Sunday, November 10, 2013

Keith Zafren On The Secrets Of Being A Great Dad...


As a crime fiction lover, you might expect that's all I think about or talk about when it comes to books. While I do write mostly murder and mayhem (except for my poetry), my reading palate is quite diverse. When my beautiful daughter Samantha, now an amazing tattoo artist at twenty, was a little tyke I read a few parenting books because kids don't come with instructions. Generally the way we learn to parent our own kids evolves from the way we were raised ourselves, which can be seriously flawed. It's only when we endeavour to become better versions of ourselves, that as parents we excel.

I feel lucky that I had an amazing dad growing up, not everyone does. Keith Zafren, author of "How To Be A Great Dad", did not. And it's this that inspired him to create an organization called The Great Dad's Project and help mentor men on how to become better fathers. Today I'm interviewing him so we can discover all about the valuable work he's been doing...

What is the Great Dad's Project all about?

The Great Dads Project is all about transforming fathers into dads. That is, any man can become a father; it’s biologically easy to create a child. It’s entirely another thing to commit to a child’s well-being, to create a great sense of self-esteem, a sense of belonging, and a deep knowing that the child feels loved and wanted. Dads have immense power over the self-concept of their children. The Great Dads Project envisions transforming biological fathers into loving and engaged dads who make a remarkably positive impact on their children for life.

Research shows that millions of men around the world now long to be better dads, though countless numbers are ill equipped or crippled psychologically to do so. Many men today are frustrated, discouraged, and even heartbroken over their inability to achieve the kind of relationship, influence, and happiness they long for in their fathering role. The consequence for many is that they neglect or abandon their fathering role since they feel ill prepared, inadequate, overwhelmed, or unsuccessful.

The Great Dads Project is about changing that. We elevate, inspire, and coach men to commit themselves to the awesome, life-giving, and world-changing experience of fathering the next generation.

Why has this become so important to you?

My dad had a profound impact on me. I’m sorry to say that the impact was substantially wounding and detrimental to my self-concept for most of my life. As recently as this past month, I uncovered another layer of pain I had to work through and another piece of forgiveness I needed to extend to my father. I posted a blog about it your readers might find of value. You can read that post called Forgiving my Father—Again!

I would say I was a wounded son for a big part of my early life. When I had my first child at age thirty-seven, I suddenly became a bewildered new father. Though I desperately wanted to be a good dad, a better dad than I felt my father had been to me, I had no idea what to do. I knew what I didn’t want to do, but I had no model for the right kind of fathering I wanted to express. I spent years reading books, taking classes, and asking good dads I knew to talk with me, to teach me, and to help me grow as a dad. I’m so happy to say that today my three sons (now ages 12, 14, and 15) would tell you I’m a great dad. I can say that humbly, but with tremendous pride and satisfaction. I was a highly unlikely candidate to become a great dad. If I can do it, I know any many can. And I want to help as many fathers as I can feel the joy and fulfillment I now do in becoming the dad I wish I’d had.

Why did you write your book "How To Be A Great Dad"?

I worked with about 600 men in prison over a six-year period. That’s where most of the material I eventually wrote into my book got tested and proven. I have a message that grows out of my own pain and healing, and out of my work of serving people for the last thirty-two years. I was a pastor for twenty-three years, I worked with incarcerated dads for six years, and I’ve been working with dads outside of prison for the past three years. I’ve been able to simplify my message to make it not only easily memorable, but incredibly practical and useful. I wanted a way to get that message into as many dads’ hands as possible, so it seemed like writing the book was a good place to start. The full title of the book is How to Be a Great Dad—No Matter What Kind of Father You Had. It’s available on Amazon now in print and eBook formats. And your readers can read reviews of it there by both men and women.

Jack Canfield, the co-creator of the #1 New York Times Bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul brand and author of The Success Principles wrote a beautiful foreword for the book. In it he wrote, “On first meeting Keith Zafren, I immediately felt a strong connection to him, his work with The Great Dads Project, and the book he had written about it. I immediately related to what Keith was aspiring to accomplish. I believe Keith’s message is very important. I enthusiastically support him in his efforts to reach out to men everywhere, to help them heal and grow to become the great dads they long to be, and their children so desperately need them to be.”

When you became a father yourself was there anyone you looked to as a positive role model?

