Saturday, January 15, 2011

Welcome New Countries - January 15, 2011

We'd like to welcome the following countries that have joined our growing list of readers over the past week: Bahamas, Ireland, Lebanon, Slovenia, Switzerland!

Please check out The Story Behind The Upbeat Dad to find out what we're all about! Also, at the top of the page, look for the section: Check Out Our Most Popular Posts to see the stories that our readers like the most. Each Friday we do an Upbeat Dad of the Week feature where we highlight a father whose involvement has made his kids' lives better.

We encourage you to become engaged in our conversation by posting comments to the posts you read. Also, join us on Facebook page and follow us on Twitter.

You'll enjoy and share our excitement about fatherhood. Everybody's welcome - dads, moms, kids and anyone who believes strong, involved fathers help make strong kids.

Come back often. There's always something new!

Have an excellent day!

The Upbeat Dad

Friday, January 14, 2011

Upbeat Dad of the Week: Henrik Hesselman

Henrik Hesselman
Welcome to our weekly spotlight that we call Upbeat Dad of the Week. We like to feature stories about dads who are exceptional in playing a positive role in their kids’ lives. This week’s feature is about a gentleman for whom I have much admiration for the great measures he has gone to in order to ensure that his kids are as well adjusted as possible. It gives me great pleasure to share this post with you about our Upbeat Dad of the Week, Henrik Hesselman.

Throughout his professional career, Henrik has enjoyed great success as a leader. Originally from Mexico, he has held leadership positions with various organizations throughout South America and Europe. Currently, he is a vice president with a wealth management firm in Miami, Florida. In this capacity he coordinates the money management and investment strategies for high net worth individuals all over the world. His success in the corporate environment is to be greatly admired.
Before we look further into Henrik’s story, let me make the comment here that so many men can speak of their great accomplishments in the workplace but then when it comes to their relationship with their kids, that is lacking. I wrote the post Cats in the Cradle: A Lesson for Working Parents to highlight the fact that as we climb the corporate ladder, we also need to ensure we prioritize time with our kids. Many men with great accolades would be quite happy to just enjoy their professional successes while neglecting their kids in the process. But not Henrik; that’s why we honor him in this way.
Seventeen years ago, Henrik got married in his native Mexico. The marriage produced two boys – who are now 14 and 12 years old. The young family was growing and developing according to plan. When the younger son was approximately 3 years old, however, Henrik and his wife noted that something was not quite right with his development. He didn’t appear to grasp certain skills that a child of his age should grasp. They knew something was just not right.
After observing him some more, they decided to take him to medical professionals for observation. The medical community at the time was not as open or as knowledgeable as we are today with regards to autism.  They recognized that the child’s development was slower than normal but failed to diagnose the condition despite having been to many specialists.  It was not until they wanted to enroll their son in pre-school that the school district’s psychologists and therapists suspected a case of autism.
Autism is a neurological disorder characterized by extreme self-absorption and detachment from one’s environment. The spectrum of autism is extremely wide and every child manifests the conditions very differently. Concerned about his well-being, both parents began researching just what this condition really meant. Would he not develop as smoothly as his older brother? What does it mean to care for a special needs child on a day to day basis?
Their journey has been a test of character but they have responded like champions. They were determined to establish an environment in which their son would become as well adjusted as possible despite living with the condition. They have done their best but even their best effort cannot change some symptoms evident in their son. He is non-verbal, which means that although he can listen to and react to others’ voices, he does not speak. He also has some fine motor issues which limits his ability to use sign language or write.
When he was old enough to start pre-school, he was enrolled in a school for children with autism in the Fort Lauderdale  area. This program, however ended by the time he got to first grade.  When he got to the first grade he was enrolled in a special cluster program at the public school.  His parents were concerned about the general approach to learning by the school.

At the time, the schools were not prepared to adequately handle children with autism.  They believed what was best for their son was to develop a program specifically designed for their son and his needs. So they recruited educators and therapists and began a home school program for him. Besides the basic instructors, they hired an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, a physical therapist and a behavioral therapist. Henrik says, “It was quite a time-consuming and expensive process but we felt that it gave him the best environment in which to learn.”
Because their son is non-verbal, the parents looked into different means by which he could learn to communicate with them. First, they tried sign language but that didn’t produce the results they sought. Then they developed a series of pictures that he could use to share with them and his caregivers his feelings. For example, if he was hungry, he would show them a picture of food. That was the only way he could communicate.

