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.

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 fiancé 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.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Voting & the Blood of Children

You’ll usually find me reading more than one book at a time, almost always nonfiction, and now is no exception. I’m reading “A New Age Begins,” Paige Smith’s engaging history of the American Revolution and “The Race Beat” (by Gene Roberts & Hank Klibanoff), a compelling look at media coverage of the US Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s.

It struck me this morning that both books are important reminders about what’s happening during next Tuesday’s election.

We are often urged to vote because the blood of soldiers on foreign soil purchased that precious privilege. With PSAs and bumper stickers, we parents are often urged to vote for our kids because our kids can’t vote for themselves. Some folks dismiss these exhortations as platitudes.

But my two books (among many others) remind us that daughters and sons also died on our own soil in pursuit of the right to choose their leaders. During the 1770s, citizen soldiers and militia died from Georgia to New Hampshire for a nation that didn’t yet exist. In my own lifetime, people (mostly young people) died to secure full voting rights for all of that nation’s citizens.

The majority of sacrifices in both battles were made by people younger than my own two daughters. The fact that lives were sacrificed here on our own soli—and even within the last generation—makes the responsibility of voting very vivid for me. And it’s what motivated me to sign up as a county election judge for Tuesday.

So I’m thinking today of those who sacrificed life and limb for our fascinating experiment of a Republic—most of them young people not unlike our own children.

And I’m asking you to vote.

If you feel annoyed about having to wait in line or frustrated by the bureaucracy of voting, you could comfort yourself by picturing how many more hours I’ll be at my polling place.

But better comfort and inspiration will come from picturing the greater sacrifices your own child might have been called to make 50 or 200 years ago—and may be called upon to make in her own lifetime—to secure the privilege of having that line you’ll stand in.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Men FOR Title IX??? Are you kidding?

No, I’m not kidding. It’s beyond me that any father of daughters would be anything OTHER than a vigorous supporter of Title IX, the US civil rights law that prohibits gender discrimination in education. There’s a guy who (for a few more months) lives in a big house on Pennsylvania Ave in DC with 2 daughters who hasn't supported Title IX—which I've never understood.

Anyway, it’s a no-brainer for dads of daughters to support gender equity for girls and women—all we have to do is put our own daughters’ faces in the picture. Would we stand for them being denied opportunities JUST because they’re female? No way, so we shouldn’t stand for it with anyone else’s daughter either.

Fortunately, we don’t stand alone among men, as this NCAA video shows.

If you’re a man, be sure you’re speaking up for your daughter or stepdaughter—making sure that her school and world are safe and fair for girls. Learn more at www.dadsanddaughters.com

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Corporal Punishment Debate

There's a fascinating discussion underway about discipline and corporal punishment at the DadTalk list on Yahoo (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dadtalk/). If you have any doubt that fathers are thoughtful and concerned and passionate about raising good children--you MUST read these conversations.

Here are some examples:

I have recently started giving my 14 YO time outs again. Sit for 5 minutes and then tell me why you are there and why it was bad. Was she ever shocked the first time I did it (she hadn't had or needed a time out in years)! The point is it seems to be working, she is learning self control. I gave her a time out in a restaurant once but it was far from home (we were camping) I would never do something like that in front of her acquaintances.
I think this issue is highly charged with emotion and judgment. But I'll state this clearly up front: I am in favor of spanking at a certain age. Until a young child is able to actually "reason" the "whys" of appropriate behavior, a physical reminder - issued with love and thoughtfulness by a parent - can be very effective.
I think we are agreeing on far more than we disagree. Not reinforcing bad behavior is the goal, the difference being an understanding of how to achieve it, and the implications of different methods. And we differ how much we believe over-coddling is possible or how dangerous it is.
Use the comment section below to share your insights & experiences on discipline. We can learn from you!

Monday, October 20, 2008

More Than Your Daughter’s Hair

Years before I started working on fathering issues, I worked for 1.5 years in a domestic violence shelter in Omaha. It was a radical education for a guy like me, and relationship violence has been clearly on my radar ever since. So this story in today’s Star-Tribune (my local paper) caught my eye. Here are some excerpts:

[A] national program called Cut It Out, which trains stylists to recognize signs of domestic abuse. Advocates for battered women are using the training to create a new line of defense in the fight against domestic violence -- the stylists who see hundreds of women slide in and out of their chairs every year.

