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In 2001, Regina R. Robertson hated her day job, so she was very thankful, and relieved, when she was ultimately fired. She also felt free to pursue a new path, as a writer. Having begun her career in the music industry, she contacted some of her former colleagues for help. She started out by writing artist bios and press releases. Within a year, she was meeting with magazine editors, including one who told her to “write what you know.”

Robertson’s first national assignment led her to interview three friends, whose names she changed, and write a piece about their experiences of growing up without a father. After the story, titled “Where’s Daddy?”, ran in the October 2002 issue of Honey magazine, she received calls from other friends who asked why she hadn’t thought to include them in the article. At that point, Robertson had the first thought to write a book on the topic.

Over the last 15 years, and while enduring rejection from agents and publishers, Robertson spoke with many women who had stories to share. She decided to focus her book on three areas of father absence: divorce, death and distance.

“Throughout the years, I’ve interviewed a lot of people, but writing these kinds of personal stories was quite different from writing celebrity profiles or entertainment features,” says Robertson, who has served as West Coast editor of Essence magazine since 2006. “When I spoke with friends about the project, some suggested that I try reaching out to women like fitness expert, Gabrielle Reece, and MSNBC host, Joy-Ann Reid, both of whom had grown up without their fathers. I wasn’t opposed to the idea, but I thought I’d have to cut through layers and layers of the red tape to reach them. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.”

Robertson not only got through to those women, but they, and others, were very excited to share their stories.

Her new book is called, He Never Came Home: Interviews, Stories, and Essays from Daughters on Life Without Their Fathers (Agate Bolden).

“I can’t believe it,” Robertson says. “This project has been such a labor of love and so far, the response has been phenomenal.”

“One young woman, Nisa Rashid, shares her story of growing up while her father was in prison. Television writer, Jenny Lee, writes about her father’s suicide, when she was 20. Simone I. Smith, a jewelry designer, talks about her relationship with her late father – a loving, though troubled, man who battled addiction. Reid, who shared her story on Facebook after her father passed away, signed on to write foreword.”

For Emmy-winning actress, Regina King, witnessing her parents’ divorce was very painful, as was her father’s eventual estrangement. Years later, after enduring her own divorce, she realized that she and her ex-husband were not connecting as co-parents. Eventually, the pair agreed that being divided wasn’t healthy for their son. As a result, they began to take the necessary steps to work together and redefine their family.

Sarah Tomlinson, author of Good Girl, also contributes to the book. She gives a raw account of her lifelong quest for a relationship with her father and her own self-destructive behavior. Tomlinson titled her essay, “The Girl at the Window,” which references the place she sat and waited, for hours, on the days he promised to visit.

Robertson even shares her own story about never knowing her father.

“Usually, when I sit down to write, I agonize over every detail. When I wrote the introduction to the book, I was surprised by how quickly the words came to me: My mother raised me on her own, from day one. She’s the only parent I’ve ever had. My father was never in the picture – not for one second, minute or hour. I never met him. There were times when I wondered how a man could leave his family, his kid, and not look back, but I didn’t obsess over my father’s absence. I definitely thought about it, though.”

Robertson is happy and surprised by the way He Never Came Home has already touched people. She hopes her book will help others know they are not alone.

“I hope I’ve written and edited the book that I wished I’d had as a teen,” Robertson shares. “This collection of essays is for all of the fatherless girls and women who’ve ever thought, as I once did, that a piece of them was missing. Life has taught me that no matter the circumstances you’re born into, you are responsible for steering your ship. If I can do it, you can, too . . . and you will. It just takes time.”

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on July 16, 2017.

One October, Kelly Flanagan’s friend texted him while walking down the makeup aisle to pick something up for his wife. The text said, “Expectations on this aisle are oppressive.”

“That text was unsettling to me,” says Dr. Flanagan, husband, dad and clinical psychologist. “I think it was the combination of having a 4-year-old daughter, and a wife who is very conscious of the media’s influence on young women that made my radar go up. I knew I couldn’t remain silent.

“In my practice I see far too many women, young and old, who believe their worth is wrapped up in the way they look. It is painful to observe what these kinds of messages do to a woman’s self-esteem.”

