Mark Brandenburg has a Masters degree in counseling psychology and has been a counselor, business consultant, sports counselor, and a certified life and business coach. He has worked with individuals, teams, and businesses to improve their performance for over 20 years. Prior to life and business coaching Mark was a world-ranked professional tennis player and has coached other world-ranked athletes. He has helped hundreds of individuals to implement his coaching techniques. Mark specializes in coaching men to balance their lives and to improve the important relationships in their lives. He is the author of the popular e-books, 25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers , and Fix Your Wife in 30 Days or Less (And Improve Yourself at the Same Time ). Mark is also the publisher of the “Dads Don’t Fix your Kids” ezine for fathers. To sign up, go to or E-Mail him.

Encouraging Your Children to Play

Your children need to play.

They need to play for many reasons. Many fathers today remember spending countless hours playing with siblings or friends during their childhood. Parents would drop you off somewhere and your imaginations would take over as you became soldiers, famous ballplayers, dinosaur hunters, etc.

There are many factors that make it more difficult for children to play in today’s world.

There is an emphasis on early academics. There is more TV watching today by children than ever before. There is the seductive attraction of video games.

There is also the need for constant supervision of our kids in urban environments.

These factors and others have helped to create children who sometimes have forgotten how to have imaginative play. They’ll have a house full of toys but say “I’m bored” or that they have nothing to do. They may look to their parents to entertain them, rather than creating their own play.

What is the importance of having your children engage in creative play when they’re young?

Creative play is believed by many child researchers to form the foundation of emotional, creative, and intellectual growth in later years. It should be considered a normal part of a child’s development.

Sadly, many young children do not have the opportunity to engage in much creative play because they are presented with “alternatives” like video/computer games or excessive TV watching.

While some of these alternatives claim to benefit children (train your child on computers early to get a head start!), there is nothing like creative play. Other alternatives do not allow your children’s fantasies to roam freely.

The idea of replacing your child’s creative play with academic work may be based on good intentions, but will rob your child of a precious opportunity.

How can fathers help to encourage imaginative play in their children? Many of us are not knowledgeable about this topic and have left this work to others. Here are some ideas:

  • Be willing to be fully involved with your child’s creative play. Yes, that means that you will be a wild horse running through the desert (your living room) at times. Too adult for that? Get over it!
  • Realize that you don’t have to entertain your kids all of the time. When they start to expect to be entertained, they will be less likely to engage in play. Set them free in a room without TV or video games and let them go to it.
  • Get them into nature when possible. Let them play with the soil, the sand, or the water whenever you can.
  • Consider “tapering down” the quantity and types of toys that your children have around the house. Having huge numbers of toys that leave little to the imagination does not encourage creative play. Children often do best with simple toys, or even household items that are readily accessible (wooden spoons, pots and pans).
  • Provide artistic opportunities for your child to express what he/she is feeling.
  • Tell stories with rich images to your children and read to them often. Reading fairy tales is a wonderful way to provide these images as well.
  • Consider the amount of TV watching that your child is engaged in each day. Explore alternatives to watching TV that would involve more creative play. You may have to be the catalyst for your child if there is initial resistance to this.

All around us, the adult world is being thrust upon our children at earlier and earlier ages. We are encouraged as parents to help our young kids “get ahead” academically or to buy them the latest fads in toys.

As fathers, it is our responsibility to look beyond all of this to what our children truly need. Our children need to do what they do very naturally when they are given the opportunity.

They need to play.

Give your children the chance to prepare themselves for life as an adult in the best way possible.

It’s the only chance that they’re going to get.

Taking Your Kids Perspective

"As a child, the critical eye of my father seemed to follow me around wherever I went." (Arthur C. Clarke)

It's quite easy for most fathers to look at their kids with a critical eye.

And why not? There's a lot riding on the outcome of your kids' development. There's the nagging worry that you're not doing your job well enough and that your child will develop "problems." There's also the fear of being judged as an incompetent or uninvolved father by others. And there is the relentless presence of your children, making mistakes by the truckload while you watch.

They do make mistakes. Lots of them. And you have a number of choices about how you respond to those mistakes and how critical you are of your kids. Let's consider some different ways of looking at this issue to see if we can get some perspective:

A Different Angle

If you're a father who's really honest with yourself, you'll acknowledge that much of the judgement and criticism that you have towards your kids is really your own critical judgement about yourself. It's usually easier to be critical of your kids than to turn the spotlight on yourself, isn't it? If you're not careful as a father, you may run the risk of "teaching" your kids low self-esteem through your criticism and judgement of them.

Doesn't seem fair, does it?

Fathers who see their kids as capable and whole, on the other hand, will find far fewer opportunities to be critical of their kids.

There are other reasons why you should be more understanding with your kids. One reason is to consider what it's really like to be a child. For instance, can you imagine the formidable combination of having a brain that's not yet able to exhibit emotional control and living in a house where you're constantly told what to do by your parents?

Think about it for a minute. How many times do our kids get told what to do each day? How do you handle getting told what to do all the time? It's a wonder that kids respond as well as they do.

How About Teenagers?

How about your teens at home? They certainly should be able to respond better to parents based on their experience, right? Not according to a recent study by the National Institute of Health.

A large study of teenagers found that as the brain develops, it trims away excess cells so that what's left is more efficient. One of the last parts of the brain to complete this process is the prefrontal cortex, which controls planning, judgement, and self-control. Many teen-agers have not experienced the "maturation" of this part of their brain.

"[Adolescents] are capable of very strong emotions and very strong passions, but their prefrontal cortex hasn't caught up with them yet. It's as though they don't have the brakes that allow them to slow those emotions down," said Charles Nelson, a child psychologist at the University of Minnesota.

Researchers say this may help explain the often irrational behavior of teenagers: the mood swings, and the risks they're often too willing to take.

"If I walk into a class of kids who are 14 or 15," said Nelson, "those kids have a level of brain maturity that just does not map onto the kinds of emotional decision- making that a lot of those kids are being asked to make by teachers and parents. Added Nelson: "The more teachers and the more parents that understand that there is a biological limitation to the child's ability to control and regulate emotion, [the more] they might be able to back off a little and be a bit more understanding."

It can be quite easy for us to judge our kids harshly. But when you can begin to enter your child's world and consider the developmental limitations that exist, the call to a kindler and gentler way is undeniable.

Your kids will continue to make mistakes.

Your job is to stay calm, love them, and gently show them a different way.

And to be thankful that your kids are here to challenge you to become a more patient person.

The Top 10 Ways to Keep Your Kids From Fighting

1. Ignore Their Fighting. Fighting is often a way for kids to get you to notice them. If you ignore their fighting (unless weapons are involved) there will be less incentive for them to do it.

2. Treat Your Kids the Same When it Comes to Fighting If you get into who started things, you may be training your kids to be victims and bullies. Put them in the same boat and don't take sides.

3. Give your kids positive reinforcement when they are cooperating. Let them know that they're doing a wonderful job when they get along. This one's easy to forget but vitally important. Give them attention when they're behaving the way you want.

4. Limit your own fighting and arguing. Your kids will learn how to be peaceful from you. Don't expect them to do it well if you don't show them how.

5. Create an environment of cooperation. Do projects together as a family that involve cooperation. Talk about how important it is for the family to cooperate. Avoid games or activities that promote fighting in your kids.

6. Train your kids in peacemaking when they're away from conflict. Talk to your kids about fighting at a time when they're relaxed and open. Ask them about what other options they might have taken rather than to hit their sister. Help them to brainstorm better solutions.

7. Avoid punishing your kids in general. Punishing kids usually just creates angry kids who are more likely to fight. Do your best to give choices and give time outs. Punishment may bring short term solutions but will also bring long term problems.

8. Control how you react to their fighting. When you must intervene, make sure you stay calm. If you're angry and shaming, you actually make it more likely that fighting will occur again.

9. Limit the number of fighting opportunities you give your kids. Think about what has the potential to start fights. Don't buy a red ball and a blue ball, this may result in a fight by your kids. Buy two red balls--no fight. Don't have them close to each other when they're tired and hungry if you can help it.

10. Love your kids for all they're worth Every day tell them you love them and more importantly, show them. Kids who feel loved are the least likely to fight. This won't eliminate it, but the alternative isn't pretty at all.

Your Children’s Feelings

We’ve all heard about how important it is to "honor your children’s feelings." This concept is so vague, however, that it is hard not to dismiss it as just another piece of psychological mumbo jumbo.

If we look at the particulars and the benefits of paying close attention to your children’s feelings, however, it may become an idea that has a great deal of merit.

Let’s face it, we all want to raise kids that are well adjusted, happy, and successful. How can we improve our chances of raising kids that have these qualities? One place to start is to acknowledge the growing body of evidence and research that indicates that a person’s "emotional intelligence" is of great importance.

In fact, it has been shown in large research studies that a person’s emotional intelligence is a better predictor of job success than that person’s IQ. (It is reasonable to assume that a person’s personal life would also be more enhanced by a higher "EQ" as well).

Emotional intelligence measures things like awareness of your own feelings, the ability to empathize with other people, listening skills, etc. Once we understand the importance of these qualities we can ask how fathers can help to foster these qualities in their children.

The first step in fostering emotional intelligence in your children is to make a fundamental shift in your view of parenting. Many fathers see their role as someone who responds to their children’s bad behavior and attempts to mold them into certain ideals.

Not only can this be ineffective; it can actually increase the "bad behavior" by giving it extra attention.

A different way of fathering is to commit oneself to helping your children to become connected to their families, their emotions, and their spirit. This approach acknowledges that your kids will be experiencing powerful emotions every day for the rest of their life and allows them the opportunity to learn to manage these emotions.

