We Asked Some Men We Admire: What’s Your Challenge to American Dads? - Early Learning Nation

We Asked Some Men We Admire: What’s Your Challenge to American Dads?

Illustration: Art Hondros

This Father’s Day, we’re giving dads what they really want. Not a novelty necktie—a challenge. Several of them, in fact. We asked leaders, activists, bloggers and researchers, “What’s your challenge to American dads in 2022?” Here are their responses. What do you think, dads? Are you up for a challenge?

“Show you care about care by voting as if care for families, child care and leave policies are as urgent as any pressing issue our country is facing.”

Gary Barker, PhD, President and CEO, Equimundo: Center for Masculinities and Social Justice (Formerly Promundo-US)

“Be emotionally courageous! Our kids want and need emotional support from us, so vocalize what you are feeling and help your kids understand that you are fully human!”

Brian Anderson, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Fathering Together

“I challenge every dad to identify another dad (preferably one you are not related to) that they know and admire and reach out to them (in person, call, email, social media, text) and let them know how their fathering practice inspires you. I challenge all dads (especially those who don’t do it often) to share a moment of vulnerability with your child or children. I challenge all dads to make a new memory with your child or children. Be creative!”

Hakim Bellamy, Activist, Author and Inaugural Poet Laureate of Albuquerque (read more)

“As the dad of a daughter with special needs, I would urge other dads to talk about inclusion in sharing life lessons with their children. So many kids with physical and cognitive special needs may think less of themselves because others make fun of them or single them out because of their health conditions. Inclusion fosters kindness and brings people of differing abilities together for a better understanding of one another.”

Gordon Hartman, Founder, Morgan’s Wonderland (Read More)

“It’s rare enough in our country for fathers to be granted paid family leave, and it’s unfortunately even rarer for them to take it; one study last year showed that as little as 5% of new dads take at least two weeks of parental leave. We need to enact policies in our country that give every parent and caregiver the opportunity to bond with their newborns, but we also need our dads to take advantage of those opportunities. Those first few weeks and months of fatherhood are a rare and special time for dads and babies alike. Dads, we’ll keep fighting for your rights to take that time with your children, but it’s up to you to make those moments count.”

Matthew Melmed, Executive Director, ZERO TO THREE

“Step up and speak out for issues of care—especially child care and paid family leave. Policymakers and the public need to know that dads care, too!”

Elliot Haspel, Author and Journalist (Read his Elliot’s Provocations columns)

“Let your children see you struggle. Let them see you fail. If you’re struggling with assembling one of their playsets, let them know. Tell them where you went wrong or admit that you should have followed the directions more closely. Letting your kids know that it’s okay to fail as long as you learn from it and keep trying is a valuable lesson they’ll carry with them and benefit from for a lifetime.”

Mark Bezos, Co-Founder, HighPost Capital; Director, Bezos Family Foundation

“I challenge dads to be as involved in their children’s lives as possible. This challenge is especially important for dads of infants and toddlers. Reading, singing and playing with children at that age are profoundly important to their healthy cognitive and emotional development. Engaged fathers play an important role in the healthy development of young children.”

Barry Ford, President and CEO, Council for a Strong America

“Municipal leaders play an important role in ensuring that fathers across this nation have what they need to lead in their families, neighborhoods and cities in which they call home. As a dad to a college freshman and a junior in college, and as a former city manager, I challenge dads to stand up as purveyors of hope to your children, families and neighbors, and work toward a vision of America as a ‘shining city upon a hill,’ a land of opportunity where all young children and their families thrive.”

Robert Blaine, Senior Executive, the Institute for Youth, Education and Families at the National League of Cities (read our interview)

“Vacuum, empty the dishwasher and run the laundry machine now and again. As a #GirlDad, I want my girls to know that what they do—or what they might be expected to do—isn’t limited by their sex, and these little household moments matter in conveying that confidence.”

