Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Making a Difference-Preventing Violence

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As fathers and stepfathers of daughters, we realize our unique  responsibility to assist in the primary prevention of sexual and domestic violence. But too many men don’t think we have a role.

That’s why I’d like you to join me at the “Men Can Make A Difference” conference October 2nd ad 3rd At Cragun’s Resort outside Brainerd, Minnesota. I’ll be conducting two workshops there and the featured speakers include Tony Porter (left) Co-Founder of A Call to Men and Robert Jensen (right), the University of Texas professor who does so much to show pornography’s devastating role in defining masculinity.

Learn more and register at

I hope to see you there.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Dads, Daughters and School

Strawberry pair School is starting up again around the country—a good time to remind ourselves how much impact dads & stepdads have on our daughters’ academic success.

A father has a direct impact when he is vocal with his attention to his daughter's academic and extra-curricular activities. Even when our involvement is as simple as asking our daughters about their schoolwork, she’s better off. Imagine the effect on the world if even a few more fathers got more engaged in our daughter’s lives and schooling.

I love doing her science projects with her, and encouraging her to think about doing things on the computer. We’ve been doing a project on how and why siphoning works. She had to come up with a hypothesis, and she didn’t quite understand what a hypothesis was. So we talked about it. “It’s a guess, it’s an educated guess. What do you think will happen, and why does it work?” “The air pushes the water.” ‘Okay, let’s go prove it, or disprove it. And then you revise it.” We have fun doing those kinds of projects. I absolutely enjoy science, and that’s a lot of fun, partially because I get to show off a little bit, too. -- Jerry

It feels good to show off what we know to our kids. When our daughters see us excited and proud about our knowledge and skills (no matter what they are), their own excitement and pride in learning is affirmed. Whether fathers share knowledge we gained from work or hobbies, they seem to have a special ability to spark interest in daughters. This helps girls learn that they can handle the knowledge and skills needed to be an adult with responsibilities, careers and hobbies.

Friday, July 24, 2009

10 Questions for a Dad to Ask His Daughter

It’s completely normal for dads and stepdads to struggle sometimes, anne gary 2especially when it comes to having “meaningful” conversations with  our daughters. Fortunately, summer offers a few more opportunities for a serious chat. Here are 10 questions to get a conversation started. Feel free to add questions of your own, and don’t feel like you have to use them all up in one sitting!

1. When are you the happiest in your life? Tell me more about that.
2. When are you the most proud of yourself? The most satisfied? Tell me more about that.
3. What do you wish we had more ability or time to do together? Tell me more about that.
4. What do you wish you had more ability or time to do for yourself? Tell me more about that.
5. What do you wish I had more ability or time to do for myself? Tell me more about that.
6. What is your biggest complaint about me? Tell me more about that.
7. What is your favorite thing about our relationship? Tell me more about that.
8. What’s the most important thing that you think we should be talking about that we haven’t been talking about—or else are not talking about enough? Tell me more about that.
9. If you could stop doing something right now, what would it be? Tell me more about that.
10. If you could start doing something right now, what would it be? Tell me more about that.

Adapted from The Dads & Daughters Togetherness Guide: 54 Fun Activities to Help Build a Great Relationship' target=_blank>The Dads & Daughters Togetherness Guide: 54 Fun Activities to Help Build a Great Relationship' target=_blank>The Dads & Daughters Togetherness Guide: 54 Fun Activities to Help Build a Great Relationship . Learn more at

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Divorced Dads as Teachers

I am a divorced father who shares all the responsibilities for raising my two daughters with my ex-wife. The relationship between LEW (lovely ex wife) and I is much better now that we are divorced. We could not live together. It is much healthier for both my daughters as well.

-  Sam

mrs K's w. dadWhen I hear a live-away dad talk about building relationships with his ex and his children, I’m always struck by how relevant his words are for me, a man who lived with his children in an “intact” family. Maybe that’s because so many of the issues are the same for both of us. What are the most important things to do for our kids when we don’t live with them anymore?

* Support her close relationship with all of her parents and stepparents.

* Don’t play her off against her mother (or stepparents).

* Communicate with her mother (or stepparents).