It starts in your home every day. It starts when we stop ignoring our kid’s feelings by saying things like, "Come on, it’s O.K., don’t cry," or "You should be excited to go see your relatives."

It’s very difficult to see our kids when they’re sad or angry and to be patient with them. But when we deny their feelings and help them to bury their feelings inside we further disconnect our kids from being able to identify and deal with these feelings.

In other words, we lower their emotional intelligence.

To raise the emotional intelligence of our kids we can do a number of other things. Here are some ideas:

  • Start making it a habit to identify your own feelings as well as the feelings of others. Try not to label people. Instead of saying "He was a real jerk," you could say, "He seemed very angry."
  • Stop trying to cheer your kids up when they are upset. They need to feel these feelings to truly learn from them and just need you to be there to listen or to understand.
  • Do all that you can to keep your own emotional life balanced so that you can be there for your kids. If you are overwhelmed or off balance you will not be a source of emotional support for your child.
  • Be a great listener for your children. When your child has something to say, try to drop what you’re doing and focus completely on what they are saying. Skillful reflection back of what they have just said to you will show them they’ve been heard, and being heard is a great help to kids wrestling with intense feelings.
  • Help your kids to identify the feelings they are feeling by being specific with your questions. This technique may bypass the common emotions (sadness, anger, etc.) It is often helpful to ask something like, "Are you feeling left out?" or "Are you feeling betrayed?" Respect your child’s response to your questions or comments about their feelings. Your judgement may be wrong and what’s important is for your child to be helped in processing the emotions he or she is experiencing.

Our kids would live in a happier, healthier world if they were all raised in an environment in which their feelings were honored. They would flourish if they never believed there was something defective about them for feeling a certain way. They would grow up to be as great as they truly are. Hey dads, let’s start being a part of that!

Happy Fathering,

Give Your Kids Their "N" Medicine

Dear Dads and Friends,

What is our main purpose as fathers?

Isn’t it to prepare our kids to be happy, healthy, successful people in their own lives?

For the sake of this newsletter let’s say that it is. How do we do this?

One effective method of preparing them for their own lives is to give them a heavy dose of the medicine that not enough kids are getting today. That medicine is ‘N" medicine, or the word "No."

We deal with a certain amount of frustration in our everyday adult lives. We are frustrated at our jobs, in our relationships, and by circumstances that we have no control over. Over time we learn to handle frustration and to transform it into challenges that we work through. People who can handle frustration successfully tend to have happier and more successful lives. They learn to be resilient and to appreciate what they have accomplished and what they’ve received.

Are your kids being frustrated enough? Are there high enough expectations being placed on them? Are you saying no enough and are you allowing them to have opportunities to be frustrated but to work through it?

Many kids today are receiving a lot of gifts, privileges, and praise from their parents without doing very much.

If you’re not allowing your kids to be exposed to responsibility and frustration, and if you’re not liberally giving out "N" medicine to them, you may be creating monsters within the confines of your home.

One of the exercises we do with parents at workshops is to have them write down all of the material possessions that they would ever dream of having. We then have them go back and circle the things that they could reasonably acquire within the next five years.

Most parents find that they circle about 10 to 20 percent of those items.

We then have these same parents write down everything their children will ask for during the next twelve months-toys, concerts tickets, designer clothes, electronics, etc. (Keep in mind the gifts that their kids will also get from relatives and well-meaning friends.)

When the parents go back over this list and circle what their kids will probably or definitely get in the next twelve months, they universally find that it is 75 percent or higher.

It is clear that many parents are preparing their kids for a life that is out of touch with the real world. These same kids who have so many material possessions often don’t appreciate or take care of what they do have. Why should they? There will probably be more goodies coming soon.

Fathers who say no to their kids on a fairly regular basis take a big step towards ensuring that their kids are happy, responsible, and successful citizens.

Here are some specific actions that dads can take:

  • If you’re married, consult with your wife about what your dose of "N" medicine will be. Creating a unified front will strengthen your position and cause fewer conflicts.
  • Never do things for your children that they can do for themselves. Allow them to be frustrated and to learn to be more resilient.
  • Consider an allowance for your kids, even if they’re quite young, so that they can develop a sense of responsibility with money and a sense of taking care of their things.
  • Take stock of your children’s possessions. Do they have way too many things? Are their some things that might be better suited for Goodwill?
  • Foster an environment of appreciation for the things you have. Model this appreciation in your own care of the things that you own and how you use them.
  • Limit your children’s (especially young children) exposure to TV and other mass media. It will help to reduce their belief that they "need" more stuff.

It’s difficult at times to see your kids’ struggle with the many challenges of being young and inexperienced. It’s also difficult to have them angry with you for not doing things for them.

Some day they’ll figure it out, and some day they’ll thank you for it.

Happy Fathering,

Training Your Kids

Dear Dads and Friends,

Have you noticed that professional sports teams can have significant improvement in their performance when a new coach takes over? It isn’t uncommon for a new attitude and philosophy instilled by a competent new coach to completely change the way a team performs.

Fathers can also significantly change the behavior of their children through the use of timely training and coaching.

One of the things that’s easily forgotten by parents is that our kids don’t always know how to behave in certain situations and that they can easily forget. The result is "misbehavior" in restaurants, stores, or even in your home.

The problem is that parents often scold their kids for behaving poorly when they haven’t bothered to coach their kids around what the proper behavior is! This method doesn’t seem to be very fun or effective.

The answer to many of these problems can be training your kids about the proper behavior to use when they are in a receptive state. Here are some ideas on this training that will help it to be more effective:

  • Train your kids when they will be receptive to it: when everyone is relaxed and there are few distractions.
  • Make it fun. Use a role-play format and be creative and enthusiastic.

"Let’s pretend we’re at a restaurant!" is a good way to start this out. Just talking to your kids will often not be as effective as "doing" the behavior.

  • Don’t underestimate the age at which training this way can be effective. Two year-old kids can benefit from this training if you are creative and enthusiastic.
  • If the behavior after training isn’t acceptable, remember that actions speak louder than words. Take them out of the restaurant, put them in a time out, whatever the situation calls for. Be firm and kind. Explore whether the training needs to change or whether a privilege needs to be taken away.
  • Make sure that you tell them what you noticed about the improved behavior if and when it happens. Be specific about what they did that you approved of, this will help to "lock in" the behavior.

Hey dads, remember how easy it is to blame your kids for misbehavior. Sometimes it’s not really their fault. Sometimes it’s a lack of coaching.

After all, kids don’t really want to get yelled at and disapproved of. They just don’t know some of this stuff yet, they’re just learning it.

And don’t believe for an instant that your kids are going to learn anything from you when you’re scolding them about their behavior. Actually, I take that back! They may learn that you’re angry or that you’ve got a nasty temper.

Now you can do something about this. Go train your kids.

Happy Fathering,

Raising Daughters (Understanding Women?)

When my daughter was born I must admit that there was a distinctly different feeling to it than when my son was born.

Part of me was thrilled and part of me was unsure of how to deal with a gender that I still couldn’t quite understand. When my son was born there was a clear sense that this was territory that I knew; there will be wrestling, playing ball together, playing with cars, and, he has a penis! There was a sense of security from all of this and a deep sense of knowing.

Raising a daughter creates different issues for many fathers and is even more challenging considering the cultural background that exists today.

To better understand these issues it is helpful to explore the expectations of girls that we have as fathers, many of which may be expectations passed down from your own father.

Some men feel a strong need to control their daughters and expect them to act "nicely" at all times. Others shower their daughters with all of the gifts and "things" that they’ll ever need and see them as weaker than boys (not encouraging strength and discipline in them).

It is quite easy for many fathers to treat their sons and daughters differently. They can be rough-and –tumble with their sons but treat their daughters with kid gloves.

In fact, research has shown that fathers that wrestle and play physically with their daughters when they are younger help produce young women that have higher self-esteem.

Our culture often shows us that we value girls and young women if they are beautiful, thin, talented, etc. It also tells us that girls should be happy, agreeable, and that they shouldn’t be angry. This cultural backdrop may be partly responsible for the alarming statistics concerning the rates of depression, anorexia, bulimia, and other disorders for girls when they are approaching or have entered their teen years.

So how can fathers overcome some of these barriers and help create daughters who become strong, secure women?

If fathers want their daughters to grow up to be strong and secure women, it is absolutely essential that they both like and respect women. No matter how negative and pervasive the cultural messages are, your daughter’s self-esteem depends largely on your attitude.

If fathers think that women are weaker and need protection, they will help produce a daughter who is weak and dependent. To a great degree, your daughter’s success in life and in love are in your hands. As we fathers go through the process of raising a daughter, we may have to question everything we thought we knew about the sexes and the difference between men and women.

How is it that we learn about these things?

We learn by allowing our daughters to teach us about them every day. We learn by not attempting to control or protect our daughters who don’t need it. We learn by opening up our hearts and not having the answer all of the time for our daughters.

If we as fathers can allow our daughters to enjoy their gender as much as we enjoy ours, and if we can let them be in the world as they see fit, we will be able to enjoy a life-long friendship with them. We will also know a lot more about women than we did before.

Here are some action points for fathers with their daughters:

  • Explore fully your expectations for your daughter and see where you might be wanting more control in her life or are overly protecting her
  • Create special time with your daughter alone each week when you can ask her questions about her life and be more fully aware of who she is
  • Expect your daughter to be strong and competent; she’ll know that you are and she’ll respond to it
  • If your daughter is a teen-ager or close to it, explore your attitude about your daughter’s sexuality; many fathers are uncomfortable with it and leave their daughter emotionally when she needs them the most
  • Be a great model for how men treat women in your relationship with your wife
  • Talk to other fathers who have had daughters and find out how they have dealt with the challenges of raising a daughter

Happy Fathering,

Memories of Our Children

Last week my three-year old son Michael and I settled in for the last stage of his good night routine. It had been a good day for him, he had been very active and had spent a great deal of time in the sand and in the water. Right now he was tired, and that made two of us.

