When Our Kids Amaze us

Have you had one of those moments when one of your kids amazed you with how grown up they seem, how articulate they are, or how mature they’ve become, as if you missed a few years of their development somehow? And there they are now, standing before you as a wonderful young man or woman. Where did the time go?

Who is this lovely creature?

I had that experience last May when my two oldest boys, JD and Cal, now sixteen and almost fifteen, went to their spring formal dressed in sport coats and ties. I looked at these two handsome young men in wonder. And truly they looked like men, and they carried themselves that way. I shook my head, and I felt so proud of them.


I had that wonder-filled experience again a few weeks ago when a friend of mine, Dr. Lori, suggested she interview my youngest son, Kai, about an experience he and I had with one of my painting customers (I’m bi-vocational). She heard Kai tell the story earlier and thought it would be great for other dads to hear. They had so much fun planning it together, and the idea quickly grew to include several other subjects, all related to The Great Dads Project.

I shot the video, and stood there with my mouth hanging open most of the time. I could hardly believe this was my little twelve-year-old son still in braces. His thoughts, ideas, suggestions, insights, humor, and his way with words floored me. Seriously, this kid could be an actor. He was so comfortable on camera, and carried himself with such poise, grace, and presence. I’m not kidding. I know, I’m his dad, I’m bound to think he’s great. But seriously, check this out for yourself, and see if you don’t think he’s as great as I do. Enjoy.


If you like this, leave a comment below, and share
a story about a time one of your kids amazed you.


To read more from Keith, take a look at his book:

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3 Good Things

Have you ever noticed how much easier it sometimes is to file a complaint than to feel gratitude? If so, you’re not alone.


Sometimes it just feels more natural, or it just comes easier, to focus on what isn’t right than what is, what we don’t have than what we do, those who don’t like us than those who care deeply.

Attitude of Gratitude

Well, it’s no different for our children. In fact, if we are not pretty proficient in expressing our own gratitude, if we are not mostly optimistic and positive ourselves, then we may have inadvertently modeled some complaining, negativity, or resentment for our kids. They may have learned by our example.

As we reorient ourselves, I want to suggest a simple exercise that may help our children as well, create some great conversation, nurture gratitude and positivity, and maybe even bring some more restful sleep.

One of the men in my great dad coaching small group shared something very cool with us last week. It’s something he is currently doing with his two teenage sons. And the results sounded so great I had to share it with you. He calls it simply, “Three Good Things.”

Here’s how it works. He said that some time in the evening, it could be at dinner, later that night, even at bedtime, he asks his boys individually, “What are three good things that happened today?” So simple, yet so important, and in some ways, profound. That simple question opens his sons’ minds to rethink their day, to look back with the purpose of searching out what was good, and choosing to express it in a way that nurtures gratitude. That one question can help produce positivity.

I decided I’m going to do that with my boys as well. When I talk to them in the evening, I’m simply going to ask, “What are three good things that happened today for you?” Starting this Friday, all three of my boys will be staying with me for ten days. I can hardly wait! I’m planning to ask them every day this great question and just see where it takes us.

I hope to train myself, and my boys at the same time, to remember that there is always something to be grateful for. Sometimes we just need to think about it for a moment.


To read more from Keith, take a look at his book:

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Father Hunger

Father Hunger is a phrase many psychologists, authors and poets use to describe the universal and life-long yearning children have for their fathers.

