Monday, December 23, 2013

A Holiday Season Appeal to Dads

At the Upbeat Dad Organization, the cornerstone of what we try to do is build long-lasting family relationships – primarily focusing on the father-child relationship. Based on our experience, when fathers are lovingly engaged in the growth and development of their kids, family bonds are stronger and kids tend to grow into well-adjusted persons who become positive influences on society. When dads are disengaged and neglect the responsibility of helping to raise the kids they help to bring into the world, the mothers have a greater burden in giving them all they need to become productive members of society.

While many of us celebrate the wonders of the family unit, I readily recognize that many do not enjoy those same wonders. Some find this season to be very difficult because of a variety of reasons. Many children do not quite know what it’s like to celebrate the season with their dads. And unfortunately, many of these dads just don’t get it – they don’t understand why they need to be around for their kids.
According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, each night 24 million kids in the United States go to bed without their biological father in the home. Without a doubt there are many reasons for this statistic. Therefore, there is no one solution to fix the problem. In some cases, the fathers are to blame; in other cases, it’s the mothers; in other cases, it’s the family court system; and the reasons go on and on.

With this brief post, I’d like to challenge dads to make a new commitment during this season. You may ask, “Why not address the moms? Or the court system?” I do address these at different points on this blog. But by nature, I believe that although there are forces that one cannot control, one should focus on that which he can control. So I try to empower fellow dads to work through the obstacles that do exist – with the family court system and with other forces – so that through it all, the father-child relationship is preserved. 

Earlier this year, I met a single mother while at a speaking engagement and she shared that the moment she told her boyfriend that she was pregnant, he disappeared and she has not seen or heard from him since then. As extreme as that situation may be, I believe that many of us men become emotionally - if not physically - distant when it comes to raising our children. We do not see ourselves as vital contributors to their upbringing so we disengage and watch from the sidelines, figuratively speaking.

As men, we are driven by accomplishment – in our education, our careers, in athletics, even in winning the heart of our favorite girl. We get a feeling of euphoria when we get that much desired raise or promotion; a sense of pride brings out that smile in us. We give each other high-fives when our fantasy football team has a great weekend!
When it comes to our roles as dads, however, far too many of us do not embrace the thought of accomplishment that comes with being active participants in the raising of our children. We willingly “burn the midnight oil” to complete projects that helps us shine in our careers but do not have the same zeal in helping our kids to complete their own projects.

We want them to become straight-A students but quite often we don’t have the patience to work with them along the way. My own daughter – now a 15 year old – struggled quite a bit in her studies when she was younger. I had a choice and I’m glad I chose to sit with her, then with her teachers, then with her tutors to get her on the right track. Today she makes good grades almost effortlessly. I believe it’s due in large part to the fact that she knew I cared about her success scholastically.
It is easy to be passive in our approach to fatherhood but I believe that such an approach inevitably yields undesired results. We set goals in our careers; why not set goals in our roles as dads? Why not set goals to spend more meaningful time with our kids? Why not set goals to be their strongest advocates as they look to see what they want to be when they grow up?

As we enter this holiday season, let’s do some self-examination and see what more we can do. Even as I write this, I know that I can do more. There is always more that we can do. I often say that our children are with us for a relatively short time; but that short time helps to determine how they will live the rest of their time on earth.
We cannot expect them to naturally gravitate towards success when we ourselves didn’t gravitate towards success in our studies and our professions. With hard work and determination, we succeeded. Let us now take the same approach – hard work and determination – to play our part in the success stories of our children.

May you and your family enjoy a wonderful  holiday season!

The Upbeat Dad

Friday, September 20, 2013

An Appeal to Fathers in Unintended Pregnancies

I traveled to Jamaica recently to speak at a convention. While I was there, I met a single mother whose story touched my heart, to the point that, when I returned from the trip, I shared with my wife that I think we should help to play our part to help her dreams become a reality.

Her story, sadly, isn’t altogether uncommon.  She is relatively young and like many others, she had dreams of becoming a success in life, of meeting her Prince Charming and then riding off into the sunset to live happily ever after, as tends to happen in fairy tale stories.

