Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dad Can Balance Work & Family, Too

A few years ago, while I was discussing fathering issues on a national TV talk show, the self-described “Gen-X” host called on a teen girl and her dad in the audience. The host asked the girl, “What’s your biggest issue with your dad right now?”

“When I was little, it seemed like we were best buddies,” she replied. “Now he works so much that I hardly get to see him. I want to spend more time with him.”

“Dad,” the host asked the father, “how do you respond to that?”

“Well, the demands of the job seem to be tougher and tougher each year,” he said. “It’s just hard to find time with her.”

The host interrupted the father and asked incredulously, “But Dad. How many 17-year-old girls say they want to spend more time with their fathers?”

That question seemed to cut to the heart of something important. I know from personal experience how hard it can be for us dads to see what’s important when we strive to balance the demands of paid work and fatherhood. While surveys indicate that younger dads increasingly list family time as a priority, most fathers still tend to judge our contributions to the family by the size of our paychecks.

We men must broaden our definition of being a “successful provider” to include providing our time and our experience, as well as our affection, knowledge, and stories. It’s crucial that dads join mothers in the battle to win family-friendly workplace policies and legislation, particularly because our fellow fathers still lead most of this country’s large businesses and institutions. These guys set the policies that either encourage or inhibit us from participating more fully in our children’s lives. These are the guys who influence the standards by which we measure success.

So start making your family concerns visible at work, and start talking with other dads about how they balance work and family. Listen to their ideas, and then use these insights to begin the process of changing your workplace and others throughout your community.

For me, this whole issue boils down to the ultimate bottom line. When I die, it’s unlikely my gravestone will say “Joe Kelly, he appeared on national TV because he wrote a bunch of fathering books.” What I hope it will say is “Joe Kelly, Dad.”

)For a list of my fathering workshops—including The Dad Man’s Guide to Work-Family Balance—visit

Monday, December 22, 2008

10 Questions to Ask Over the Holidays

We Dads and Stepdads tend to have more time with our daughters during a big holiday week like this one. You might consider taking some of that time to engage in the kind of conversation you don’t normally have at “normal” times of year. Here are some questions she and you can ask each other to get the ball rolling (adapted from my book The Dads & Daughters® Togetherness Guide: 54 Fun Activities to Help Build a Great Relationship).

  1. Can you name each other’s three best friends?

  2. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the state of our relationship?

  3. On a scale of 1 to 10, how crucial do you think Dad’s active involvement in Daughter’s life to her healthy growth and well-being?

  4. Do you talk to other dads about being a dad? Why or why not?

  5. When we’re together, what topics are you hoping I won’t mention?

  6. What’s the most important thing that you think we should be talking about that we’re not talking about – or else not talking about enough?

  7. Can Dad tell Daughter an important story from when he was her age?

  8. What do wish we had more time to do together, just the two of us? (There are tons of ideas in The Dads & Daughters® Togetherness Guide.)

  9. What is your greatest concern and greatest satisfaction in our relationship?

  10. In your life today, what gives you the greatest joy? Satisfaction? Joy?

Have a wonderful Holiday week—and always remember to cherish your daughters and stepdaughters!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Blame Game: Divorce Edition

Actor Alec Baldwin was on Larry King this week, hawking his new book. Perhaps this is small-minded of me, but I haven’t read it and don’t expect to. Baldwin is good on sitcoms, but has zero credibility with me on fatherhood. Why? Because he seems primarily interested in blaming someone for his troubles—and being bitter and angry about it.

To my mind, the bottom line is that Dad is the grown-up in any relationship with is child or stepchild. NOTHING anyone does justifies a father abusing his child. NOTHING. Nothing ANYONE does. Period. And by my lights, abusing a child includes hitting him, screaming obscenities at her over the phone, or engaging in spite-, ego- and power-driven battles with the child’s other parent(s).

