Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dads, This Holiday Season Give Your Kids What They Long For: Your Presence!

Well, the holiday season is upon us again. My, my time flies does it? Seems like yesterday we were talking about new years resolutions. Now it’s season’s greetings all over again. If you dare drive by a mall anytime over the next few weeks, chances are, you’ll be in bumper to bumper traffic. Holiday shopping is the order of the day – and retailers are counting on a record-breaking shopping season.

All over the world, dads and moms find particular delight in getting the gifts that their kids have longed for. For some, it’s that new techy gadget everybody’s talking about - the iPad, iPhone or Wii. That would really make their Christmas dreams come true! For others, it’s some other hot new thing that is the talk of their school or neighborhood. This is just that time of the year when boys and girls of all ages can hardly sleep at night because they know their moms and dads are going to get them a special gift that they’ve longed for.

With this as the backdrop, I come back to the real world for a moment. You see, in the fantasy world, kids' dreams come true; they not only get the special gifts they've longed for, but they also come from happy homes where they get the love and emotional support that they desire. In the real world, however, more than 50% of all first marriages end in divorce. And when kids come from such marriages, their happy homes become broken homes and more often than not, they spend relatively little time with their dads.

Did you know that in the United States, approximately 24 millions kids live in a home without their biological father? The reasons for this are unique to each situation but the bottomline is that these kids do not enjoy the daily involvement of their dads in their lives.

This Christmas and holiday season, with all the joyful celebrations that abound all over the world, my heart and mind are with these children – the ones who, due to no fault of their own, don’t have their dads. So my Christmas wish for these kids is this: instead of the very costly presents that they are often showered with, I’d love to see them get the present that has lifetime implications – the presence of their father in their lives.
I know the difference that a father’s loving hand makes. My father has always been – and continues to be – a positive influence in my life. Earlier this year, my parents celebrated 47 years of marriage. My father has been an integral part of my development and that of my siblings from our births.

I also know from going through the formal education system that children without fathers in the home just don't perform quite as well as others. And as life progresses, these children become adults and they face a world that, in many ways, is dominated by males, without having the positive influence of the most essential male in the life of a child - their dad.

The repercussions of this can be significant. Did you know that a disproportionate number of prisoners grew up without a father? Did you also know that not having a father present in ones life increases the likelihood of dropping out of school, becoming a teen parent, ending up in poverty? This is just the reality of the situation.

With this post, I appeal to fathers - absentee fathers, in particular - to make it a priority to connect with your kids. Make your present to them this holiday season your presence in their lives. I've written a number of posts on this blog to help. For this topic, read Helping Fathers Connect with Children They've Neglected to learn some tips on establishing that bond.

I also appeal to those who I refer to as the absentee dad living at home. This father is the workaholic type who's always so busy working and getting ahead that his kids grow up under his roof but see him as a stranger. He leaves early in the morning and comes home late at night. The weekends are spent on the golf course or with his buddies. Then when all he cares about is over, he makes time for the kids - whatever little time is left.

I've said repeatedly that we show our kids we love them with the 4 letter word: T-I-M-E. Time spent with them is more precious than any techy gadget. Right now, I can hardly remember any gift I got for Christmas as a child. But you know what I remember? Playing sports with my dad. I remember going for our family Sunday afternoon drives to no place in particular. I remember going to Luby's cafeteria as a family during my teen years. These are the memories that live with me and encourage me to create similar memories with my own kids.

This post would not be complete without acknowledging the role that family law plays in the issue at hand. I believe that the way that the system functions tends to alienate dads from their kids. At least in the United States, courts seem to focus more on the financial support of fathers than the emotional support that bonding with one's child brings. I'm not unfamiliar with the emotional toll that this brings. I've experienced it firsthand and I know it's not easy to deal with.

The environment that the family law system has created, in my view, lends itself to abuse by women who care little about the relationship between father and child. I still insist, however, that despite the innumerable obstacles that are encountered along the way, the love of a father prevails over any legal or other obstacle that might arise. It's love that gives a dad the strength to deal with a biased legal system just so that in the end, he maintains a strong relationship with his kids.