Always looking for ways in which to help their son, the Hesselmans began looking into technological solutions to help him learn. They found a device called a Dynavox that is ideally suited for him. It is a small touchscreen computer that enables him to communicate his feelings and the activities he wants to be involved in. He also uses it to choose menu items for his meals. The device is quite costly but it has been of tremendous help in facilitating the communication process.

Over time, Henrik and his wife began having difficulties in their marriage. Somehow they seemed to be growing apart. Finally, 2 ½ years ago, the marriage ended in divorce. It wasn’t something that either party anticipated happening when they got married and particularly when they had the two kids – one of whom had autism. But that was their reality.
Many fathers, when faced with the ending of a marriage, are willing to simply walk away and commit to paying child support and seeing the kids every other weekend. But Henrik’s boys mean too much to him for him to have just walked away. He and his former wife have developed a time-sharing schedule that allows them to have equal time with the boys. As the boys travel between the two homes, the Dynovox travels with them to ensure that his autistic son can communicate effectively.
After the divorce, the parents learned of a new special needs school that is run by a parent who also has an autistic child. After doing some research, they enrolled their son in the school. Each day, he has 4 hours of schooling and 4 hours of therapy.
With so much attention and energy focused on his special needs son, Henrik has always been cognizant of the fact that his other son – the older of the two – also needs love and affection. He is involved in sports and other activities. He has developed a passion for the game of tennis – a sport that he plays with a great degree of skill.

When I asked him what advice he has for other parents, Henrik said, “Always make sure your kids are a  priority. Make sure you know and understand what the needs of your child are and do whatever it takes to meet those needs and keep them involved in something they are passionate about.”

Being a parent has its inherent challenges. But being a parent of a special needs child presents a different degree of challenges altogether. On behalf of our readers, I applaud Henrik Hesselman for choosing to embrace his role as a father. And though his marriage ended, he opted, as a divorced father, to embrace that role even more, just to ensure that his kids’ needs are put before his own. Despite his successes in the boardroom, it is his selflessness as a father that makes him stand apart from so many others.
I encourage you to share this post with your friends and colleagues, particularly those who may be the parents of special needs kids. It’s more than just a “feel good” story; it’s one that helps us believe in the very influential role that loving fathers can play in their kids’ lives. I thank Henrik for sharing his very powerful story with our readers.
If you would like to nominate your friend or loved one or even yourself to be featured as our Upbeat Dad of the Week, please do so by emailing us at:
If you’re a parent, make sure that you always shower your kids with love. From Henrik’s example, we can see that even with the challenges that we sometimes face, with the right approach, we can effectively demonstrate our love for our kids. Kudos to him for that.
Henrik and his sons

Enjoy the rest of your day.
The Upbeat Dad

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Knowing Your Baby’s Cry

Today’s post is something that I think every parent who has bonded with their baby can understand. Our son is now 5 months old and my wife and I are amazed at how quickly time has flown by. He’s passed through so many stages and is really at a fun stage right now. And as I recall with our daughter, it only gets better with time.

In life, there are many things that may cause us discomfort. We may be too hot or too cold. We may be hungry or sleepy or just simply annoyed. Whatever the reason for our discomfort, most of us can speak and tell others the reason. And in most cases, we can actively do something about it.
But babies don’t come out of the womb talking. That’s a learned skill. Their only means of communication when something’s wrong is crying. But how do we know what our baby’s cry means? I used to think that they just do it for the sake of doing it. When our daughter was a baby, I quickly learned that there’s a specific reason that they cry. They may be: hungry, wet, tired, sleepy, sick. Or perhaps they may be gassy and need to burp.
My mom tells me that when I was a baby, I was an angel by day – I slept and ate and slept and ate. But by night, I was awful. I cried and was just a handful to deal with. No amount of food or anything seemed to calm me down. I guess I was just miserable.
From what I’ve grown to understand, that’s not typical. Babies generally cry for specific reasons and when the reason is satisfied, they’re just fine.  Now with our little one, my wife and I, as we’ve bonded with him, can tell within a minute or so why he’s crying. Sometimes he’s in an uncomfortable position. Sometimes he’s hungry. Or perhaps he just wants to be held.
How do we know why he’s crying? That’s something hard to explain. We just know it. And we’re generally right. One funny thing with him when he’s feeding is that he often wants to burp. But because he’s hungry, he doesn’t want to stop eating to burp. So while feeding he starts to wiggle to get rid of the gas. When this happens, we just stop, burp him and he’s back to his meal in no time. To me this experience is quite fascinating.  
A separate issue is that our son could be in a room with 10 other babies but if he begins to cry, we know it instantaneously. A bonded parent just knows that cry and could pick it out even if there were 100 babies in the room.
Why do I share this post today? First I believe it’s something that other parents can relate to. But the other side of the coin is that I believe far too many dads are missing out on this stage of their children’s development. Many dads are not emotionally connected with their babies so when they are around them, if they begin crying, they have no idea how to soothe them and get them to stop crying.

