The Menstuff web site has over 218 megabytes on men’s issues The home page can be accessed by clicking on Menstuff at the bottom of any page. Click on fatherstuff to get this separate list of hyperlinks that focus on fathers. You might bookmark this page for easy access to this information. Weekly columns: Dr. Dad by Dr. Bruce Linton, author of the recently published Finding Time for Fatherhood: Men’s concerns as parents, and director of the Father’s Forum and Daddyman by Tim Hartlett, a psychotherapist and men’s group leader in Santa Cruz, CA.
Menstuff® has compiled information, books and resources on the issue of fathers. Here’s how people around the world say “father”: Afrikaans – Pa; Czech – Otec; Danish – Fader; Dutch – Ouder or Vader; English – Father; Esperanto – Patro; Estonian – Isa; Finnish – Isa; French – Pere; Frisian – Heit; German – der Vater; Hungarian – Atya; Hebrew – Abba; Latin – Pater, Norwegian – Far; Portuguese – Pai; Spanish – Padre; and Swedish – Far.
- 24 million children (34 percent) live absent their biological father.
- Nearly 20 million children (27 percent) live in single-parent homes.
- 1.35 million births (33 percent of all births) in 2000 occurred out of wedlock.
- 43 percent of first marriages dissolve within fifteen years; about 60 percent of divorcing couples have children; and approximately one million children each year experience the divorce of their parents.
- Over 3.3 million children live with an unmarried parent and the parent’s cohabiting partner. The number of cohabiting couples with children has nearly doubled since 1990, from 891,000 to 1.7 million today.
- Fathers who live with their children are more likely to have a close, enduring relationship with their children than those who do not. The best predictor of father presence is marital status. Compared to children born within marriage, children born to cohabiting parents are three times as likely to experience father absence, and children born to unmarried, non-cohabiting parents are four times as likely to live in a father-absent home.
- About 40 percent of children in father-absent homes have not seen their father at all during the past year; 26 percent of absent fathers live in a different state than their children; and 50 percent of children living absent their father have never set foot in their father’s home.
- Children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.
- From 1960 to 1995, the proportion of children living in single-parent homes tripled, from 9 percent to 27 percent, and the proportion of children living with married parents declined. However, from 1995 to 2000, the proportion of children living in single-parent homes slightly declined, while the proportion of children living with two married parents remained stable.
- Children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior, and avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy, and criminal activity compared to children who have uninvolved fathers.
What Is A Father?
“A man is called a father the day his first born enters this world. In truth, the quest for fatherhood has just begun, and it will last a lifetime. Father is the proud young man filled with joy at the sight of his newborn, and the exhausted, frustrated caretaker of a baby, wide awake at 3 a.m. As the child grows, Father is the rule maker, and the rule breaker. He is the invincible hero to his son; the knight in shining armor to his daughter. Father is all powerful, all knowing, all wise and wonderful…until his child reaches adolescence. Now Father is patient and kind, loving and proud, helpful and understanding. Everything he wished his own father would be. Everything he wishes he could be. And when his son becomes a father, he will understand. Here, for every man striving to be a father he always wanted to be, are daily meditations offering understanding, compassion, reassurance and spiritual guidance on life’s most exciting and rewarding journey – that of becoming a father.”
- “Blessed indeed is the man who hears many gentle voices call him father.” – Lydia M. Child
- “It doesn’t matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.” – Anne Sexton
- “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”- Sigmund Freud
- A father is a guy who has snapshots in his wallet where his money used to be.
- “A man knows when he is growing old because he begins to look like his father.”– Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Marriage and fatherhood are two of the most exciting things that can happen to a man… but getting married and becoming a Dad are like getting hit over the back of the head with a semi-trailer.
Enter author and speaker Dr Peter Downey, a self-confessed “ordinary bloke”, husband and dad who put pen to paper to write three “survival guides” for men who find themselves about to take the plunge into the often scary world of weddings, marriage, pregnancy, childbirth, and life with babies and toddlers. His best-selling books, (published internationally by Simon and Schuster and Fisher Books) are well known for their practical advice and down-to-earth style. Here is an excerpt from his latest book, So You’re Going to be a Dad.
Before we go further, I must make one point clear. The point is this. Childbirth is PAINFUL. Very. Very painful. God was not kidding when he said, “With pain you will give birth to children.”