* The more you stay involved in child-rearing, the better off every family member is.

* Give her loving support, clear limits and regular routine.

* Remember, girls learn how to relate to men from their fathers. That means you.

I’m not divorced, but all of these concepts are crucial for me, too, as a live-with father.

It may be that live-away dads and stepfathers are our best teachers because these are the men most likely to say something. It’s awfully hard to learn from or listen to dads if no one is speaking. Stepdads and live-away dads are much more likely to talk with one another about their situations. It’s as if we fathers have to go through great crisis and difficulty before we’ll let down our “pride” and unlock our tongue to talk to another dad about being a dad.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Fathers Day Challenge

More than 40 fathering organizations are making a statement this Father's Day—the 100th Anniversary of Father's Day. I'm behind this idea as a way to make visible the huge number of dads and stepdads deeply committed to our kids.

We're enlisting 1,000,000 dads to make a public commitment to their children. We want our kids to know that together, all of us dads are working for a more promising future for them, and we're committing ourselves to make that happen by living the five points of the 2009 Father's Day Commitment

  • I will love my children
  • I will coach my children.
  • I will model for my children.
  • I will encourage other children.
  • I will enlist other dads to make and live the 2009 Father's Day Commitment.

We have less than a month until Father's Day. Will you help us reach 1,000,000 dads by making your commitment at and then forwarding this blog to every dad you know?

You can use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and every other method of social networking, too. Just direct folks to to make their commitment and to learn how to begin fulfilling it.

On that same page, you can also learn how to upload a commitment counter to your webpage or blog, or the website of your company, organization or faith community. That way you can direct your recruits to your own website and keep track of how many dads you have enlisted. You can (if you;re into this sort of thing) even challenge someone else in your community and see who can enlist the most dads. Go for it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tips for Dads to Promote Girls' Sports

Why should your daughter or stepdaughter participate in sports? To be more healthy (in mind and body), feel better about herself, learn new skills, stay off alcohol and drugs, defer sexual activity, and, oh yeah, TO HAVE FUN! Sadly, some people worry that girls are too delicate, unskilled, or inadequate to play sports. To which the smart father and stepfather reply: "Baloney." Here are some tips to help you provide the kind of support your girl needs. 1. MAKE SPORTS FUN FROM AN EARLY AGE. Keep a relaxed approach when she's young. For example, have athletic-theme parties, like pizza and kickball.
2. DEMONSTRATE INTEREST IN HER ATHLETIC ACTIVITIES. Attend her games and other extracurricular activities. If you live away from your daughter, be sure to talk with her after every game to hear how it went.

3. GO TO THE GAMES TO CHEER. You can cheer hard for your girl, and then cheer for everyone who is playing. Every kid (and parent) should remember why they call it "playing" a "game."

4. LEAVE COACHING TO THE COACHES. Tina Syer of the Positive Coaching Alliance says, "You're there to fill the kids' emotional tanks and make sure they bounce back from mistakes, not to tweak their throwing motion or tell them where to be on the field." Be smart about choosing coaches tuned in to her age and skill level. If there's a lack of adequate coaches, sign up to volunteer!

5. BE A MODEL FAN. Think about what you would look like on the sidelines if someone were videotaping you instead of the game. Be sure you (and your daughter) would be proud of what you'd see.

6. ASK, "WHAT DO WE EACH HOPE TO GET FROM THE EXPERIENCE?" Then tell her what you hope she gets. If you don't talk (and listen), she may assume all you care about is a winning record or how good her stats are. Make sure she knows you want sports to be a fun way to make friends, test herself, be healthy, and feel good about herself.
7. LET HER PLAY WITH BOYS. In Raising Our Athletic Daughters: How Sports Can Build Self-Esteem And Save Girls' Lives, authors Jean Zimmerman and Gil Reavill suggest utilizing coed or single-sex programs according to your daughter's comfort level and what will contribute most to her learning and growth.
8. HELP HER USE "MISTAKES" PRODUCTIVELY. When she messes up, she'll look to you first. So illustrate how to put mistakes in perspective by 1) showing her how to let go of them & 2) encouraging (not demanding or requiring) her to use mistakes as motivation to improve her skills.