 Things seemed to be going according to plan. She was on her way to live the life of her dreams when her story took an unexpected turn. She met a young man who she thought was her Prince Charming – her knight in shining armor. They talked of a future together. Well one day, about 4 years ago, she found out that she was pregnant with their child. And that day revealed to her just how charming her prince was.

She said that literally, that was the very last day that she has seen or corresponded with him. This wasn’t part of the plan but when he found out what a pregnancy meant, he wanted no part of it so he opted to walk away altogether from a situation that he helped to create.

So there she was – left to go through the pregnancy all alone. She did so despite not having the means to support herself or the child that she was carrying. However, she had an optimistic outlook, knowing that, despite the challenging scenario presented to her, she could turn her lemons into lemonade. 

She has come a long way; she has a son – now 3 years old and she is getting her life on track. She has aspirations of becoming a business owner. She’s filled with optimism for the future and having spoken with her, I have no doubt that she will be successful. Though she is overseas, my wife and I plan to support her in her business and life pursuits, as best as we can. She had a tough situation to deal with and has opted to make the best of it. She is working hard now and is giving her all to help her son have a bright and promising future.

Her story reminds me a sub-plot of the classic musical Les Miserables. A young lady named Fantine found herself in a similar state. Like many others, she had great dreams of having a Prince Charming type of a man to come into her life and sweep her off her feet so that they could live happily ever after.

But her reality was that the man who swept her off her feet, the one who she thought was Prince Charming, was only along for the ride long enough to get her pregnant. And by the time she realized all that happened, she found herself destitute, as a young, single mother, wondering why her dream became a nightmare.

She became a single mother who could not afford to raise her daughter on her own so she ended up becoming a prostitute. It was not quite her intent to sell her body for a living but out of desperation, she found herself living a life she hated, just to try to make ends meet.

In one of the more touching scenes from that musical, Fantine sings the song, I Dreamed a Dream. Look at the lyrics of this song and see if you can imagine the emotions as she pours her heart into it:

There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted

Anne Hathaway as Fantine (Les Miserables)

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
As they turn your dream to shame

He slept a summer by my side
He filled my days with endless wonder
He took my childhood in his stride
But he was gone when autumn came
And still I dream he'll come to me
That we will live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

The sad reality of Fantine’s life is that she became extremely ill. And before she could be cured, she died. The rest of the story is one of hope and optimism because her daughter, Cosette, was lovingly raised by the main character of the musical, Jean Valjean and she grew up and met and married her loving, Prince Charming named Marius. Cosette lived the charmed life that her mother could have only dreamed of. For Fantine, her story was a sad one but fortunately, a beautiful story ensued for her daughter.

Why do I share this story – both about Fantine and the young lady I met in Jamaica? Well, it’s a plea – an appeal, if you will, for us as men to realize the responsibility of fatherhood. I recognize that not every pregnancy occurs under the ideal circumstances. Certainly many pregnancies  are unwanted and unwelcome – both by the would-be mother and/or the would-be father. But the simple fact is that no child has ever asked to be conceived. They come into the world with no choice of their own.

This appeal is to my fellow fathers. I believe that far too often, women are left to raise the children that we helped to create without our aid. It’s not always easy, I know – especially when the relationships with the mothers have soured. Still, at a minimum, these children deserve our financial and emotional support. I recognize that the family law system can be unfair to men in many ways. I have experienced that personally. But I also know that our children deserve our love and support; therefore, I believe that so we ought to step up to the plate – to use the baseball analogy – and do the right thing for our kids.

If you have read this post and need to take some corrective action, I encourage you to do so. You will find a sense of fulfillment, knowing that you are contributing to the needs of a child that you have helped to bring into this world. Perhaps you have been missing in action and need to make that phone call or send that text message to begin making things right. The process all begins with the decision to make things right and step by step, you can become the type of father that your child deserves.

Making the investment in our children, although difficult, at times, pays dividends for a lifetime. Let’s accept the responsibility that comes with fatherhood. Generations of children are counting on us!

