Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Grateful Community of Dads

Today, I read an online posting from a soldier about one of my books; it was inspiring to read, so I wanted to share it with you.

I have just finished the book Dads & Daughters®: How to Inspire, Understand, and Support Your Daughter and I can not thank the author as well the other fathers who make a book like that possible enough. I am currently deployed and will be able to see my daughter by Christmas (which is the best Christmas gift of all). This book has changed the way I look at a lot of things. I have always been 100% involved in my daughter’s life and activities as long as I am there. The book has shed light on why my daughter keeps everything I have sent her even when at times I know she is confused about her daddy being gone this long (she is almost 6).
It has reaffirmed the future and the importance I do play in my daughter’s future. Never once have I thought that my involvement and time was futile but it is so nice to read about so many other dads and daughters in the same position. I know that I am on the right path and
will continue to do all that I can.

All the dads that participate in all that your daughter does, I salute you. I have seen so many Fathers who play little role in their daughters’ lives. My daughter is so much further ahead of her classmates. We all make a bigger difference that we will ever know.

When a person is a father or stepfather, every day can (and, perhaps, should) be Thanksgiving—a day to find reasons aplenty to be grateful for our children and grateful for the privilege of being Dad. Have a great Thanksgiving weekend, no matter where you are.

Friday, November 21, 2008

How Do I Connect?

I got an email yesterday from the dad of 4 year old and 19 month old daughters who describes his marriage as “wonderful.” He asked: “How can I reach out to connect with my kids more at their age? Most of the info I read seems to be for older girls.”

Here are the 3 things I suggested that he try:

1) Join up with the free Yahoo group "DadTalk" and ask is question there. DadTalk has been around for 9 years and has a cadre of good dads and stepdads of daughters (with kids of all ages) with good suggestions based on their experience.

2) Get my book The Dads & Daughters Togetherness Guide: 54 Fun Activities to Help Build a Great Relationship. The title is self-explanatory, and the activities are divided by age of the girl.

3) If you’re giving your daughters as much time and attention as possible, then don’t worry overly about your connection. Time and presence build the connection, IMHO. The time and attention can come while changing diapers, making dinner and other mundane tasks--it doesn’t all have to come in big, "special" activities. I've come to believe that our kids and us really get to know each other in the mundane, ordinary activities of life...as long as we are THERE during those mundane, ordinary activities. So, make sure you're showing up.

I hope these suggestions were helpful to him—and you, too. Share your ideas for dad-daughter connection in a comment below.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Loving Kids-In-Law Isn’t Automatic

My daughter and her boyfriend got formally engaged last weekend. That’s her ring (and hand!) in the picture. This is a first for me--and her, BTW! ;-)

This is something I’ve been looking forward to for a couple of reasons.

First, and most important, because I love and am impressed with my daughter and future son-in-law. I also love the great partnership the two of them have. It will come to no surprise to learn than my daughter (like her sister) is pretty special and remarkable—and thus deserves a great life partner. (Most dads and stepdads I know feel the same way about their daughters—and a good thing too!) So I’m very happy for the two of them separately and for the pair they are (and will be) together.

My second reason is one of heritage. I was blessed with two grandparents, Frank Barnes and Catherine Hughes, who I always loved greatly. As a child and young man, Bepa and Cacky (as we kids called them) taught me the importance of honesty, compassion, justice, tolerance, forgiveness, and family.

But it wasn’t until my own children were older that I realized another important—and difficult--lesson they taught me.

My mother was their oldest child and the first to marry. For a number of reasons (some quite defensible), they were not thrilled with her choice of husband, my dad. But they found their way to loving him. Even with his imperfections, they saw that Dad was a good man at heart. And, during my lifetime, they embraced him as their own child. They did the same with the other people who married into their family: my Uncle Matt, Aunt Mickey and Aunt Ruth.

As a result, I was very close to my aunts, uncles and many cousins. I loved this extended family with all its chaos and affection and celebrations. But I took that gift for granted—not even recognizing how this family was Cacky and Bepa’s gift to us.

When my daughter and her fiancĂ© got serious with each other, I suddenly realized that a good relationship between me and this good young man was not automatic. I needed to get to know him, include him in my life and take the risk of growing close to him (and growing close to them as a couple). For the first time, I saw that my grandparents’ embrace of their children-in-law was not automatic, either—even though it always looked automatic to me.

No, Cacky and Bepa had to take risks, too. And they took them even when (as with my father) they had more reason to hesitate than I’ll ever have with my future son-in-law.

Now, many years after their death, I began to understand the level of spiritual strength and capacity of love this required. To my eyes and experience, Bepa & Cacky did not discriminate between their biological children and the people their biological children married. They loved them all, period. Same for all their grandchildren.

What a wonderful and powerful example they set for their children and us grandchildren. It’s an example lived out in my generation and our parents’ generation. And it’s the example I try to follow with and for my soon-to-be-son-in-law and my daughters.

Thanks, Cacky & Bepa, for that gift and heritage. Your great-grandchildren don’t know you the way we grandkids knew you—but they do know you nonetheless.