Babies are new to the world but let’s not make the mistake to think they don’t know what’s going on. They are naturally connected to those who they spend the most time with and with those who meet their needs that they can only express by crying.
I’m sure that before long, our son will get to the stage where he fusses and cries when being held by a stranger, wanting to go back to mom or dad or another person with whom he’s familiar. I wonder how many fathers have children that would refuse to go to them today simply because they don’t recognize them and are not familiar with them? Hmmm. That’s a question to ponder.
I’m not ignorant to the fact that there are dads who want to be involved and connected with their kids but because of certain legal measures, are not able to make that connection. That’s certainly frustrating, I know. But I also know that some dads – especially those who are not married to the mothers of their children – do not make enough effort to bond with their babies. And the unfortunate consequence is that their kids begin life without the special connection that should exist between father and child.
I hope this post has been enlightening and encouraging to you. I also hope that it speaks to the heart of our dads who need to become more bonded with their kids. I believe that every child needs each parent in their life. And the more that we connect with them, the more deeply rooted their trust in us will become.

Enjoy your kids. They won’t be young forever. And keep that special bond with them – it really lasts a lifetime.
Have a great day.
The Upbeat Dad


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Helping Your Kids Understand Tragedy

Last weekend, in the United States, we witnessed the senseless shootings in Arizona that left 6 dead and over a dozen wounded, including a US Congresswoman. Among the dead was a beautiful little 9 year old girl. Also, this week marks the 1st anniversary of the massive earthquake in Haiti. 35 seconds is all it took to shake that struggling nation to its core as the earthquake took over 200,000 lives.

And of course we remember the tragedies such as Hurricane Katrina and September 11. We witness all these things and it’s hard to make sense of it all. Some tragedies result from natural disasters while others result from decisions that people make to intentionally ruin the lives of others.

Christina Greene - 9 yr old victim
of the Arizona shootings
People just live and go about their everyday lives and seemingly out of nowhere, tragedy strikes and they have to deal with the reality of it. Have you ever asked, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I know I wonder that when I see the innocent involved in a tragic situation. That little 9 year old girl in Arizona is such an example – innocent victim of a terrible situation.

As adults, it’s hard for us to understand why these things happen. But how do we explain these occurrences to our kids? What about when they ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” How do you really go about explaining these things? There’s no magic answer to these questions but through this post I’ll try to give us some tips.

As our kids grow and develop, they seem to inevitably get to the “why” stage. They question everything. Why does the sun shine in the day? Why does the moon shine at night? Why is the sky blue? And the “whys” go on. Sometimes our responses are satisfactory to them. But at other times, no explanation is good enough. In frustration we often just say, “Because that’s just the way it is.”

Our daughter is 12 years old now so she has a greater understanding of the world and how it functions. I can have more intelligent, intellectual discussions with her now. When the earthquake struck Haiti last year, like so many others, she cried. I comforted her and just tried to share with her the fact that natural disasters are as old as the earth itself. Some we can anticipate and prepare for, as best as we can. We live in the Miami area and when hurricanes are coming, we know it and make preparations. But disasters such as earthquakes you can’t really anticipate other than knowing that at any moment, one may strike.

Man made tragedies like the senseless killings in Arizona are a bit harder to understand and explain. As our daughter learned of that situation, like so many, she was heartbroken. Why would someone just desire to inflict such harm on others? I explained to her that in some cases people are mentally ill and in that state, they often do the most irrational things one might imagine. And in other cases, people are filled with anger and rage and want to take out their issues on the world.