Sometimes loving dads satisfy that hunger. Other children continue to yearn when their need is not met by engaged fathers. Some starve for lack of fathering. Fatherlessness leaves children hungering—craving for dad’s affection, affirmation, and loving presence. Father hungry children tend not to grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted and happy adults. A host of studies link fatherless to many serious social problems. Children from fatherless homes account for:

63 percent of youth suicides
71 percent of pregnant teenagers
90 percent of all homeless and runaway children
70 percent of juveniles in state-operated institutions
85 percent of all youth who exhibit behavior disorders
80 percent of rapists motivated with displaced anger
71 percent of all high school dropouts
75 percent of all adolescents in chemical abuse centers
85 percent of all youths sitting in prison.[i]

Researchers Frank Furstenberg and Kathleen Harris reveal that more important than a father’s presence or even his living at home is how close a child feels to his or her father. That feeling of closeness, they argue, is most predictably associated with positive life outcomes for the child even twenty-five years later. Based on these findings, Dr. Kyle Pruett notes, “Children who feel a closeness to their father are twice as likely as those who do not to enter college or find stable employment after high school, 75 percent less likely to have a teen birth, 80 percent less likely to spend time in jail, and half as likely to experience multiple depression symptoms.”[ii]

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association in the mid 1990s confirmed that “doing lots of activities together is not the crucial variable in the relationship between parent and child; rather, it is a sense of connectedness.”[iii]

Ultimately, it’s how close a child feels to their dad that makes all the difference as to how satisfied their hunger.

May our children never go hungry as some of us did.

Great Dads Shape Great Kids.
Be a Great Dad Today.

[i]Reported in John Sowers, Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 36-37.

[ii] Cited in Kyle D. Pruett M.D., Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child (New York: Broadway Books, 2000), 38.

[iii] Cited in Gail Sheehy, Understanding Men’s Passages: Discovering the New Map of Men’s Lives (New York: Balllantine Books, 1998), 166.

To read more from Keith, take a look at his book:

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Great Dad Tip: Shaping Character through Another Teachable Moment

One of the many benefits of spending a lot of time with our kids is that we are there when teachable moments naturally arise. We can rarely, if ever, create these. They normally occur as part of life. When we are not only physically present to witness them, but have a mindset to make the most of them, these moments are tremendous teaching opportunities to shape character in our kids.

I shared last week about the now famous toothpaste-squeezing incident, as I refer to it, when I taught my boys how hurtful angry words and hitting can be. This week, I’ll tell you about another where I used a teachable moment to try to shape greater honesty in one of my boys.

That teachable moment arose when I caught one of my boys in an obvious lie. The circumstances of the lie are not important, but how we handled it might provide a learning opportunity. I learned about my son lying to me about something he had done. I talked with him about it. I knew that simply confronting him with the evidence may elicit a confession—what else could he do at that point—but I was afraid he wouldn’t learn anything if I handled this in such a direct and confrontational manner. Instead, I said to him, “Son, I want to ask you about this. And I want you to tell me the truth. I know that it’s hard to tell the truth when you’re afraid you’ll be punished. So, this one time, I want you to know I am not going to punish you if you did what I think you may have done. Got it. No consequences this time. I just want you to practice telling me the truth.”

I described what had happened, and I asked him, “Son, did you do this? Remember, what’s most important to me at the moment is your character, not whether or not you did this thing. I want all my boys to grow up to be honest truth-tellers. I know I need to train you to do that. So, don’t be afraid of being punished. You will not be this time. I want to know that you are able to tell the truth, to own what you did, to take responsibility for your actions. Son, did you do this?”

He looked at me for a long moment, I suspect partially trying to figure out if I was serious—could he trust me to keep my word not to punish him—and partially in disbelief that he could confess and get away with this. I asked him again, “Son, I want you to be honest and tell me, did you do this?”

He lowered his eyes from mine, looked down at the floor, and meekly said, “Yes, I did.”

Now, the moment of truth. I said, “Son, look at me.” He looked into my eyes. I said, “I’m so proud of you. You told me the truth. That’s what I want to see grow in you, the character quality of honesty—the ability to speak the truth no matter what. Fantastic. Just as I promised, you will not be disciplined, this time.” I hugged him to assure him of my love for him. Then I looked into his eyes and again affirmed him for telling the truth. He apologized, on his own, and then thanked me.

I hope the way I handled that one taught him something more than discipline would have in that moment. But I only thought of this because I ask myself in every situation I can, How can I shape character through what just took place? When I focus on that as the goal, I tend to think a bit more creatively than simply reacting in the moment with discipline for the behavior or the words.