Congratulations to you—and to my daughter and soon son—for nurturing such spiritual strength and capacity of love.

Friday, November 07, 2008

So Sexy So Soon

The dangers of hyper-sexualizing children have been well documented. Dads (and moms) are distressed by, frightened by and sick of the onslaught of “sexualized” messages and images raining down on our daughters—and sons.

Two women for whom I have the greatest respect have written a guide for parents on how to deal with this problem: “So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect their Kids” by Dr. Jean Kilbourne and Dr. Diane Levin. Jean and Diane are veteran researchers and advocates on marketing to children and I’ve shared platforms with them many times through the years. This new book is very, very needed and very well done.

For children today, learning about sex too soon is only one problem. Another serious issues is what the authors call “the synthetic and cynical source of a child’s information.” Popular culture and technology shower mixed and developmentally inappropriate messages on young children who don’t yet have the emotional sophistication to understand what they are hearing and seeing.

The result: kids have distorted, unhealthy notions about sex, sexuality, their bodies, relationships, gender—the list goes on. On top of that, some kids are getting into increasing trouble emotionally and socially by engaging in precocious sexual behavior. We are left with little girls wanting to go on diets so they can be “sexy,” little boys getting suspended from school for sexual harassment, and parents in desperate need of guidance.

“So Sexy So Soon” provides it. If you’re the dad (or mom) of children today, read it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


With apologies to Oprah, Three things I know for sure:
  • I am a white man about to turn 54.
  • I was born in 1954, the year that the Supreme Court ruled school segregation illegal in Brown v. Board of Education—probably the most important civil rights decision ever.
  • Until this year, it never occurred to me that a Black or biracial person would ever be elected President of the United States in my lifetime…or in the lifetime of my twin 28-year-old daughters.

Like the majority of voters, I happen to have cast my ballot for President-elect Obama. But no matter who we voted for, we fathers and daughters are living through a stunningly historical moment in our national history.

During the course of this campaign, my heart warmed to hear how often Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama (and Ms. Palin, Mr. Biden, Ms. Clinton and other candidates) expressed love and concern for their daughters during the campaign. As an advocate for Dads & Daughters (to borrow a phrase), my faith in people’s respect for father-daughter relationships was vindicated.

Last night, I shed tears listening to Sen. McCain’s honest, healing and patriotic speech; listening to the President-Elect’s call for mutual effort and sacrifice…and listening to my own daughters describe their amazement at the election’s outcome. All I could think to tell them, through a choked voice, was this: “I am so grateful that you lived to see and experience something like this. And that Mom and I lived to see and experience it, too.”

This morning, I can articulate more clearly why I am so grateful. No matter what one’s political persuasion, November 4, 2008 was a thrilling and humbling reminder of the unfolding miracle of the idea of the United States. Despite our troubles and problems (and, too often, our cynicism), we are all stewards of a remarkable, ongoing experiment of a Republic.

And as a member of the fraternity of fathers, I feel this morning like my life is some reflection of that. At (almost) 54, I’m not an old man. But in the course of that relatively short lifetime, the United States has gone from a place where the children of middle-aged fathers (Black and White) were murdered because Blacks wanted to ride a bus, attend a college—or cast a vote. In my lifetime.

And in the lifetime of us fathers and our daughters, the son of Black and White parents became our President-Elect last night. Whatever happens next, please make time today to ponder with your daughter how we all made history this week.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Does TV Make Your Daughter Pregnant?

A new study in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics says that teens who watch sexual content on television or more likely to become pregnant or make a partner pregnant. According to the New York Times:

The research was done by the nonpartisan nonprofit Rand Corporation and tracked 700 subjects, age 12 through 17, for three years. Those who saw the most necking, flirting, touching, sexual conversation and sex scenes on TV during that period of time were twice as likely to become pregnant or make their partner pregnant than those who saw the least. (Specifically, 25 percent of those who watched such scenes most often were involved in a pregnancy, compared with 12 percent who watched the fewest sexual scenes.)
The study’s authors conclude:

This is the first study to demonstrate a prospective link between exposure to sexual content on television and the experience of a pregnancy before the age of 20. Limiting adolescent exposure to the sexual content on television and balancing portrayals of sex in the media with information about possible negative consequences might reduce the risk of teen pregnancy. Parents may be able to mitigate the influence of this sexual content by viewing with their children and discussing these depictions of sex.
The most important sentence is the last one. Don’t let another day pass without talking with your ‘tween or teen daughter about media depictions of sex—and how seldom they reflect the true, complex, mysterious reality of human sexuality. Dads and stepdads DO have a role in these conversations!!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Take Your Daughter to the Polls

It’s nonstop election news for the next few days. Remember to keep your daughter in the conversation. And think about taking her to the polls with you Tuesday. Many locales have “Kids Voting” voting booths where young people can cast ballots expressing their opinions.

Check out the
Take Our Daughters to the Polls project and these other websites for kids and voting:

There’s no shortage of candidates and issues to discuss with your daughter or stepdaughter. Remember that it’s often best to do more listening than talking—because that’s the best way to learn more about who your daughter is and what she thinks.