Shaping Youth Via Fatherhood: Joe Kelly on New Media, New Men

dad-hand2-blog.jpgA couple days ago Anastasia at Ypulse posted a jarring ‘uh-oh’ article, “Dads rate lower than friends and grandma with teens” based on the latest Harris Interactive research on teens and materialism.

She wrote, “Dads, we have a problem. For all the talk about how teens are closer to their parents (plural), it’s still mom (and grandma and friends) that make teens feel happier than dad…”

Anastasia goes on to say that despite research factoids, a lot of dads in the 35 year-old bracket are “trying really hard to right the wrongs of our fathers, making an effort to be more emotionally involved in their children’s lives, striving for more work/life balance in order to do so and even becoming the primary parent in some cases.”

This is consistent with my observations in the blogosphere too.

New media’s “Blogger Dads” are abundant, articulate, and proudly engaged in the parenting arena…That would be engaged with a capital E.

A tiny list of worthy favorites appears at the end of this piece to give you an online glimpse of men who are ‘cycle-breaking’ patriarchial cultural confines in refreshingly positive ways. (Click their own blogrolls for a much more comprehensive summary)

I checked in with Joe Kelly, founder of Dads and Daughters to weigh in with his views on the Harris Interactive research. Here’s what he had to say…

“I’m not surprised at these findings; we did a research poll in 2004 which showed a huge disconnect on the fathers’ side of the equation: 75% said they had a good or excellent relationship with their daughters (not a percentage likely to be replicated if one polled girls). But at the same time, when asked if their active involvement in their daughter’s life was key to her health and well-being, 66 said “No.”

IN other words, ¼ of dads say they have a great relationship with their daughters, while 2/3 say they don’t really matter to those same daughters. Talk about disconnect!!!”

Ypulse echoed teens are not feeling close to dad, citing comments made by Jim Taylor of the Harrison Group in their newsy synopsis of findings from the industry’s branding blitzfest known as What Teens Want. (West)

She pithily concluded, “dads still have a long way to go in terms of building meaningful relationships with teens [sigh]. At least they came in above pets.”

Hmn. Sometimes I’m not so sure about even THAT tidbit of data.

Joe Kelly’s reaction?

“The problem lies in cultural attitudes about fathers and the untapped potential of father-child relationships.

Society–and fathers themselves–too often still see dads as second class parents; not as important or effective as mothers and grandmothers. In pop culture, dads are usually either bumbling dolts or invisible.

Men and women internalize this nonsense (and, thus, so do kids), even though evidence abounds of how much influence dad have on their children & stepchildren.”

And if you don’t think Dads have influence, try this,

“Ask six women you work with about their relationship with their Dad, and chances are you won’t get a lukewarm answer,” said Joe.

Whoa. I did this exercise with a handful of friends and got some volatile reactions that ran the gamut from inspiration to verbal castration. Um, thanks, Joe…point well taken.

So what’s a guy to do to get some respect as dear ol’ Dad?!

Do we need to ‘counter-market’ media’s fatherhood messages too?

Maybe I’ll take THAT one on for Shaping Youth next…

For starters, I’d hook up with like-minded gents at Dads & Daughters who bump up camraderie via their sounding board forum, self-awareness in their “How well am I doing as a father” quiz, and confidence with their poignant books and free newsletter about parenting from a guy’s perspective. (great tips on talking to tweens and teens about tough stuff)

I wrote a bit about Dads & Daughters in this overview post, but knew I’d have to make it a multi-part piece using nuggets of Joe’s interview in posts like this one.

Joe reinforced that glacial change is starting to be reflected even in media icons…

Pro athletes like Tiger Woods, Alonzo Mourning and Phil Mickelsen have all made career decisions based on family issues, whether it’s limiting the travel circuit or jetting home for the birth of a child.

Seems media moments like these need reinforced as ‘obvious’ choices rather than chuckled at by some smirking, sarcastic blowhard sports commentator that pooh-poohs the notion as being a causal link to a lousy game score.

OR…applauded as if it’s a rare Dodo bird citing arising from extinction. Only then will gender norms start to balance out a bit into more collective, collaborative thinking.

One of Joe’s resonating high notes from our prior interview hit me profoundly in terms of men’s influence and the role they play in their kids’ lives, whether they’re at home or ‘live-away’ dads.

Some men actually ‘wake up’ after sleepwalking through a large portion of their kids’ lives and ‘get it’ after a major crisis occurs:

“Men who have ‘been through the fire’ of a major life trauma like severe illness, divorce, death of a loved one, career loss, or recovery in ANY capacity tend to be exceptionally well-versed in embracing the rest of their lives with intention and full conciousness.

They’ve seen that each precious second counts on this planet and Dads like that live with heightened awareness of what truly matters.

Joe talked about the need to become “emotionally literate” as an imperative, and that the hope and progress for real connectivity with your own children sometimes comes at the expense of one’s own comfort…

In conversations. In opening dialogue. In listening and hearing kids’ truths…

It’s okay to squirm. It builds authenticity and intimacy…Whether it’s about adolescent wounds or teen beliefs or even how a stray comment from the sidelines embarrassed them.