9. MAKE SURE GIRLS & BOYS HAVE EQUAL SPORTS OPPORTUNITIES. Support Title IX and encourage school and other sports programs to be aware of and promptly address inequities in opportunities and resources.

10. KEEP A RELAXED, FUN APPROACH. Team sports teach girls how to be self-reliant while also working collaboratively to be competitive. If she loses interest in sports, you and she can still be physically active together--and there are plenty of other ways to relate and have fun as a Dad-Daughter team.
Learn more about healthy fathering @

Monday, May 11, 2009

Answering "Where Do Babies Come From?"

I just heard from the dad of a 6 year old daughter who was interested in knowing where babies come from. He says that his wife decided that, since her parents never told her anything, she would be honest with the girl:
Mom did not give her the mechanics of how a baby is created. Instead, when my daughter asked how a baby was made, she said that she is too young to know and that she would tell her later. So, what is the big deal?
Well, my neighbor had to break up an incident where my daughter was telling his daughter where babies come from. He said that his daughter was on her back with her legs spread (clothes on) and my daughter was kinda in the position of being a doctor. There was no touching, just pretending to give birth with a baby doll.
I was and still am not sure how to really handle this. I told my daughter that "Some parents do not want their children to know where babies come from and that it is not your job to tell them. The only person you can pretend with and discuss babies is your mother."

My daughter is such a sweet girl and doesn't appear to be "sick" in the least. I think she is fascinated by knowing that babies are in the bellies of the mom. I am concerned that she will do it again as she is passively hardheaded.

Did I say the right thing? Should I have said something else? What if it happens again?
Any thoughts?
My thoughts are that he responded very wisely to his daughter. Her behavior, as described, indicates normal, healthy curiosity. He told her that other families have different ways of handling things like this--just as they do with stuff like how much TV or ice cream their kids can have.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Respect You Give

You’ve been reading a lot lately about my take on the most productive stance a divorced or live-away dad can take in terms of keeping strong bonds with his kids.

Many common problems during “visitation” (boy, do I hate that word; kids don’t “visit” their parents) occur the transition time when the child moves from one parent’s house to the other’s. Divorced dads often tell me that the mother will call to say that she misses the child, especially when the child has just arrived or has just spent the first day with her Dad. A wise dad named Chris had these reflections on that issue:
I had equal visitation, as long as I sent my check. My ex did that same thing not as a game, but out of her own insecurity. My kids responded initially as wanting to protect their mother. After a relatively short while, they got tired of having to “take care of her.” Especially when Dad offered a more sane alternative.
I didn't say “I miss you.” I kept it positive, and said "I'm looking forward to seeing you again on such and such day". I never used that to buy them, as much as to show them that I valued my time with them and allowed them to value their time with their mother without 'guilt'.
My kids got it pretty quick. Four daughters. My youngest, twins, just moved into their own house-dorm- as they prepare for college in the fall. So now I’m experiencing empty nest. But I have a real connection with them, and a great respectful relationship with them. Last week, one of my youngest got terribly ill, mono, and came to my home to get taken care of. She had no question of where she would get the caretaking she needed.
They scarcely want to talk to their needy mom, though do out of respect. Your children will decide what relationship you all will have with them based upon the respect you give them REGARDLESS of what the other spouse is doing.
What are your thoughts and experiences about Chris’ central point: “Your children will decide what relationship you all will have with them based upon the respect you give them REGARDLESS of what the other spouse is doing”? Share them with us in the comments below.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"12 Tips for Live-Away Dads" Nos. 7-12

My last post included the first half of my "12 Tips for Live-Away Dads." Here is the second half-dozen suggestions or dads who are divorced, deployed, travel frequently, or have some other reason they live away from their children for long periods.

Some very dedicated, experienced divorced dads helped me put these tips together, especially Bill Klatte, author of the fabulous Live-away Dads: Staying a Part of Your Children's Lives When They Aren't a Part of Your Home. (NOTE: pronouns alternate between daughter and son, because the tips are meant for dads & stepdads of both).