To read more from Keith, take a look at his book:

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Great Dad Tip: Shaping Character through Teachable Moments

One of the many benefits of spending a lot of time with our kids is that we are there when teachable moments naturally arise. We can rarely, if ever, create these. They normally occur as part of life. When we are not only physically present to witness them, but have a mindset to make the most of them, these moments are tremendous teaching opportunities to shape character in our kids.

All-Stars w: DadShortly after we moved to Kentucky, JD, my oldest, turned seven years old; Cal, my second son, was five and a half. I don’t even remember now what the conflict itself was, but I sure remember what it did to my boys and the teachable moment I seized. JD and Cal had some significant disagreement that escalated into a fight. For the first time I can recall, Cal hit JD, apparently rather vigorously. What bothered me more than the hitting and yelling was how this minor act of aggression and the angry words that followed had damaged their friendship. All three of our boys were best friends (and thankfully still are nine years later—perhaps in part due to what I’m about to share). They normally played happily with each other and generally enjoyed each other’s company. However, after this hitting and yelling incident, JD and Cal would not speak to each other, would not play with each other, they didn’t even want to be around each other. They did not know how to reconcile because they had never before broken their friendship like this.

We let this go for about two days to see if they could work this out on their own. That didn’t happen. I decided we needed to act. I thought creatively and devised a plan. I called my family together. We sat on the couch in the living room. I strategically placed JD and Cal between my wife and I so they were forced to sit next to each other. They did mange to create some safe space between them (a demilitarization zone of sorts I suppose). I held a plate and a tube of toothpaste in my fingertips. I handed both to Cal and asked him to squeeze some of the toothpaste out of the tube onto the plate. He stared at me. I assured him I was completely serious and told him again to do it. He squeezed a line of toothpaste about an inch long. I instructed him to hand the plate and the tube to JD, which he did. “JD,” I said, “now you put the toothpaste back into the tube.”

He looked at me, trying to figure out if I really mean it. “What?” he muttered under his breath. “How can I do that?”

“Just do it,” I replied. “I want you to put all the toothpaste back into the tube, and we’re not getting up from this couch until you do so.”

A stunned silence descended upon the room, until JD said, “That’s impossible.”

“Right,” I confirmed. Object lesson over, dad speech begins.

“Boys, this toothpaste is like our actions and words. When we allow hurtful actions and hateful words to come out of us, they’re forever out there. We can never take them back, even after we realize what we’ve done. The actions have still happened, the words have still been said, and the hurt can remain, sometimes for a long time. We can damage relationships we value and wound people we care about. The really hard part about that is that even when we feel bad about it later, and we want to take back what we did or said, we can’t. Just like how impossible it is to get this toothpaste back into the tube.”

As I was talking, I noticed JD and Cal were slowly moving physically toward each other on the couch. Soon, JD even casually rested his arm on top of Cal’s. So I continued talking, very curious to monitor what would happen.

“Boys, what’s really difficult is that when anger is expressed in hurtful words and hitting, it’s hard to make up. It’s hard to know how to move back close to the person we’ve hurt, even when we both want to. It takes courage for someone to initiate the process by apologizing, saying they’re sorry. That takes bravery and humility (notice my intentional use of character words). And it takes compassion for the offended person to forgive and receive the apology. Usually, both people involved in the hurt have something to apologize for, and something to forgive. This is called reconciliation, boys. Reconciliation essentially means making up. And it draws people back together when they’ve been hurt.”

I felt astounded to see our boys spontaneously apply what they had just learned. They apologized to each other and they both said, “I forgive you.” Without any prodding from me, they reached out and hugged each other. So we all piled on and hugged one another and laughed aloud. It was a fun, playful, affectionate way to break the tension that had existed in our home for two days. Then I simply said to them, “Now go have some fun and don’t be such goof balls again.” And off they ran, happily, to play outside together.