As an advocate for fathers, I find it incredibly counter-productive when fathers focus so much attention, energy and verbiage on blaming someone else for their situation. I suspect that comment might piss some people off, so I’ll explain.

Strategically, the effort to improve fathers’ position/status/responsibility within the family is undermined when the loudest (and, often, ONLY) words folks hear about fathering are variations on these 2 sentiments: “mothers are b—chs” and “the courts (or “the people’s republic of insert-state-here”) are out to screw me/us.” And that’s merely the problems this creates strategically for the fatherhood movement—and says nothing about how such attitudes poison our very own children.

People who have followed my work over the years know that I’m a hard-ass on this subject. My job as a dad is to work on strengthening my relationship with my children. The first, primary step in that process is self-examination: looking at my own attitudes, values, words and actions. Close on its heels is the step of then responding to my self-examination (and the situations that life presents) in ways that best support and strengthen my children’s physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological growth. These steps regularly demand self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice is seldom fun, but that's life; if I didn’t want to have any self-sacrifice, I should not have become a father (or a human being for that matter…but that’s another rant!)

Indeed, there is a strong argument that these steps are the ONLY things I can do. I can never control the attitudes, behaviors or words of another person—I can only control my own. So my job is to spend my energy keeping my side of the street as clean as I possibly can—not matter WHAT anyone else does.To quote my good friend (and non-custodial, divorced father) Bill Klatte: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the people I can, and the wisdom to know it’s me.” (BTW, if you’re a divorced dad who hasn’t yet read Bill’s book Live-away Dads: Staying a Part of Your Children's Lives When They Aren't a Part of Your Home, then you’re operating with one hand tied behind your back.)

And to quote Thomas Aquinas: “Resentment is the sword with which we pierce our own soul” (Or as Phillip Fullmer put it when asked if he resented being fired as Tennessee’s football coach after all those years: “No, because resenting someone is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.”)

There are many forums and men welcoming the message that the Alec Baldwins of the world disseminate. It’s always been one of my goals to fight messages of bitterness, blame and anger among dads. The best service fathers can give to one another is to engage in self-examination and support each other in doing the next right thing to help our daughter grow up healthy—even if she (or anyone else) tells us to “go f—k yourself” in the moments or weeks or years after we do the right thing.

My job is my job and my life is not someone else’s fault. To think or act otherwise is to think and act as a child. And when I’m a dad, someone else gets to be the child—not me.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

“Stop Playing Like a Girl” Part 3

For the last couple of days, I’ve blogged about a dad who get annoyed when with his stepdaughters play “girlish” games like dress-up. As promised, today I’m providing some simple activities that stepdads and dads can do with their daughters to embrace and participate in girl play.

There are plenty of activities you and your daughter can share to stay connected in a healthy way while respecting your daughter’s need for independent play and physical boundaries as she grows up. Look at the following list for fun things to do together and then be inspired to find your own:

Get down on the floor and play dolls
Take dance lessons—or just make up dances @ home
Pillow fight
Gentle roughhousing
Hold hands while going for walks
Build something
Play in the pool
Lay in the hammock and look at the stars
Toboggan or sled
Give each other manicures
Let her put makeup on your face
Get dressed up yourself when she’s playing dress-up
Groom the dog

You can find dozens of other ideas in my book The Dads & Daughters® Togetherness Guide: 54 Fun Activities to Help Build a Great Relationship.

Friday, December 12, 2008

“Stop Playing Like a Girl” Part 2

Yesterday, I began blogging about a dad who seems impatient with his stepdaughters’ manner of playing, which he sees as too “girly.” And he doesn’t seem to believe that his attitude hurts the daughters’ feelings.

I believe that any dad who believes that his attitudes might not hurt (or, alternatively, help) his daughters is operating on a false premise. Unfortunately, evidence indicates that most fathers agree that their influence on their daughters is minimal.