We lay down together in his undersized bed and after a few moments he said, "Daddy, when I get big can I live with you?" I assured him that he could live with me any time he wanted to. A moment later he said, "Dad, when you die you’re going to feel something on your face and it will be me touching your face." Then he added, "I will kiss you on your cheek." He then moved over and kissed me lightly on the cheek and cuddled in next to me.

I was aware of tears suddenly welling up in my eyes and rolling down my cheek. I was also aware that I didn’t want to have to explain why I was crying to Michael and as I opened my eyes to look at him I noticed he was fast asleep.

I spent some time just looking at him and lying there, savoring the moment and wondering about the depth of the reaction I had just had to what Michael said. It occurred to me later that I didn’t remember having this kind of tender moment with my own father, and I felt both happy for a chance to experience it with my own son and saddened that I didn’t remember it with my father.

It also occurred to me that this was a time in our lives that would be extremely short-lived. This time of innocence and of the magical moments that make up a three year old’s life would soon be gone forever.

What will remain, however, will be my memory of this moment that we had together. It was a moment that made all of the difficult work of parenting worthwhile. It was a moment worth remembering. Being a committed father can at times feel like an incredibly thankless and unending job. It can feel like you are no more than the janitor, chauffeur, and handyman in the house where you live. And then you will have "a moment." A moment like this in which your child expresses absolute, pure, and unconditional love for you.

When my kids are gone someday and I look back at these years, it will be one of the memories strung together with many others that make up the recollections of my fathering.

As we collect these important memories it seems worthwhile to discuss how it is that we remember them, both for ourselves and for our children. Here are some ideas:

Write a letter to each of your children in which you remember the experiences that you had with them and also some reflections on what you were experiencing while they grew up. It can be a valuable way to remember these experiences and also a wonderful gift to your children when they get older.

Regularly tell your children about some of the most memorable times you have had with them and some of the entertaining/funny things that they said or did. Kids generally love to hear stories about themselves from Dad or Mom, so have a boatload of them on hand.

Form rituals around your children whenever possible, whether it’s for some event in their life or a changing of the season. Using rituals will be a great way for all of you to remember these things and to make them more meaningful.

Start your own parenting journal in which you chronicle the joys and struggles of being a father. It will not only give you a priceless piece of reading years down the road but will also help you to better understand yourself as you reflect on your own joys and struggles.

Encourage your children to start their own journal when they are old enough. This is a great way for your kids to help themselves process their own feelings. They’ll be more likely to do it if they see you are doing it as well.

There will be a time soon after our kids leave home when all we’ll be able to "hold" is our memories of them. May you find a way to hold them that honors these precious times.

Happy Fathering,

Accepting your children’s mistakes

One of the most difficult parts of being a father is to learn to accept your children’s mistakes. It’s certainly easy to be loving, supportive, and helpful when your children are mistake-free, but most fathers who are paying attention don’t find too many mistake-free periods of their children’s lives.

Let’s be clear about our kids and their mistakes. I don’t believe there are many kids who get up in the morning and rub their hands together and say, ”I wonder how I can screw up today and really bother my Dad!” Kids don’t enjoy or want to make mistakes, it’s just one of the ways that they learn about things in the world. Kids generally do their best; it’s just that they are doing their best considering the resources that they have at the time. Sometimes they’re tired, sometimes they’re easily distracted, and sometimes they’re strong-willed, but they generally do the best that they can. It’s very easy for us to judge them according to a standard of what they’ve done before.

When our kids make mistakes we have choices to make. Fathers can either make choices that help to create kids that are defensive and who lie to them or they can make choices that help to create kids who can learn from their mistakes and improve upon them.

Kids who fear punishment or the loss of love in response to their mistakes learn to hide their mistakes. These children live in two different places; one place where they have the love and support of their father (parents), and another where they feel that if their mistakes were discovered they would be undeserving of that love. It is hard for these kids to fully accept their parents love and support even when it is there. It is also difficult for these kids to set high standards for themselves because they tend to have a lot of fear about themselves failing.

These are some ideas for fathers who are committed to helping create kids who can learn from their mistakes and who are not afraid of making a few:

Absolutely accept the notion that your kids are doing their best and that they will learn faster about their mistakes if they are in an environment that accepts mistakes

Understand that your difficulty with your kids mistakes is in fact a reflection of your own difficulty dealing with your own mistakes-be aware of this and deal with your own issues first

Know the shaming messages that we can all give so easily to our kids; messages that can do a lot of damage to them and help them to feel unworthy. Here’s a few of them:

How could you have done that?

  • You don’t listen to me
  • You can do better than that
  • What’s the matter with you?

Keep providing your kids with learning experiences but at the same time make arrangements so that they aren’t making too many mistakes (having expensive glassware around the house where children might break it is not their fault).

Provide a great model for your children around how you react to making mistakes-do you get defensive or stretch the truth, or do you “own” the mistake and learn something from it?

We only have one chance to show our kids the patience and discipline necessary to allow them to make the mistakes that we’ve all made. Your opportunity to improve just started now; let’s give our kids the room that they need and deserve.

Happy Fathering,

Rewarding Your Children

Let’s say that your boss just told you that you were going to have to work all weekend. You would probably not be particularly motivated to do this work. The boss then told you that you would be receiving triple your normal pay for the work you did on that weekend. Would this improve your motivation? Probably. Rewards do work, and they work well with kids if done with skillful timing.

Do you use rewards to help motivate your kids? My experience with my own kids tells me that it works better than punishment. When my kids are punished they seem to learn one thing better than anything else-REVENGE!

Whatever you put your attention on will tend to grow. Focusing a great deal on negative behavior from your kids will almost always get you more negative behavior. When you focus on positive behavior, that’s what you’ll get more of from your kids. Rewarding your kids is a way to keep the focus on their positive behavior.

Rewards and positive acknowledgements are important because without them it is possible that your kids are hearing a lot of negative acknowledgements from you. It is easy to get into this kind of communication with your children, especially when you are stressed out and not taking good care of yourself. Here are some examples of negative acknowledgements that we can use with our kids:

  • Don’t be so loud!
  • Your room is a pig sty
  • When will you act your age?
  • You’re not listening
  • Stop whining so much
  • Don’t run around right now!

If your kids don’t want to listen to you right now, it may very well be that they’re getting too many negative acknowledgements coming their way and they need to hear some positive ones like these:

  • Thanks for staying quiet while I was on the phone
  • You play so nicely together
  • I really appreciate your help at the store
  • You are really fun to play with
  • I enjoy being with you
  • You are really smart!

So tell me, Dads, what’s your ratio of positive acknowledgements to negative ones? Is it 1:1? 2:1? It’s certainly not too late to try and improve your ratio.

To successfully reward your children you may want to think of all of the activities that they truly enjoy and that would be suitable rewards for them. Reading time, play time, making art projects, or going to a friends house could be examples. These rewards can be used most effectively when your kids are not cooperating and are not at their best. You’ll end up saying things like,”If you clean your room now we’ll have time to play outside afterward.” Even teenagers will respond to rewards like an unexpected ride to their friends house or a trip to the store to buy CD’s.

If rewards are used sparingly and if you dads are using positive acknowledgements with your children, I don’t believe that kids will want to receive rewards for everything that they do (Many parents think they’ll create a monster who wants rewards for anything that they do). It’s also important to link the reward with the activity or behavior that you are asking the child to change. For example, if your child does clean their room you really will have more time to play outside.

Remember that your kids really do want to cooperate and to please you, it’s as important to them as anything else in the world. It’s also easy to forget this when they are acting out and aren’t having their needs met. Try to always have a reward “in your back pocket” when you’re with your children. You can bypass a lot of conflict and have the sailing go a lot smoother.

Happy Fathering,

Rules for Fathers

Dear Dads and Friends,

I watched a father and his thirteen-year old son play tennis for awhile the other day. When the father would miss shots he would often get angry and talk about how terrible his shot was.

When the son began to miss shots and to get discouraged, his father called over to the other side, "Don’t get so negative!"

It was a reminder to me how important we are as role models to our kids and also how easily we can become blind to the impact we have.

Fathers can impact their kids in a profound way if they pay attention to how they serve as models and if they use good sense in their parenting. Here is a list of "rules" that fathers can follow to improve their parenting

Rule #1 Expect a great deal from your kids. If your kids know that you expect a lot from them they will rise to the occasion. Everything from saying please and thank-you to effort in school or on the athletic field, if expectations are there in a loving atmosphere your kids will know that you think a lot of them.

Rule #2 Always be willing to be the problem. When you are convinced that someone in your family is causing "the problem" and you are blaming them for it, realize that this problem won’t get better until you accept that you are making it worse by blaming them for it. It may feel good to blame, but it never improves a thing. Loving and accepting that person will improve it.

Rule #3 Know your child’s life intimately. Get to know all that you can about your kids. Know what their favorite toys and colors are, who their best friends are, who their heroes are, etc. By showing interest you are showing you love them. By not asking you show that it’s not important.

Rule #4 Say no to your kids. There’s an awful lot of stuff out there for kids these days. They want to have it. Kids who get almost everything that they want typically don’t turn out to be very happy kids. Kids learn discipline, self-control, and how to delay gratification when they are told no by their parents. It may be a difficult struggle, but saying no and meaning it will help you to have happy, healthy, and cooperative kids.

Rule #5 Hitting or spanking your kids doesn’t work. There are plenty of studies that show that kids who are spanked have lower self-esteem. Spanking your kids will also be likely to increase the very kinds of behaviors that you are spanking them for. As a father, do you really want your child to be afraid of you?