Good, huh? You can use that one with your kids, and you don’t even have to tell them you learned it from me. I’m not telling you where I learned it (I can’t remember now, but I must have read something like this in a book sometime. I’m sure I didn’t come up with it by myself.).

Take advantage of those valuable, important teachable moments that arise as life happens in your family to shape the character of your children for the rest of their lives. Set your mind to look for those teachable moments. Be as ready as you can to seize them and utilize them when they occur.

To read more from Keith, take a look at his book:

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Great Dad Tip: Shaping Character

Most dads really want their kids to grow up with good, solid, respectable character. We know that character in a man is ultimately what matters most. But how do children with lots to learn in the character department actually grow into young women and men of character? How does that happen?

Rabbi Neil Kurshan writes, “Children do not magically learn morality, kindness, and decency any more than they magically learn math, English or science. They mature into decent and responsible people by emulating adults who are examples and models for them, especially courageous parents with principles and values who stand up for what they believe.”[i]

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and The Great Dads Project

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously quoted once said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”


If our children are going to grow into young women and men of character, it’s not going to happen by accident or luck. And it’s probably not their friends who are going to produce that desired result. How can dads make a difference?

About ten years ago, when my children were still rather young, I read two biographies of Martin Luther King Jr. It was a profoundly moving experience for me. But I wasn’t sure why, because although I extraordinarily respected Dr. King, I did not especially identify with him. For the depth of emotion I felt for the weeks I was reading of his life, I expected a greater sense of identification in some way. But that sense of identification was noticeably absent. I repeatedly thought as I read, “I could never have done this. I don’t have the depth of character, the courage and resolve to have endured what he endured, the firm resolution to suffer as he suffered, the graciousness and strength to be reviled, jailed, beat, stabbed, accused, and threatened, and never to retaliate with force. I could never have stood up under such pressure. I know myself too well. I know my own weaknesses, my own need for acceptance and affirmation, my own cowardice, brokenness, and aggression. I could never be a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

I frequently heard words like this in my head as I read. I longed to emulate him—to lead in my sphere of influence as he led in his—but I couldn’t see myself ever being like him. Why was I so moved by his life? Was it just sheer admiration?

I kept asking myself these questions as I monitored my internal, visceral reaction to my reading. It slowly dawned on me: I was not identifying with Dr. MLK Jr., but I was with his father—Daddy King, as they called him, MLK Sr. We don’t hear as much about him. I gradually recognized how much time and character he invested into the MLK we now know and have memorialized.

It was Daddy King who convinced young Martin that he could become whoever he set his mind to be and do whatever he chose to do.

It was the dad who laid a foundation for greatness by believing in his son—filling him with courage, confidence, and appropriate pride.

Daddy King gave his son a sense of security in who he was as a black man in this racially divided country in the 1930s, particularly in the South where he lived.

It was the father who gave his son a tremendous gift of faith, self-respect, self-discipline, and a self-perception that allowed him to succeed in a white man’s world—to become the prophet and leader of change he eventually became.

One day, the thought settled in my mind with the force of a resolved commitment, I will never be an MLK Jr. myself, but I might be able to raise three of them.

In that moment, my fathering identity and role shifted for me—it took on new depth of meaning. By committing to raise three potential MLKs, I was not in any way predicting or implying that any one of them would become a great public leader of change, or do anything noteworthy in a national or global way, though they may indeed choose to. That was not the point, nor my goal.

My newly focused purpose was to be the kind of dad Daddy King appears to have been to Martin—to impart the sort of character, the kind of self-image, confidence, respect, and faith that would allow my sons to become anything they choose to become, and to achieve anything they set their minds on. My commitment from that time forward was to do everything possible in my power as a dad to set my boys up for success in life—whatever they choose for that to mean.

My resolve is that nothing within them would ever hold them back from becoming and achieving greatness, as they would choose to define it. That was the gift I came to believe Daddy King gave to Martin. Martin chose what to do with it.

That gift I never received from my dad. But it was the gift I longed to give all three of my young sons.