Gregg Behr, Co-author, When You Wonder, You’re Learning: Mister Rogers’ Enduring Lessons for Raising Creative, Curious, Caring Kids (read our review)

“Savor as much as you can—as fathers we may not understand how fast childhood flies by until it’s over. As fathers, if not parenting alone, we can challenge ourselves to balance our focus on our children with attention to our relationship to the person we are raising them with. Can we be strong enough to open up to our mistakes, to forgive ourselves and learn from them?”

Joshua Sparrow, Executive Director, Brazelton Touchpoints Center (read our interview and discover The Supporting Father Involvement Program)

“Take time this summer to reflect on who you want to be as an ancestor. What are you leaving behind for your children and their grandchildren down to the seventh generation? How do you want to be remembered and what kind of world do you want to leave? Hint: you will be remembered for your virtues, not the time spent at work or on the golf course. Answering these questions thoughtfully and firmly, and then living according to the answers you give is the greatest gift you can give your kids (and future generations!) in 2022 and beyond.”

Joe Waters, Co-Founder and CEO, Capita (read Innovating for Long-Term Resilience)

“Most of us have underestimated the threat that digital devices pose to the healthy development of children’s brains. For Father’s Day this year, my hope is that dads can learn more about the harmful effects that digital devices pose to young brains and receive the support they need to create and uphold age-appropriate limits on device use for their kids.”

Jim Winston, Ph.D., Director, Winston Family Foundation (read about the Winston Family Initiative in Technology and Adolescent Brain Development)

“Dads of America! From Coney Island to Winnetka, from Dallas to Portland. Here’s a challenge that’s guaranteed to create a lasting memory with your kid and help them grow: Find a spot outside somewhere. A park bench, comfy grass under a shady tree…. a place that’s hidden away. Bring a book to read together with your kid and pause every now and then to ask about their favorite parts of the story and what the characters experienced. And make sure to give your new reading spot a name and make it a shared secret between the two of you. Go there once a week on the regular. It will have a real impact—on their development, their love for reading and your relationship with them. That’s my Yoda advice. Good luck!”

Sean Farrell, Senior Vice President, Content and Strategy, Noggin

“Work when you work, Dad when you Dad. It’s harder than ever to do. Long before COVID, when one of my daughters interrupted me, I made sure she was okay and then said, ‘Give me two minutes to finish this.’ They got used to it—even learned a bit of patience—and I kept my word, turning my full attention to them and away from work.”

Paul Sullivan, Founder, The Company of Dads

“Be the dad you want your child to be when they’re raising your grandkids. Science shows that children are learning from us, whether we intend to teach them or not. Children are little ‘pattern detectors.’ If we act in a prejudicial way, our child will, unconsciously, absorb this pattern. If we act in a generous and altruistic way, our child will pick up that. We may tell our kids to ‘respect and be kind to others,’ but our children will often learn, remember and imitate how we acted, not what we said. The challenge is to think about how your child sees you. Your grandchildren will thank you.”

Andrew N. Meltzoff, Ph.D., Professor and co-director, University of Washington Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences; co-author, The Scientist in the Crib

“My challenge to American dads and father figures—indeed, to men around the world—is to have the strength to cry in front of their children and to acknowledge the importance of being vulnerable. Being a dad/granddad is more than just who you are, it’s what you do.”

Allan Shedlin (Dad, Granddad, DADvocacy Consulting GroupArmor Down/Daddy UpDaddying Film Festival)

Early Learning Nation columnist Mark Swartz writes for and about nonprofit organizations. Author of the children's books Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Lost Flamingo, Magpie Bridge and The Giant of the Flood as well as a few novels, he lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his wife and two children.

Illustrator Art Hondros received wrist-slappings for his cartooning activity in both high school and the US Navy. His sequential features have appeared in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine and Packingtown Review in Chicago. He produced a graphic novel based on a lost 1920s silent film in 2018. He is a member of the collective known as DC Conspiracy that publishes the free comics newspaper, Magic Bullet.

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