Rule #6 Treat your wife extremely well. This is where your kids get their most important information about relationships between men and women. Make a great effort not to fight in front of the kids. Remember to be kind more often than trying to be right.

Law #7 Actions speak louder than words. Many parents spend time threatening their children when their kids aren’t cooperating. If actions aren’t carried out, you can threaten till the cows come home. Your children will learn to ignore the threats. They will understand action. If certain privileges are taken away because of their lack of cooperation, they will learn very quickly that you mean business. Try your best to align the consequences with the action. ( If you don’t clean your room in time, you won’t have time for stories before bed ).

Rule #8 "Really" listen to your kids. Don’t just hear what they say to you, learn to understand the meaning behind what they say as well. "I’m picking my own clothes!" might mean that your child wants more responsibility or independence. Be able to reflect back what your child says to you. If you want your child to listen to you, you absolutely must listen to them.

Rule #9 Give your kids responsibility as they grow older. When your kids are very young, maybe they just help you make their beds in the morning and help keep their room clean. As they get older, add things to their list. Tell them that this is how a family works…everybody has certain things that they do. If you do it when they’re young it’s more likely they’ll do it when they’re older. Don’t reward them for things that should be expected of them.

Rule #10 Tell you’re kids they’re great… all the time. It is especially important to tell them this when they’re not at their best. It’s easy to tell them when things are going well. Make it a point to tell them specifically what you think is great about them. This will be more meaningful than just telling them they’re great.

There are many more rules that could have been added to this list. I hope you find them helpful. Is there an area where you’re falling short? Let me know if there are rules that have been helpful for you in your fathering.

Happy Fathering,

Changing the Legacy of Violence

Fathers have come a long way in terms of their effectiveness as parents. An examination of history shows that fathers have often been brutally abusive and violent.

Burial sites in Rome have revealed the bodies of literally hundreds of thousands of young boys who were killed by their fathers for disobeying them. We have moved away from such horrible treatment of our children but we can still see evidence of violence and fear tactics in our families today.

Why do some fathers still use hitting their kids and fear tactics to attempt to change their behavior? One of the main reasons is that they havenít learned a different way and it becomes their "last resort" of choice. Fathers who have been hit or beaten by their fathers are much more likely to use it on their own children. They are much more likely to use fear tactics in general as well ("You just wait till we get home!") What is becoming increasingly clear is that these methods are ineffective and damage the self-esteem of your children.

Years ago when children were not allowed to be awakened to their feelings the tactics of violence and fear were more effective. Kids were to be seen and not heard and threats or actual violence were ways that they could be controlled. Today children are allowed to express themselves and are much more "open" with their feelings. This can be more challenging at times for parents but it creates kids with higher levels of self-esteem. These more "open" kids do not respond well to threats and violence; it will cause them to feel a loss of control and they will respond back with violence in order to regain this control.

I have talked to many fathers who still cling to the belief that a "swat on the butt" or a good spanking works just fine with their kids. It certainly seems to work on a temporary basis. These same fathers often feel that since they were spanked that ìit was good enough for me so itís good enough for my kids too.î My difficulty with this logic is that it also seems to:

  • Teach your kids that hitting is O.K.
  • Say that it's O.K. not to control your anger
  • Teach that "might makes right"
  • Create kids who are afraid of you (is that what you want?)
  • Perpetuate the legacy of violence onto the next generation

We live in a society that is profoundly affected by violence. Violent images are everywhere for our kids to see. When kids learn in their families that they are bad and deserving of punishment they will be much more adversely affected by violent T.V. and other factors.

Letís do our part to change the legacy of violence that fathers have been involved in. Stop it in your own families. Let other fathers know how you feel about it. Get support to help yourself in getting this done. Your kids will remember it always.

Happy Fathering,

What Fathers Want?

This has been a difficult newsletter to write and even to think about because it will consider what fathers really want in their lives. 

I know that fathers want a number of things in their lives to feel as though they are fulfilling their "duties." They want to be role models for their children and to show them the way to be a caring, responsible adult. They want to show love to their children and to receive love in return. There could be a very long list of the things we want as fathers. As I thought about what I really wanted as a father I found myself first wishing to rid myself of a lot of the baggage that I (and others) carry around. I wanted to eliminate the worries and fears that I have about my children. I wanted to stop thinking about and being in "work" mode when I am home. I wanted to rid myself of the persistent feeling that I am not an essential part of the emotional core of the family. And I want to stop saying and doing things with my kids that have me saying to myself, "My God, I'm becoming my father!"

If fathers were to continue to eliminate this baggage I believe we'd eventually get to the place that we all really want to reach as fathers. The place where we give up our old routines, judgements and stories and we can simply "be" with and enjoy our kids. The place where we absolutely stay in the moment and squeeze every ounce of life out of it. Where we can experience the joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment of being a dad who has an open heart and is who giving his children pure love.

I've been to this place a number of times with my kids and it has always been marvelous. What can be encouraging to other fathers who are looking for this place is that it is available to us on almost a daily basis. The problem is that we often miss it for the various reasons stated above; we miss out on the enormous potential of the moment with our children.

There will come a day when all of us will look back at our lives as fathers. Our children may be out of the house and what we will have left will be the memories of the precious moments we shared with them. Savor these moments. Search for them. Know that each day can create extraordinary memories for you and your children if you allow it and don't let the pace of modern life convince you otherwise. When will you start your new string of memories with your kids.

Happy Fathering,

Riding the Ups and Downs Are You Really Involved With Your Kids?

There are times when I really just want to leave the family for awhile. I’m not sure for how long but I know that I sometimes want to leave. Rotten father? Perhaps. But I believe that if most of us committed dads were really honest we’d say that there are times when we just want to run from it all.

Why is this so? It may be that it’s just an incredibly demanding job to be a committed father. It may be that most of us have more stress from work than we’ve ever had before; it may also be that relationships between men and women seem to be more complex and demanding than ever. What I know is that the combination of these factors is quite potent. Where would I go? Should all of us meet somewhere for a runaway fathers conference?

I can truly understand the tendency of fathers from the previous generation to keep an emotional distance from their kids. They didn’t have the skills or the role model to rely on in this huge undertaking. Yet it is precisely the difficulty of this role that gives it its’ richness. Yes, we are pioneers! We will not only affect our own kids by our committed fathering but also their kids and right on down the line.

So how do we break the cycle of distant dads and usher in a new era of involved fathering? Here are some ideas:

What To Do:

  • Get some support. This may be getting a group of dads together for regular meetings or hiring a coach or mentor. However you do it, it’s important that you talk to other fathers about the challenges of fathering.
  • Identify the areas of fathering that you struggle in. Use your support group or coach to help you to improve in these areas and to hold you accountable for them.
  • Find the time to be a committed father. A lot has been written about "quality time" with your kids and not enough has been written about "quantity time" with them. Show them that you care by making the time and getting to know their world.
  • Make peace with your own father. Have a dialogue with your dad (if possible) about his fathering. Don’t shame or blame him. Acknowledge your own faults as a son and forgive him. Tell him that you love him. If this is not possible, you may have to get some help in working through the anger that you still carry around. Don’t wait to do this, you may lose your chance.
  • Do what you can to lessen the impact of cultural garbage. There’s only so much we can do here, but it can have an impact. Monitor your kids friends and their parents, know what your kids are watching on T.V. and what they’re looking at on the computer. If your kids are young, shield them from as much of the garbage as you can, and remember that your own habits in navigating the culture will have a big impact on them. Don’t worry what neighbors, friends, relatives, etc. think about it. (The old "kids will be kids" attitude). These are your kids, respect them; the culture won’t!

One of the amazing differences between men and women that I’ve noticed over the years is the ability of women to meet and within a few moments to be talking about the most intimate details of their lives ( This is about noticing, guys, not superiority). Men, on the other hand, seem to dwell on things like sports, business, etc. I am as guilty of this as anyone, yet my family is clearly the most important thing in my life. What’s wrong with this picture?

To be pioneers in fathering we must begin the difficult process of bringing our emotional lives with our families into view. We must start a dialogue with other fathers who we know care as much as we do but may lack the skills to show it. And we must then "walk the talk" when it comes to our own fathering. Generations of future fathers and mothers will reap the rewards.

Happy Fathering

Fathers Overwhelm

"No man can possibly know what life means, what the world means, what anything means, until he has a child and loves it. Then the whole universe changes and nothing will ever again seem exactly as it seemed before."--Lafcadio Hearn

On this evening things certainly didn’t seem to be like they were before. This evening had been difficult. As I was trying to get my kids to bed, my daughter was whining and crying about tomorrow’s school clothes while my son flopped around on the floor without a care in the world.

It was well past their bed time and I was simultaneously: upset with myself for getting behind schedule; preoccupied with a project I was late on; angry with my kids for not cooperating; and worried that they’d have another crabby day from back-to- school stress and a lack of sleep.

I could feel the tension envelope my shoulders and jaw. My mind was moving at a dangerous rate.

Then the "moment" happened.

My four year old son looked up at me as innocently as humanly possible and said, "Dad, what do snails eat?"

Everything slowed down and relaxed. The drama of the moment disappeared. My worry and concern had been revealed as a hoax. All that seemed to matter now was getting my kids down to bed in a warm and caring manner.

After stumbling through a "snail diet" answer and thanking my son for putting things in perspective for me, I marveled at how quickly my emotions could change. Unfortunately, this shift is not always very rapid or easy for fathers in stressful situations.

The challenge for many fathers is how to deal with the overwhelm that can be a constant in modern family life. In his book, "Why Marriages Succeed or Fail (1994)," John Gottman found that men produced much higher heart rates and raised their blood pressure higher than women during emotional discussions with their wives. These higher rates also tended to stay higher for longer periods of time.