CO-PARENT WITH MOM. If possible, I communicate openly with her mom. As our child grows up, it's incredibly valuable to have her other parent's perspective. We do our best to work with each other (and our partners/her stepparents) for our child's well-being. When I share my concerns and joys about our child with her mom (and vice versa), she gets our best and most informed parenting.

MY CHILD AND HER MOTHER ARE DIFFERENT PEOPLE. I won't misdirect any anger at my child's mother toward my child. When my child doesn't listen, does less than her best or makes other mistakes (normal kid behaviors), I won't confuse her mistakes with her mom's actions. Instead, I'll remember that mistakes are great teachers, and do what I can do to make things better.

LISTEN TO MY CHILD. Lecturing and arguing get me nowhere. I can't help my child if I minimize his feelings or tell him everything will be okay when I can't guarantee that it will. Instead, I listen and am there for him. I accept my child for who he is; not who I want him to be, think he should be, or think he would be if he were raised only by me. I take the lead in communicating -- even when I feel unappreciated. I may not agree with everything he says or does, but when I listen, I build the emotional connection that will help him listen to me when it really counts.

FOCUS ON MY CHILD'S POSITIVES. I don't father by always pointing out what my child did wrong, so she can fix it. That may work on the job, but not with my children. Focusing on negatives undermines her strength and confidence-already stretched by living in two homes.

MANAGE EXPECTATIONS WISELY. My child has different rules and expectations in his mother's house. I am patient with his responses to those differences, while remaining clear about my expectations for our home. I try not to compensate for our family situation by giving in to demands that I spoil my child or lessen my expectations just because he is a child of divorce. I remember that an honest, solid and lifelong relationship with him is more important than what happens today.

BE THE FATHER, NOT THE MOTHER. I am a powerful and encouraging role model, and I tell her she has a special place in my heart. My masculine actions and loving words help her realize that she too can be adventurous, playful and successful - and should expect respect from affectionate, honorable men. My belief in her will help her blossom into a young woman who can make me and her mother proud.

Learn more about healthy fathering @

"12 Tips for Live-Away Dads" Nos. 1-6

Whether through divorce, deployment or frequent travel, some dads live away from their children for long periods. Despite what we may think (or others may tell us) living away does NOT prevent a vibrant, loving and lasting relationship. For several years, I've offered some ideas for how to keep the connection strong--ideas that were developed with the help of several very wise & brave divorced dads.

I get grief about these tips sometimes--a topic I'll address in a future post. Meantime, here are the first six of my "12 Tips for Live-Away Dads." (pronouns alternate between daughter and son, because the tips are meant for dads & stepdads of both).

HANG IN THERE FOR THE LONG HAUL. Living away is tough. So is raising a child from two different homes. My involvement in my child's life may be different than my dreams for the two of us when he was little, but it is no less important. I meet my responsibilities, including child support, without resentment. Both his mom and I remain tremendous influences in his life. I stay calm, committed, loving and loyal toward him-and do what I can to help his mom do the same. If abuse or abandonment happen, my child needs me to protect him, but he also needs to make peace in his life with that relationship.

ENCOURAGE HER BOND WITH MOM. My child's relationship with her mom is different than her relationship with me. My child needs to participate fully in it, even when that's hard for me (or her). I encourage communication between her and her mom, recognizing that I'm not responsible for their relationship. If my child is more comfortable talking about certain things with her mom than me, I respect and encourage that.

DEVELOP HEALTHY SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL SUPPORTS FOR MYSELF. It's normal to struggle sometimes with anger, loneliness and other difficult emotions. But I'm careful not to work those feelings out through my child. I meet my adult emotional and social needs maturely with healthy adults.

REMEMBER THAT MY CHILD LIVES IN TWO HOMES. The hours before he leaves my home and after he returns are a time of adjustment (and sometimes grieving) for him. I respect that he may or may not want to talk right away about his time with his mom; I let his take the lead. I don't pry for information or play down his feelings. He may sometimes be upset or moody when he leaves my home or his mom's, sad that he has to leave either of us "behind."