Fatherhood is a wonderful institution. Those of us fortunate enough to be dads should embrace the role wholeheartedly. Kids don't ask to be conceived. They have no choice about the homes they're born into or the circumstances that led to their conception. They come into the world as vulnerable as can be. But with the right guidance by loving parents and others, they can grow to become the best they can be.

If you're a dad and this post has spoken to your heart, starting today, do something to help your kids enjoy a closer, more memorable relationship with you. Get them all the gifts you want this holiday season. But just know that no amount of material presents can equate to your presence in their lives.

I'm rooting for you as you take these steps. And I dare say, the world is rooting for you as well. Loving, actively-engaged dads involved with their kids is something that's welcomed and celebrated the world over.

Let's do the right thing and become the dads that our kids deserve. That would truly make this holiday season the most wonderful time of the year.

Enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Kim Kardashian: What We Can Learn From Her Impending Divorce

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Kim Kardashian is getting divorced after only 72 days!
Wow! Yes, that’s right. The newlywed star is getting divorced. But the honeymoon isn’t over yet, is it? Apparently it is. Ok, so what does that have to do with you and me? Isn’t this site about fatherhood? Well, read on – we’re going somewhere with this.

For those who may not know, Kim Kardashian is a reality television star. Her show, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, put her and her family on the map in 2007. And since then, she’s had a meteoric rise to fame. She and her sisters have starred in hit spinoffs, Kourtney and Kim Take Miami and Kourtney and Kim Take New York. She’s also starred on ABC’s hit series Dancing With the Stars. Add other accomplishments such as successfully launching multiple fragrances and you’ll get the picture: Kim Kardashian is a star.

She began dating NBA player Kris Humphries of the New Jersey Nets in October 2010. They became engaged in May 2011, and married on August 20, 2011 in an elegant made-for-TV wedding in Montecito, California. It was broadcast on the E! television network and watched by millions around the world. Reportedly, Kardashian and Humphries made $17.9 million from the ceremony. And how much did the wedding cost? Some estimates say $20 million. And unlike many young couples, these costs weren’t out of pocket expenses for them. They paid little or none of the cost of the elaborate event. Celebrity does have its privileges.

Well, just 72 days into the marriage, to the surprise of millions, on October 31, 2011, Kim filed for divorce from Humphries, citing irreconcilable differences. In less than 2 ½ months, apparently, it just wasn’t working.

There are different schools of thought on what actually occurred. Some believe that the marriage was a stunt to get the media and fans talking. A widely held view in many circles is that any publicity is good publicity. So, to them, this was a stunt to enhance the Kardashian brand. When people say, “Can you believe that Kim Kardashian is getting a divorce?” that results in greater awareness of the brand and spells $$$$. That’s just how it works.

The E! network defended itself for partnership with the couple by airing their wedding with the following statement: “Any insinuation that E! and producers orchestrated Kim’s wedding is completely false. The Kardashians have authentically lived their lives on camera for a long time and Kim’s wedding is one of the many real-life events that the family has shared with viewers…”

Others believe that it was just as Kardashian claimed in her divorce filing – their differences were irreconcilable. It’s highly unusual that a couple divorces after less than 3 months but it’s not entirely impossible. Stranger things have happened. But regardless of what true reasons are, the divorce has been filed and now the legal process of ending the marriage has begun.

There are some lessons imbedded in this story that I hope that men, women and children learn. I believe that families will be better for it. So here are the lessons:

Marriage has traditionally been a sacred institution – one that should not be entered into lightly. “Till death do us part,” is a phrase often repeated in wedding ceremonies. So, in repeating the vows, couples really are saying that despite the challenges that inevitably arise, they will remain committed to each other until death. Words such as “for richer, for poorer; in sickness, in health, for better, for worse” used to be revered to the extent that divorce was never an option.

But over time, divorce has increasingly become the norm in our society. Take a look at these statistics, for instance: In the United States, in 1900, 7.9% of marriages ended in divorce. The percentage increased to 23.1% in 1950; to 48.1% in 1975 and to and 50.3% in 2000. You get the picture? Couples are stay together less.