The result of this sense of overwhelm for men can be any number of reactions, including: disengagement, the "silent" treatment, angry outbursts, or excessive attention to work. Of course, everyone loses when these reactions become commonplace. And the truth is that these reactions can be improved upon and eventually avoided.

Here are five ideas to help in dealing with overwhelm with your family:

1. Raise your standards: Stop blaming others for your overwhelm, this only makes things worse. Commit yourself to improving your own skills in dealing with overwhelm and realize that it always starts with you.

2. Take time outs. These will help to put some perspective to the situation and they’ll also show your kids you’re working on it. You can’t expect your kids to work on their "stuff" if you don’t work on your own.

3. Plan ahead and train your kids. A lot of stressful situations can be avoided by being prepared. Get things ready the night before and be very consistent with routines.

4. Raise the bar for yourself by having your wife or kids (or both) keep you accountable. Tell them to remind you if they see you getting overwhelmed and angry. Then do what’s necessary for you to create a healthier response.

5. Use a well-practiced and routine relaxation response for your overwhelm. Whether it’s deep breathing or counting to ten, have a tool to use when the going gets tough. It beats yelling any day.

Fathers are often the fixers of things in their household. While not an easy task, the "flooding" that fathers feel during overwhelm is a "fixable" problem.

The choice is clear: point fingers at your family or deal with your own issues?

What do you think is best for your family?

Are You Training Your Kids?

Dear Dads and Friends,

Have you noticed that professional sports teams can have significant improvement in their performance when a new coach takes over? It isn’t uncommon for a new attitude and philosophy instilled by a competent new coach to completely change the way a team performs.

Fathers can also significantly change the behavior of their children through the use of timely training and coaching.

One of the things that’s easily forgotten by parents is that our kids don’t always know how to behave in certain situations and that they can easily forget. The result is "misbehavior" in restaurants, stores, or even in your home.

The problem is that parents often scold their kids for behaving poorly when they haven’t bothered to coach their kids around what the proper behavior is! This method doesn’t seem to be very fun or effective.

The answer to many of these problems can be training your kids about the proper behavior to use when they are in a receptive state. Here are some ideas on this training that will help it to be more effectivc:

Train your kids when they will be receptive to it: when everyone is relaxed and there are few distractions.

Make it fun. Use a role-play format and be creative and enthusiastic.

"Let’s pretend we’re at a restaurant!" is a good way to start this out. Just talking to your kids will often not be as effective as "doing" the behavior.

Don’t underestimate the age at which training this way can be effective. Two year-old kids can benefit from this training if you are creative and enthusiastic. If the behavior after training isn’t acceptable, remember that actions speak louder than words. Take them out of the restaurant, put them in a time out, whatever the situation calls for. Be firm and kind. Explore whether the training needs to change or whether a privilege needs to be taken away.

Make sure that you tell them what you noticed about the improved behavior if and when it happens. Be specific about what they did that you approved of, this will help to "lock in" the behavior.

Hey dads, remember how easy it is to blame your kids for misbehavior. Sometimes it’s not really their fault. Sometimes it’s a lack of coaching.

After all, kids don’t really want to get yelled at and disapproved of. They just don’t know some of this stuff yet, they’re just learning it.

And don’t believe for an instant that your kids are going to learn anything from you when you’re scolding them about their behavior. Actually, I take that back! They may learn that you’re angry or that you’ve got a nasty temper.

Now you can do something about this. Go train your kids

Happy Fathering,

Disciplining Your Kids

Are You Effectively Disciplining Your Kids?

The landscape of fathering has changed forever. We not only need to spend more time with our kids today, we need SKILLS! One of the most valuable skills for us fathers to develop is the ability to positively discipline our kids. (What’s that? You missed that section of your extensive training for fatherhood?) This newsletter is designed to help you develop skills and gain information to improve your ability to effectively father your children.

Let’s start with discipline, shall we? We can start with some things that probably aren’t working well.

  • Screaming at your kids
  • Threatening them
  • Being overly permissive
  • Repeatedly punishing them
  • Watching T.V. while your kids do what they want
  • Letting your kids watch T.V. all day while you do what you want

Let’s face it, all of us have lost our temper with our kids before and have resorted to "power" to resolve a difficult situation. There is hope, however.

What to do….

Step #1 Realize that if you want to change your children’s behavior, you’ll need to change your own behavior first. (Don’t you just hate this step?)

Step #2 Provide choices for your kids. It is essential that you use a tone of voice that is calm, respectful, and accepting. ("Get out of here or I’ll ground you for a year," is not an effective use of choices!). "John, you may either take your ball outside and throw it or you can play in here without throwing the ball. You decide on what you want to do."

Step #3 If the misbehavior continues, apply the consequence and tell them that they can try again later. If John continued to throw the ball in the house, you may take the ball and tell him that he can have it back in a short while. Attempt to match the consequence with the misbehavior as much as possible; instead of shaming John and sending him to his room simply take the ball for awhile.

Step#4 If there is a repeat of the misbehavior, extend the period of time before the child may try again. Use a calm, respectful tone of voice and realize it is natural and normal for a child to test you.

Top 5 Reasons This Method is Successful

  • It is respectful, and to receive respect you must first give it.
  • It teaches children to make their own decisions
  • Power struggles are discouraged
  • Children are helped to be responsible for their own behavior
  • Fathers will gain more confidence in their disciplining skills

Although there is a lot more to disciplining your kids than this, Dads, you have a starting point from where to launch your new discipline program. If you take a look around at the cultural garbage that exists today I’m sure that you can make a strong argument for the importance of effective discipline for your kids. Let’s all do a better job of it, myself included. Even if you’re a beginner at it or you’re not comfortable with it at first. Your kids may thank you for it someday.

Happy Fathering,

Anger in Fathers

What's up with this anger?

It's amazing to me to experience all of the emotions that occur when we run into a power struggle with our kids. I am aware of two conflicting feelings when I run into these kinds of situations. One is to empathize with my child and to wonder what is needed at the moment to make him or her more comfortable. The other is more primitive and asks the question, "Who are you to question my authority?" It's as though there is a reservoir of resentment that is stored up from all of the sacrifices we make for our children that rears its' ugly head in times like these. I think we all want to rid ourselves of the anger we carry around with us but often don't know what to do about it.

What's all of this anger about? 

We could explain this anger away as many do in saying it's just that "He's got a temper" or "He's just an angry guy". On closer inspection I believe it 's something deeper than that. Underlying all of our anger is FEAR. It's even hard for us guys to say, isn't it? Come on, fffff.. Oh well. We are trained as men that fear is not part of who we are. Fear is weakness. Better to break a chair than to admit fear. So how can we understand this better and use it to be a better father?

Top three fears: 

Here are what I believe to be the top three fears and how they can appear in your fathering: 

1. Fear of not being good enough: This can appear as anger or sadness when your kids prefer mom to you or when they complain about the way that you do something. 

2. Fear of not being in control: This can appear as anger when your kids whine, cry, or complain for sustained periods.

3. Fear of being judged by others: This can appear as anger or embarrassment when your family is evaluating something you do around the house (probably not as well as mom). 

There are a lot more fears out there but these are the ones that seem to keep coming back to me. How about you? Any of these look familiar? I am affected by the first two on a daily basis. What it means for me is that it can be difficult for me to be with my kids during the times they're whining or complaining alot. It's easy for all of us to just blame them and to make them "the problem", isn't it? Yea, but it just doesn't help it to get any better. What does?

What to do about the anger 

Step #1: Understand it better. Know what your fears are and your "hot-button" issues. Knowing it won't make it go away but it will allow you to be aware of it and that's always the first step.

Step #2: Devise a strategy for when your anger is going to boil over. I use a breathing technique, you may use something else (leaving the area, counting, etc.) but have a defined strategy for those times. When you do screw up, apologize to your kids. That's never easy, but they are the most forgiving beings in the world if you just give them a chance.

Step #3: Have some accountability. Whether it's your wife, a friend, or a coach have some way of seeing your progress. And don't beat yourself up if you screw up; you will and beating yourself up won't help. 

For many years fathers have had a tendency to have a certain reaction when we became uncomfortable with certain elements of family life: We left either physically or emotionally. It's time to stop. It's too important. What will you do? When will you do it? 

Happy Fathering,

Raising Boys

How our culture teaches us to raise boys.

“Mommy, I fell down,” said the 5-year old to his mother during a recent soccer practice. “Were you tough?” asked his mom. “Yeah,” he said and walked away with his head down. 

I was at this soccer practice with my daughter and as usual feeling just a bit out of place as the only dad there. When I heard this exchange it reminded me of the ways we can blindly follow the “code” concerning how we raise boys. The code says that boys should be tough and independent and to move away from their feelings of being weak or fearful, etc. When I heard this mother ask her son if he was tough I wanted to say, “ All he wants is for you to ask if he’s O.K.!”

What does raising “tough and independent” boys create? 

Dads, I’m going to make a gross generalization, I hope you don’t mind. Men are less in touch with their feelings than women are. Not all of them, but most. When we employ the code of raising tough and independent boys we effectively cut them off from being closely connected to others and from their own awareness of their feelings. We get fathers and men who are often “successful” (they make a lot of money) but they are disconnected from their own feelings and are unable to nurture themselves or their children. In the workshops that I’ve been associated with about one half of the men report they either don’t remember being hugged by their fathers or they have never heard their father say “I love you” to them. That’s the picture we’re dealing with. It’s incredibly easy as a father to fall into the trap of the code for boys. I find myself struggling at times when my son cries or just isn’t “tough enough.” Part of me wants him to just dust himself off like John Wayne and spit before returning to whatever roughhouse activity he was engaged in. The other part of me doesn’t want him to divorce three wives, all of whom he blames for the failed marriages, and to buy a red sports car and hang out at singles bars when he’s age 50.

