Children's Voice September/October 2008

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The Down to Earth Dad

A Child Can Change the World...One Dad at a Time

By Patrick Mitchell

I've interviewed hundreds of dads connected to child- and family-serving programs over the years, and almost every time, they tell me their lives changed dramatically when they became fathers.

"If you have childish things on your mind, you won't grow up and neither will your kids. When you become a parent, everything revolves around the child-no more 'you' anymore," said Willie Toney, a Troy, Alabama, father who is also a police officer. And a father named Jeff Hagan, of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, told me this: "I definitely think of my kids first before I think about myself. They're my top priority now. I strive to do what's best for them and put their needs ahead of my own. It's all about sacrifices."

A documentary-in-progress, The Evolution of Dad, by Dana H. Glazer, will debut in theaters on Father's Day 2010. The documentary seeks to reveal how men see themselves, and how society perceives them. In a promotional clip, Dr. Kyle Pruett, a fatherhood expert with the Yale Child Study Center notes, "If you want to reduce gang membership, teen pregnancy, dropping out of school, abuse and neglect of children, and substance abuse, you can do it by engaging fathers early and often in the lives of their children. We know this from the science; we know it makes sense. It's not easy, but it absolutely works. It works on these problems like aspirin on a headache." He continues: "Children who've had involved fathers often can take a bigger slice of the world and not be scared by it."

That's great news for children with involved dads, but it's also good news for the dads themselves, who, when they are improved people, have more to offer their children. "I think men become better people when they are involved and engaged with their children in positive ways," Glen F. Palm PhD, a senior research scientist with the National Center on Fathers and Families, told me recently. Palm teaches courses in child development, parent education, and parent involvement in early education at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. I asked if there was anything about fathers that surprised his students when they learned it. "I think the biggest surprise is that, even though the men whom they might write off as not being the type to get involved actually have a much deeper sense of caring and responsibility for their kids than they might have imagined," he replied.

"I think that we're getting better at engaging fathers. It is time consuming. It's not always easy work. I think understanding and being committed to why [father involvement] is really an important thing to do is essential," Palm told me. "It's important, not just for the kids, but for the families. Fathers are an untapped resource.... That's one of the things about men as fathers; we haven't tapped into their capacity," he said.

Charles Ellison, a dad in Leesburg, Florida, seemed to exemplify that capacity when he told me this: "Since becoming a dad, I view the world a lot differently. I understand more clearly now the importance of family values. I never grasped it until I became a father. I now try to instill in my children those same values my parents tried to instill in me when I was growing up." See dozens more of these inspiring Dad QuotesTM at www.downtoearthdad.org/quotes.asp.

A regular contributor to Children's Voice, Patrick Mitchell publishes a monthly newsletter, The Down to Earth Dad, from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and facilitates the Dads Matter!™ Project for early childhood programs, schools, and child- and family-serving organizations. He conducts keynote addresses, workshops, and inservice and preservice trainings. To reserve Patrick Mitchell for speaking engagements, or to implement the Dads Matter!™ Project for your families and community partners, call him toll-free at 877/282-DADS, or e-mail him at patrick@downtoearthdad.org. Website: www.DownToEarthDad.org.


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