Certainly there are a variety of factors that have caused the change. One prevalent factor is that women have joined the workforce in increasing numbers over the decades. Previously, many women who were unhappily married opted to remain in those marriages because they were less educated and would likely endure financial turmoil if they opted to leave. But in today’s world, many more options are available to them.

Add kids to the picture and marriages take on greater significance. Some divorced couples trace the demise of their marriages to the birth of their children and the manifestation of fundamental differences in the viewpoints on how they should be raised. Indeed, having kids adds a new dimension to the married life.

I tend to be somewhat traditional in my viewpoints on marriage. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen my parents happily grow together while raising my 3 siblings and me. This year they celebrated 47 years of marriage. Statistics show that children with actively engaged fathers and mothers in a two-parent household fare better than their peers who do not enjoy the same privilege. When dads and moms work together to raise children, the married life can be quite rewarding.

Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries didn’t have kids – 72 days isn’t a long time, is it? In my view, that’s one good thing that comes out of this story. Children are often the innocent victims – collateral damage, if you will, when marriages fail. Since this couple had no kids, when this marriage is over, even if the divorce proceedings should get messy, it is over. When kids are present, there’s a perpetual tie that binds mother, father and child(ren).

Another lesson I’d like to look at in this impending divorce is the fact that in our society, we often emphasize the glamour and elegance of weddings and fail to give the same emphasis to the marriages. Weddings can truly be beautiful. If you saw the Kardashian / Humphries wedding, you can attest to this. $20 million can go a long way!

One of my fondest childhood memories was waking up early one summer morning at my uncle’s home in Jamaica and watching the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Some called that the wedding of the century. Now a generation later, their son, Prince William took Kate Middleton to be his bride earlier this year. I wrote William & Catherine;Charles & Diana: What We Can Learn From Them as I thought of these two royal couples and their fairy tale weddings. Charles and Diana didn’t fare quite so well. I do hope that William and Kate’s relationship stands the test of time.

You see, wedding ceremonies are great. Honeymoons can be greater. But it’s the marriages that tell what couples are really made of. Sprinting to the altar after a whirlwind romance is fine; but marriage is a marathon – one filled with twists and turns that can either cause the demise of a relationship or make it become more fortified.I know of couples that separate and divorced while still having outstanding debts incurred from their wedding. How sad is that? I’m all for memorable weddings but what good does it do to not have the same devotion to every detail of the marriage as there is to the wedding?

The final lesson I’d like to share regarding this couple’s divorce is that we should not become so enamored with celebrities that we lose ourselves and our core convictions in the process. Hollywood thrives on the public intrigue with its stars. There’s a reason why the E! network is so successful. Celebrity sells, plain and simple.

The unfortunate consequence to this, in my view, is that people view the lives of celebrities and watch their every move. And many believe that whatever their favorite star says or does is to be embraced. Young children, in particular, are impressionable and can be easily influenced while observing the lives of their favorite stars.

In the Kim Kardashian case, I believe that her 72 day marriage has sent a message to young children that marriage isn’t really a serious commitment – you get in, get out and move on. For this reason, I implore dads and moms to teach strong traditional family values to their children. I have a 13 year old and a 15 month old. I would like to think that my wife and I would instill such values in them that, regardless of what a famous star says or does, they would emulate the values taught to them by their parents. That’s the true responsibility of parenthood.

I hope that these pointers I’ve shared here have been beneficial to you. This impending divorce has been in the news recently so I figured I’d share thoughts on the matter that would ultimately benefit families across the world.What happens next with this divorcing couple, I don’t know – I’m not one to keep up with the Kardashians! The 72 day wedding is their legacy unfortunately. I do wish them well as they live their lives. I also wish that they, as well as other celebrities, would recognize the degree of influence that they have on the lives of others and therefore, make decisions that would result in them having a positive influence on the public.

If you’re married, especially if you have children, please do your best to keep it together. If you’re unmarried and desire to be married, do choose wisely. If more than 50% of marriages fail, tell yourself that yours will be one that not only succeeds but also thrives. The love in our homes is ultimately what makes our world go around.

