It happened again this week. Someone called and requested the opportunity to come by and talk about why I was involved with starting Good Dads. Why would a woman who is a mother and grandmother attempt to launch such a challenging program focused on men?
Some days I ask myself the same question. Way more than once or twice, when I was going through a particularly discouraging period, I thought about letting it go . . . giving it up . . . moving on to something easier and less frustrating. From time to time friends and family have made similar suggestions. This is not to say they are barriers in terms of caring about strong families (they do care, I know), but rather that it’s not always easy to comprehend why healthy relationships are so important to our well-being.
Detroit, Michigan: “How often do you have to have sex to get pregnant?”
When I landed my first teaching job at a high school in Detroit, Michigan, I had the opportunity to teach the first ever “Family Life and Child Development” class to be offered in that school. Although it was an elective, enrollment for the class maxed out with a good proportion of both male and female students. When the class period ended, students followed me down the hall asking questions about relationships and family life. I wondered why this critical area of life—one more central to most students’ lives than geometry or English literature—received so little attention. I stay at it because I believe students today, just like those 30+ years ago, still want to know how to have a happy, secure future with someone they love.
Southern Illinois: “I wish my daddy wouldn’t drink so much.”
As a second grade teacher in a small town in southern Illinois, I saw my students’ progress impacted by how their parents’ relationship. If the parents were able to provide a safe and stable home, the children did well. If they were unable to do this, the children struggled. It occurred to me then that if I really wanted to do something of lasting consequence for children, I would need to work with their parents. Unfortunately, most of our work with school-age parents focuses on “parenting skills,” with little attention paid to strengthening the adult relationship. I stay at it because I believe children do better in school when both fathers and mothers can provide a stable home in which they can grow and develop.
Northern Illinois: “I hate it when my mommy and daddy fight.”
Working as a family therapist, I witnessed how much and how often both children and adults suffered as the result of poor communication, inadequate conflict resolution skills, and unhealthy relationship choices. I observed just how regularly children were privy either to their parents’ screaming matches or their long, cold, stony silences. I sat with clients when marriages ended through the sadness of betrayal and the defeat of divorce. In some cases it was necessary; in many, it was not. I keep at it because I continue to see the need for resources and skills that serve as a proactive measure against family dissolution.
Why Good Dads? After years of teaching, advanced degrees, clinical work, and supervision experience, I came to the conclusion that reaching men, especially fathers, was a critical factor to almost any sustained success we might have in improving outcomes for children. We can accomplish things without dads, but it’s harder. If we can help dads feel more successful in their role, more engaged with their children, I believe it will make a world of difference.
Dr. Jennifer Baker
Dr. Jennifer Baker is the Founder and Director of Good Dads. She is the wife of one, mother of two and grandmother of eight. She may be reached for question or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As dads, we daily think about and focus on our immediate family. But, when the holidays hit, thoughts also wander to the whereabouts and well being of extended family and friends. It isn’t that we don’t care about those we love, not living in our houses, taking extra long showers, and eating all of our food, but something about the holidays makes us think of all those we cherish.
For our brood, “extended” has extra meaning. By “extra,” we mean, “extended family and extra family we’ve adopted along the way.” Our boys are grown and yet blessed to have all of their grandparents still living. In addition, they have a plethora of aunts, uncles, cousins, and now, in-laws, nieces, and nephews to love. That stated, while growing up, they spent many years and countless holidays far from extended family. And that is where the “extras” came in.
“Extras” were not second-class stand-ins, nor did they take the precious places of “blood” family back home. Our boys just learned early on that the heart could always miraculously make more room for love. So, with all of this family and “extra” family, how does one build bonds that stand the test of time, distance, and stages of life? As with anything related to family, and especially to raising kids, it takes intentionality and work.
Making time for extended family “back home,” as we labeled it, was harder 20 years ago than it is today. At first, our boys quickly yelled, “Hi, Grandma!” or “Hi, Uncle Tony!” into the phone on a Sunday afternoon call. When the cell phone made its way into our lives, things got markedly easier. My wife would pick the kids up from school, and if one had done particularly well on a spelling test, both grandmas – the one in Texas and the one in Kansas - would hear the good news before the car pulled into our home’s driveway. Those little efforts kept far-off family a constant in our children’s lives. During the summer, especially as our boys hit upper elementary, we made sure they went back to “the lake” and “the farm” in the Midwest, to visit respective grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Though they saw many of their cousins only once, or maybe twice a year, those summer weeks with the “gang” fostered a bond that is clearly seen in the relationship of cousins now in their 20’s and 30’s, with families of their own.
I am happy to say that so far, making time for family and extended family has still not been a huge issue. But, we all have had to come to terms with the thought of making our time together special, no matter where, when, or how long it is. To make time for all those you love, you have to truly love at the deepest level, which to most of us means some sort of sacrifice. Making time for one another means something or someone typically will have to give. And truly, isn’t that what family is all about? Happy Thanksgiving, with the emphasis on “giving.” Give your time, love, and flexibility this holiday season. In my humble opinion, expressing that kind of love will make you a great dad no matter what stage of life you find yourself in.