What we fathers can do to raise an emotionally intelligent son 

1. Examine your own ideas and practices concerning how you raise your son. Do you allow him to express his full range of feelings or do you push him away emotionally if he’s showing sadness, weakness, vulnerability, etc?

2. Practice, practice, practice. Catch yourself when you’re in the old patterns and start saying things like, “that must have been hard for you” or “boy, that must have been rough.” (These work on my wife, too).

3. Share your feelings with your son in an honest and open way; this will encourage him to feel safe enough to share his feelings with you. Don’t be afraid to tell your son that you were afraid at times as a child and that you still get scared today.

4. Be involved in your son’s life enough to know who else might be enforcing the “code.” That could include teachers, coaches, day-care providers, other family members, etc. Since the code is all around us, have the courage to step in and make change happen even though you’ll be judged by others (“You’ re gonna end up with a wimpy mama’s boy”)

5. Show physical affection to your son. Hugs, kisses, wrestling, whatever you can muster. All sorts of research shows that boys that receive this from their fathers are happier, healthier, smarter, etc. Show your son that you can hug or put your arm around other men as well to demonstrate your affection. Are you squirming? You’re a good candidate for this one. 

My hope for my son is that one day he is able to be both sensitive and strong. That he is able to be both fierce and gentle. My hope is that he is able to be aware of his own feelings as well as the feelings of others. This is only possible if we give up the notion of the tough and independent boy and rid ourselves of the code that has done so much damage to the development of strong, sensitive, and nurturing men. It’s time, don’t you think?

Happy Fathering,

An Investment in Your Children

In Fire in the Belly author Sam Keen writes, “In the quiet hours of the night when I add up the accomplishments of my life in which I take considerable pride - a dozen books, thousands of lectures and seminars, a farm built by hand, a prize here, an honor there – I know that three that rank above all the others are named Lael, Gifford, and Jessamyn (his three children). In the degree to which I have injured them by being unavailable to them because of my obsessive preoccupation with myself or my profession, I have failed as a father and as a man.”

When I read this quote for the first time the part that hit the hardest was “my preoccupation with myself or my profession.” How easy it is for us fathers to become so preoccupied with our jobs and careers that we lose a balanced perspective concerning our kids and families. How easy it is for us to deny that our kids need us to be there emotionally for them on a consistent basis. In a 1994 survey done by the National Center for Fathering involving more than 1,600 adult men, more than 50 % of those surveyed said that their fathers were emotionally absent for them while growing up. Is it any wonder why men sometimes have a difficult time expressing their emotions?

The challenge for us fathers is to forge a new way of being with our children that ensures that we are there both physically and emotionally. It involves risk, hardship, and sacrifice. What is difficult to remember is that our fathering often does not involve the semi-instant gratification that fathers can get at the workplace. Our fathering is a long-term investment in our children’s lives that will impact them long after we are gone from this earth.

A perception exists that fathers can’t really experience great success at the workplace and at the same time be an involved father. Studies by James Levine, the director of The Fatherhood Project at the Families and Work Institute in New York found that more involvement by fathers at home enhanced their work life. Levine reports that when men are comfortable at home, their sense of accomplishment and confidence carries over to the workplace. If we put this research on top of other research that exists we can figure out that being an involved father means you will probably be: A more productive worker

A better partner with a more stable relationship Generally more confident and accomplished in your own abilities Enhancing your children’s lives in too many ways to mention Healthier physically

So let’s define involved, shall we? 

It has amazed me to hear how fathers differ in their definition of what an “involved father” looks like. I know fathers who believe that they are involved when they are watching T.V. or reading in one room while their kids are in another room of the house. Even proud fathers who spend one hour a week of “personal time” with a child should know that in the eighteen years that this child is living with you that you will have spent a grand total of 39 days with that child during that personal time. It just doesn’t seem like enough, does it?

To define involved fathering I want to go back to Sam Keen’s comments about preoccupation with ourselves or our profession. Involved fathering seems to be about spending time with your children in which you are preoccupied with them, not you. Everyone’s ideas about what is enough time with their kids varies, but let’s just say that generally more is better. Yes, we’re all going to have days or periods where we turn into zombies and aren’t involving ourselves with our kids like we could. But if we keep our eyes on the investment we’re making over time with our kids, we’ll get a payback that’s worth many times what we put into it.

Happy Fathering, 

How Do We Nurture Ourselves?

Something occurred to me the other day while I was having a particularly difficult time with my children. I could easily get by as a father using three phrases over and over again. They would be: “No whining!” “Could you be more careful please?” And, “Could you just give me some space please?”

This would do two things for me. It would make it easier on me and it would keep my children from really feeling accepted by me and close to me. I could certainly leave that messy “emotional stuff” to my wife, then I could go and read the paper, do work, or whatever else I do if I want to feel more comfortable.

What is this tendency for us fathers to move away from the “emotional stuff” all about?

Keep in mind that over 50% of fathers in studies say that their father was emotionally absent for them when they grew up. When we haven’t received nurturing from our fathers while growing up it can be quite difficult to be nurturing to our children. This shows up for us fathers when we are faced with a whining, complaining, or crying child. You may have noticed that just asking your child to stop is not real effective. So what is more effective?

Diving into the “emotional stuff”

There are certain things that can be done to help you on the road to being a more nurturing father, among them reconciling your relationship with your own father, learning how to nurture yourself (how do you do it?), and learning from experts (my wife). However, at some point you have to dive in there and do something. Here’s a simple plan for it:

Step #1 Figure out the pattern that now exists when you are falling short as a nurturing father. What are your triggers. How do you react? Having a better awareness of the patterns is always a good place to start.

Step #2 Make a concrete plan for yourself. If you normally avoid your daughter when she is whiny or crying, look for opportunities to jump in and “be there” with her during those times when she’s not her best. Remember that it’s crucial that she knows that you accept her in both her good times and bad.

Step #3 DIVE! Notice at first how difficult being nurturing can be. It can produce shame, anger, and sadness in fathers who have not had much nurturing themselves. Make no mistake about this action, however; it is an act of great courage. Those fathers who continue to avoid their children when they’re not “behaving well” all of the time are missing out on a chance to experience real closeness with their kids.

Be willing to be an amateur “nurturer” with your kids and have the courage to learn some painful lessons about yourself and how you can improve in this area. That’s leading with your heart in your fathering, and it’s a gift that your kids will never forget.

Happy Fathering,

Using a Family Meeting

Has anyone else noticed that our lives are moving faster and faster these days? It seems that almost everyone I talk to talks about how difficult it is to find the time to spend together with their family. This affects not only how much time we spend together as a family but also how we function as a family; things like planning, encouraging each other, and just keeping track of each other and how we’re “really” doing.

How can we fathers create a way to keep the family “intact” and together while the speed of the world seduces us at every turn? The answer? The Family Meeting! The whole family sits down for a regularly scheduled meeting in which you can talk about any or all of the things that are affecting family members.

Family Meeting Rules

  • Make it a regularly scheduled time for each week or every two weeks, whatever you think your family can manage.
  • Make the time sacred, only emergency cancellations are allowed.
  • Everyone gets to be heard and everyone’s opinion is valued.
  • Be encouraging and recognize the positive things that are happening in the family.
  • Plan for fun and for recreation.
  • Focus on the “real issues” and get to the point.
  • Agree to a meeting length and stick to it.
  • Have someone record the plans and decisions made, post them as a reminder. (This job can be rotated, as can the job of meeting facilitator).

Meeting killers:

  • Skipping meetings or meeting only when there’s an emergency
  • Only focusing on complaints or criticisms
  • Not listening well or not being encouraging
  • One member dominates the meetings
  • Meetings are limited to job assignments and discipline issues
  • Agreements are not put into action

Family meetings accomplish many things at the same time, including:

  • Keep the family in better touch with each others’ lives
  • Efficiently plan for all of the tasks that need to be done in a family
  • Help to make your kids feel that they are being heard and that their opinions are important
  • Improve the ability of your family to negotiate differences

Allow a forum for your family to express positive feelings about each other

I know that some of you dads may be thinking, “How am I going to find the time to hold these meetings?” The paradox is that by taking the extra time to hold these meetings you may actually free up more time for you and your family. You’ll also show your family that you have a clear priority in your life….Your Family! They’re worth it, aren’t they?

Happy Fathering,

Learning from Crisis

We’ve all had a little time to recover from the events of September 11th. Routines are getting back to normal and we are able to look back and gain some perspective on what it has meant and what we have learned. What have we learned?

One thing we have learned is how compassionate and caring the American people are in a time of crisis. The support they have given in the form of money, blood, donations, etc. has been inspiring and heartwarming. We have been moved by this tragedy to access our “best selves” and to support those who needed help. I also believe many of us have been moved to reflect on how we are living our lives and what our priorities really are.

As a father I have chosen to look at my life more closely and to see if there are areas where I could improve. Do we need to wait for a crisis to reassess what we’re doing as fathers and to make changes? We’ve all heard of stories of people who have had near-death experiences and survive them.. What do they seem to commit to after they survive? They commit to their families. They stop spending time on the unimportant parts of their lives and focus on what touches their hearts the most.

If you’re a father who is committed to his family consider these ideas as ways to enhance your family life:

Have a “date” with one of your kids each week; spend time with only that child and show them how special they are to you. (If you have eight kids this might get challenging)

Increase the number of PDA’s (public displays of affection) that you show to your kids each day.

Find ways to increase the amount of time you spend with your kids and family, whether it’s arranging work schedules, planning a vacation, more family dinners together, etc. (Yes, you’ll have to give something up to do this)

Read a book or two about being a parent or father. There’s SO MUCH to know and there’s so little time for us as fathers to understand each stage of development that our kids are going through.