Enjoy your day,

The Upbeat Dad

Monday, June 24, 2013

Teaching Our Kids About Financial Responsibility

Recently I had a conversation with our 14 year old daughter about money. It’s not the first one we’ve had but this time was different. Why? Because I ended up getting upset with her. So what happened? Here goes:
She has been saving her allowance. And sometimes she gets money from different relatives. So that day, I just casually asked how much money she has saved. She said, “None.” I said, “Are you kidding? What happened?” Then she started to explain. In frustration, I just cut her off and didn’t even listen to all she had to say.

That’s probably not the best approach – to ask your child a legitimate question, only to cut her off while she’s answering. But here’s my issue: we have been talking about money – the do’s and don’ts - like budgeting, saving, spending. And what did she do? She spent it all!

She just completed her freshman year in high school. Soon she’ll be off to college. And after that, comes the real world. Unless we give her the right lessons at this juncture, she might learn the hard way the importance of managing money carefully. She told me a few months ago that she wants a bank account with her own debit card. I promised her that, if she demonstrates that she can handle the responsibility of managing the money she gets now, then we can do that. The recent spending spree that she went on tells me that she’s not quite ready yet. So back to the drawing board we go.

Now, I know as adults, sometimes we spend more money than we should – more than we want to. I understand life situations arise. But she’s 14 and a fulltime student. She has no life real obligations that would cause her to spend anything on a monthly basis. Any money she gets is purely for her pleasure – a little shopping, a little eating or whatever she wants to do.

I eventually listened to her tell me she did some shopping and got some things she’d been wanting to get for some time. I told her I have no problem with her getting things she had wanted. But we had a deal and she didn’t keep her end of the bargain.

You see, I have had my own financial issues and I am determined to teach my 3 kids about money management from a theoretical standpoint. Then I want to give them the opportunity to put these concepts into practice as they grow. My wife and I have 2 young sons – a 2 ½ year old and a 7 month old. So for now, the lessons are all directed to our teen daughter.

When I was growing up, my parents did speak with my siblings and me about money but more in a general sense. As I became an adult, I began to realize that I needed a bit more. I started working and earning my own money while in high school and that continued through college. I spent what I earned on things I wanted; my needs were taken care of by my parents.

When I graduated from my university studies and became a professional, I started earning much more money than before. At the same time, I became an independent, working adult, responsible for paying his own bills. That’s a whole new ballgame altogether.

It’s one thing to earn spending money when your parents are responsible for your care; it’s a different thing when you are responsible for every penny that comes into or goes out of your household. I learned, in a hurry, that a nice paycheck can come and go in a flash. I didn’t go about spending money unnecessarily; I just didn’t live by a budget. I figured that, as long as I could pay my rent, car note, credit card bills, college loans, grocery bills and other monthly obligations, I was fine.

I didn’t think about doing a bank reconciliation to ensure that I know what checks are outstanding at a given time. I didn’t think about saving. There was little thought about planning for tomorrow because I was so busy trying to live for each day.

Before I knew it, a few years went by and, for the most part, I was like a runner on a treadmill – doing a lot of activity but not really going anywhere. If I wanted to buy something and didn’t have the money readily available, I’d put it on a credit card and voila – I had it! No thought about whether or not I could afford it. That was just my approach.

There came a point where I realized that instead of managing money and putting it to work for me, it was managing me. Without employing a proactive approach to handling finances, I seemed to always find myself with too much month left after the money I earned that month was gone. Without going too much into the details of that chapter of my life, I’ll just say that I learned some tough lessons about the importance of handling finances. I set out to change my situation so that I could begin seeing different results.

Establishing a budget was one of the first things I did. It’s good to put on paper what you earn and what you’re obligated to spend and what you can exercise discretion in spending. Learning to save and invest is also an important part of this process. It’s something I have learned and am still learning. But more importantly, I have been putting what I have learned into practice and I’m finding more and more, that the principles of managing finances do work.

My kids mean the world to me. As they grow and develop I want them to learn the importance of handling finances. I teach our daughter that, when she gets money, she is to set some aside for savings; then she is to give some away – in our case, to church. Then she can buy things that she needs or even wants. But all of this is to be done with a well-thought out, proactive approach.