Oh yes, I had to. Though I vowed not to repeat the mistakes I felt my father made, I also knew how easily those vows could be broken and that it is just psychologically inevitable that if we don’t consciously break patterns from our childhood, we invariably repeat them. I love how AA says, “What we don’t pass back we pass down.” I didn’t want to extend the legacy of father wounding any further. So I sought out father mentors from whom I could learn. I watched them closely with their own children. I invited them to meals, took them to play golf, invited myself to their homes for dinner, and I asked them questions, loads of questions. But in the end, it was watching how they fathered up close that made the biggest impact. I needed father mentors, so I took the initiative to seek them out and learn from them. Cory Ishida, John Bruce, and Joe Dabaghian were the three who most impacted me and modeled for me what great fathering looked and felt like. All three had the kinds of relationships with their kids I longed for. And I’m forever grateful to these men for what they modeled for me, the way they taught me, and the ways they loved me by helping me grow.


What do you think kids need the most from their fathers?

I’ve studied enough child development theory and read enough books to confidently say that what children need most from their fathers really can be summarized under what I now call The Three Core Fathering Practices I teach men in my workshops, write about in my book, and coach in my private coaching with men. These three fathering practices are like the three legs of a stool—each bearing equal weight of great fathering. I call these practices affirmation, acceptance, and affection.

Affirmation: refers to verbal and written words of specific praise regarding our children’s character, decision-making, and treatment of others more than their appearance, achievement, or performance. A father’s written and verbal affirmation helps children believe they are smart, capable, and able to achieve whatever they set their good minds to.

Acceptance: speaks to our unconditional and unending embrace of our children no matter what they do, how they fail, what they choose to value or believe or pursue, or with whom they associate. A father’s unconditional and unending acceptance communicates to children that they belong. It helps them know and feel that they are ours, we want them, and we will never, ever turn them away.

Affection: applies to both spoken and physical expressions of love, tenderness, warmth, and care. A father’s affection helps children know they are loved and lovable, as well as worthy of good, healthy, fulfilling relationships in the future.

If you’re readers are interested in reading more about these three skills, they may want to read my blog post Three Secrets to Dad Success.


What is the most important thing a parent, mother or father, can do for their kids?

Love them in a way the child can feel! Children, all children, need to know and feel they are loved. Nothing matters more. And the three practices I coach and teach of affirmation, acceptance, and affection will get every parent there repeatedly over a lifetime of great parenting and bonding. How do we love our children so they can feel it? Affirm them; accept them; share affection. I’d love to help you learn how. Please contact me about Becoming a Great Dad Coaching.


Who would benefit from reading your book?

Although it’s likely obvious my primary audience is men who have not had the kind of relationship with their dad they wish they’d had, it turns out that all men, including men who say they’ve had fantastic dads, love my book and are thanking me for how practical and easy to follow it is. They’re saying it’s making a big difference in the kind of dad they’re becoming.

Steve Hall from Australia writes, “I guess I have to say upfront that I am lucky to have had such amazing parents as what I had. That being said, Keith's book contains lots of awesome and very actionable strategies that will make me a better Dad to my teenage children. If you have kids or you are going to have kids, you really need to read this book. It brought a tear to my eye more than a couple of times whilst reading it.”

To my surprise, somewhat, lots of women are finding it exceptionally helpful, in part for them as mothers, teaching them some parenting skills in such a simple and easily understood way, but also for helping them better understand their man, particularly if he didn’t have a great relationship with his dad, while others comment that it helped them heal some of their own issues related to their dads.

Jennifer Read Hawthorne writes, “I am not even the primary audience for this book, yet I was moved to tears numerous times by Keith's book. It gave me a new perspective on my own wounds--having lost my biological father five weeks before I was born, and it showed me how I can be a better mother to my two adult stepchildren. The content is relevant and timely, and Keith provides an answer to a problem that has the potential to profoundly impact the world by modeling and teaching how to transform non-love into love. What could be better than that?”

So, I suppose those who would most benefit from reading my book are parents who love their children (of all ages) and who want to learn how to express that love in practical ways that stick. That is, in ways that help their kids really feel it. If you read the reviews of my book posted on Amazon, you’ll see both men and women recommend it.


What is next for Keith Zafren?

I want to help as many fathers as I can become great dads. Great dads shape great kids. We can literally change the world by helping more fathers know how to love their children through affirmation, acceptance, and affection—and through their own healing journey. So what’s next for me is coaching more men individually, in small groups, and in workshop settings.

If you want to talk to explore Becoming a Great Dad Coaching, please check out my website, read about my coaching offer, and contact me today.

If you want to sponsor a workshop, please contact me through my site and let’s talk.

Poet Andrew Merton wrote, “The American man who grew up with a father who was affectionate, strong, and significantly involved in the upbringing of his children is so rare he is a curiosity.” The Great Dads Project exists to transform fathers into great dads, reversing the effects of weak, uninvolved, or just plain bad fathers and eliminating the rarity and curiosity of affectionate, strong, and significantly involved dads.

That’s what’s next for me—being a great dad myself and helping as many other fathers as possible join me along the journey.

Thanks for asking!

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