Kevin Weaver, CEO of Network211 and father of three sons, lives with his wife KyAnne in Springfield, MO. He enjoys spending time with family, hunting and watching University of Kansas basketball with his boys! He can be reached at email@example.com
I am a big believer in the importance of extended family: grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and in-laws. When I graduated from seminary at Southern Methodist University I could have gone many places to pursue my ministry. The Pacific Northwest had a shortage of Methodist pastors and was advertising. Texas would have been a really good place to put down roots as Texas Methodism is like nowhere else. But I returned to Missouri for one basic reason: to be close to Lynda’s and my parents. We wanted our children to grow up having as good of a relationship with their grandparents as we did with ours. And we wanted to be with our parents as long as possible.
Both Lynda and I had close relationships with our grandparents. Mine lived in Neosho, and hers lived in Southwest City. We both consider time spent with grandparents was critical in having a happy childhood. Lynda’s father died two years after our second child was born, so, unfortunately, our kids didn’t get to know their maternal grandfather. But otherwise, both of our kids got to spend a great deal of time with their grandparents. My parents and Lynda’s mother were excellent grandparents who loved their grandchildren. And our kids loved visiting them. They both look back fondly at their grandparents who have all passed away. How does having grandparents actively present in your children’s lives matter? It gives them a sense of their family history, family values, why their parents turned out the way they did, and grandparents can reinforce their parents in passing on of family values. My father’s amazing story of being shot down over France, hidden by the French Underground, the capture by the Gestapo in his escape attempt, the interrogation and torture in the notorious Fresne Prison in Paris, being a prisoner of war for two years in Stalag Luft 1 and then being liberated by the Russians and then by Jimmy Doolittle is one they are both immensely proud of. My children have a unique connection to the second World War that they, in turn, will pass on to their children. Extended family can give us a sense of history and our place within it.
Over the past five years, I have been reconnecting with my favorite cousin who lives in California. For forty years we had only seen each other once in 1987. I think we both realized that we needed to stay in touch even though our parents had died. She and her husband have visited Missouri twice, and we have been to see her and her husband twice. We plan on keeping our visits up as long as we can. Her parents were my favorite aunt and uncle. Growing up we were together often. Now that we are both in our late 60’s, this sense of family has become more important.
Not too long ago one’s extended family lived nearby and were active in helping to raise children. Then Americans moved away from their families to find good jobs, and that sense of connection to extended family was frayed. Both Lynda and I believe that extended family is extremely important. Now that we are the oldest members we want to spend time with our kids and their children. It takes some effort to do that as our children live in Kansas and Michigan now but we treasure our time with them. We hope that our grandkids will love us as we loved our grandparents. The only way that will happen is if we make time for it.
Mark Mildren, retired Methodist minister, is the father of two and grandfather of three. He serves as the faith-community liaison for Good Dads and can be reached for question or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org
People often say that nothing is more important than family. If you believe that, then ask yourself if your actions demonstrate that belief. If not, you always have time to make changes, especially when it comes to spending time with extended family.
Often, we allow life to get in the way of prioritizing time with our loved ones, whom we are unable to see each day. Work schedules, school events, practices and sporting events seem to consume the lives of those with children. I'm as guilty of this as anyone. My parents and brother live 45 minutes from me, while my sister is 20 minutes away, yet I see them maybe once a month.
My family and extended family are very good about getting together for the birthdays of our children. My mom and sister are great about getting the cousins together to do different things during the summer, such as bowling, movies, theme parks etc. My kids have a great relationship with extended family because of this.
Another fun thing my children used to do when they were younger, was to create and mail "Happy Birthday" cards for members of our extended family. My kids loved making them, and I know those who received them, enjoyed it just as much.
During the holiday season, we have a set routine which has become a tradition. I think that having the same set plan for the holidays is beneficial for all. This alleviates some level of stress for parents. Each year, we spend Thanksgiving at my Grandpa's home, then the ladies go shopping. Christmas Eve is spent at my sister's home, then everyone comes to our place Christmas afternoon. It works out great for our family, which are for the most part, in close proximity. Obviously, spending time with extended family who are hours or states away becomes much more difficult.
We all decide the things that we enjoy and are important to us—going to the gym, running, playing a round of golf, hunting or going to the spa, We are always able to find time to do the things we love, so making time for those who we love shouldn't be difficult.
Herb Cody is a husband and father of three. He is a part time Uber driver and full time caregiver of his spouse, who suffered a traumatic brain injury after an auto accident November, 2015. Herb loves football and is a St Louis Cardinals fanatic. He and his family live in Nixa MO. Herb can be reached for questions or comments at email@example.com . You can check out Herb's own blog at, www.thecodylife.weebly.com