There is nothing in a man’s natural span of life that even comes close to the searing agony which accompanies a baby tearing itself from its mother and into the world. Sure, there are industrial accidents involving heavy machinery and testicles, but there is nothing that inevitably lies in our biological routine. Unfortunately, we have fallen victim to pathetically unrealistic television portrayals of labour. These tend to convince us that labour is little more effort than a rigorous afternoon aerobics session. The hapless woman pants a few times, blows a few breaths between clenched teeth and then with a herculean effort and a final gasp, the screaming baby is born. The woman has merely shed a light sweat.
This is crap. Total and utter crap. If you think about it, childbirth is like trying to push a camel through the eye of a needle. The camel is very big. The needle is very small. The needle will experience a lot of pain. There is no such thing as painless childbirth. This concept only exists in the mind of males who are timelocked in the fifties. A few months ago, a friend of mine lent me a cassette – it was one of those motivational ones by some American business guru. There is one phenomenal part of the tape where he says in a thick Texan drawl, “With thuh burth of mah furst chahld, my wahf and ah had uh paaynless layburr.” I played this to my wife. She didn’t think it was very funny.
I mean, not only did this fool believe that labour could be naturally painless, but he also had the audacity to assume that it was his labour as well. Although I’m not a medical giant, I am a veteran of almost three births now and think its fairly safe for me to claim that generally speaking, childbirth is not really very physically painful for the male.
That is, unless your wife grabs a soft fleshy bit and twists it just to let you know how she’s feeling. This next story may help you come to terms with the pain of childbirth. Soon after I found out that my wife and I were going to be parents, I naturally became quite inquisitive and anxious about the whole labour process. But aside from textbooks, I had no source of information.
Then, one day at an afternoon tea, we met an old friend who had just had a baby herself. What a perfect opportunity ! Unashamedly, and in retrospect stupidly, I opened our conversation by asking her if childbirth was “painful”. The look on her face betrayed the fact that quite clearly she knew that I was the most stupid man on earth. Fixing me in her steely stare, she began our conversation: “Imagine that you are holding an umbrella.” Mmmm, OK so far, I thought to myself. “Now,” she said, pausing for dramatic effect, “insert it into your penis.”
At this, my legs involuntarily crossed and my eyes began to water. I tried to break eye contact, but she could see that her words were cutting me like a knife. She held me in her gaze and pushed on mercilessly. “Now open the umbrella,” she hissed. With alarm bells clanging loudly in my head, I staggered to my feet in a feeble attempt to escape the anguish I felt in my groin. But there was no escape. She grasped my arm and snarled in my ear, “Now pull it out. Yank it…. hard.” She was revelling in the paralysing effects of her words. And her words had had the desired effect. “That’s what childbirth is like,” she snickered as I hobbled off. In that one single moment, I had a slight glimmer of the pain of childbirth. Taken from “So You’re Going to be a Dad” See www.peterdowney.com.
Always the work week after Father’s Day, it’s a time to share with your children what you do in the world and what keeps you away from home so much. Leaving the house each day with a brief case or tool box or lunch box isn’t enough. We believe that mothers and fathers should take both sons and daughters to work to experience the reality of the workplace for their parents and support both sons and daughters in getting a closer picture of what their parents do all day. So, if you have children, make it a point this week to give them the experience of you on the job and get them involved in your work where safe. (Any day this week Hopefully you do this with your kids more than once a year!) There are other options, not alternatives, but options.
Taking Your Kids Out of the U.S. (New Rules)
Want to take you child to Canada or Mexico, not much has changed. Those countries already require that children under 18 who are entering alone or with only one parent or guardian have notarized permission from the absent parent. An important change is coming in late 2000. In order to obtain a passport for a child 13 or younger, both parents will have to sign the application in person. If one parent can’t be present, he or she will have to provide an affidavit granting permission. This legislation is going into effect to deter international child abductions.
Getting or renewing a U.S. passport to travel the world is as simple as getting a couple of photos taken, get proof of citizenship (birth certificate) and a photo ID, scrape up $60 for a new adult passport (age 16 and older), $40 for renewal, and $40 for a child’s passport and ask your local post office where the closest location is that is designated to handle passport applications for the State Department.