Celebrities are great to watch and observe; but as we all live our lives, let’s embrace the values that will lead us to build happy, successful marriages and families. We deserve nothing less.

Enjoy your day today.


The Upbeat Dad



Thursday, November 3, 2011

Helping Fathers to Connect with Children They've Neglected

Parenthood is a bold and noble calling - one that is shared by people all over the world. Being an integral part of the process that brings a new life into our world is an honor that both fathers and mothers share. Indeed such a calling comes with a great degree of responsibility.

I recognize that not every child is born under the ideal circumstances. Unintended pregnancies occur every day for different reasons. In some cases, the pregnancies are terminated. In other cases, they go full-term and babies are born into circumstances where their parents are not quite ready for the responsibility of raising them.

From many of these situations come children whose fathers opted to become absent rather than take on the responsibility. I often say that for many men, the last conversation they have with some women is when they say, "I'm pregnant." After that, they're never seen or heard from again. And the women are left to raise the children alone.

With this post I'd like to speak to the hearts of men who have fathered children but have not followed through on their responsibility to care and provide for them. I know that it's easier to reach some than others because each situation is different. For some men, the last thing they want to hear is someone telling them what they should do regarding their children when they have been treated harshly by a family law system that seeks to operate against them and their best interests. I fully recognize this.

Yet, I also recognize the important role that fathers can play in the lives of children. So I hope that this post will touch the hearts of many and will challenge them to do the right thing on their children's behalf.

There are several indicators that tell us of the importance of the role of a father. And there are various consequences to our society when children are fatherless . Let me share some with you. In the United States alone, 24 million children do not live in a home with their biological father. Children without active fathers in their lives are more likely to:
  • drop out of school
  • become teen parents
  • abuse alcohol and drugs
  • end up in prison
In the African American community, 70% of children are born to unwed mothers. In the same community, 1 of 3 young men between age 20 and 30 is either in prison or is in some way involved in the criminal justice system. Suffice it to say that children need their fathers.

So how does one make a connection with a child who he has walked away from? And how does one get over the barriers to establishing a relationship with that child? I previously wrote Establishing a Relationship with Your Absentee Dad. The issue at hand is the opposite of that scenario - it's now about how the absentee dad can establish a relationship with his children.

Here are some steps that I believe can be taken to establish that relationship:

1. Forgive yourself and others. The starting point, in my opinion, is forgiveness. There are varied reasons that fathers effectively abandon their children. In some cases, they do not want the responsibility that comes with fatherhood. In other cases, mothers have used the children as tools - bargaining chips, if you will - to manipulate a family law system that operates in their favor.

If fathers are to establish successful relationships with the children, I believe that forgiveness is the key. Forgiving oneself for not fulfilling a responsibility is empowering. Forgiving others for what they did to cause the situation is also empowering. By forgiving, one becomes free of the chains that bind and inhibit the establishment of a good father-child relationship.

2. Reach out to the children. I can't tell you how many times I've heard of children who don't know their father speak of how much they just want to know them. Sadly, some wait a lifetime and never meet them. Yet there are other cases where the fathers have done so much wrong that the children have no desire to meet them.

I encourage fathers to assess their own situation and make every effort to reach out to the children. Also, let me say here that a humble demeanor goes a long way. Children are under no obligation to accept the person who fathered them and then left. When the children are older - particularly when they're already adults - they may have greater resistance and more indifference. As much as it lies with you, do everything to ensure that a connection can be made. So a humble demeanor in trying to establish that relationship can work wonders.

3. Don't blame others. When you've reached out to the children and are making the connection with them, it's important to just focus on you and them. If others - particularly the mothers - gave you a hard time, the kids don't need to know that. You may be 100% right and justified in placing the blame. But you don't need to say it to the kids. Just be a loving father and, in time, your care and affection for them will overcome any obstacle caused by others' negative words or actions.