“We are incessantly marketing the notion we should never be uncomfortable…we need to be ‘happy’ and take something, or buy something to ‘fix it’ if we’re not there yet…”

“…Real life is ambiguity,” Kelly said.

Media often depicts fathers as ancillary, inept, or invisible in their kids’ lives…

Stereotypes cast Dad in the role of credit-card wielding careprovider, total fop, lecherous cad, or icon for idolization…

AND…Painting a rosy ‘Daddy’s girl’ picture often backfires in real life as girls come of age and may get a whopping dose of reality across the chops that Dad is a mortal, fallible human too.

All this adds up in the dialogue and may explain some of those statistics…

I’ll be writing a separate piece on Joe’s media and marketing endeavors on the advocacy front to bridge this Dad-n-kids gap soon…His efforts to speak to CEOs ‘dad to dad’ on some of the more noxious ad campaigns, asking folks to “put your daughter’s face in this ad” is well known.

His tenacious support of preserving Title IV sports allocations, and talking to policy makers in the public sphere for a healthier media worldview for girls and ALL children puts him on my ‘hot stuff’ list too…

Someday I hope Joe will also open a ‘Dads & Sons’ division to unfurl and disentangle some of the layers and legacies boys and men deal with as it pertains to their unique relationship too. We’d all be well-served.

Meanwhile, check out the insights in this partial list of resources and my favorite blogger Dads.

There’s tons of humor, eloquence, and warmth coming from these men paving the way to new inroads in child-rearing.

It’s so refreshingly positive to see new media, new outlooks, new worldviews, new tomorrows…for Shaping Youth.

Resources for Dads (alphabetically)

About Fatherhood: Tips for Dads

At Home Dad: A jam-packed national informational resource with local links to community building for stay-at-home dads, fathers who are primary caregiver in their family, and other involved dads.

Dad Daily: Social networking site

Dads and Daughters: (My personal fave, having a tween daughter!)

Dads and Daughters: “Dad Talk” forum

DadStaysHome: forum style support National Center for Fathering

Slowlane: Online resource for Stay at Home Dads (SAHD)

The Father Life (new magazine launched 1/17)
Zero to Three’s Fatherhood Tip Sheet

Shaping Youth’s Poppa Picks:
A Few Favorite Dad Bloggers

Adventure Dad
Creative Types
Cynical Dad
Dad Bloggers

Dad In Progress
Daddy in a Strange Land
Daddy Types

Laid Off Dad
Philosopher Dad
Rebel Dad
Rice Daddies
The BlogFathers

Update: Feb.22, 2010

New post worth looking at over on Digital Trenches about the rise of Daddy Bloggers and what it means in the social media sphere.

Here’s a partial list of some of THEIR examples: (Congrats, Derek of Natural Papa, who is an uber-eco guru I met on the EcoChild’s Play blog! Clearly way past time to do an update of my own!)

The Dad List:

Natural Papa:

Daddy Is Tired:

Mocha Dad:


Playground Dad:








  1. Obed Siluma says


    My name is Obed Siluma I would like to have more information on your projects. I would like to adopt them for our men’s forum here in South Africa.

    Hope to hear from you



  2. Greetings, Obed. We’re filming some of our counter-marketing projects ‘in action’ to be able to offer them as turnkey enrichment that anyone can use with kids…so stay tuned…we’re getting there! Today, for example, we’re filming more of our “Dare to Compare: A Gross Out Game for Good Nutrition” based on a ‘Fear Factor’ media format, where the kids SEE what goes into their bodies when they eat junk food, and TASTE the difference between highly processed vs. fresh, and TOUCH the hands-on tactile simulations we use to make our point (like dried out playdough extrusion to simulate hardened arteries from too much sodium embedded in chips, cup-o-noodles, soup, etc.)

    As far as the men’s focus, I HIGHLY recommend you connect directly with Dads & Daughters for they have a men’s forum all set online, and discuss child-rearing in depth at multi-levels which is useful for any and all men who come into contact with kids…Uncles, brothers, neighbors, not just stepdads and biological dads. Their advice and tips are worthy indeed.

    Also, many of the Dads blogging are incredibly erudite and pragmatic, bringing a fresh new voice and view into parenting…whether it’s how Dads engage with media with their sons (playing video games together, watching spectator sports) or how they coach their daughters and sons hands-on in the field. Google ‘dad bloggers’ or start with our ‘poppa picks’ and look at their blogrolls…There are TONS of resources out there! I love the web!

    Finally, being an engaged parent in South Africa, you no doubt are already part of the Media & Children 5th World Summit, which sounds fabulous. Look for MediaSnackers from the UK doing training there…they seem to have excellent outreach skills in the youth media realm.

    Best, Amy

  3. I added a lengthy comment with regard to the article you reference at Digital Trenches. Basically put, the potential success of dad blogs as a marketing vehicle rests primarily on brands recognizing the viability of these sites and on the media starting to portray fathers as competent parents.
    .-= Clark Kent’s Lunchbox´s last blog ..Mr. Squiggle’s Wonder Emporium: Being Dad Zero at Mom 2.0 – Part 2 =-.

  4. Hi. I read a few of your other posts and wanted to know if you would be interested in exchanging links?

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