FATHER THE BEST I CAN WHEN MY CHILD IS WITH ME. I can't change how her other parents raise her or make up for what they do or don't do, so I focus on what I can control: my own actions. I'm not judgmental about their parenting because no one (including me) is a perfect parent. I trust that her mother and I are each trying our best. I parent her calmly; give her choices; have clear expectations; show affection, patience, love and trust--without demanding perfection. I encourage her to communicate with and trust both of her parents, even (maybe especially) when she makes mistakes. I give her healthy attention when she's with me and when she's away (using phone, Internet, mail, etc.).

DON'T TRASH MOM. In word and gesture, I speak well about my child's mother even when I'm angry at her -- and even if she speaks poorly about me. If I have trouble speaking well, I will wisely say little. Negative talk about my child's mom is a little wound to my child, causing him to think less of himself, his mom and me. Trashing his mom or step-parents through words or gestures (in public or at home) humiliates my child and damages my family. No matter the circumstances of our divorce, I respect that his mother's new family is now part of my child's family. I'll keep my child out of the middle, even if others don't, and I'll resolve adult conflicts away from him so he can be the child.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

What About Adult Daughters & Dads?

Fairly regularly, adult women ask me for advice on what to do about their strained (or non-existent) relationships with their won fathers. That’s a tough question for me, since my focus is on the father side of the equation—and aimed at helping dads build strong relationships when their daughters are young….so their daughter will never have to ask this question.

Fortunately, I’m able to tell adult women about
an insightful book designed for adult daughters who want more from their relationship with their dads (it's also a great resource for dads of adult daughters and for for professionals who work with families). It’s called Between Fathers and Daughters: Enriching and 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.

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.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Schools and Girls and Boys

It seems like this week is book week on this blog! I’ve been waiting for years to see if there would be a new edition of the classic book Failing at Fairness by the groundbreaking gender equity researchers Dr Myra Sadker and Dr. David Sadker. Well, it has arrived.

Still Failing at Fairness: How Gender Bias Cheats Girls and Boys in School and What We Can Do About It, the book tackles the ways that gender bias (intentional and unintentional) are stifling girls AND boys in classrooms from pre-school to college. Plus, the authors (who now also include Dr. Karen Zittleman) provide solid suggestions for teachers, administrators, parents and policymakers to fix the problems and improve learnng for our sons and daughters.

I have little patience for the arguments asserting that gender equity is old news, not longer a problem, or that it shortchanges boys by giving girls special treatment. To ignore gender in education is like trying to teach with a blindfold on. In some esoteric, ivory tower debate somewhere, that might sound like a good idea—but in practice it’s pretty dumb.
Anyway, I encourage you to read this book—it’s very readable and has tons of material that’s incredibly useful for parents.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Parenting Is a Contact Sport

Can you build a relationship with your children which is so strong that nothing will sever it? Psychologist Joanne Stern thinks you can.

Stern has written the book Parenting Is a Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids for Life (just released this week) telling how you can make 'real' contact with your kids, forming an unbreakable bond that makes you the person they want to share with, from toddlerhood to the teen years and beyond. She believes that this approach gives you the opportunity to guide and counsel your kids in every phase of their lives.

I had the honor of advising Joanne during the early stages of her writing this book, and I think she makes a very compelling case. You can learn more at

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 (, 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

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 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.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dads Influence Daughters’ Career Paths

More evidence trickles in about dads' influence on daughters.

According to today's New York Times online, University of Maryland researchers find that fathers have a marked influence on their daughters’ career paths by passing on job skills and work interests.

According to the Times, the researchers “used various data sets to study the career paths of 63,000 women born between 1909 and 1977. … About 6 percent of women born in the first decade of the study worked in the same field as their fathers. But about 18 percent of women born in the last decade of the study followed their fathers’ footsteps.”

The study used various criteria to try and isolate how much of the shift was due to parental influence, and I think their assumptions make good sense.
I found a lot of father influence on daughters’ career choices while doing interviews for my book Dads & Daughters®: How to Inspire, Support and Understand Your Daughter. Over an over, adult women who had strong, healthy relationships with their dads told of the sense of agency and interest their fathers conveyed in regard to work and career.