I know that the weekend before our conversation I referred to above, she went out with her cousins and they did a little shopping – well, a lot of shopping. She ended up getting things she didn’t plan to get, paying more than she planned to pay and when all was said and done, she came home with some nice things, but the money was gone – no savings, nothing given away. And I’m sure that if I was to look at what she paid for the things she got, I would see that she overpaid for some items. Or at the very least, she got items that, though they may have been good buys, were out of her budget.

I believe that we live in a society that encourages us to be impulsive spenders. We’re bombarded with ads for items that we don’t really need; we’re encouraged to get credit cards to get items that we want, just to satisfy some desire that was initiated in crafty ways by advertisers. And of course there’s the peer-pressure issue that causes our kids to think they need to have what everyone else has.

So as responsible parents, I believe that we have the obligation to counteract what our kids might hear from their friends or from advertisers. The truth is that they can accomplish just about anything they desire. And they can acquire things that they dream about. But it takes planning, discipline and self-control to make it happen.

Parenting is no walk in the park. But we’re preparing the next generation to take over the world as we get older. Money management is a key lesson for them to learn in order to live accomplished, balanced lives. Let us encourage them to be wise in how they handle this precious resource so that they can see their goals and dreams come to fruition.

Do enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Disciplinarian Parenting Style? Or Fun Parenting? Which is Better?

Just over 10 years ago when my former wife relocated to the northeast US, I was really distraught that the judge signed off on the move. You see, she was taking our 4 year old daughter with her, much to my dismay. I thought it would have been detrimental to the father / daughter bond that had been developed up to that point. The judge said that my daughter should be with her mom throughout the school year but during breaks from school – summertime, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Spring Break, etc – she would be with me.

In trying to encourage me, my attorney said, “Think of it this way – you’ll get to be the fun parent!” I started thinking about that. When my daughter’s with me, I could do all the fun things like take her shopping or to Chuck E. Cheese’s  or to places like Disney World. Doing the fun things and creating more wonderful childhood memories. Meanwhile my former wife would have to deal with the hard tasks of getting her to school daily and picking her up. Then she’d have to go to teachers’ conferences and do all the things required to help our little one to be successful in school – homework, especially. Then came the music lessons and Girl Scouts meetings and sports practices. That level of parenting isn’t always fun – it can be real exhausting.

But then I reflected on the situation and began thinking – do I really want to be a fun parent? Or do I want to be a parent who deals with every aspect of the parenting experience – the good, the bad and the ugly? I recall, during my childhood, that both my mom and dad had their hands full with my 3 siblings and me. We had our fair share of fun but it certainly wasn’t all fun and games. They taught us valuable life lessons that still guide us to this day. And these lessons often came disguised in the form of discipline.

After a while I began to realize that I didn’t want to be the fun parent. As glamorous as it might be to be the dad to create such fond memories with my daughter, the fact is that parenting, just like real life, has the glamour as well as the grime. I believe that the ultimate responsibility of parenthood is to lovingly train children in such a way that they grow up to be productive members of society. And that training doesn’t always come with fun and games; sometimes it might entail dealing with things our kids don’t like but which are in their best interest.

Whenever my daughter came to me, we certainly did do the fun things but I also tried to share with her lessons that she may not have wanted to hear. And I made a concerted effort not to just give her the things she wanted all the time. In other words, I was determined to do for her, not just what she wanted but also what she needed.

After a few years of having my daughter with me in relatively short spurts, just about 6 years ago, she came to live with me primarily – with her mom still living up north. Now my parenting style was to be put to the ultimate test. A single dad living on his own with his daughter coming to visit for the summer is one thing; it’s another thing to be a fulltime single dad dealing with school, homework, chores and everything that it takes to care for a child. This was a whole different ballgame.