No regulations or fees have changed in the past year, but this change is coming. General passport information is available 24 hours a day from the National Passport Information Center for a fee of 35 cents a minute, charged to the caller’s phone. It takes about seven minutes to hear all of the general information. 900.225.5674. Forms and information also can be accessed from the State Department’s Internet site: travel.state.gov and click on Passport Information. You can obtain forms from the web site or at the post office. Bon voyage.
Parental Leave Act
(Editor: This is most of the text. The full story was reported to be at: www.dailysouthtown.com/southtown/dsbiz/051bd5.htm, which we could not access so removed the hyperlink. This story had been reported as having gotten LOADS of press — however, 6 of the 9 major daily newspapers said to have carried the story, did not have active links. We left the links but removed the hyperlink to them at the end of the story.)
NEW YORK – There were snide comments and many, many jokes. And when Maryland state trooper Kevin Knussman won his four-year legal fight this week against the bosses who denied him parental leave, only a couple of colleagues called to congratulate him. Knussman’s victory highlights the rights of working fathers to take time off with their babies. But his isolation shows how balancing a job and a family remains a silent struggle for many men. “Much of the progress is still going on underground,” says James Levine, a leading researcher on fatherhood and co-author of the book “Working Fathers.”
Fearing – often with reason – that they’ll be labeled slackers, fathers cobble together sick days and vacation time to create leave time after a baby is born. When they want to go to a school play, they dash for the door, under cover of attending a “late meeting.”
Ben, a New York city money manager and father of a 3-month-old, carefully left his computer on and his desk lamp lit not too long ago when he took his wife to the hospital for a sonogram. “It made it look like I was still there,” said Ben, who refused to be further identified, fearing for his career. “Plus, it made me feel better.”
Over the years, attitudes have changed. Asked 15 years ago how much unpaid parental leave time was reasonable for men to take, 63 percent of business leaders at large companies said, “none.” Even 40 percent of executives at companies with a parental leave policy at the time nixed the idea of actually using it, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit group that studies women in business.
Today, half a million men take some sort of parental leave each year to care for a new child, under the auspices of the 1993 federal Family and Medical Leave Act. That compares with 1.4 million women. A total of 20 million people have taken leave under the federal law, which says all employers with 50 or more workers must allow up to 12 unpaid weeks off to care for a new baby or seriously ill family member. The law also allows workers to use sick time and vacation so they can get paid during their leave.
Knussman, a helicopter paramedic, sued the state police after he was denied 12 weeks paid leave following the birth of his daughter in 1994. He was given 10 paid days off, but sought more time because his wife experienced childbirth complications.
On Tuesday, a jury awarded him $375,000 in damages for mental anguish, in the first sex discrimination case under the Family Leave act. Attorneys for the state police said they may appeal. “There’s still a presumption that women are going to be the primary caretaker,” said Sara Mandelbaum, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represented Knussman. “Those attitudes are hard to change, especially in a male-dominated organization like the state police.”
Some companies do encourage fathers to take parental leaves – and more men are taking them. AT&T offers new parents up to a year, unpaid, with a guaranteed job upon return. About one man takes advantage of the program for every 18 women. That’s up from a 1-to-400 ratio a decade ago.
Howard Nathanson, an AT&T computer analyst, says his coworkers and bosses fully supported his decision to take nine months parental leave in 1996. “There was never any grief about this,” he said. But for other men, obstacles, both perceived and real, prevent their making use of work-family programs.
Not only do men fear career trouble or teasing if they openly make family a priority, but they feel, sometimes rightly so, that work-family programs are mainly pitched to women.
Money also plays a role. A few companies, including Merrill Lynch and the software maker Lotus Development Corp., offer paid leaves for men. But most don’t, and since men are major breadwinners, it’s hard for them to take unpaid time off.
Nathanson and his wife, for example, both felt strongly that one parent should be home with their daughter for a year. Since she earns two-thirds of the household income, he stayed home. “Financially, I wasn’t burned by the fact that if I took off, there goes the family income,” he said.
For now, many men choose to do what they can, when they can. Clark Adams, chief executive officer of Needham, Mass.-based Mulberry Child Care Centers, says fathers pick up or drop off 25 percent of children at the company’s 55 centers daily, and more are serving on parent advisory committees.
Still, Knussman is glad he took a stand. After he filed his suit, the state police gave him a full 12 paid weeks off following the birth of his second child.