Of course, career is just one of the infinite ways a dad influences his daughter or stepdaughter. So make sure your influence is positive by taking an active role in supporting her, taking her seriously and listening to her!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Girl Scouts Battle Cyberbullying

The Girl Media Maven blog has info an a new Girls Scouts of the USA initiative to help girls battle cyberbullying (i.e., online harrassment). Be sure to check out the link for parents, too.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dads Impact Girls’ Math Interest

Dads have a major impact on the degree of interest their daughters develop in math. That's one of the findings of a long-term University of Michigan study that has traced the sources of the continuing gender gap in math and science performance.

(Chart: Number of math and science items purchased for boys and girls by parents.)
"We've known for a while now that females do as well as males on tests that measure ability in math and science," said Pamela Davis-Kean, a psychologist at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR). "But women are still underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math graduate programs and in careers based on those disciplines.
"It's as if women are saying, "I can, but I don't want to," according to Davis-Kean.
Researchers found that girls' interest in math decreases as their fathers' gender stereotypes increase, whereas boys' interest in math increases as their fathers' gender stereotypes increase."Fathers' gender stereotypes are very important in supporting—or in undermining—daughters' choices to pursue training in math and science," Davis-Kean said.
Davis-Kean and colleagues analyzed how parents' values and attitudes affect children's math performance and later interest, and how these attitudes vary by the child's gender. They used data from a longitudinal study of more than 800 children and a large group of their parents that began in 1987 and continued through 2000.

They found that parents provided more math-supportive environments for their sons than for their daughters, including buying more math and science toys for the boys. They also spent more time on math and science activities with their sons than with their daughters.

(Chart: Impact of father’s gender stereotypes on son’s and daughter’s interest in math.)

Davis-Kean and colleagues also found that parents' attitudes, particularly stereotypes they hold about whether math and science are more important for boys than for girls, have a significant effect on their children's later math achievement, and even on their eventual career choices.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Love Shouldn’t Hurt

If you've followed the news about Chris Brown's recent arrest, have you also been thinking about the disgrace of dating violence?

I spent most of Wednesday at the Minnesota State Capitol for 3 rallies related to ending family and partner violence. 1) A “Second Chance” coalition supporting resources for people leaving prison—so that they find work, learn healthier ways to settle conflict, and don’t return to prison. 2) the Men’s Action Network, an alliance to prevent sexual and domestic violence (sadly, even in 2009, there were 10 times as many women as men at this rally) and 3) the MN domestic violence coalition, which honored (under the Capitol rotunda) all those murdered in 2008 because of domestic violence.

Domestic and partner violence doesn’t spring up in a vacuum out of nowhere. It often begins in the beginnings of intimate relationships—dating.

Charles Blow collects and shares some frightening statistics about dating violence on the NY Times blogs this morning. Be sure to read it:

And then, be sure to take some action to short circuit dating violence.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dads & Daughters® Valentine's Day Tips

Don't let Valentine's Day be just one more chance for Dad to feel like a walking, talking (and unappreciated) checkbook. These Dads & Daughters® Tips will help fathers and stepfathers to show daughters that they care on Valentine's Day and beyond.

1. Remember, a Daughter hungers for healthy involvement and attention from Dad (even if she doesn't always show it).

2. A Daughter wants assurance that her Father and/or Stepfather really knows her and cares about her.

3. A Daughter wants to feel that Dad is proud of her and that he loves and understands her.

4. A Daughter wants these intangibles far more than she wants a box of candy or any other present or card.

5. Daughters sometimes feel that Dads only know how to show their love by buying something. So supplement this year's store-bought Valentine's card and candy with your unique message of love.

6. Give her a hand-written note or personal email -- in your own words -- telling her how proud you are of her, what you admire about her, how much you enjoy your time together, etc.

7. Give her the greatest gift of all: your time. Listen to what she has to say and what's important to her.

8. Spend 1-on-1 time together on Valentine's Day or the next available weekend. See a movie, take a walk, go out for coffee or ice cream, play catch. There are a million possibilities (for more ideas, see The Dads & Daughters® Togetherness Guide: 54 Fun Activities to Help Build a Great Relationship).

9. Remember that she only gets one chance to have you as her Dad or Stepdad while she's still a girl.

10. Out of the thousand things you do every day, make sure you always give attention, thought, time, and affection to your Daughter -- and your Son.