Since she’s almost a teenager now, I can have normal rational discussions with her, much like I would with another adult. But I recall that when the September 11 tragedy occurred in 2001, that was just before her 3rd birthday. That entire experience shook us to the core as a nation. I did my best to shield her from the news coverage. I didn’t want her exposed that situation. A child is so innocent and couldn’t fathom why people would commit such evil acts. So I didn’t want her to witness the drama unfold. An interesting side note is that 11 days after that tragedy, her mom and I separated. And that sent us to a new phase of our lives.

I believe that in our unpredictable world, we can’t anticipate every bad thing that may happen. When they do occur, I believe that we should use good judgment about how to speak to our kids about them. If they’re very young, we may not want to give them all the graphic details, particularly when the tragedy is as a result of murder. Sensitivity is the key in all of this.

As they get older, we can’t really shield them from these matters. Besides, it’s good for us to have intelligent discussions about them. Our kids are growing people who become adults before we know it. We need to help them understand why the world is the way that it is. It’s also important, I believe, to help them recognize that though most people are good natured, there are some people who get joy out of seeing others harmed. That’s why we tell them not to talk to strangers and to always be in contact with us.

Even with all these tragedies, I just think that we should simply live and enjoy life to its fullest. Yes there are tragedies but life, as a whole, is good. We should endeavor to love and embrace each other. I often quote these words from James Taylor:

Shower the people you love with love
Show them the way you feel.
Things are gonna be much better if you only will.

I believe that there is more good in the world than bad. I also believe that even when tragedy strikes – whether natural or man made – as parents we can use those opportunities to help our kids to learn and grow in wisdom. That should be our duty as parents.

Have a safe and productive day.

The Upbeat Dad

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dating 101 For the Divorced Dad

If you’re familiar with The Upbeat Dad blog, you probably know that I went through a divorce in the early 2000s. You probably also know that I got remarried in 2009. I am fortunate to have two children – one from each of my marriages. Now, that’s not the way I planned it when I got married in the mid ‘90s but that’s just the reality of the situation. I’m happily married now and I intend to remain that way for the rest of my life.
Today’s post is about an issue that I think ought to be addressed. I’ve never met anyone who really planned to get married, have kids, then divorce, then date, then get remarried. It’s just not something we think about. Most of us – men and women – get married “till death do us part.” But in reality, half of the population doesn’t exactly fulfill that vow. Life happens and when it does, sometimes marriages fail. Sometimes these failed marriages produced children and that’s when it can get complicated.
I recall that when I experienced the failure of my first marriage, I was torn in so many ways. The process was difficult for all involved, particularly my daughter who was 3 years old at the time. What I realized was what so many around the world experience. The ending of our marriage was not on the most friendly of terms.

Then I went through something that was so difficult to understand and explain: the apple of my eye – my daughter and little angel was my direct connection to the person from whom I was getting a divorce.  And that's a lifetime relationship – not like in the past when we could just go our separate ways and never see or hear from each other again. We were breaking up but we'll forever be connected. I had mixed emotions, to say the least. One, I loved with my whole heart; the other, I once loved but we were now moving on to a different phase in our relationship.
Have you ever experienced that? It’s something that you’d probably have to go through to really understand. My emotions were torn as my daughter and soon-to-be former wife were on totally opposite ends of the spectrum.
I really don’t write much about my former marriage other than to say it ended and our daughter was a product of that relationship. But I’ll just say quickly here that for me, the thought of dating and going through courtship all over again wasn’t something I really wanted to deal with.