When I went through my divorce 10 years ago, I had a really rough experience. Read The Awful Night 10 Years Ago That Led Me to Start The Upbeat Dad to learn more about it. I wasn't an absentee dad but certainly I could relate to what many men experience in the legal process. I really could have let my then 3 year old daughter know all that was happening and why I needed a court order just to be able to see her. But I opted to shield her from the negativity of playing the blame game. I just focused on being a loving dad and let the rest take care of itself. And I'm so glad I did. It worked wonders then and it's still working today.

4. Understand the true meaning of child support. The term child support seems to come up only in a family law context. But I believe that loving parents support their children 24/7/365. In other words, they support them in every way - financially and otherwise.

Fathers have long been seen as the financiers of their children's lives while mothers provide the nurturing. Some men have then bought into the notion that paying child support equates to being a good father. And, to some extent, the legal system tends to support this view.

I encourage you to read the posts What Exactly is Child Support? and Is Paying Child Support Punishment or a Privilege? If you haven't paid child support as you ought to, begin doing it today. If you've paid it, that's great but understand that when you support your children, money is only a part of your obligation. There so much more to it than that. Support your kids all the time, in whatever they do. That's how you win their minds and hearts.

5. Let your actions do the talking. You've probably heard the saying, "Actions speak louder than words." If you're really committed to establishing that relationship, taking action can speak volumes. Showing up and giving a world of promises is great. Getting a new schedule of time with the children is wonderful. But all of it is meaningless if not followed up by action.

Let your kids get to know and trust you as a loving father. Skipping meaningful time with them and then showing up with expensive presents might seem to work for a while but in the long-run, it's your presence that means more to them. If you promise to call them each night before they go do bed, do just that. If you get them on the weekends, do just that. Show up to their athletic events and school events and support them with genuine enthusiasm.

So there you have it. These tips I've shared here can work wonders in the process of establishing that relationship. You cannot change the past. You cannot undo what was done before. You can only acknowledge what occurred and try to make corrective action going forward.

I believe quite strongly that where there is life there is hope. Regardless of how bad the circumstances may have been, you can reach out and make a connection with your kids. And when you do, you'll have the opportunity to help to mold and influence their lives in a positive way. The choice is yours.

I've previously said that "father" is a term of biology but "daddy" is a term of endearment. When you give of your best and try to mend the broken fences, you'll very soon become "daddy" instead of just the man who fathered a child. It can be done. And I encourage you to say for yourself, it will be done.

Do enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Lesson from Humpty Dumpty for the Divorced: Can you be put back together again?

During childhood, many of us learned the nursery rhyme about Humpty Dumpty. If you might recall, it goes something like this:
Humpty Dumpty sat upon a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

You see, Humpty was an egg – a fragile egg. And when he had his fall, nothing anyone could do could put him back together. He had permanent scars that caused him to never be the same again.

As I think about the divorce experience and its effect on men, women and children, I liken it to Humpty Dumpty and his plight. Many people go through the process and never ever recover. Some do recover but it takes years. Others recover but in the process they hurt others and leave scars on them that last a lifetime.

Despite what some may think, I don’t believe that divorce is something a typical person getting married plans for. Yet it happens every day and lives are ruined as a result. I have a friend who has been married 3 times. The first was to his high school sweetheart. After a marriage of over 20 years, they decided to go their separate ways. And since then, within a few years, he married and divorced twice. Now he doesn’t even consider dating because the thought of building a new relationship that might end in disappointment is just too much for him. His heart is fragile and might never become whole again.

With all this as a backdrop, let me share this with you: there is hope. I believe, quite strongly, that where there is life, there is hope. So if you’re reading this and you find yourself in the Humpty Dumpty state, let me encourage you with these words: You can be put back together again!

I write this not as someone unfamiliar with the emotions of divorce. Ten years ago, I went through an awful, bitter divorce – one that left me severely wounded. You can learn more about the experience in these posts: 

Suffice it to say that for a long time afterwards, I struggled to put back the pieces of my heart and my life. It wasn’t easy by any means but today, I am back together again and so much stronger and better as a result.