I know ultimately it is a person’s character that shapes the quality of their life, and what they do with it—what they achieve themselves and how they impact others, for good or for ill. So, it became what we sometimes call a “no-brainer” that for me to become a great dad, character formation must be central to everything I do with my boys.

So how do we do it? How can we focus on the goal, on what matters most, by shaping character in our children? Over the next few weeks, I’ll post several blogs about some of the ways I’ve tried to do this as a dad, and some ways we tried to do it as a family when my boys were younger.

[i] Rabbi Neil Kurshan, Raising Your Child to Be a Mensch (New York: Atheneum, 1987) 11.

To read more from Keith, take a look at his book:

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Great Dad Tip: Should I Help My Kids with Their Homework, or Not?

I’m currently reading Annie Fox’s book, Teaching Kids to be Good People. It’s a delightful anthology of parenting ideas, tips, helpful examples, and scenarios to consider. Annie will be interviewing me for her podcast in a couple of weeks and I wanted to read her book before the interview. I’ve asked her permission to post one of her sections as my Great Dad Tip of The Week this week. Well worth the read in pondering the question, Should I help my kids with their homework or not?

Here are Annie’s thoughts and words below. Thank you, Annie, for sharing.

“Auugh! I don’t get this stupid homework!!!” your seventh grader wails. Devoted parent, you rush in and . . . do what? What kind of help is the right kind? Depends on your endgame, right?

Your basic job description: “Prepare your child to become an independent, fully functioning young adult.” (If you’ve never read that anywhere, look at the bottom of your kid’s birth certificate. It’s there in the fine print.)

So . . . when your daughter groans or your son bellows, your most helpful move should be in the direction of supporting and encouraging them to work things out on their own. If your brand of “help” means you’re doing the heavy lifting, crisis after crisis, year after year, you’re not being all that helpful.

But we are parents and we like helping our kids. Of course, we do. In fact, on a cellular level, we’re programmed to help and coach them, which is how they learn. And if we want them to grow into cooperative, good-hearted people, we start by helping them. That shows them what helping looks like and what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a helpful act.

Well-intentioned as our help may be, the “Let me tie your shoes” variety isn’t supposed to last forever. Each time we help a child, we ought to provide instructions for identifying the problem, thinking through options, and making smart choices. That way, the next time, that child is more likely to resolve the challenge on his own, wisely and with confidence.

But when the only tool in a child’s problem-solving kit is “get Mom/Dad to do it,” it’s harder to develop the skills and self-esteem that comes from being independent and responsible. Seems obvious, right? But less obvious is the fact that when we rush in with solutions, we might also teach kids they aren’t capable of helping themselves or anyone else. Let’s think about that one.

If I’m a kid who routinely turns to Mom/Dad, who is all too happy to “save the day” (again), I may start believing that I’m helpless, hopeless, and useless. I might resist tackling my own problems. (“I never do it right.”) I may also hold myself back from stepping up and helping others. (“Why bother? I’ll just make things worse!”)

To teach kids the value of helping, we need to catch them in the act of following their kinder instincts. Let them know that what they just did for you, their sister, their friend, was very cool and you’re proud of them. When they’re stumped or frustrated, we need to resist the urge to jump in. Instead, we encourage them onward while we step back, little by little. Celebrate their “I did it!” moments and they will eagerly look for other things they can do on their own.

Will kids who are more independent need us less? Well, yeah! From the very beginning, that’s always been the point of this parenting gig. We taught them how to walk and . . . they started walking away from us. It’s true, they won’t always need us, but they will always use what we taught them. And while we’re teaching them self-reliance, we’re also reinforcing our perception that they are the kind of people who care about others. Our perception of them colors their self-perception. We are teaching them that compassion translates into help and being helpful is what we’re all here for.

Quoted by permission from Annie Fox’s book, Teaching Kids to Be Good.

To order Annie’s ebook, click the image below to gp to Amazon.









To read more from Keith, take a look at his book:

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