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Don McKenna attended a First Things First class about preparing for fatherhood when he and his wife, Missy, were expecting.

“I saw a billboard about it and thought it looked interesting,” says McKenna. “I convinced a friend who was also expecting his first child to go with me. It totally was not what I was expecting. Hands down, it was the best thing I could have done in preparation for becoming a father.”

McKenna assumed the class would be about how to change a diaper and feed his baby a bottle. Instead, he encountered a group of guys who were just as fearful as he was about becoming a father.

“The class was a relief for me,” McKenna says. “First off, a guy taught the class. On top of that, we got to talk about our fears and concerns. Had we not done that, I think I would have been intimidated. Being more comfortable about caring for Brooks – not feeling like I was going to break him if I held him – gave me the best opportunity to bond with him from the moment he was born.”

McKenna says the class helped him understand the different parenting styles most moms and dads have. He was able to talk with his wife about his style being different, but not wrong.

“I wanted to do some things with our son that made my wife nervous, like the time I wanted to take him as a 2-year-old for a ride on the tractor,” McKenna says. “She was worried he would get hurt. Instead of telling her how stupid it was for her to be concerned, I took small steps to show her that I was just as concerned as she was for his safety. I put a helmet on him and we rode around very slowly. When she saw him giggling and having a good time, she relaxed a bit. I think I am definitely more patient with my wife and my child as a result of the class.”

The experience was so worthwhile, McKenna recruited six guys for the class as they prepared for fatherhood. He also went with them.

“Anytime I find out a couple friend is expecting, one of the first things I tell the guy is you really need to take this class,” McKenna says. “It will give you great perspective on fathering and the importance of being involved in the life of your child.”

Although the class helped prepare McKenna for his new parenting role, he got an extra benefit. It also helped him in his marriage.

“It is important to me and Missy to raise Brooks in an environment that will help him thrive,” McKenna shares. “One of the things I learned is our marriage can’t take a back seat while we are raising our son. We have to be intentional about taking care of our relationship because that is what gives Brooks the stability, confidence and security he needs to grow and develop. Being a parent has been a humbling and amazing experience,” McKenna says.

Looking back on the last few years, McKenna wouldn’t trade his time with his son and how they have grown as a family.

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Many men find themselves trying to father from a distance due to work, divorce or military deployment. Fathering from a distance can be especially trying with celebrations, plays and concerts often occurring during the week. How can dads stay connected while they are away and not feel like a third wheel upon their return?

Brian Vander Werf travels almost every week for work. Even though his girls have never known a time when their dad was home all week, it is important to him to stay connected and in the loop while he is away.

“Before I leave, I make it a point to get with each of my girls to find out what is on their calendars for the week,” says Vander Werf. “I want to know about tests, ballgames, concerts or other events that are happening. I share with them where I will be and what is happening in my world that week, and I want them to know that even though I am away, they are important to me and I care about what is happening in their world. Also, I make sure I get my hugs in before I hit the road!”

When he travels, Vander Werf stays connected via texting and evening phone calls.

“There is no question that staying connected while I am on the road can be complicated,” Vander Werf says. “My girls are older and texting seems to be one of the best solutions at the moment. I have really struggled with it because that is not my thing and not my idea of a great way to connect, but it is definitely a big part of their world so I find myself texting back and forth a lot with the two of them.”

Do his girls know they can contact him throughout the day if they needed him? “Most definitely!” he says. “They know I am in tune and paying attention. I would want to know if something was up.”

Technologically, dads have lots of options for staying connected to their children. Here are some ways you can connect:

  • Let your child pick out a book for you to read together at a designated time each evening.
  • If you won’t be able to talk while you are away, create a video before you leave for them to watch while you are away. You could even hide it and leave clues behind so they have to search for the surprise.
  • Record yourself reading a book and leave it under your child’s pillow.
  • Write and hide messages in places you know they will be found throughout the week.
  • Write letters to your children and include something fun or crazy in the letter.
  • If they have a special event, arrange for flowers, pizza or a card to be delivered that day.

“Staying connected isn’t always easy,” Vander Werf says. “However, it is absolutely worth it! Even though I am out of town, my girls know I love and care about them.”

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Julia Espey was a retired NASA researcher and single mom. While walking through a New York park with her 4-year-old son one afternoon, she realized that she had to be both mom and dad for her child.

“It was an overwhelming moment,” says Espey. “I knew how to put a 20-ton aircraft in space, but I didn’t know how to guide my 20-pound son. I started looking for respectable men who were successful in every area of life – work, family, etc. Then, I asked them to share how they raised their children, why they did the things they did and how it worked out. My goal was to learn from the best examples and then surround my son with great male role models.”

Espey interviewed 35 very successful men from all walks of life. She asked them to complete this sentence, “If I were your daddy, this is what you’d learn.” This ultimately became the title of her book.

She was surprised to find that many of them, despite their significant successes, had never been asked to share their thoughts about parenting.

“Greg Link, who teaches leadership and critical thinking nationwide, shared the ‘OREO technique,’” Espey says. “When his children were young he began teaching them how to make good choices on their own.

They would sit as a family and do the OREO:

  • What is the Opportunity?
  • Are Risks Involved?
  • In what kind of Environment will you be?
  • What are the potential Outcomes?

“As the children practiced this in their younger years, it became second nature to them. When they became teenagers and had much tougher decisions to make, they automatically turned to OREO.”

Espey used the men’s input to go from feeling overwhelmed to applying what she learned in an effort to parent her son well.

“As I talked with these men, I moved from fearful to calm in my parenting,” Espey says. “I became very intentional about inviting male friends who shared my values over for dinner to spend time around my son. Since writing the book, I have remarried and have used many of the techniques I learned while writing the book to help us navigate the road of becoming a healthy stepfamily.”