Increase your own emotional intelligence so that you can pass it on to your kids. How do you do this? Share your feelings with your kids and ask them how they’re feeling about different things. Examine how you express anger and how often you express love to them. Teach them empathy for others through your actions. There are countless ways to show emotional intelligence, and we are only now beginning to understand the importance of showing it.

Remember that kids are all about making mistakes and then making more of them. It’s a big part of how they learn. DON”T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF!

Don’t wait for a crisis to happen in your family to make you look at your priorities. Know what they are now and act on them. Your kids are worth it.

Happy Fathering,

T.V. Culture

It is a time in which most Americans have been watching quite a bit of T.V. to keep up on the events in the war. My purpose in today’s article is to talk about a different crisis; the war on American children in the form of excessive T.V. watching. 

I’d like to be clear about a few things before proceeding. I am not anti-T.V. and I do own a television. I also do not preach to others about turning off their T.V. There are a number of statistics that are undeniable, however, and as fathers we have an opportunity to learn from these statistics and to stay aware of our options. Here are some of the more alarming ones:

The average child age 5-18 in this country watches an average of 30 hours of T.V. a week, approximately the same amount of time that they spend in school each week.

By the time they are 18, the average child has witnessed around 10,000 killings of people and countless assaults while watching T.V.

In the average American family the T.V. is on about 42 hours a week, or six hours each day.

The average American couple spends less than 30 minutes each week engaged in meaningful, one-to-one conversation. These same people will each watch over 20 hours of T.V. per week. When asked what single area of their marriage needed the most improvement, this couple tended to agree that it was (You guessed it!) Communication! 

T.V. watching is happening at an unprecedented rate in our society and it is affecting our kids. The symptoms of all of this watching can include: Shorter attention spans, more aggressive behavior, less respect for parents or adults in general, diminished self-esteem, etc.

What can we fathers do to help our kids to feel more connected to us and less connected to the tube? Action steps could include:

Screening of the T.V. that your kids do watch, in particular young children

Watch less T.V. yourself, especially when the kids are around-there is no greater model for how important T.V. watching is than you are

Put the T.V. in a less prominent position in the house

Stay with your child when they’re watching T.V. and ask questions about what you are seeing-questions that get kids to think about the consequences of many of the actions that they see on T.V. help to make it more “human”

Don’t let your kids have a T.V. in their rooms; I know it’s popular but many kids are not able to discipline themselves with the tube right there

Don’t have a T.V. on during family dinners; There’s no better way to kill a conversation and to reduce the “connection” in the family

Dads, I realize that a lot of these steps may be difficult for you. When your kids look back on their time with you, however, they probably won’t be thinking about the shows you watched together. They’ll think about how you took them camping or taught them to wash dishes or to throw a baseball. No video program is as effective as good ‘ol dad is. Your kids and their kids after them will reap the benefits for generations.

Happy Fathering 

Battling the Closeness Issue

Since I never got training on how to get close to my family I am winging it on most of my days. My wife helps me by her example and she seems to do a great job of being with my children when they are not at their best.

I have been examining my ability to be with my kids when they aren’t at their best and listening to other fathers talk about their struggles. What I know is that it is essential for us as fathers to find ways to show our children that we love them and accept them even when they are whining, crying, or complaining. If we want to develop close relationships with our children we can’t just send them to their room when they’re not acting the way that we want them to. (Wouldn’t a device like a T.V. remote-control for your kids be great at times, just click and they’d be gone?)

The benefit of all of this acceptance will be that your children will be more likely to talk to you about their problems and will confide in you concerning their life. They’ll eventually feel more comfortable about confiding in and trusting other people as well. Why? Because they have learned that you accept all of them, not just the parts of them that are easy to like. When your child feels totally accepted they don’t have to bury the parts of themselves that they don’t feel good about. When kids bury those kinds of feelings, we get boys who are “tough” but not very aware of their own feelings and girls who are “nice” but who have lost touch with their own assertiveness and the desire to get what they want. What can we do as fathers to accept our kids “whole package”?

  • Acknowledge your own “buttons” with your children and try to understand them. What is it that makes this behavior hard to be with?
  • Get support from someone to help you to respond to your kids difficult behaviors in a more supportive manner; your wife, a group of fathers, a mentor, etc.
  • Try to figure out what your kids’ behavior means; If they are annoying you, it probably means they need some attention, if they’re often angry, it probably means you need to work on the relationship.
  • Model how others handle kids difficult moments

The research is clear that developing a close relationship with your children early on will foster a closer relationship during their teen years and beyond.

Let’s take this opportunity and run with it.

Happy Fathering,

Interpreting your child’s language

I must admit that when I talk to my children I often find myself in a difficult position. While I love them dearly I find myself becoming angry when they oppose me or when they just want to test me. Part of me wants to understand their position and part of me wants to say, “Who are you to question my authority?”

While my ego calls for winning some of these battles, I know in my heart that these are not battles to be won. These are just instances of kids being kids. To be in consistent conflict around these everyday issues with my kids is not only annoying but can have long-lasting negative effects on them. So here’s the choice, dads: you can feed your ego and win a lot of these battles at your kids’ expense or you can choose to educate yourself and be creative about these issues and both you and your kids win. Tough choice? Not really. So where do you start? Here’s some typical comments or complaints from kids that can get us into trouble if we see them as a challenge to our authority rather than “interpreting” what the real message is.

Comment: “I’m not wearing those stupid clothes.”

Typical response: “I just got those out for you and you will wear them.”

Interpretation: “You really like to pick out your own clothes.”

Comment: “This isn’t fair. All of my friends are going to the party.”

Typical response: “Life isn’t always fair. We don’t care what your friends can do, you’re not going”

Interpretation: “We know you’re wanting us to trust you more. Tell us more about the party, and we’ll talk about it”

Comment: “Billy’s stupid. I’m never going to play with him again”

Typical response: “Don’t call someone stupid. You’ll feel better about it tomorrow.”

Interpretation: It sounds like your feelings were hurt. Maybe it would help to talk about that.”

Every day we have opportunities to defuse conversations that could lead us into conflict with our kids. Using this “interpretation” is a start to reduce the number of these conflicts and also to foster a better understanding of the things that your children are going through. You will probably mess it up a bit as you first try it but it will get better. Remember, you’ll have a whole lot of chances to improve so be patient and remember that you’re benefiting both you and your kids. Gifts like that make for extraordinary fathers and extraordinary kids.

Happy Fathering,

Accepting that I am the Problem

It’s not an easy place to start a newsletter. As a father that thinks he is pretty warm, loving, and competent, it’s not easy for me to admit that I’m sometimes the problem with my family. It’s true and it’s both wonderful and terrifying to accept this idea.

I can easily get to a place of judging my son or daughter harshly and thinking about the problems that they have. I can also easily get to that same place about my wife as well. In this scenario that I build for myself I am a hard-working dad who cares about his family and I am doing all of the “right” things for my family. I just can’t see my own contributions to whatever problem is happening.

Here is the reason that I am the problem, and it’s an idea that can be used in any relationship in your life: In any relationship that you’re in, the other person really knows how you feel about them! When I am not feeling good about my son or daughter, when I am feeling they are embarrassing me or aren’t living up to “my standards” I am letting them know in some way how I really feel. When I allow my feelings to be known to them in this way I have noticed that I will get more of the very behavior that I hate. Yes, that’s right. If I see my son as incapable, I will get an incapable son coming right at me. If I see my daughter as not very bright, she won’t be very bright. Do you see how I’m the problem here?

What I’m not suggesting to you dads out there is that you should never have any negative thoughts about your family. We all do and they won’t totally go away. What is possible, however, is to improve on your ability to be aware of this tendency on your part and to take steps to lessen its impact and length. The most important way we can do this is to love our kids unconditionally. We can see them as the wonderful, resourceful, loving people that they are and not as their flaws. Our egos have a way of manipulating things so that we can’t always see the best in our kids.

So what can I do when I begin to see my kids or my family as “the problem” and my relationships suffer?

  • Be committed to staying aware of this tendency and to get support around staying away from it.
  • Don’t try to change your kids; they’ll know what you’re up to and will resist you.
  • Always look at what you can do to change- this takes a lot of courage.
  • Get support; fathers have for a long time thought that they should be able to do it all on their own. Enlist other fathers or a coach or mentor to help you to be as effective as possible.
  • Find a way that you can “practice” the skill of loving your children unconditionally-whatever works for you; but practice it consistently.

Since any of us can remember we have looked at others in our family and believed that they are the “cause” of problems that we have. There is another way to view this that demands more courage and is much more effective. Will you have the courage to face your problem? Your loving relationship with your kids may be depending on it.

Happy Fathering,

Using Time Outs

There seems to be a pretty strong consensus out there that kids are more difficult to discipline and have less respect for authority today than in years past.

There is help for you dads that are wanting to be more effective in raising kids that are respectful, responsible, and cooperative. They are called time outs!

Effective use of time outs lets kids know that the parent is in charge. This works a whole lot better than having the kids in charge. Kids will resist us and will sometimes lose control of themselves emotionally. That’s just what kids do. Don’t take it personally, dad. Kids need to push up against limits now and again to see where they’re at and to feel secure.

Let’s talk about the purpose of time outs. The main purpose of time outs is not to punish your kids. The main purpose of time outs is to allow your kids to feel their emotions and then to release them. This is a skill that is vital to the emotional health of kids but it is misunderstood by many parents. When kids feelings are supported by parents they will become richer and better understood. When they are not supported they will become volatile and out of control. The best way for kids to develop better emotional control is to have the space provided to experience negative emotions and to release them. This is where the time out comes in.