Before long I began to realize that I’d been missing out on much of her development. Her learning style is the classroom environment is one of the first things that I noticed. I had always done my part from a distance, checking in with her teachers but seeing it up close gave me additional insight. I thought of some of my own challenges as I was growing up and how I overcame them. I was determined to help her strengthen the areas in which she was already strong and improve the areas of weakness.  I learned of things I could do to help her learn and achieve better grades. Before long I got her a tutor and that was quite helpful. This was the beginning of a new phase for me. Being a fun parent is easy; doing some of the things that your child might not like too much is a bit harder.

Four years ago, I got remarried. My wife and I now have 2 sons – a 2 ½ year old and a 3 month old. And my daughter is an integral part of our household. We couldn’t be happier because our home is built on love and mutual respect for each family member. Fortunately, both my wife and I realize that the responsibility of raising 3 young persons with unique and distinct personalities is an awesome one. We have loads of fun with them but we also know that if we are to be successful, discipline is required on our part.

Rodrick's teenage daughter
My daughter is now 14 years old and a high school freshman. As most parents of teenagers will tell you, inevitably there will be conflict. Teens love to push their boundaries to see what they can get away with. Sometimes she speaks as if she and I are the same age and she can do as she pleases. But overall, she’s well mannered and quite respectable and I’m quite proud of her. She’s on the honor roll at an extremely competitive high school. Now we have conversations about what career she would like to pursue. I get to challenge her in ways that, though not comfortable at times, cause her to think of the vast possibilities that may be accomplished as she seeks to make her mark on the world.

For our 2 young sons, we sure have our share of fun with them. But we have the right perspective – fun is great but for them to develop as they ought to, we have to be well-rounded parents who discipline and guide them while enjoying their growth and development.

I hope that this post has been helpful to you. Parenting entails having fun and playing games but it also entails doing the hard things that sometimes might not feel so good but are quite necessary. We all desire for our kids to grow up and become mannerly, well-adjusted, goal-oriented persons who make a positive contribution to society. Let’s keep the entire process of parenting in perspective. With the right mindset, we can enjoy them while preparing them to become all that we desire for them to be.

Enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

An Appeal to Expectant Fathers: Your Presence is Needed!

My wife and I recently welcomed a new baby boy to our family. We're now a family of 5 and we couldn't be happier! We already had a 14 year old daughter and a 2 year old son. Now this new addition just seems to make the picture complete! When we learned that a new little one was on the way, we had a great degree of anticipation. Along the journey, we knew that we couldn't take anything for granted. As many women will tell you, each pregnancy is different. Some may be pretty smooth while others can be physically and emotionally exhausting.

With all of this in mind, I wanted to ensure that I played my part, as best as I could, throughout the 9-month process. I couldn't physically carry the child but I could be supportive enough to make the challenge of carrying him as light as possible. I wanted my wife to know that, just as before, I would be there, right beside her, throughout each phase of the pregnancy and beyond. This brings me to the purpose of this blog post. I share it because I believe it's a message that each of us as dads can learn from. I write, not knowing the specifics of each person’s situation. I only know my personal observation and I thought I’d share a concern I have as a result.

Rodrick, wife and kids with newborn son
Here is the issue: throughout the pregnancy, when we went to Ob Gyn (doctor) appointments, I observed that, for the most part, I was the only father/expectant father present. So time after time, week after week, regardless of the time of day, or day of the week, generally speaking, I saw no other men accompanying their wives or expectant mothers of their children. I made a similar observation when my 2 other children were born – the men were missing, at least at the doctor’s offices.

So I began thinking – why are these women alone? Where are the men? Is this the norm? Is it to be expected? Some of these women struggled into the office, as they were in the last phase of their pregnancies. Some came with their other kids and had to deal with them in the waiting room before seeing the doctor. Some were clearly stressed because of all they had to deal with physically and emotionally.

Just from the small talk that my wife and I made with them as we sat in the waiting area, we learned that, for the most part, these were happily married women. Certainly there were those who weren't married. And some who, without really saying much, didn’t have the ideal scenario in which to welcome a new child. All of these women, with their varying circumstances, were being seen by the doctor without the men. 