Have a wonderful Valentine's Day with your children! Learn more about healthy fathering of girls at

© Joe Kelly. All Rights Reserved

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Abiding Power of Pippi

Astrid Lindgren was on to something. Lindgren was the Swedish author who created Pippi Longstocking--a book translated into more than 50 languages. It’s no wonder that children—especially girls—are so drawn to its protagonist.

Pippi is always irreverent, and straightforwardly rude to the pompous adults who seem to populate so many children’s lives. If you and your daughter have never read Pippi Longstocking, put down this issue, go to the library, and borrow it. If you have read it, you know that Pippi is the gleeful 9-year-old orphaned daughter of a sea captain.
Backed up by the captain’s treasure chest of gold coins, she lives alone in Villa Villekulla, with only a horse and monkey for company. Pippi has moved in next door to two average, well-behaved children named Tommy and Annika, who quickly fall into Pippi’s orbit.

Tommy and Annika represent the book’s readers as they learn how fun, constructive, and reasonable it is for a girl to run her own life, ignoring the judgments other people cast on her behavior or her bright red stick-out ponytails. These are the elements that made Pippi Longstocking an international sensation.

In its obituary for Lindgren, the New York Times quoted a 1985 interview in which the author discussed Pippi’s impact:
“Bertrand Russell has written that a child dreams about power as grown-ups dream sexual wish dreams. This is a child who has power. That is wonderful, for children to think, ‘Oh, if I were like Pippi! I could say to Father, ‘You don’t do that!’ She has power, but she never misuses that power, which I think is the most splendid thing, and the most difficult.”

Lindgren’s words, and her archetypal Pippi, confirm one of the most important realities about our daughters, and one of the key challenges we face as their parents: Our daughters have power—real power, not the faux “Girl Power” merchandised to sell them Power- Puff Girls lunch boxes. They have the power to say no or yes—power it can be delightful to use, as Pippi demonstrates.

How does she do it? Pippi gives free reign to her power because she’s unfettered by adults’ interference. Of course, Pippi Longstocking is a fairy tale, and real girls have adults overseeing their lives. And that’s where a big parental challenge lies, because our supervision can so easily become stifling.

We have to walk a fine line between overprotecting them and providing our daughters the opportunity (and freedom) to exercise their power. And I mean exercise in the literal sense—try it out, see how it works, test its limits, strengthen its positive effect. That’s counterintuitive for parents.

Usually, when we think about “empowering” girls, we think of giving them the power to say no to threats and violations of their bodies. What’s different about Pippi is that she seizes her innate power and uses it to say yes to honesty, creativity, and the excitement of being alive.

It’s unsettling to consider allowing our daughters to exercise their power. They might, like Pippi, do something we consider outrageous, such as inviting a horse to dinner. But our daughters need their power to be fully alive. It’s like a muscle; it needs exercise, practice, and honing to work its best.

Perhaps our goal might be to say of our own daughters what Astrid Lindgren once said of Pippi: They have power, and they use it wisely.

Friday, January 23, 2009

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.

Learn more @

© Joe Kelly

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ten Tips for Dads to Promote Daughters' Sports

Why should your daughter or stepdaughter participate in sports & physical activity? To be more healthy (in mind & body), feel better about herself, learn new skills, stay off alcohol & drugs, defer sexual activity, and, TO HAVE FUN! Sadly, some people worry that girls are too delicate, unskilled, or inadequate to play sports. To which the smart father and stepfather reply: "Baloney." In anticipation of February 4, National Girls and Women in Sports Day, here are 10 Tips to help Dads provide the kind of support Daughters need.

1. Make sports fun from an early age. Keep a relaxed approach when she's young. For example, have athletic-theme parties, like kickball and pizza.

2. Demonstrate interest in her athletic programs and activities. Attend her games and other extracurricular activities. If you live away from your daughter, be sure to talk with her after every game to hear how it went.

3. Learn the importance of physical activity for girls. Read research from organizations like the Women's Sports Foundation (e.g.: "Go Out & Play") and Kids' Sports Psychology.