When I said, “I do,” I thought it was for life. So my entire focus was on that vow. I didn’t make a contingency plan - a plan B, in case the relationship didn’t work out. Why wouldn’t it? My parents got married in the early 60s and are still in love to this day. So you couldn’t have told me that we would’ve gotten divorced. Anyway, my reality was that my marriage ended.
You might wonder why I share such a personal story. The fact of the matter is that marriages all around the world end every day. And the emotions that people feel are very real. Having gone through the pain and the loss of appetite and disappointment of that experience, I believe that I can help others navigate their way through this crossroads that life presents.
One of the best things I can recommend to newly divorced dads is to give yourselves time to heal. When you get married, your heart is involved – or at least it should be. And even though you and your wife are two different individuals, in a sense, you’re really one unit. Your heart is the center of your being. So your heart merges with your spouse’s heart and you become one person, in a figurative sense.
When your marriage does end, your heart needs to become whole again before you can really move on. For many of us men, we jump right from our marriages into a new relationship. More often than not, that relationship is short-lived. It’s what some refer as a rebound.  We’re used to having someone in our life so we find someone new but our heart is still not mended. So we subconsciously compare the new person to the person that we’ve just broken up with. And that’s not fair to them.
This point isn’t something that I’m just saying for the sake of saying it. I experienced it personally and I know the reality of that situation. I realized that until I was healed and ready to move into a new relationship, I really shouldn’t be involved emotionally with anyone. Have you heard the expression “hurt people, hurt people”? Well it’s true. It’s not something you intend to do but when you’re hurt, you end up hurting others, at least until you’re whole.
The next phase I’d like to touch on is this: when you’re healed and whole and ready for a relationship, be very careful about how you handle the courtship as a parent. For your kids, it’s not good for them to be exposed to new people in your life when you’re just feeling out the process. Not every person you date needs to meet your kids. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that that’s a good thing. What happens all too often is that the kids get attached to a new person and then if that new relationship doesn’t work out, to them it’s like their parents are getting divorced all over again. Believe me, this is real.
In the 5 years between my divorce and me beginning to date my new wife, I dated on and off. But none of those relationships got close to becoming a marriage. Even though my daughter met some of the persons I dated, she just knew them as a friend of her father – nothing more. We didn't spend hours together as a pseudo famiIy. I really didn’t want to confuse her because I was determined to shield her from what so many kids experience. I didn’t want her to get attached and then get disappointed if a relationship didn’t work out.
When my wife and I started dating in 2007, it didn’t take me long to realize that she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. She was a keeper for sure! As the months went by and we started discussing marriage, I knew that the inevitable discussion with my daughter about her needed to be initiated. They met and got along just fine so that was good to know.
When I told my daughter that we were planning to get married, I wasn’t really prepared for her response. What resulted was a teachable moment and I’m glad I had the insight to share the words with her that I did. She said that she liked my soon- to-be fiancée but she was concerned that for so long, she had my heart all to herself but now she had to share my heart and she wasn’t prepared for that. She expressed concern also that if I got married, she would be less significant to me.
One thing I learned as a single/divorced dad was to always reassure her that she’s my priority. And as she shared these concerns, I listened to her. Whether I liked what she said or not, her emotions were very real so I had to acknowledge that. We had a series of open discussions about the pending new marriage. And as time went on, she warmed up to the idea – especially as she saw that she wasn’t being replaced by any means.
My wife has been an angel through all this. Perhaps I should ask her to write her own blog post on how she handled the process of coming into my daughter’s life. What she did was simply genius. She didn’t force herself into her life. She was simply very nice towards her, without being pushy. And she let my daughter know that she wasn’t trying to replace her mom in any way. She was just calm, cool and collected.
Next month my wife and I will celebrate our 2nd year of marriage. Our 12 year old daughter and 5 month old son are in the home with us. And thanks to my wife’s wisdom and my daughter’s understanding and the way I chose to introduce a new person into my daughter’s life, we have a happy home, one where love truly reigns. I don’t have to worry when I’m not at home because I know that they get along just fine and do love and respect each other.
I hope that this post is of some help to dads and moms who might be in the process of dating after a divorce or a broken relationship. It’s not easy to move on but there’s a way that it can be done while reassuring the kids that all is well.

I believe in life after divorce. I believe in love after divorce. With the right approach we can write a happy ending to our stories that often start out far from happy. Life goes on, believe me. And it’s good to make lemonade from the lemons that sometimes come our way.

Have yourself wonderful and productive day.
The Upbeat Dad


Monday, January 10, 2011

Attention Teens: Dead Right is the Same as Dead Wrong!

The title of this post is a bit intense, isn’t it? Well, I hope it gets your attention as much as it did mine when I first heard it. I was a 16 year old high school sophomore when I learned what these words meant. And they have literally saved my life.

As a teenager I wanted the independence of being able to drive. So my parents enrolled me in a driver’s education class. The first part of the class was all theory. After I passed that phase, I went on to the next phase – road practice. At the end of the last class before we moved on to actually getting behind the wheel, our instructor said those words that have guided me as a driver the past two and a half decades.