For example, a 2004 national poll--the first (and apparently only) one of its kind—of US fathers showed that 75 percent of dads think they have good or excellent relationships with their daughters. But at the same time, 66 percent said that their active involvement in their daughters’ lives is NOT crucial to her health and well-being. In my opinion, those 66 percent are dead wrong.

We don’t hear much talk about the influence of fathers on daughters. It’s much more common to hear about how girls are influenced by their mothers. But all it takes is a moment’s reflection to start realizing the huge impact we fathers have on every one of our daughters. To find the roots of a father’s influence, think of your own daughter (or, if you’re a woman, reflect on your own dad or stepdad). It’s normal and natural that a girl wants to know what’s interesting to, or gets the attention of, members of the opposite sex. That’s important knowledge for her to have even if she never dates a boy or marries a man, because she lives in a world half full of boys and men.

Where will she turn first for this information? Most often, she’ll turn to the first member of the opposite sex she gets to know: Dad. Even a stepfather, while not necessarily the first male a girl knows, has huge influence because he spends so much time with her.

We hold a position of unique leverage in our daughters’ lives: First Man. The way we act toward our daughters and the other females in her life set the standard for what she will expect from boys and men. The same is true for our attitudes, words and beliefs. In all of these, we represent to her the richness, honor and value of being a man. When we are true to her and true to the best in our masculine heritage, she will learn to respect men and treat them as equals. She will learn to gravitate toward men who respect her and treat her as an equal, while turning away from men who threaten, violate and abuse. That’s good for both a daughter and her father.

Tomorrow, I’ll blog about some actions dads can take to engage more fully with the daughters, build stronger attitudes about them—and, as a result—have more FUN with your daughters.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

“Stop Playing Like a Girl!” #1

What if a dad or stepdad scoffs at the things girls like to do, like dress up, play with dolls, dance, play make-believe and the like? I recently heard about a stepfather who genuinely love his new daughters, but is used to life (and play) with his own two biological sons.

He expresses annoyance at the girls’ play activities, which he sees as too “girly.” And he doesn’t seem to believe that his attitude hurts the daughters’ feelings.

How can he come to understand that this kind of play is normal and healthy for girls (and can also be normal and healthy for boys like his sons)? How can he come to understand that his words and attitude have a major impact on how his daughters see themselves?

First off, I think it helps to remember that this dad, like every dad of daughters or stepdaughters, operates with a significant hurdle in front of him: all of us fathers grew up as boys. We don’t know what it’s like to be a girl or grow up as a girl, so a girl’s life can be (and often IS) very baffling for us to witness and understand.

This is especially frustrating for moms, stepmoms and women professionals who work with families; as former girls, they know tons more about growing up a girl than I ever will (and I wrote two books about it!). The challenge for women like these is to have realistic expectations about what Dad or Stepdad will know and when he’ll know it. That can easily make for an environment of tension at home when conflict over “girlish” play arises.

Tomorrow, I’ll explain more about the kind of impact on daughters that dads and stepdads have—whether we realize it or not. And come back over the weekend for some tips on how we Dads can get over our resistance to “playing like a girl.”

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Simplify the Holidays

We can all use resources to help reduce stress around the Holidays—especially this year, when economic stresses are multiplying the stress factor.

Quoting from Dr. Suess’ Grinch ("And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more!"), The Center for a New American Dream is offering a free download booklet called “Simplify the Holidays.”

It includes practical tips for having a holiday with more joy and less stuff. Specifically, the booklet contains guides to help you set a budget, relieve stress, come up with new gift ideas, and make your holiday season more meaningful.

Check out my Holiday Ten Tips for Dads & Daughters® from earlier this month—or the gender-inclusive version for Dads & Kids at Fathers.com.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Dreams for Daughters

I admire the National Women’s Law Center for the good work they do—and I’m inspired by their persistence against many years of too-frequent resistance to fairness and equity for girls and women.