Still puzzled about this observation, I decided to ask some people why the men didn’t generally accompany the expectant mothers of their children.  I asked verbally and via social media – Facebook and Twitter. Here’s a synopsis of the responses that I got:
-       They have to go to work and their employers would not give them the time off
-       It is not necessary for them to be there
-       In the culture of the United States, it’s not something that men do
-       The women do not have a problem with it
-       The men only need to be there when there is a major issue with the pregnancy and their input is needed

There was more that I heard but these are the major reasons. The consistent theme in the responses was that the presence of the men at these appointments was not a major priority. It’s doesn’t necessarily mean that the women are not loved and cared for; it’s just not something that was thought to be necessary and, for the most part, both men and women are okay with that. I know I didn’t take a scientific poll as they do in the political world. I’m sure there’s more to it than just this. Still, I believe that my observation might be indicative of what is commonplace – at least here in the US.

I won’t address each of the reasons above specifically, but let me just touch on the one I heard the most – work. I recognize that these doctor’s appointments are usually during normal business hours – Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. I also recognize that most people work during these hours so any visit to a doctor’s office – or any other place, for that matter – requires taking time from work. Some employers are inflexible and would not readily embrace one’s absence from work even for a couple of hours. I really do understand this.

At the same time, I also know that many of these women work outside the home. So they miss time from work for these appointments. I also know that some men are self-employed or have schedules flexible enough for them to go to the doctor to learn firsthand how the process is going. Maybe it might entail giving up one’s lunch hour or working late to make up the time. It might entail making a sacrifice. So the question becomes – is it worth the sacrifice?

I cannot imagine not being there at all for any of these appointments. The anticipation of each new milestone was something that excited me. At 6 weeks we heard the heartbeat. At 20 weeks we saw him on the ultrasound and found out we were having another boy. And after all of these appointments came the delivery of a child who, only a few months before, could barely have been seen under a microscope. Witnessing yet another child come into the world was something I considered an absolute privilege. The expression “the miracle of childbirth” is true indeed. These moments were absolutely priceless and I would not have wanted to miss them for the world.

I often say that kids really do need their dads. I believe that this need begins from the moment they are conceived. Kids need constant care, love and devotion from both their moms and dads from when they are in the womb. As our wives or the expectant mothers of our children carry these little ones, I believe that we have an obligation, as much as possible, to be a constant presence - at the doctor's office, at home, wherever it may be. Our presence helps to lighten the load in what can sometimes be a very trying, emotionally-exhausting experience.

I recognize that not every pregnancy occurs under the ideal circumstances. I’m very much aware of that. Still, I believe that if collectively, we put a greater emphasis on prioritizing being there as constant sources of support, then the expectant mothers of our children, along with the children, would feel our loving embrace – both physically and emotionally.

My appeal is not simply to encourage men to be present at doctors’ visits. It’s a call for a revolution in our entire mindset regarding the process of bringing children into the world. You’ve probably seen or heard of the stereotypical emotionally-disconnected dads whose only significant role in the delivery of their children is to hand out cigars to celebrate the birth. I don’t know if those dads still exist but I would like our involvement throughout the pregnancy process to be nothing like the image that we’ve seen portrayed at times.

Whether it’s keeping the gas tank filled or doing the grocery shopping so our wives don’t have to stop unnecessarily or taking over the cooking duties – at least temporarily – or making those late night runs to the convenient store to help them satisfy an impulsive craving for some food they haven’t had in years, there’s more we can do. Believe me, it’s not all a bed of roses when we make these sacrifices. But it works wonders and helps to solidify our presence in our wives’ and kids’ lives. This, I know from personal experience.

I don’t expect that each reader will agree with my viewpoint. That’s no problem at all. But I hope that you understand my heart in all of this. Children have the biological makeup of a mother and a father and I believe that both parents have a significant role to play in their development – and that role begins when they are in the womb. Certainly, men and women have different parts to play throughout a pregnancy. I just strongly believe that as men, there is more that we can do to demonstrate our unconditional love and support.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what I’ve shared here. Feel free to leave a comment on this post. Or you can share via our Facebook or Twitter accounts. 

Childbirth is a true miracle. Let us collectively commit to being more active participants in the witnessing of this miracle!

Do enjoy your day.

Rodrick and his family

The Upbeat Dad