4. Leave coaching to coaches. Tina Syer of the Positive Coaching Alliance says, "You're there to fill the kids' emotional tanks and make sure they bounce back from mistakes, not to tweak their throwing motion or tell them where to be on the field." Be smart about choosing coaches tuned in to her age and skill level. If there's a lack of adequate coaches, sign up to volunteer!

5. Be a model fan. Cheer hard for your girl, and then cheer for everyone else who is playing, too. Think about what you would look like on the sidelines if someone were videotaping you instead of the game. Be sure you (and your daughter) would be proud of what you'd see. Every kid (and parent) should remember why they call it "playing" sports. And then encourage her to be a fan of college and professional women's sports like the WNBA--by becoming a fan yourself!

6. Ask, "What do you and I hope to get from the experience?" Then tell her what you hope she gets. If you don't talk (and listen), she may assume all you care about is a winning record or how good her stats are. Make sure she knows you want sports to be a fun place to make friends, test herself, be healthy, and feel good about herself.

7. Let her play with boys. In "Raising Our Athletic Daughters: How Sports Can Build Self-Esteem and Save Girls' Lives," Jean Zimmerman and Gil Reavill suggest utilizing coed or single-sex programs according to your daughter's comfort level and what will contribute most to her learning and growth.

8. Help her use "mistakes" productively. When she messes up, she'll look to you first. So illustrate how to put mistakes in perspective by a) showing her how to let go of them and b) encouraging (but not demanding) her to use them as motivation to improve her skills.

9. Make sure girls and boys have equal sports opportunities and resources. Support Title IX and encourage school and other sports programs to be aware of and promptly address inequities.

10. Keep a relaxed, fun approach. Team sports teach girls how to be self-reliant while also working collaboratively to be competitive. If she loses interest in sports, you and she can still be physically active together--and books like The Dads & Daughters® Togetherness Guide have plenty of other ways to relate and have fun together.
Learn more about healthy fathering of daughters @
© Joe Kelly

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

That Little Camera

So many memorable images on this historic Inauguration day. But the one that was most striking to me as a father was Malia Obama taking pictures with her pocket-sized digital camera (this photo is from the other day—she’s been snapping all weekend).

This Inauguration may be the most photographed event in human history, and anyone can find thousands of professional photos of the day. But seeing Malia photographing gives me the sense that she’s present—fully experiencing the remarkable events as a kid would experience any other special event in her life—like an aunt’s marriage or a Grand Canyon trip.

She’s just going through this experience in a remarkably normal way. If I was Malia’s father, my greatest hope for her over the next four years would be a profound, rooted sense of “normal” in her life. The fact that Malia is snapping pictures with a small camera (and is home tonight watching “Bolt”) tells me that she’s being very lovingly and well-raised by her parents and grandmother.

That’s a great blessing, when seen through this dad’s eyes.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Are girls still being held responsible for dating violence?

That’s a hard question to ask—because it speaks to both our tendency to re-victimize victims of violent crime and to our ongoing struggle to develop healthy concepts of masculinity.

Thanks to my friends at Hardy Girls Healthy Women in Maine, I learned about a commentary in American Prospect by Courtney E. Martin, a young writer I’ve known for many years. Martin makes a pretty compelling case for rethinking our efforts are ending dating violence.

She cites the example of Boston, where The Boston TenPoint Coalition and Boston School Police put on a program that tells girls “you must prevent your boyfriends from becoming violent”

What is your take on dating violence and its prevention? Share your thoughts below.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The “I’ll Always....” Agreement

If we want our daughters to make smart, healthy decisions, then we have to do the same ourselves. That’s not always easy to do—but here’s a possible solution to help both Dad & Daughter.

Draft an agreement in which you and your daughter each commit yourselves to take care of yourself. For example, you might vow to quit smoking and she vows to not start. You could promise to get a yearly physical and your daughter might promise to avoid parties where alcohol will be consumed. Plus, the document can include steps that each of you can take to help look out for the other. Your daughter could encourage you while you quit smoking, and you can promise to always come get her if she finds herself at a party where people are drinking or doing drugs.

A contract like this encourages communication about specific (and often difficult to discuss) situations like alcohol, drugs, peer pressure and being healthy. Continuous and open father-daughter communication is critical in helping your daughter make healthy decisions.