Today, NWLC sent our an email today that provided another kind of inspiration. They quoted from a speech given three years ago at NWLC’s annual awards dinner. The speaker (author of a book called “Dreams from My Father” who has since become President-Elect) shared his hopes for his two young daughters:

"That they'll be able to dream without limit, achieve without constraint, and be absolutely free to seek their own happiness and achievement. At its heart, this has always been the essence of the women's movement in America, the quest to ensure that our daughters will have the same opportunities as our sons."

I think that social changes triggered by the women’s movement have also opened up to our sons (including all of us fathers) some the “same opportunities” traditionally available primarily tom women. Chief among them is the opportunity to be fully-engaged parents, more actively involved in the day-today rearing of our children.

That’s a gift—even a dream come true--for me and many Dads I meet.

Reflect on your dreams for your daughter—and for yourself as a father. Then share some of those dreams with your daughter—and with us in a comment on this blog.

Friday, December 05, 2008

When Things Look Bad to Her—and She’s Right

In today’s New York Times, columnist Judith Warner describes (with great honesty, I think) the dilemmas she faces in talking with her children about bad news, like terrorism in Mumbai, the Black Friday trampling death @ Wal Mart, etc.

She raises an especially Gordian problem—how do we respond when one of our children has an ongoing fascination with bad news, how bad things happen, what they look like, and why bad things happen.

Good parenting suggests that you “confirm for your child what he thinks he’s already observing,” as one expert told the Wall Street Journal. I think we also have to keep learning to know our child as the individual she is—so we can do our best to respond to that individual with comfort, appropriate knowledge—and hope.

Please use the comment function to share your experiences with explaining bad news to your children—what seemed to work well and what didn’t. Other parents will benefit from your insight.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Smart Girls at the Party

You may have heard some buzz about the new online program Smart Girls at the Party, from former SNL star Amy Poehler. It’s a web-based TV show profiling and celebrating pre-teen girls of achievement.

Writer and women’s activist Marianne Schnall interviewed Poehler for
Huffington Post, where Amy explains the program’s genesis:

The idea came out of us wishing we had a time machine so we could go back to the younger versions of ourselves and let them know it was gonna be ok. We wanted to do a show that we would have wanted to watch at that age. And we knew we wanted to have a dance party at the end. We basically started with the dance party and worked backwards.

Girls have to fight against a lot of the same stuff we did growing up...peer pressure, exploitation, etc. But what worries me the most is this trend that caring about something isn't cool. That it's better to comment on something than to commit to it. That it's so much cooler to be unmotivated and indifferent. Our culture can get so snarky and ironic sometimes and we kind of wanted Smart Girls to celebrate the opposite of that.
Watch some episodes with your daughter or stepdaughter and listen to what she thinks about them. Then, share her thoughts—and your own—in a comment below.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Connecting Redux

I recently shared a post (How Do I Connect?) from this blog at another website. The topic is how the mundane activities of life are the likeliest places in which we build strong connections with our kids—rather than the “big flashy” events (like going to Disneyworld). Today, at that other website, I got a response from a mother with daughters aged 13, 16 & 19. Her husband—their father—died a year ago. These are (IMHO) profound words to remember as we think about how to positively impact our daughters & stepdaughters…….

I am sure my daughters were permanently enhanced, not crippled by their relationship with their dad. Even after his passing they talk about everything from how beautiful he was to what great values he instilled.
As for how professionals [working with families] can encourage connection, I absolutely agree that it is the mundane everyday stuff that means the most. One of my daughters greatest moment of dad was the time he took her to the ER instead of me. (it had always been a mom thing in our household to deal with doctors) I talked him into it, because I knew it was important, and it was one of their last bonding times. Also the week before he passed, he and my youngest daughter
made salmon for dinner together and she would not trade that moment for anything in the world. He also let her give him a shave, which turned out funky but all she remembers is dad let her cut his hair, and he had that crazy haircut when he died. These are just a few of my daughters’ greatest dad stories, not the concerts or museum visits.
Hope this helps someone.
Those words helped me—and provide us dads and stepdads with profound food for thought.