The training runs through a predictable list of problems that stylists should be on the lookout for -- bruises, cuts, burns -- while also highlighting that indicators of abuse may be more subtle -- an anxious tone from the client when her partner calls; concern over how her partner will react to a new hairstyle…

The Cut It Out program grew out of a statewide initiative in Alabama that was started in 2001 by founder Dianne Mooney and the Women's Fund of Greater Birmingham. Soon after, Clairol Professional, the National Cosmetology Association and Southern Living At HOME created a partnership to take the training nationwide. Since then, almost 40,000 stylists have participated in the program…

"Before this class, I never would have thought twice about it," said Stacy Hoff, a recent Empire
[Beauty Schools] graduate. "Now I can see the things to pick out in the conversation -- if he's constantly calling, your client doesn't have any friends or they can't change their hair color."

So what does this have to do with a blog for Dads & Daughters? I think our kids need to get the same training that these stylists got—and get it from us.

We need to talk to our daughters & sons about relationship violence and abuse. You’re your kids learn the signs of “power and control” in dating (and other) relationships—and how to tell the difference between that and a loving & supportive relationship.

These messages have extra oomph (IMHO) when they come from Dad or Stepdad. It’s another example of how we hold a unique position of leverage in our daughters’ lives…whether we realize it or not. So let’s use that leverage to make their lives better.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Stepping Up or Stepping Away

Elena Delle Donne strikes me as a brave young woman. There’s a story At Pinnacle, Stepping Away From Basketball in today’s New York Times about Elena, an elite basketball player from Delaware. She left the powerhouse University of Connecticut program after only a few days because “I was overdriving myself because I was so into becoming the best…. It wasn’t fun. It was like a job, and it was a job I wasn’t getting paid for.”

Elena is now playing volleyball at the University of Delaware. Her dad, Ernie, thinks big factors were homesickness and the need to be near her older sister, who has cerebral palsy.

From the little bit one can glean through a newspaper article, Ernie seems to be displaying great fatherly wisdom in how he’s supporting his daughters.

According to the Times, Ernie posed a couple of hypothetical questions to Elena:

If she could play volleyball at a powerhouse like Stanford or basketball at
Delaware, which would she choose? If UConn played basketball in Newark, Del.,
instead of Storrs, Conn., what sport would she choose?

It strikes me that those are the right kind of questions for a dad to ask—instead of asking something like: “How could you give up? How could you do this to me? How could you abandon a scholarship?””

Also wisely, Ernie isn’t looking for final answers—probably because he knows his daughter is still a teenager, and that there will be a lot of change ahead in her life. Just as there will be many new and good things ahead for the most skilled of our athlete daughters, like Candace Parker Tamika Catchings.

“I want her to watch the Final Four,” Ernie Delle Donne said. “Hopefully, Geno
Auriemma is cutting the net down. And I hope Elena says, ‘Thank God I’m not
there.’ Then it was the right decision. We’ll see. I honestly couldn’t tell you
within 30 percent what her reaction is going to be. I feel more confident
predicting the stock market.”

Take a few minutes to reflect on your perceptions of your daughter’s talents, looking at how much she is driving herself and how much others (maybe including yourself) are driving her.

And then ask her some hypothetical questions, like Ernie asked Elena. Use the comments section below to let us know your insights and conversations. And remember that, no matter what our daughters do this week or this year, we hope that there are many more years of unfolding, challenging, unpredictable new experiences ahead in her life. And that’s a GOOD thing!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Turn Beauty Inside Out & Leadership

Tomorrow, the Turn Beauty Inside Out (TBIO) campaign holds a National Leadership Summit for teens in partnership with The White House Project.

TBIO is one of my favorite things—a project of the nonprofit Mind on the Media. This year. TBIO and MOTM are focused on portrayals of women in politics and leadership roles.

According to the TBIO website:
The TBIO Leadership Summit aims to encourage girls and boys ages 10-17 to consider careers in politics and civic engagement, where they will have an impact on our nation’s future. Teens and their parents, mentors, chaperones, youth professionals and advocates from across the United States will gain leadership skills and meet with women leaders, advocates and policy makers whose actions have left an impression on the world. Interactive sessions and speakers will include Young Elected Forum, Understanding the Influence of Media Biases in Politics, Making Media, Community Organizing and Social Change, and Take our Daughters to the Polls.
Take some time tomorrow to talk with your daughter or stepdaughter about her leadership and her inner beauty. Then share what happens in the comments section below.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Hidden Baby Gate

Moms and dads do things differently. In fact, any two parents will do things differently (regardless of gender) because they are two different people. Kids benefit from the difference, so we parents have to make sure that our kids are exposed to both parenting styles.

To calm a crying infant, you may sit with perfect quiet in a rocking chair, slowly easing her to sleep. To calm that same crying infant, I may walk the floor, jabber nonsense, and bounce her on my knee until she tires and goes to sleep.

