Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Can Men Prevent Child Abuse?

April is child abuse prevention month, which prompts this question: how often do we think of men as central figures in promoting kids’ safety?

This morning, I was reading the Minnesota Fathers and Families network blog (http://www.mnfathers.org/blog/?p=13), which had some answers to the question:

We hope that all men from all walks of life will take steps to become lifelong advocates for children’s safety.The safety of children has always been a principal role of fathering. For generations and across cultures, men have stepped up to be the protector of the family — providing safeguards against the forces that would cause harm. Most fathers take pride in ensuring safety against poverty, against disease, against hunger, and against violence.

During the month of April, we honor these men for building safe havens in their homes and in their communities.

However, all too often, our culture, media, and family structures, also create environments that enable men to be the cause of harm. When violence is glorified or quietly accepted, we all share in the esponsibility for causing pain. It is for this reason that MFFN is spreading the message that healthy men are central elements for creating safety for our kids.

Throughout this Child Abuse Prevention Month, we encourage fathers and father-figures to advocate for child safety. We challenge you to speak up against words of violence and to step in when children are in danger. Healthy fatherhood demands no less.

For more information about Child Abuse Prevention Month, visit Prevent Child Abuse Minnesota at www.pcamn.org.

So, here’s another question: what are you doing to expect and ensure that dads, stepdads and other men are central figures in promoting kids’ safety?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

“They’ll let any [expletive deleted] be a father.”

I think every prospective parent should watch the movie Parenthood before getting pregnant. The film could easily be called Fatherhood, since the main character is a dad. That movie makes clear some central truths about fathering:

1. It is like a roller coaster.
2. While you can’t guarantee how your actions will affect your children, You can guarantee that your actions do affect your children.

My favorite line from Parenthood is when Keanu Reeves’ character Tod says, “You need a license to buy a dog or drive a car. Hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they’ll let any [expletive deleted] asshole be a father.”

With that bit of earthy humor Tod explains the biggest dilemma a father faces: No one trained me for this job. My daughter doesn’t come with an operator’s manual, plug-and-play attachments, or downloadable upgrades.

Despite this, dads today have more freedom than ever to take “nontraditional” approaches to fathering. Many men take time away from their careers to stay home with their children while their partners return to the workplace. Other men work part-time or telecommute so they can commune with the kids every possible moment. Some men even teach HeadStart and early childhood parent education classes!

In other words, you don’t have to father the same way your father or grandfather did. You can be your own kind of Dad. That opportunity is liberating and exciting, but can also be disconcerting. After all, it’s harder to find examples to follow when you’re doing things in a new way.

Fortunately, nature provides tools that you may not yet be conscious of. For example, from the moment of birth, you and your baby can instinctively communicate with each other, even though it’ll be a year or more before she uses words.

In his book The Collected Wisdom of Fathers, my favorite fathering author Will Glennon, a dad’s biggest challenge isn’t mastering the “proper” way to change a diaper or teach your kid to read. The biggest challenge is to set aside obsolete attitudes about a father’s role and to begin fathering from our hearts. That means becoming conversant in the sometimes foreign language of emotion.

Communicating our love to our children and acknowledging their importance in our life is an undertaking of enormous significance, for our children, for our own well-being, and for generations of fathers yet to come. Historically and socially, we are conditioned to be able to put aside our feelings in order to fight. Now the purpose for which we must fight is to become fully engaged with our feelings in order to reinstate ourselves in our proper place in our children’s lives. The effort requires courage and determination, for this is new territory, an area in which we will no doubt make mistakes.
Part of fathering is teaching our children important tasks. But the heart of fathering is nurturing the psychological, emotional, and spiritual connection between us and our kids.

As we attempt to father well, we make mistakes, some of which will seem pretty dumb. Let’s face it, a few of them actually will be dumb. But we can’t let our mistakes stop us, any more than your infant will let her “mistake” of falling down keep her from learning to walk—even if the culture magnifies our mistakes.

Learn more about fathering daughters in Dads and Daughters: How to Inspire, Understand, and Support Your Daughter.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Silence is Optional

Men today are longing to have good relationships with their children. But there have been generations of silence about what it means to be a father. We didn’t hear our own dads talk about it.

At my fathering workshops the most moving moment is when I ask, ‘How many of you feel like you’ve been changed as a man by having this daughter? Stand up if you can tell me one or two or three things that are different for you.’ Everyone in the room stands.

Then I ask, ‘Stand up if your father ever spoke to you about how he was changed as a man by you being his child.’ Often no one stands, and rarely more than 3 men stand. That’s a very emotional moment.

So many of us dads never heard anything on the subject from our own fathers. That’s really sad. However, it’s also an opportunity to break that cycle of silence, and talk to other fathers (including our own) about it.

In the process of writing my book Dads & Daughters®: How to Inspire, Understand and Support Your Daughter, I conducted in-depth interviews with about 130 men across the US, and corresponded with hundreds more. Women are always startled to learn that fully half of these men said I (a perfect stranger) was the first person they’d ever talked to in depth about fatherhood. Me aren’t surprised, because we’re so accustomed to father silence.

The good news? With only a handful of exceptions, the fathers I interviewed were articulate and passionate; we have a lot to say about the experience and importance of being a dad. And while all of that had gone unspoken until the moment of our interview, those men and I quickly learned there’s real power in asking.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Art of Giving and Asking

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

Below is the last series of questions to help you and your daughter talk about the art of giving and asking. It was inspired by Rich Snowden of California, a life coach and Daughters.com fan.

You and your daughter should write down your answers to these questions on separate pieces of paper. Then, share you answers with each other and then ask (don’t preach) and talk to learn more.

When asking for help, did you ever feel obligated to give up something important to you—even if the other person didn’t explicitly ask you to? Describe what you did and how it felt.

How has your giving and asking for help changed or developed over time? Why has it changed?

Do you give mostly with your head or your heart? Or both?

How do you make your decisions about giving and asking for help? Do you plan ahead?

Do you give or ask for help in the moment when something inspires you? Both?

Use the comment section below to share some of the insights you’ve gained about your daughter—and yourself—by pondering the art of giving and asking--and consider giving a gift of New Moon Girls to a girl you care about!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Relationship Abuse

Recent news about singer Chris Brown prompted our friends at Jewish Women International to send this reminder--which is a good one for us dads and stepdads to remember:
Relationship abuse can affect anyone – regardless of age, race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. It’s an all-too-common nightmare where words and fists leave emotional and physical scars, and in the most extreme cases, some victims never wake up.
Have you talked with the teens in your life about dating abuse?
One in five teens in a serious relationship report being hit, slapped or pushed by a partner, and nearly half of all tweens (ages 11-14) say they know friends who have been verbally abused (called stupid, worthless, ugly, etc.) by a dating partner.

It’s never too early; talk with the teen in your life today.