“Biting the hand that feeds you is never easy,” he said by telephone as his daughters giggled in the background. But taking three months off was “just a great, great time. I will never, ever regret that.”
- The Times Union : Dads on child leave fear scorn www.timesunion.com/news/story.asp?storyKey=5892newsdate=2/05/99
- FOX News : Law or no law, fathers find it hard to ask for parental leave www.foxnews.com/health/wires2/0205/h_ap_0205_5.sml
- The Salt Lake Tribune : It’s Tough for Dads to Take Family Leave, Even When Job Allows It www.sltrib.com/02051999/business/80507.htm
- Lexington Herald-Leader : Men struggle with family, jobs www.kentuckyconnect.com/heraldleader/news/020599/business/docs/05WorkingDads.htm
- The Record Online – New Jersey : A victory for dads www.bergen.com/biz/dads05199902051.htm
- Arizona Daily Star : Balancing work, family hard for many men www.azstarnet.com/public/dnews/080-3729.html
- Sun-Sentinel : A balancing act for dads www.sun-sentinel.com/money/daily/detail/0,1136,8500000000050298,00.html
- FOX News : Fathers fear expressing work-family needs even when programs available www.foxnews.com/health/wires2/0204/h_ap_0204_38.sml
- Augusta Chronicle : Fathers fear expressing work-family needs www.augustachronicle.com/stories/020599/bus_fathers.shtml
Where to Put a Fire Extinguisher?
Editor: around 30 years ago, some research was done. Adults were asked what areas of the house they would have a fire extinguisher. They said the kitchen or garage. Kids were asked the same question. Can you guess their answer? Their bedroom. Ever since, every bedroom in my house has a ABC fire extinguisher that could get someone through the flames in the hall way and to safety. And 8 years old, she knew how to carry and work a 25 lb. ABC fire extinguisher. She also knew how to break the glass out of her bedroom window, hook up a rope later, and climb down from her second story bedroom. It’s better to deal with the fear of height before an emergency. It also builds self-esteem when she makes it through the fear and down the ladder. Think about it.
Have a Fire Drill. Each year more than 1,000 youngsters 9 and under die in home fires. To safeguard your family, follow these tips. Make a family escape plan: Draw a floor plan of your house, identify two escape routes from each room, and mark them with Xs. Post the plan on the refrigerator or bulletin board. Choose a meeting place: Pick a safe spot away from the house where family members can meet. Mark this spot on your plan. Hold a dress rehearsal: Adults and children 5 and older should leave immediately using the designated exits. Younger kids should stand by a window and wait for a parent or firefighter to get them. Practice going to the meeting spot and reiterate that each family member should wait there until everyone arrives. Also, be sure to update your escape route regularly.
Stepfamilies – The Statistics are Staggering
According to information from the Stepfamily Foundation, Inc.:
- One out of two marriages ends in divorce.
- 60% of second marriages fail, according to the U.S. Census Bureau
- 66% of marriages and living together situations end in break up, when children are actively involved, according to Stepfamily Foundation statistics.
- It is predicted that 50% of children in the US will go through a divorce before they are 18.
- Approximately half of all Americans are currently involved in some form of step relationship.
- By the year 2000, according to the Census Bureau, more Americans will be living in step families than in nuclear families.
- About half of the 60 million children under the age of thirteen in this country are currently living with one biological parent and that parent’s current partner
- Nearly half of all women, not just mothers, are likely to live in a stepfamily relationship, when we include living-together families in our definition of the stepfamily.
Therefore, we have already become a nation of step-relating individuals. However, most graduate schools of psychiatry, psychology, and social work provide no specific training in dealing with these particular dynamics of stepfamilies. Often, the methods and information appropriate to the nuclear family can be destructive …if applied to the highly specific dynamics of the stepfamily system. According to Elizabeth Carter, ACSW, Family Institute of Westchester, “Our culture provides no guidelines…It is our experience that this is one of the most difficult transitions for families to negotiate.” Carter continues, “Our cultural forms, rituals and assumptions still relate chiefly to the intact, first marriage family, and the most ordinary event, such as filling out a form or celebrating a holiday, can become a source of acute embarrassment or discomfort for members of remarried families.” Stepfamily Foundation, Inc., 333 West End Ave, New York, NY 10023 212.877.3244, Fax 212.362.7030/ 24 hour information line 212.799.STEP www.stepfamily.org or Stefamily@aol.com Also, Stepfamily Assoc of Am, 215 Centennial Mall S #212, Lincoln, NE 68508 – 800.735.0329.