One way isn’t better or worse than the other, since both methods got the baby to stop crying and go to sleep. Even better, she learned that there is more than one way to nurture and to bond with more than one nurturer.

Parenting research indicates that a father is more likely to carry an infant so that she is facing away from him, while a mother is more likely to carry the baby facing towards her. Your baby needs both perspectives. It’s good for her to explore the world and it’s good for her to know her family intimately. It doesn’t matter which parent provides which—and it’s probably best if both parents provide a little bit of both.

Nevertheless, we tend to judge or rank different baby-care strategies, not based on whether they work in the end, but rather on how closely they mirror our method or the method we grew up thinking was the “right” one.

That vision is usually one that conforms tightly to worn-out stereotypes about which gender is supposed to do what when it comes to child-rearing. That limited vision is arbitrary, counterproductive, and completely inadequate to the demands of raising children in today’s world.

The key is to remember that most infants have more than one parent for very good reasons. Don’t let either parent be locked out, because that’s not good for the child.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Voting Like Our Kids Depend on It

“Our children are our country’s future”

“Kids can’t vote, but we can vote for them.”

Repeated often during campaign seasons, these start to sound like tired old clichés. But they are clichés only because we’ve too often given lip-service—rather tan resources—to our children, both here and abroad.

Take couple of minutes top look over some great material from the nonpartisan Children’s Defense Fund to get a sense of where the candidate you’ll be choosing stand on one important issue: health care coverage for kids.

  1. For candidates that are currently a Member of Congress, check out the CDF Action Council Nonpartisan Congressional Scorecard. You can find out who are the best and the worst Members of Congress for children and access past CDF Action Council scorecards to see their entire history on voting for children.

  2. Find out which candidates have signed the CDF Action Council Pledge so far to support health coverage for all children in their campaign and once they are elected. If your candidates have not yet signed the pledge, send them an email today (and encourage your friends to join you) urging them to do so.

  3. Learn more about the 2008 Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates' overall Scorecard scores. A look at the voting records of the candidates.

  4. Find out how the 2008 Presidential candidates' plans compare when it comes to children's issues (pdf).

If you haven’t registered to vote, do it immediately. And if you feel like your vote won’t make any difference, or that there should be a pox on every candidate’s house, I encourage you to do two things:

  • Look your child in the eye and then decide whether you can really afford to blow them off by blowing off your vote.

  • Read a popular history of the Constitutional Convention, Civil War or Supreme Court…you’ll never look at the political process the same way again (or ever again devalue your own vote).

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

This excellent piece of news arrived in my inbox today from the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood:

"Our successful campaign to get Scholastic to stop selling Bratz items in schools has spurred an international discussion about the sexualization of children, including a widely syndicated story in Canada, and articles in the New York Times and the British daily, the Guardian. (You can read all the press coverage here).

"In addition, our campaign is fomenting public discussion about the presence of excessive commercial content in Scholastic's Book Clubs and Book Fairs, including this great editorial in the Tampa Tribune. Thanks again to the more than 5,000 of you who wrote to Scholastic to demand Bratz-free schools."

Please keep speaking up against the hyper- and pseudo-sexualization of girls, in all of its forms. Why? Because it's bad for YOUR daughter.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Unique Online Community for Girls

If you haven’t heard about or seen NewMoonGirls.com, you have got to check it out right away—especially if you have tween or teenage daughters.

Full disclosure: I was one of the co-founders of the company doing this site—New Moon Girl Media, which has won SEVEN Parents Choice Foundation gold awards for its New Moon Girls print magazine—which is edited BY and for girls 8-12.

They have done an unbelievable job with this site. The foundation was laid by a group of tween and teen girls themselves, and you can instantly tell that this is a safe place for girls to be themselves, create, have fun--and be sheltered from the marketing culture’s crap that young girls have to swim through ever day.

The site is less than a month old (and still in beta), but Common Sense Media is already praising it as “a stellar online destination for girls 8-12.” (See www.commonsensemedia.org/website-reviews/NewMoonGirls.html)

Just so you know, it’s NOT a social networking site like MySpace or Facebook. Unlike those sites, NewMoonGirls.com doesn’t allow girls to post personal information and all comments are moderated by well-trained adults. Basically, NewMoonGirls.com is a safe (and advertising-free!!) forum for tween girls to post writing, video, audio, artwork--and then share them (or not) as they please, and comment on other girl’s creative efforts.

New Moon Girl Media also has a blog for older girls, called orb28, which is itself a fascinating place for teenage girls to visit—although it isn’t as fully developed yet as the site for younger girls.
Every parent I've heard from says that their tween girl loves the site...and that's the true test of whether it's good for your daughter or stepdaughter.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Art of Giving and Asking Part 2

Each family has a heritage of how we give to others and how we ask for what we need.

