U.S. Military Dads & National Fatherhood Initiative
Parenting Resources for Fathers & Support for Deployed Dads
by Bernadette Verzosa
Editor’s Note: ParentsPost.com is a Media Partner of the Dad 2.0 Summit in Houston. Members of the National Fatherhood Initiative will be at the conference to share their knowledge about the Father Factor.
When Army First Lieutenant William Edwards was notified that he was going to be deployed to Iraq, his mind raced with worry – not for himself but for his wife and four children. “I was afraid that I would miss so much of their growing up while I was gone and I was worried that my wife would be overloaded with all the work of raising the kids on her own,” he recalls.
Lt. Edwards only had one month to prepare. He had long discussions about his time away with each of his children, 13-year-old David, 12-year-old Jason, 9-year-old Elena and 6-year-old Luke. He even created videos that they could watch while he was gone. He recorded himself reading, singing and playing the guitar for them.
Lt. Edwards was with the Third Infantry Division at Camp Victory in Iraq from March 2007 to May 2008. He did everything he could to stay connected. He mostly emailed or set up a Skype video conference with his family from his room. He also wrote old-fashioned letters and poems for each of his children.
And he continued to make videos. He created a DVD for his kids called “A Day with Daddy” which showed him on his daily routine from brushing teeth to eating at the chow hall. “My roommate helped me make a DVD and I also helped him make one for his kids. I know that my wife and kids really cherished this and watched it a lot,” he says. “Kids are so visual. The fact that they could see me I think helped them to know I was okay and still love them. They had a visual reminder that I am a still a part of their lives even though I am so far away.”
Lt. Edwards even helped produce videos for other soldiers in their unit – videos they sent to their families. “I tend to lead by example rather than telling soldiers how to connect with their kids and spouses, but I think what my life shows is that connecting with your family isn’t going to just happen, you have to make it happen,” he says.
THE MILITARY FATHERHOOD AWARD
For all he did during his deployment and beyond, Lt. Edwards was awarded the 2012 Military Fatherhood Award by the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). He was nominated by his wife Esther. He received his award at the White House and had lunch with President Barack Obama.
The search is underway for the 2013 recipient. Everyone is invited to nominate a deserving dad. The NFI website says the award is given to “a military dad who displays an ongoing commitment and dedication to his children, makes extraordinary efforts to father from a distance when deployed, successfully balances military and family life, and makes an effort to mentor other military fathers and/or military children.”
The public is invited to participate and vote. The 2013 Military Fatherhood Award winner will be announced on June 16, Father’s Day.
THE NATIONAL FATHERHOOD INITIATIVE (NFI)
The U.S. Military is just one of the many organizations that use NFI resources. The non-profit agency also works with school districts, churches, community centers and prisons to help dads connect with their kids.
“We are working with the military because there’s been a huge number of deployments since 2001. Thousands of dads go overseas. They come home and leave again and that’s a lot of stress on families,” says Vincent DiCaro, NFI Vice President of Development & Communications. “The effects of deployment on military children are the same as the effects of father-absent homes on children. They are more likely to fail in school and to get into trouble.”
The NFI was created in 1994 to reverse a disturbing trend – the number of American homes without dads. Social scientists started to see a link between missing fathers and social issues including poverty, crime, teen pregnancy and education. “After 1960, there was a four-fold increase in father-absent homes,” says DiCaro. “The NFI was created to start a public dialogue. It was an acknowledgement that this is happening. It hurts kids and it matters.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2011, about 24 million children lived in biological father-absent homes. The NFI’s goals have evolved from simply raising awareness to distributing materials on fatherhood skills. “What we saw was the need to make things fatherhood specific. These programs are designed for and by dads,” says Di Caro. “The cultural attitude over the past several decades has been fathers aren’t as important as moms. In our cultural language, parenting is a code word for mothering. There are resources out there for moms but not necessarily for dads. So we built a portfolio to close the gap.”
The NFI has published brochures and books and created classroom curriculum on fatherhood. Since 2002, the agency has trained about 12,000 practitioners to deliver fatherhood programs in their communities. Its flagship 24/7 Dad is a twelve-session program that teaches exercises and strategies that help fathers develop characteristics they need to stay close to their kids through every stage.
In its guide book for military families, the NFI has checklists of things to do before deployment both practical and personal. For example, dads are encouraged to leave a jar of hand-written messages so their kids can pick a new personal note every week.
“I am very grateful to NFI for all the many things they have done to support me as a dad and am proud to be a part of their history,” says Lt. Edwards. “The NFI has a weekly e-mail that gives tips to dads which is a great support to men trying to do their best as dads. I hope they are able to help many dads connect with their kids, whether they are in the military or civilians.”