Friday, March 13, 2015

The Great Dads Project: My father's fatherlessness

One of the guys that I met at the Dad 2.0 Summit was Keith Zafren, founder of The Great Dads Project.  Keith is a "dad coach".  He's the author of the book "How To Be A Great Dad: No Matter what kind of father you had" He teaches men how to be better dads, often men who grew up with abusive or absent fathers, and don't have a role model for how to be a good dad.

 Keith has over 15 years of pastoral work, working in prisons in Texas and other places with guys who desperately need to make a change in their lives (both as men and as fathers)  He works with them to compassionately listen, and to give them tools and resources for them to make transformative change.

In a recent article he wrote for the National Fatherhood Initiative, Keith took on a quote by Frederick Douglass, who was talking specifically about freed slaves post Civil War:  "It's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."

Keith points out that in order to build strong children, we need to heal wounded fathers-- men who had bad experiences with their dad, who never had a role model on which to base their work as a parent, or men who just haven't given much thought to it because they are in the midst of other struggles (poverty, addiction, illness, etc.)

The statistics he gives about fatherlessness (below)  are jaw-droppingly depressing.

Fatherlessness is linked to:
  • 63 percent of youth suicides;
  • 71 percent of pregnant teenagers;
  • 71 percent of all high school dropouts;
  • 85 percent of all youths sitting in prison.

While I am not in that particular boat, I think about this stuff a lot, and think about how I can be a better dad.  And it relates to my dad directly.

Because my dad was fatherless.

When my dad was 1 year old, his father (Eddy) abandoned his mother and three kids (he was the youngest).  I'm not sure why he left.  He clearly wasn't happy. I asked my grandmother about it years later, and she said she was not an easy person to live with.  That may be, but leaving your kids-- I just can't fathom it.  I can understand the urge to leave, and I can imagine leaving, but I can't imagine ACTUALLY leaving.

Years later, Eddy made contact with my dad, trying to repair the relationship.  My dad refused to see him.  He felt that wound deeply.

I had a pretty good relationship with my dad overall.  He was very focused on work, and as such was absent a lot.  He traveled a lot, and would often take extended business trips (several weeks at a time) He was also a duplicate bridge Grand Life Master, and often would combine business trips with bridge trips.  He'd leave for several weeks at a time, in some ways duplicating what his father did, but always coming back.  Until he didn't.  My dad was killed in an auto accident in 1987 (I was 22) it just seemed like he was away on an extended work/bridge trip.  For a long time I had recurring dreams that my dad was still alive, just on a secret mission, but had now come back.

Me, my dad, and my brother Marc, 1973.
My dad was obsessed with making sure that I had everything he didn't have  He bought me a new bike every chance he could get, because he had never had a bike. We went out to eat a lot, because  when he was young they could never afford it.  When I was 16 he didn't want me to work a summer job (as he had worked at a number of jobs since he was 10, including selling balloons at parades and sweeping up hair at the barbershop)

In turn, when I became a late to life father, I wanted to make sure that my son had all the things that I didn't have.  Those weren't the material things. (Thankfully, my wife has a well-paying gig to make up for my poor earning and earning potential, which gives me the ability to stay at home)

I wanted to make sure that my son has someone to read with him, and make jokes with him, play ball with him, and hold his hand when he's scared to go into his first day of gym class. I wanted to make sure that I wasn't absent.  I don't want to helicopter, but I want to be involved.

Now that my son is older (age 6) I do have some fantasies about traveling for work- going on tour, trying to find a cruise gig.  I used to go on the road a lot.  I don't think I could spend that much time away from my family.  Maybe when he's older 10 or 12.  But I don't want to miss anything.  And I want to be there for my son.

My father's fatherlessness continues to affect me-- mostly in my resolve to be a better father.

If you are interested in Keith's work, you should check out his free video training course for men who want to be great dads:


Unknown said...

What a beautiful, powerful, and moving post, Adam. I love your writing. I"m also extremely grateful for your support, and the links you included to my work. Thank you very much, Adam. I'm so glad I met you at the 2015 summit. I hope to see you again at the 2016 summit in D.C.

Unknown said...

I too had an absent father and wrote a book called "The Power of Dadhood", being released on April 28th. I will have to buy Keith's book and read it. Dads make a huge difference in their children's lives!!


Thank you Keith for your comment, and thanks for doing all the work you do.

I will definitely be there in 2016!

Mike-- I look forward to seeing your book.