What do you think those words mean? Initially, I wasn’t sure. But then after he explained it, it made perfect sense. What he explained to us is that as new drivers, we had to be careful at all times. We have to drive for ourselves as well as the other drivers on the road. We also have to drive for pedestrians. Because if we get into an accident of any sort, if we die, we’re dead. It doesn’t matter who was right or wrong: dead right is the same as dead wrong.
He taught us that the car is a great device but it can also be a lethal weapon, therefore we ought to drive defensively. Assume that other drivers are distracted. Assume that they will run red lights. Assume that pedestrians will walk into on-coming traffic. Just assume the worst and then prepare to avoid collisions at all costs.
I raise this issue in this post because many of us as parents have teenagers who are just beginning to drive. And as we know, teenagers “know” everything. They know just what they’re doing and we ought to just leave them alone and let them do their thing. During my teenage years way back in the ‘80s, we didn’t have the many distractions that we have today. No cell phones, no texting and driving, no iPods, no GPS. It was just us and the road.
Here are some alarming statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention: 
  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, accounting for more than one in three deaths in this age group.
  • In 2009, eight teens ages 16 to 19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries. 

  • Per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash.
  • In 2009, about 3,000 teens in the United States aged 15–19 were killed and  more than 350,000 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor-vehicle crashes.

These statistics are just an indicator of the fact that teen driving is a matter that we as parents ought to take seriously. 
There are so many potential distractions as we drive today. And for teens, these distractions often result in disastrous outcomes. They text and drive routinely. They travel in groups and talk and laugh while navigating their way through traffic. They also engage in daring acts such as drag racing.
When I was a teenager, I recall a friend and co-worker of mine was driving me home after we got off our late shift (about 2 AM) from a fast food restaurant. He just got a new high performance sports car from his parents.

He told me that the car could go really fast. In my ignorance I asked him to prove it to me. We were on a local road that had a 45 miles per hour speed limit. Would you believe that he got that car up to 140 MPH? I never felt as scared as I did that night. What were we thinking?
Now as a man I can look back and say how ridiculous that was. But at the time, we were just teenagers having fun. I did have fun - at least until we were flying down the street because I realized that one wrong move could have easily ended our lives.

Let me also mention the teenage drinking issue. In the United States, the legal drinking age in 21. But how many individuals actually wait until they’re 21 before having their first drink? I’m not proud of this fact but I think that I drank more before reaching the legal drinking age than I have since reaching it. This was particularly true during my early college years.
But one thing I never dared to do was drink and drive. That’s dangerous in so many ways. In December 2010, I wrote the post Put Down That Drink, Aren’t You Driving Home? In that post I highlighted the effects of driving under the influence of alcohol. It’s a very serious matter – one that ruins families.
Teenagers routinely drive under the influence of alcohol and drugs, endangering themselves, their peers and other drivers when they make these decisions. Some are fortunate to live to the point that they realize how silly those wrong decisions are. But many never get that chance simply because they put themselves in danger and end up losing their lives.

As a parent of a 12 year old daughter, I know that in a few years she will be driving. And I’m already giving her driving tips. I’ve given her the “dead right is the same as dead wrong speech” already. And as I drive, I show her practical applications of that teaching.
If you’re the father or mother of teens, do share this post with them. It’s a lesson that I believe will save lives. I’d much prefer that we annoy our children with our speeches and lectures about being safe drivers than deal with the alternative. No one wins when accidents occur.

I hope that this post is somewhat of an eye-opener. Dead right is, in fact, the same as dead wrong. Let’s share this message so that we minimize the likelihood that our kids or anyone in our sphere of influence learn this lesson the hard way. My intent is that this post will save our kids’ lives. We owe it to them to give them the best counsel as they begin to assume the responsibility of driving.
Do enjoy your day. And if you drive, please do so with the utmost caution today and always.

The Upbeat Dad

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Football Legend Bobby Bowden's Concern About Absentee Father Trend

This past Friday night I was home channel surfing. I came across an interesting program on a local Miami sports channel. The program featured lessons learned from the gridiron by legendary college football coach, Bobby Bowden. A year ago, at age 80, he retired as head coach of the Florida State University (FSU) Seminoles, a position he held since 1976. He coached professionally for 55 years, including one other stint as head coach at West Virginia University.

The reason the program caught my attention is that Bowden was talking about his relationship with his players. He spoke of how many of them still see him as a father figure. He sent many of them off to the pros after successful careers at FSU. But he sent even more of them off to succeed in other vocations.