Below (building on my post from the other day) is another series of questions to help you get to know you and your teenage daughter and/or stepdaughter talk about this important topic.

Individually, write down your answers to these questions. When you’re both done, share you answers with each other and then ask (don’t preach) and talk to learn more.

What’s been your most surprising experience with giving?

What have been your most surprising and pleasant experiences with asking for help?

As a child, when did you first become aware of the idea and benefits of giving to others? What did you see? What were you curious about?

As a child, when did you first become aware of the idea and benefits of asking others for help? What did you see? What were you curious about?

How is your giving and asking for help similar to that of your parents and siblings, and how is it different? How much are you influenced by them?

You can also adapt these questions for a younger daughter; tween girls like exploring issues like this.

BTW, this article is adapted from my book
The Dads & Daughters Togetherness Guide: 54 Fun Activities to Help Build a Great Relationship, which you can buy by clicking on the title.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Art of Giving and Asking

Giving, asking, receiving—all important things our daughters and stepdaughters need to learn. Below are a few questions to help you get to know your daughter’s attitude about giving, and help her learn about yours.

Individually, write down your answers to these questions. When you’re both done, share you answers with each other and then ask (don’t preach) and talk to learn more.

Have you ever wanted to ask to get your gift or generosity back? Have you ever done it?

If someone is pressuring you to give, how do you usually start feeling?

How often do you say yes to giving help, when you really want to say no? Why do you say yes when you want to say no? When was a time that the person asking made it easy to say no and you said no?

Remember three times when you’ve had to ask for help. If any part of it was hard, what was hard about it? If any part of it was easy, what was easy about it?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Using Dads

Hundreds of therapists, physicians, nutritionists and family members gathered this past weekend in Austin, Texas to talk and learn about eating disorders at the annual conference of the National Eating Disorders Association. I was there are one of the keynote speakers, but it was surprising how rarely the power and potential of fathers and stepfathers arose during discussions about prevention and treatment of serious problems like anorexia and bulimia. In fact, I don’t know that I heard that it come up at all in conversations in which I wasn’t already a participant.

Fathers and stepfathers tend to be invisible to most people working to help families with difficulties like mental or physical illness. This despite the fact that a father or stepfather’s meaning and influence is unavoidable at home.

It is a mystery why dads remain our culture’s greatest untapped natural resource—hidden in plain sight.

I speak about and train professionals on how to start recognizing – and making smart use of—this resource with such incredible potential. So, I spent a lot of time conversing with therapists and representatives of treatment centers, urging them to quickly learn how to integrate fathers more centrally into their work—if for no other reason that the fact that their work will get done more efficiently if they make smart use of this “new” tool!

It’s a safe bet that those organizations and institutions who do learn to more fully tap the power and potential of fathers will quickly (and deservedly) get the reputation for helping their clients get healthy quicker and stay healthy longer. I hope more of them start. You can learn more about this—and how to get training—at http://joekelly.info/presentations.htm.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dads & Moms & Marketing

I attended an inspiring evening at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis last night—about 30 parents gathered with Twin Cities Public TV producer Daniel Bergin to discuss media, media literacy, and our kids. The conversation kept coming back to marketing—for example, how most US children’s TV programs and websites are so tightly tied to retailers selling toys and food (far too much of both being junk).
Many of us struggle to strike the “right” balance for how much time our kids spend in front of a screen. There’s particular concern for daughters, who are hammered SO hard and SO often (on screen and off) with the dangerous message that their primary value resides in their external appearance (the technical term for this phenomenon is “bigotry”) and how “sexy” they act.
The conversation among this very diverse team of parents was inspiring and filled with practical ideas, like the “no pressure” birthday party—invitations say “your child is not expected to bring a present, and will not be coming home with gifts (aka swag).”
Yet I was also reminded how useful it is to see marketing itself as an organizing principle for analyzing and managing our children’s media consumption. After all, the drive to sell stuff is what motivates and pays for most children’s media. So, look at media (our kids’ and our own) through the critical lens of “how is marketing—especially selling us stuff we otherwise wouldn’t want or need—playing out in this situation?” That approach will give you lots of insight…and open up new possibilities for healthy responses to the ubiquity of media in the lives of our culture and families.
The best places to go for help with this are the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood and the National Institute on Media and the Family, both of which have extensive information and resources on their sites.Thank you Daniel and the Walker for bringing us together!
Learn more @ www.dadsanddaughters.com.