While the magazine advertising for Procter & Gamble’s new Stay Clear Clearasil product is fairly innocuous (1), their new television commercials demonstrate how deeply ingrained the attitude of “putting people down so that somehow I will feel better than you because I’m really trying to stick you with thoughts I have about myself that I don’t want to take responsibility for” is, P&G has taken it to a new low. It just isn’t the jocks and cheerleaders shaming the geeks and the geeks get their revenge. Now, a major corporation is playing on this “attitude” to sell this product to the teen/preteen market. In it, it looks like the sister loans her brother her Stay Clear with the line “You can use this, but you’ll still be ugly.” Like the No Fear clothing line encouraging young boys to deny their fear and end up doing dumb, dangerous, unnecessary things, P&G is encouraging put down attitudes, especially against teens that have acne problems. We lodged a complaint with P&Gs customer service department (800.981.1841) but haven’t received a response. You might want to join forces to leave them with an impression that maybe there is more than one person out there who finds their advertising offensive. John E. Pepper is the CEO of the parent company Procter& Gamble, PO Box 599, Cincinnati, OH 45201-0599. 800.981.1841. The product is produced by Richardson-Vicks, Inc., Personal Care Products Division, same address. The advertising agency that recommended this approach is DMB&B Company, Inc., 1675 Broadway, New York, NY 10019-5865.
The trend of strange continues in the facial care category with another product designed to fight acne – pHisoderm 4 way Daily Acne Cleanser (2). It uses the headline “It’s better to use” and shows a young woman with a “Zit Be Gone” construction grade disk sander to remove the zits from her face. Has the advertising industry lost its ability to reach our youth creatively without violent or abusive images. Apparently so.
Ouch! Body Piercing
More and more parents are finding themselves faced with their children asking about body piercing or doing it in private. Based on nationwide anecdotal evidence, body piercing – eyebrows, nose, tongue, chin, navel and genitals – is on the rise among teenagers. Piercing is not new. There have been people doing these piercings for hundreds for thousands of years. Certain tribes in African and North America were doing piercing long ago, as well as European sailors and carnival performers. Today, however, it is teens and young adults drawn to the piecing frenzy in droves. In some cases they are dangerously piercing themselves in order to wear the shiny body adornments so craved by their generation. Self-piercing is more prevalent today then ever before. Although it carries with it risks of self-mutilation, infection and serious complications, teens often have a cavalier attitude toward piercing their own body parts. They think they are invulnerable and think that nothing bad can happen to me. A sense of thrill or risk-taking can make self-piercing seem like an acceptable adventure, similar to the thrills of bungee jumping and drag racing in teens of previous generations. It may also seem like the only alternative to teens whose parents won’t give permission for a piercing.
Where to Pierce: Oral piercing, the practice of inserting adornments in the tongue (most common site), lips, cheeks or a combination of oral sites would be obsolete if it rested solely in the hands of the American Dental Association. Citing oral piercing as a public health hazard, the ADA passed a resolution opposing the practice. The risk of the procedure includes pain, infection, scarring, a permanent hole or semi-permanent hold, and social stigma. During a tongue piercing a needle is used to insert a barbell-shaped piece of jewelry through the tongue mid line. Symptoms following a piercing may include pain, swelling, infection and increased salivary flow. Healing requires four to six weeks, in the absence of complications. There is no anaesthesia during the procedure. The National Institutes of Health have identified oral piercing as a possible conveyance for blood borne hepatitis transmission, says Dr. Timothy Rose, president of the ADA. Other problems associated with oral piercing include tooth trauma, interference with chewing and speaking, hypersensitivity to metals, foreign debris in the piercing site, allergic reactions, altered taste buds and breathing difficulties due to swallowing the adornment. The ADA’s resolution calls for ongoing review of scientific literature on oral piercing and public education programs on risk.
The Law: In California, teens must be 18 years of age (ID required) or have parental permission for body piercing. Piercing establishments are required to register with the state for licensing purposes, as well as have annual health inspections. Inspections check sterilization equipment and piercing tools and help to ensure the cleanliness and safety of each studio. Unregistered practitioners are subject to civil penalties.