Here are some points about time outs that you may find helpful:

  • Use time outs as a last resort, there are a lot of creative ways to nip problems early if you can come up with them.
  • Never negotiate time outs, actions always speak louder than words.
  • Don’t tell your child to think about what they did wrong; your kids will just learn to feel guilty. Trust instead that if you ask for specific behaviors and cooperation that they will learn naturally what is right or wrong.
  • Realize that some kids may need a number of time outs every day and that some will need only a few each month. There is nothing “wrong” with the child that needs more, they just need a bit more help controlling themselves. If you see them as a big problem, you’ll end up getting just that.
  • Don’t expect your child to sit still and be quiet during their time out. They will naturally resist it. Time outs work because they give the child the opportunity to resist more. Don’t tell them to stop being upset. Know that they will learn from the ability to experience their emotions.
  • Don’t use a time out as a threat- the time out then becomes a punishment and will be less effective in the long run.

What I often see is that many fathers want to have kids who are “good” and who “behave” well. They mistakenly try to control these kids and their emotions by making them feel that having negative emotions is “wrong.” The irony is that by attempting to control their emotions they often don’t allow their kids to “practice” the skills of experiencing and releasing their negative emotions, causing these kids to have much less control over their negative emotions. This can make for very frustrated and disappointed dads and for kids who have to live with this disappointment.

The effective use of time outs can be an incredibly useful tool for dads in helping their kids to be cooperative and to exercise emotional control. The punishment methods of the past don’t serve kids well today, they just help to create kids that are angry and resentful. Let’s spread the word to other dads that there’s a better way to discipline our kids today. They deserve it.

Happy Fathering,

How We Benefit From Our Children

My previous newsletters have focused heavily on the benefits that your kids receive when dads are committed to developing a close relationship with them. What about us? What do we get out of all of the time, sacrifice, and energy that is spent on our kids? Read on and find out. 

  • Involved dads have better health. Rosalind Barnett, a research scholar at Radcliffe College, found that involved fathers were actually healthier than fathers who were distant from their children. It was also found in her study that fathers who had the fewest worries about their relationship with their children had the fewest health problems.
  • Involved fathers seem to have a way of being more active than uninvolved fathers. Dads who are hiking, biking, and fishing with their kids will tend to have a healthier lifestyle than those who aren’t. How about you, dad? Chips and dip while watching the tube all weekend? 
  • Involved dads perform better at work When involved fathers are happy at home, they feel less stress and actually perform better at work. James Levine, the director of the Fatherhood Project at the Families and Work Institute in New York, found that when men are comfortable at home, their sense of accomplishment and confidence carries over into the workplace. We are just now beginning to understand this incredibly important relationship between men at home and at work. It is no longer reasonable or effective to compartmentalize our home and work lives; each one affects the other in important ways. Levine found that fathers who have more autonomy and control at work and who have supportive supervisors tend to demonstrate a greater acceptance of their kids at home. 
  • Dads self-esteem improves. Dads who are involved with their kids tend to feel better about themselves. There is a great sense of satisfaction and pride when you’ve taught your child to cook a meal, hit a baseball, or to be generous to others. Your children will teach you a great deal about yourself and will extend you to your limits. They will also perfectly reflect back all of the love and caring that they’ve received from you over time. Involved fathers who have invested a lot of time and energy in their kids will be the recipients of all of this love and caring that comes back to them. Fathers who have a lot of love and caring coming their way will tend to have higher self-esteem than those who don’t. I believe we’ve passed the time in which we judged men to be “successful” based solely on how much money they make or their occupation. I’ve talked to many men who were seen by society to be highly successful but who were not able to maintain a close relationship with their children. When they are able to talk candidly about their children they talk about a “hole” that they feel inside of them that they deeply regret. These men will have all of their physical needs met in life, but their emotional needs will have a huge void until they "get it straight" with their kids. 
  • Involved dads have happier marriages.   Fathers who are very involved with their children tend to have happier marriages. It is pretty clear that women who feel stressed out, overburdened with child care, and overwhelmed will not have particularly positive feelings about their marriage. Dads that help out a great deal with the kids will help to balance their relationships with their wives and to share in the satisfaction of raising their children. Most of you out there know about the many benefits that kids receive when their dads are very involved in their lives. These kids tend to do better in school, tend to have fewer emotional problems, and lead happier, more productive lives.

Let’s not forget all of the benefits that dads get when they are a big part of their kids lives. When we open up our hearts to our kids we receive the greatest gift imaginable; we see their hearts open up as well. 

Happy Fathering,

Problems for Dads

This issue will focus on some of the challenges and problems that can be overwhelming for dads trying to do something that no other generation of fathers has done; to be in the emotional core of their family while retaining their uniqueness as men. 

If we ask the questions and really listen to fathers we’ll see some common themes. Prior to the last ten years there wasn’t a whole lot of research or literature on men’s experience as fathers. We now have a clearer picture, and here are some of the things that fathers say: 

“No matter what I do it doesn’t seem to be good enough”

“I feel like I’m always on the outside of the family”

“I feel like a janitor or handyman a lot of the time”

“No one is aware of all of the sacrifices I make for the family”

“I don’t feel appreciated at work or at home”

“I never seem to be able to please my kids or my wife”

Do any of these sound familiar? One of the patterns that seems to come up often for fathers is the feeling that no matter how involved they are with their families, they feel like they’re on the outside looking in. It is as though the “emotional core” of the family consists of mom and the kids with dad nudged to the outside. The greatest fear of many of these fathers is that they are “inessential” to the family. If they were to go away, the “emotional core” of the family would still be in place.

Why is this feeling so prevalent with fathers? What can we do to help ourselves to enter the ‘emotional core” of our families? 

Don and Jeanne Elium, who wrote the book “Raising a Family,” talk about how easily fathers can get out of sync with the real purpose of a family at home, which is meeting personal needs. Fathers can fail to understand the differences in thinking and attention that are required within the work and family environments. The work environment stresses these points: 

  • Motivated by goals and achievements
  • Task-focused
  • Impersonal actions
  • People expect to follow orders in an adult-like manner 

The family environment stresses these points:

  • Motivated by love and care
  • Need-focused
  • Personal actions
  • People contribute according to their abilities

It’s very easy for fathers to bring their “workmind” home to their family. It involves a single focus and an understanding of the bottom line. What families need, however, is for us to have a wide and diffuse focus and to ask what the needs in our family are at the moment. This is not something that seems to come naturally for most fathers. How can we become more able to assess the needs of our family and to begin to enter its’ “emotional core.?” 

Here are a few ideas: 

  • Become familiar with your own needs and let your family know what they are (everyone close to you deserves to know ) 
  • If you’re married, learn from your wife (they often do this better than we do)
  • Any time you’re coming home to your family make an effort to get into “familymind” mode and out of “workmind” mode 
  • Help your family members to know and express what their needs are  
  • Get support from other fathers who are also interested in being effective dads 
  • Be patient with the process but start now; a lot of dads feel like they’re just starting to “get” how to be a better father by the time their kids are leaving for college 

We can blame other family members for not allowing us to feel closer to our families but we know that this will only make the situation worse. What will work is to improve our ability to determine the needs of our family and to act on them. The trail we leave will allow our sons to do the same. 

Happy Fathering,

Savor Your Family Now

This particular newsletter will be different from the others. It is being written in the wake of my oldest brothers death three weeks ago. Rob was swimming with his wife, three sons, and friends in Cancun when he suffered a massive heart attack. He was fifty-two years old.

Rob was successful in many ways and was a devoted husband and father for his teen-age sons. He had developed a Parkinson's-type illness about two years ago that forced him to retire and to make many changes in his lifestyle. Through it all he never complained and used the extra time to be with his wife or kids at home and to go to all of the various games and functions that the kids had. Rob's greatest enjoyment was to have family or friends out to his house to show them a great time.

I've often thought about all of the times I had spent with him. I have found myself wishing that I could spend one more day with him so I could adequately express how much I cared about him and to savor every moment with him. I know that his wife and kids wish that they could have more time with him, too. The morning after his death his family gathered together on the beach where he died. They each tossed flowers into the ocean near the area where Rob was pulled onto the shore. Oldest son Eric tossed his flower and said, "Daddy, I didn't know how much I loved you until now."

The pain of Rob's loss is still strong yet I know that it will subside with time. My thoughts have often been with his wife and three sons and how they will deal with their lives without the husband and father that they loved. Through the mourning of his loss I have noticed other things happening that I did not anticipate. One of them is how my family has pulled closer together. Another is the tremendous love, support and kindness that so many people have shown to us. These things have reminded me of the potential of all of us to improve ourselves and to live the kind of lives that we can look back on and be proud of. I know that it has profoundly affected the way I want to be as a father and as a person.

As my brother's death shows, we live our lives knowing at some level that our life can be taken away at a moment's notice. Even with this evidence it's so easy for us to get busy with all of the things that take us away from our families; working a little more to get in a position to get the raise, doing house projects, playing more golf, etc. When crises come, these things fall by the wayside and don't seem very important anymore. All that really matters is your family. How will you honor your family and serve them best in the time you have remaining on this earth? Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

• Have you told all of your family members lately how you really feel about them? (Yes, even you guys with teen-agers)

• Are you really aware of your children's lives? Do you know what they like and dislike, who there heroes are, what their learning style is, what their goals and dreams are?

• Is your family taken care of financially if something happens to you?

• Are there things about your fathering that you're not quite satisfied with? Have you been stuck on these things for some time and haven't addressed them?

Know that all of you have the ability to be an even better father than you are right now. All it takes is desire, awareness, and persistence. Every day we have on this earth is a gift. Every moment we spend with our children can be savored. When we bring this gift to them we help them become the people that they were meant to be. May each day be lived like it was our last.

Happy Fathering

© 2003 Mark Brandenburg

Other Father Issues, Books, Resources

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To this day I can remember my father's voice, singing over me in the stillness of the night. - Carl G. Jung

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