Monday, September 08, 2008

What Little Boys Learn About Fathering

It’s a sad fact that few boys in our culture get hands-on training in child-rearing.

Our society doesn’t invest nearly as much time and attention preparing boys to become fathers as it does preparing girls to become mothers. To illustrate, let’s look at two esteemed organizations dedicated to developing kids into well rounded adults: the Boy Scouts of America and the Girls Scout of the USA. Since they began, both groups have offered badges in outdoor, craft, and industrial skills.

But what badges teach a Scout about parenting and family life?

In the Girls Scouts of the USA, young women have earned badges in child care, cooking, and home health since 1913. In ensuing years, GSUSA created badges in Family Living Skills, Food Power, Healthy Relationships, Consumer Power, Sew Simple, Toymaker, Fabric Arts, and "Food, Fibers, and Farming.”

In the Boy Scouts of America, the only parenting-preparation merit badges a young man can earn are: Family Life, Cooking, and Textiles. The number of Boy Scouts earning a Family Life merit badge is less than half the number earning Woodworking, Archery, Fingerprinting, and any of 35 other merit badges.

My goal is not to bash the Boy Scouts; indeed, the thousands of Boy Scouts with Family Life badges are better off than most young men. The point is this: we dads need to consciously seek guidance because of the way many people (ourselves included) perceive fathers and the role of fatherhood.

For example, what does it mean to “mother” a child? Terms like nurturing, feeding, and comforting readily spring to mind. But when someone talks about “fathering a child,” we’re more likely to think he did no more than deposit some sperm--slam, bam, thank you ma’am.

Here’s another example: When you were a boy, did you learn to change diapers? If you did, the odds are slim that your father was the one who taught you.

Think about what you learned from your father and/or stepfather about parenting. You probably learned a lot from his example, even if it was a bad one. But how much did he ever say to you about how to be a father, or about how his life was enriched by having you as his son?

This lack of words--father silence, if you will--is important for dads to acknowledge. Because we tend to start out with less training and information in fathering than our partners have in mothering, we have to recognize our need to actively reach out for knowledge.

It is also important to break this generational cycle of father silence. Our own parenting will be better and easier if we start talking about fathering, asking questions, and sharing our experience. But we’re not the only ones who will benefit. The other fathers we talk with will also be ahead of the game. More important, our open discussion of fathering gives our own children words and wisdom they’ll need when they take their turn as fathers and mothers.

Share what you're doing to break father silence!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Listening to Girls

Girls tend to be a riddle to fathers. Like any mystery, our relationships with our daughters can be frightening, exciting, entertaining, baffling, enlightening or leave us completely in the dark; sometimes all at once.

If we want to unravel this mystery, we have to pay attention, even in the most ordinary moments. If we want to figure it out, we have to listen even before our daughters can speak.
A father named Jeff recognized this from his daughter’s earliest days:

At three days old, she had jaundice, and they were giving her the foot prick to get a blood sample. The person giving it asked me to give her a pacifier or hold her but I told her, “That’s your business, you are the one who wants the blood, I don’t need the blood. You prick her and she is going to be mad, because it hurts like hell. Let her scream; let her have those feelings.”
At that moment I realized that everyone is going to try to snuff her feelings. I mean it starts that early - just from the very beginning. Stick something in her mouth and say, “Don’t feel this, it’s OK.” Well, I don’t believe that, and as a result I think she is a lot better off.

Why is it so important for us to listen to girls? Because a girl’s voice may be the most valuable and most threatened resource she has. Her voice is the conduit for her heart, brains and spirit. When she speaks bold and clear – literally and metaphorically – then she is much safer and surer. We have to nurture these qualities.

Learn more at www.futureoffatherhood.com.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Let me tell you about an engaging, insightful new book designed for dads and adult daughters who want more from their relationship – and for professionals who work with families. It’s called “Between Fathers and Daughters: Enriching or Rebuilding Your Adult Relationship” by Dr. Linda Nielsen of Wake Forest University, where she teaches the country’s only college course on father-daughter relationships.

It’s fascinating to read, yet also has Linda’s no-nonsense, concrete strategies for improving the relationships between adult women and their dads and stepdads.

It’s rather baffling (or pathetic?) that there is only one college course on dad-daughter relationships, so little research on the topic, and so few books about it. So, I want to draw attention when something good does appear. Even if you’re the dad of a younger daughter, check out this book, and it will absolutely convince you of how important you are to your daughter’s future.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Girl Effect

Think about a daughter in your life--any daughter. Think about her potential. Then imagine her living in dire poverty in a developing country. Does your perception of her potential change?

Take a moment to watch this video:

The statistics back up its claim. Do everything you can to support the potential of EVERY daughter.