So, Flanagan traveled to the makeup aisle and the messaging blew him away. The cosmetics industry uses really good words to sell products. Words like: Affordably Gorgeous, Infallible, Flawless Finish, Go Nude, Natural Beauty and Nearly Naked. Flanagan noticed that these words create an unattainable standard for women. Eventually, they inspired a letter to his daughter, which he wrote while sitting in the makeup aisle. The letter clearly resonated with people, as it went viral shortly after he posted it on his blog, Untangled.

Here is an excerpt from the letter:

Dear Little One,

As I write this, I’m sitting in the makeup aisle of Target … When you have a daughter, you start to realize she’s just as strong as everyone else in the house – a force to be reckoned with, a soul on fire with the same life and gifts and passions as any man. But sitting in this store aisle, you also begin to realize most people won’t see her that way. They’ll see her as a pretty face and a body to enjoy. And they’ll tell her she has to look a certain way to have any worth or influence…

“I wrote the letter because I wanted her to know that her worth is not connected to what she does or the way she looks,” Flanagan says. “That kind of thinking is a formula for shame – the experience of believing you are not worthy enough or that success depends on what you do. I wanted my daughter to clearly understand that there was nothing she could do that would make her mom or dad love her more or less.”

Research consistently shows that fathers do influence their daughters and how they view themselves.

Father involvement in the life of a daughter will help prepare her to catch the lies that culture teaches about how to be confident and beautiful,” Flanagan says. “The unconditional, intentional love of a father teaches his daughter that true beauty is on the inside, in her heart. Knowing this from an early age will help overpower the messages she will receive out in the world.”

… Words do have power and maybe, just maybe, the words of a father can begin to compete with the words of the world.  Maybe a father’s words can deliver his daughter through this gauntlet of institutionalized shame and into a deep, unshakable sense of her own worthiness and beauty … I pray that three words will remain more important to you … Where are you the most beautiful? On the inside.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 13, 2014.

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The Importance of Positive Male Role Models

Everyone can help to make sure kids have the role models they need.

Many boys today don’t know what it means to be a man, and it’s often because they don’t have a man in their lives. So many children will go to bed tonight without saying goodnight to their father because he just isn’t there. Dad may work a lot, be deployed, or be distracted and uninvolved. He could be living somewhere else, have another family or not be in the picture at all. Whatever the situation, research shows that having a positive male role model is vital for child development.

Check this out:

  • Nearly one-fourth of America’s children live in mother-only families.
  • Of the children living with their mothers, 35 percent never see their father. 
  • 24 percent of kids who live with their moms see their fathers less than once a month.
  • Even in homes where the father is present, research shows that the average father spends less than 10 minutes a day one-on-one with his child. 

More than likely, women teach them at school and at home. 

So, where do they see and interact with positive male role models? 

Or, how do the boys learn what it means to be a man? Television? Movies? On the street? 

In our society, emotional and spiritual fatherlessness is becoming the norm. Many of today’s fathers didn’t have positive role models to show them how to be a father, either. As a result, they may be repeating the cycle of the absent father.

Irrefutable research shows that mothers are typically nurturing, soft, gentle, comforting, protective and emotional. Fathers, however, tend to encourage risk-taking and be challenging, prodding, loud, playful and physical. Children need a balance of protection and reasonable risk-taking.

Positive male role models have an excellent opportunity to step in and fill any void that exists.

In fact, doing so can help these children without positive male role models in so many ways. For instance, when Dad isn’t around, children are more likely to be involved in criminal activity, sexual activity, do poorer in school and participate in harmful activities.

Studies have shown that a father’s involvement or a positive male role model profoundly affects children. Father-child interaction promotes a child’s physical well-being, perceptual ability and competency for relating with others. Furthermore, these children demonstrate a greater ability to take initiative and evidence self-control.

The good news is that everyone can promote positive male role model involvement!

How can you make a positive difference for these children? 

  • Mom, you can encourage positive male role model involvement in your child’s life.
  • Non-custodial dad, you can make an effort to visit with your children more often and be intentional about teaching them important life lessons.
  • Educators can encourage fathers to be more active in the classroom.
  • Men can influence kids in your community by being the positive male role model they need.
  • Faith-based institutions and programs can bring fathers together with their children and encourage men to engage children in their sphere of influence.
  • Business leaders can encourage employee involvement in community efforts with children. For example, you can promote mentoring with organizations like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, youth groups, Boys Club or Girls, Inc.

Every child needs someone who is absolutely crazy about them. What can you do to make sure they what they need?