There are specific steps I believe are necessary on this road to recovery from divorce. Here they are:

-          Forgive Your Former Spouse and Yourself. In order to embrace life after divorce, I believe that it’s necessary to permanently close the chapter of the marriage that ended. The first stage is forgiveness. It’s a two-fold process – forgiving your former spouse and forgiving yourself. Please notice that I didn’t say that your former spouse must forgive you or himself/herself. Forgiveness has to do with you – you have 100% control over that.

In the ideal scenario, both parties would forgive but that doesn’t always happen. Also, notice that I didn’t say anything about who was right or wrong. That’s ultimately irrelevant. To move on, forgiveness is what’s important. Learn more about this very critical step with the post: Forgiveness: The Key to Healing After Divorce.

-          Embrace Yourself. What do I mean by embrace yourself? What I mean is that you accept yourself as you are. This might take some work because for so many years, your entire identity has been wrapped up in your marriage. In a sense when divorce occurs, a part of you dies. In marriage, two hearts and lives become one. In divorce, as these lives go in different directions, each party has to become whole again – and that takes time.

One thing that worked for me was dating myself. How odd, right? Well, it worked wonders. I went out to dinner and sometimes to a movie and just had a ball. It was all about finding myself again and recognizing that I’m good company! Embrace yourself for who you are. Love yourself and just focus on the better days that lie ahead.

-          Don’t Be Too Quick to Enter New Relationships. During the process of courtship that leads to marriage, it takes time to get to know the other person. After divorce, it takes time to find yourself again. And in this process, having a new love interest too quickly can spoil a very necessary phase. Some people enter new relationships and end up subconsciously having unrealistic expectations of the new person to fill the void created with the divorce.

Did you know that the more people get married, the more likely they are to become divorced again? Research shows that over 75% of 3rd marriages will end in divorce. Take time to get back in the game – courtship and so on – and eventually, the right person will come along and you’ll be truly prepared to make a lifetime commitment. Till then, love yourself and enjoy yourself.

-          Focus on the Children. If you have kids, I believe that focusing on them and their best interest is key throughout divorce and in the aftermath. When no kids are involved, no matter how messy divorce becomes, when it’s over, it’s over. When kids are involved, it goes on forever – because you have to deal with the person who you no longer get along with, just for the kids’ sake. Being a parent is a lifetime commitment and in my view, is the most important role anyone can play.

The children should be given significant consideration in each decision that you make as you move on. Whether you relocate, date, remarry, etc., each decision has potential consequences – negative and positive – on the kids. So make sure you give them adequate consideration in all you do.

-          Enjoy Your Life. Ok, this might sound cliché but since it’s the last point, I’m gonna say it anyway: Enjoy your life! Do you know that you have only one life to live? And when it’s over, it’s over. You don’t want to live out your post-divorce years as a mean, bitter person? That’s not you – you’re better than that! You may have heard it said that hurt people hurt people. When you’re healed and whole again, you can enjoy life as you never have before. Waking up each new day with a sense of hope and promise is something to live for. I recall 10 years ago at this very moment, I was at the beginning stage of my divorce. And boy was it heartbreaking. Waking up was a chore because I knew I had to deal with the reality of the situation.

Over the years, I’ve learned to embrace each new day as a gift. Now I’m happily remarried with a new son. And my daughter (from my first marriage) lives with us. You can read The Story of My Blended Family to learn about how it all came together. In all of this, I can say that my former marriage and divorce seems to fade in my memory. I’m no longer controlled by the awfully bitter emotions that so dominated my life then. Life has moved on. And I have moved on and I’m so much better for it.

I hope that this post has been an encouragement to you. It’s very real and I believe that one can benefit immensely from each of these steps. There’s so much more to it, I know but these simple steps can be implemented to get going in the right direction. Do share this with those who you think would stand to benefit. I believe that as we share with others, the positive, life-changing message can impact others in a meaningful way.

Divorce happens. Life happens. Some of it we can control; some of it we can’t. Still, we don’t have to live like Humpty Dumpty and be scarred for life. By living by some simple, key principles, the pain that comes from divorce will eventually become a key inflection point to launch us into the best years of our lives. You can be put back together again and live the beautiful life that you deserve to live.

Do enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad