:

    • A child living with his/her divorced mother, compared to a child living with both parents, is 375 percent more likely to need professional treatment for emotional or behavioral problems;
    • Ninety percent of homeless or runaway children are from fatherless homes; and
    • Most gang members come from mother-only households.

    “Growing up in an intact family gives children a jump-start in life,” Farrell says. “If a divorce is unavoidable, there are three absolute essentials to give children:

    • Equal amounts of time spent with both parents;
    • The mother and father should live close enough (no more than 15 minutes) that the child doesn’t have to give up friends or activities to see the other parent; and,
    • The child is not able to overhear or detect bad-mouthing of the other parent.

    "If these three things happen, children tend to grow up almost as well as children in intact families.”

    It's very helpful if we understand that what dads do or don’t do really matters. Moreover, the way mothers handle it impacts their child's life forever.

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