The part of the program that was most intriguing to me was when he was asked, “What’s the main difference between the players that you coached at the beginning of your career and today’s players?” He replied, “The kids today, when they walk into my office, have the same innocent smile. But what’s different is that most of them don’t know who their daddy is. I get so mad at these dads that just have them and take off.” That response caught my attention.

I started The Upbeat Dad with the mission to help fathers, mothers and kids realize the very important and critical role that dads play in kids’ lives. Some men willingly embrace this role but far too many do not. So much changed throughout Bowden’s 5 decade career but the point he chose to emphasize was the trend we call the absentee father syndrome.

There are too many situations where kids grow up having no idea who their father is. And for many who have met their father, it’s nothing more than a periodic visit. Here are some statistics from the National Fatherhood Initiative that ought to give us cause for concern:

  • Students from father-absent homes are twice as likely to repeat a grade in school
  • Kindergarteners in single-parent homes are over-represented in those lagging in health, social/emotional and cognitive outcomes
  • A study of 13,986 women in prison in the United States shows that more than half grew up without their father
  • Teens whose parents were separated or cohabitating were twice as likely to have sex
These are only a few statistics that highlight what occurs when men are absent from kids' lives.

In late 2010, I had a speaking engagement at an elementary school in the inner city in South Florida. I spoke with a group of 4th and 5th grade boys. After the event, I was speaking with a member of the faculty about the vision I have for The Upbeat Dad. He said to me, “Rodrick, would you believe that of all the boys that you spoke to, not even one of them lives in the home with their father. And most of them don’t even know who their father is.”

I shook my head in disappointment. I know what the statistics say about this situation being a reality but when I can actually look into the eyes of young kids who have been essentially abandoned by their fathers, that’s really heartbreaking. I cannot imagine just walking away from the responsibility of being a dad to my kids. But for so many men, that’s just a way of life.

In reality, the last conversation that many men have with their girlfriends is when they say, “Ï’m pregnant.” Those words send the men bolting for the nearest door and they’re never seen nor heard from again. Now, I realize that there are unintended pregnancies. I also realize that at times men feel as if they are tricked into a trap and are tied to a situation that they never wanted. And as I’ve stated on previous posts, the family law system isn’t necessarily always fair.

But the bottom-line in my view is that our children never asked to be conceived. They never ask to come into the world. Therefore, regardless of the circumstances that result in kids being born, they still need love, affection and care.

What happens all too often is that the mothers are left on their own to raise the kids while the dads essentially get a free ride. That’s not fair for anyone involved – not the mothers nor the kids. I hate to think that some men go about their everyday lives with full knowledge that they have kids somewhere and never even acknowledge their existence.

Coach Bobby Bowden and those on his coaching staff mentored many of the young men who were under their care. For some of them, these were the only father figures they have known. I’m so pleased that Bowden was able to serve in such a capacity for so many years for these young men.

But then I think further about the kids who didn’t have the talent to get football scholarships. What happened to them? Do they simply show up in some of the statistics that we use to highlight the effects of the absentee father syndrome?

I know this isn’t the most pleasant of topics for you to read about. It certainly is not the most pleasant of topics for me to write about. But for me to sit back with my wife and two kids in comfort, while thousands, if not millions, of our friends and neighbors are dealing with this epidemic, would be wrong on my part. 

My view is that, if I can help to shed some light on issues such as these, we can increase dialogue. And ultimately, more men would come to the understanding that they owe it to their kids and the kids’ mothers to step up and do the right thing.

On February 10th, we’re launching what I like to call the “ground campaign” phase of The Upbeat Dad. It’s our inaugural Upbeat Dad Community Forum to be held in Cooper City, Florida, just outside of Miami. The theme of this event is “Where Are Our Fathers?”

Our hope is that this will be the first of many such events throughout the world over the next few years. With public gatherings and open, honest discussions, we believe that we can attack the absentee father epidemic, as well as many other issues that cause men not to be active in the lives of their children.

If you’re in the Miami area, we’d love to have you share in that event with us. I believe that it will be a productive evening where honest ideas are exchanged – ideas that will result in us having more actively involved fathers for our kids.

I’m thankful to Coach Bowden for choosing to highlight this issue. And I hope that after reading this post, you’re inspired to help us in our cause to have more upbeat and less deadbeat fathers.

Have a productive day.

The Upbeat Dad