Espey wants parents to use this book as a mentor guide to improve their successes with their kids. She also hopes it will help parents better cope with challenges, identify their children’s uniqueness, and provide strong family support.

“These men speak from their heart, sharing words of wisdom for those of us in the midst of raising kids,” Espey says. “I appreciated their vulnerability to share personal stories about dealing with kids on the edge, mistakes they had made and lessons learned. I also recognized that it was not wise for me to try and parent alone. Whether I ever remarried or not, I had plenty of friends and family who could mentor my son.”

What is a dad’s role in his 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 is good for the marriage.

Couples need to openly discuss these potential pitfalls of dad’s role in his daughter’s marriage 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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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.”

Dad, don’t forget an important woman in your life on Valentine’s Day – your daughter.

It’s never too early to establish a Valentine’s tradition to express your love to your daughter. A father’s love profoundly impacts a girl, and many believe that a woman takes her relationship with her father (good or bad) to the grave.

The father/daughter relationship plays an integral role in a young girl’s life. It can even give her the self-confidence to deal with challenging life issues. When fathers are not engaged, however, the opposite happens. Research shows the girls often struggle with abandonment issues, lack of self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness. They’re also especially vulnerable to predators.

Many women who grow up without a father will float through life, looking for someone to fill that void. Girls who grow up with absent fathers are at greater risk for experiencing problems in school, abusing drugs and alcohol and participating in risky sexual behavior. In fact, adolescent girls without fathers are twice as likely to be involved in early sexual activity – and they’re seven times more likely to get pregnant as a teen.

However, having an active father reduces the risk of early puberty, risky sexual behavior and teen pregnancy. Additionally, strong father/daughter relationships impact a daughter’s ability to trust and relate to men in a healthy way. Daughters who have a healthy bond with their father tend to be more self-reliant and confident and less likely to develop eating disorders. They also tend to perform better in school.

The father/daughter bond is even more important when the father and daughter live in different households.

One woman recalls how special Valentine’s Day was for her as a child. She knew her father would give her a chocolate heart every year. When her father divorced her mother and left, the Valentine’s tradition ended and left her with only memories. Decades later, she still wonders why he quit giving her the Valentine heart.

Keep in mind that little things can mean a lot to daughters. Even traditions such as weekly conversations, writing notes to each other or a daddy/daughter date can strengthen that special bond.

It is important for girls without an active father to have a good, positive and strong male role model in their lives. Think about doing something special for these young girls. Perhaps you could include them in your own family or community activities.

No matter what kind of father you are – traditional, long-distance, stepdad, grandfather, uncle or other father figure – your involvement impacts these young women. Reach out each Valentine’s Day and strengthen the bond you have with your girl.

For more information on the importance of fathers, download our E-book “Why Being a dad is a BIG Deal” Download Here

Dr. Warren Farrell, psychologist and author of Father and 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.

For more information on the importance of fathers, download our E-book “Why Being a dad is a BIG Deal” Download Here

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

The pressures of fatherhood are great. On any given day, balancing work and family, finances and discipline usually rank at the top of the issue list. For years, our culture has told men that being a good provider equates to being a good dad. However, research is now sending a newsflash that it isn’t all about the money. Children need father presence in their lives.

Many men want to be involved in their child’s life, but “being involved” can mean different things to different people.

Ask yourself the question, “Why do I father my children the way I do?”

So many men are really trying to be great fathers, but it can be a struggle. Sometimes it’s because nobody was there for them growing up and they aren’t sure what it means to be a good dad. A lot of men promise to be more involved with their children because their own father wasn’t involved enough. Unfortunately though, they find themselves hard-pressed because they don’t know what to do. They’ve spent a lot of time talking about what they aren’t going to do – and little, if any time – discussing what they are going to do. So they amble along doing the best they know how.

In an analysis of nearly 100 studies on parent-child relationships, father love (measured by children’s perceptions of paternal acceptance/rejection, affection/indifference) was as important as mother love in predicting the social, emotional, and cognitive development and functioning of children and young adults.

Specifically, the studies showed that:

  • Having a loving and nurturing father affected a child’s happiness, well-being, and social and academic success as much as having a loving and nurturing mother.
  • If either parent withdrew love, it was equally influential in predicting a child’s emotional instability, lack of self-esteem, depression, social withdrawal and level of aggression.
  • In some studies, father love was actually a better predictor than mother love for certain outcomes. This included delinquency and conduct problems, substance abuse, and overall mental health and well-being.

It’s important for men to learn how to balance providing for and nurturing their family, but many men don’t feel comfortable connecting with their children emotionally. As a result, they spend most of their waking hours away from home.

If you want to make something amazing happen for your family, you can. 

Spending all your time away from them actually defeats the purpose. In many instances, your being there is better than tons of things and busy plans.

If you want to connect with your children more, these tips can help:

  • Ask your children thought-provoking questions. Then listen so you can hear what they are thinking.
  • Some of the best things in life are free. Walking outdoors, horseplay, tumbling on the floor, fishing, riding bikes and flying kites are totally free, great ways to connect. Many times children will not remember things you bought them, but they will remember things you have done with them.

So what’s the payoff for engaging with your kids?

The benefits are significant for both father and child. Children with an involved, loving father are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, and exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior. They’re also more likely to avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy and criminal activity. 

Even though 18 years may seem like an eternity, it’s not. Children grow up really quickly, so maximize precious moments with them.

For more information on the importance of fathers, download our E-book “Why Being a dad is a BIG Deal” Download Here