If you’ve given the green light on body adornment or your teen is of legal age, make sure they do their homework. Only a professional should perform the piercing. And, understand the risks: possible transmission of hepatitis, HIV an other blood-borne pathogens. Have the teen locate piercers in the area. Talk with people who have had a piercing done, and find out who did them. Check out examples of a piercer’s work. Meet the piercer’s clients. Discuss techniques. Ear-piercing guns should never be used to pierce anything other than ear lobes. And, ask questions. A legitimate piercer will be happy to address your concerns. Get concise written instructions for the aftercare of the piercing – before the procedure.
Costs: The cost of piercing procedures varies widely, but expect to pay between $25 and $45 for above-the-waist piercing, and $35 to $55 for below-the-waist procedures. Jewelry is additional and is available in many styles, but should be smooth with no rough edges and made of inert, nontoxic substances. Surgical stainless steel, pure gold, and titanium are among the choices available for a new piercing. Piercing jewelry is personal and should not be exchanged or reused on others. Make sure you do not receive used jewelry.
The Future: Today, body art has stamped its legacy on the teens of the ’90s. Pierced tongues and navels and shiny adornments stabbed through various body parts are considered desirable. We adults, tough, still find it hard to let our offspring exhibit an individuality that differs from our perceptions of acceptability. As parents, we will take great pleasure in anticipating the trends of our children’s children. Our grandchildren will one day torture these body-pierced teens with their own brand of individuality, as each subsequent generation makes its mark on the world.
According to a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau, single-parent families headed by a male more than doubled from 1980 to 1993. A 1993 study at the University of Wisconsin has revealed that father-only families are the fastest growing family type in the U.S. If you’re a newlywed planning to start a family, be advised that there is a significant possibility that you will be divorced before your kids reach ten years old. Your chances of obtaining full or joint custody of your children will be increased if you become involved in their lives from the start. Of course, it is hoped that you will be deeply involved for the pure pleasure and joy of it.
A bill currently before the Senate would entitle home-spouses to set up IRA accounts similar to their employed partners. Currently, dual-income married couples can each save $2,000 a year in a tax-deductible IRA. In one-wage families, only $2,250 can be saved annually – $2,000 from the wage-earner and $250 from the at-home spouse. Let your senator and representative know what you think. Senate version S 1669, House version H 4215.
Answering the Hard Questions
As children become aware of the world around them – walking down the street, playing in the park, watching TV – they come across all sorts of things they don’t understand. They wonder about the unkept man curled up in a doorway, the lady in a wheelchair or TV reports of a frightening kidnaping. They want to know if “it” will happen to them.
It’s our job to interpret the world for our children on a level they can understand. But being an interpreter can be a tall order when we’re not comfortable with the very things they are most curious about. And sometimes it can be downright embarrassing, exasperating or frustrating.
To young children, all questions are the same. They’re just looking for information. “Why is that lady in the red dress fat?” is no different to a three-year-old than “What’s in that pretty box?”
Most parents cringe when their child points out someone with an obvious disability. Be clear, honest and true in your response but don’t give any more information than the question requires. And don’t reprimand your child for staring or looking at a person with a disability. It’s probably your discomfort and you can use their questions to help you learn empathy. How else is a child going to learn about people who are different if they don’t ask questions? Besides, the more opportunity a child has to experience difference and diversity, the more accepting and tolerant the child will become as an adult.
Usually the questions we perceive as difficult are the ones that push our buttons, the ones that make us aware of our own anxieties. It is vitally important for parents to make the effort to control their emotions and not project their own fears and discomfort on to their children. We often want to shelter our children from unpleasant subjects like homelessness, poverty, death and violence. Children learn more than we wish they did from radio and TV, from talking to friends and from observing people on the street. If we don’t answer their questions, it leaves a void that children will fill with their own imaginations. When that happens, children frequently come up with scenarios or fantasies about themselves because they have no other context for their concerns. If they see someone begging on the street, it’s easy to imagine themselves in the same situation and become scared.
What should I teach about strangers? The relentless media coverage of the Kevin Collins and Polly Klaas cases had a deep impact, raising fears in parents as well as children. When questions about such cases arise, parents have an opportunity to both educate and reassure their children. Putting the Polly Klaas case into perspective is important. Although you can’t make a blanket promise that nothing like this will happen to them, abductions are quite rare.
Strike a balance between concern for personal safety and raising children who are afraid to go out into the world. You don’t want them to become so frightened that they assume anybody who says “good afternoon” is going to do them harm. On the other hand, you don’t want them to be so trusting that they disregard potential risks.
Make a clear rule that you and your child really stick to: Do not talk to strangers unless Mom or Dad is right there. The key is to teach children to recognize the unlikely but real danger a stranger might pose, while still allowing them to exchange pleasantries in safe situations.
When your child asks difficult questions, it’s important not to deny or belittle the feelings that prompted the question. The goal is to respond honestly giving children the tools they need to feel empowered rather than helpless.
A Fox Television Special ran on Father’s Day, 1999 called “Bad Dads”. It is said to be a powerful documentary featuring an extraordinary parenting program which is having remarkable success in turning “bad dads” into responsible, caring fathers. And, while I applaud such a film, it’s sad that good fathers have to once again watch the press look at the negative fathers on their day. When was the last time you saw a “Bad Mom” special on Mother’s Day. I don’t think NOW’s South Carolina Chapter making Sue Smith Woman of the Year, is quite what I was thinking.
At Home Dads
At-Home Dad Network www.athomedad.com or email@example.com Also has a quarterly magazine written for the 2 million U.S. fathers who stay home with their children. Each issue presents the, listings of playgroups, resources, and other at-home dads. The magazine offers home business ideas, child-rearing tips, and firsthand stories. Peter Baylies, Editor, At-Home Dad, 61 Brightwood Ave, North Andover, MA 01845-1702. Subscription order site: www.parentsplace.com/family/dads/gen/0,3375,10245,00.html or Subscribe Here.
In our high velocity culture, it’s all too easy for dads to get so swept up into the providing role that we miss the real heart and soul of our children’s infancies and toddlerhoods. Some of us allow ourselves to believe they don’t really need us that much until they can effectively throw a ball or do a pirouette. Others seek consolation in the thought of providing opportunities for their kids’ futures such as college. Maybe I was a bit of a renegade but all I could feel when I looked at my gurgling boy, Ben, was that I needed him as much as he needed me…right now. Career had to wait in line. His mom and I took on a sandwich route in Los Angeles because either one of us could work it. So, we alternated through the month—a week each hanging out with Ben followed by a week hawking our goodies to the stock brokers in the Pacific Exchange.
When we started the route, Ben was not quite a toddler but more a teeterer and lurcher, requiring his own security force. During my weeks home with him, we did a lot of veering from wall to wall. We also spent hours crawling around on the floor playing, singing and dancing. We dug lots of holes in the dirt, started a garden, captured whole nations of snails under the nasturtium and released them into someone else’s yard after intense interrogations. We sat on the sidewalk watching the ants go marching one by one, hurrah! Sallying forth into the neighborhood, architecture, trees, shrubs and flowers became the objects of our affection. We rated displays in store windows, made friends with the local merchants, examined imported objects from everywhere, studied trucks, cars and bicycles. I was his trusty steed as he happily rode my shoulders and hips through successive adventures. In the playgrounds, the magic of the swing, the ball, the stick, the flag and the kite became known to us. We splashed and squealed through countless baths together and often took naps so deep, the thunder god himself couldn’t wake us.
These were days of pure poetry. They gave Ben a much stronger start in life than most of his little playmates. They gave me immeasurable gratification and growth as a man and, I’m convinced, broadened my ultimate capacity for assertiveness and entrepreneurship much later downstream when I finally did focus on my career. For my money, deep, connected fathering is a far better school for business leadership development than Harvard or Wharton. What’s more, we don’t necessarily owe our kids $40,000 a year college educations…certainly not if we’re going to sacrifice a critical phase of our relationship with them to save for it. What we owe them is a great childhood from the earliest moment. If we give them that, they’ll make their way in the world just fine, with or without an Ivy League diploma.
Bob Kamm is an author, poet, songwriter and family-friendly business consultant. This article is adapted from his book new book, Real Fatherhood: The Path of Lyrical Parenting. He is also author of The Superman Syndrome: Why the Information Age Threatens Your Future and WhatYou Can Do About It. www.realfatherhood.com.