I’m All In – The Dad Initiative

If the New Testament story of Peter “walking on water” (http://tinyurl.com/9b36enb) is fairly representative (and for purposes of today’s post it will do), there are several things that can happen when we step outside the relative safety and security of our comfort zone.  The most frequently exercised option and clearly the path of least resistance is to scurry back to our cocoon as quickly as possible and resume the pupa stage of our existence, where we can remain indefinitely insulated from the admittedly sometimes “scary” place from which we just retreated.  We could drown, of course, which likely would have been Peter’s fate had he not been the beneficiary of rather immediate Divine intervention.  And then there is third option: To fully and faithfully commit to pursuing the path we’ve chosen not knowing where it may lead or what obstacles we may encounter along the way.

Earlier this week, I sent a letter to the Board of Directors of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)(http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org) in which I offered, with their support, to spearhead a nationwide campaign designed to educate, empower and encourage dads to take a more active role in their daughter’s lives and, in the case of those suffering or in recovery from an eating disorder, to become more active participants in their daughter’s treatment and recovery.  The campaign, tentatively entitled, “The Dad Initiative – Committed to Healing, United in Hope,” comes on the heels of my having attended NEDA’s 2012 Annual Conference and being surprised (and deeply troubled) to discover that of the  approximately 600 attendees, only 6 were dads – 5 of whom were either affiliated with NEDA or an invited presenter.  It is predicated on my belief that:

  •  There are few bonds on Earth stronger than the love between a father and his daughter.
  • There are few things more important to a daughter or more critical to her healthy development than her father’s attention, affection and approval.
  • Most dads are silently thirsting for a closer relationship with and a better understanding of their daughters.
  • Most dads are pre-wired to fix rather than feel.
  • Stated otherwise, the level of vulnerability and emotional intimacy required to connect fathers and daughters in ways that meet a daughter’s “dad needs” is not intuitive to men (i.e., it does not always come naturally to a dad).
  • At the same time, dads also likely have a significant reserve of “positive intention” that they are eager, but not yet readily able and, therefore, struggle to express to their daughters, spouses, other children and friends (male and female).
  • Many fathers: (a) have their own set of “unmet needs” from childhood; (b) lack appropriate modeling from their own fathers where empathy and other emotions are concerned; and (c) likely have an aversion to or are inherently skeptical of traditional therapy models.
  • After all, at least in their mind’s eye, most men are cut from a cloth that convinces them that they can: (a) find their way in a strange city/country without a map or GPS; and (2) put together the functional equivalent of a small house without looking at an instruction manual.
  • However, even the most myopic, pre-disposed to seeing everything as black-or-white and stubborn of dads can be taught to be a “New Father” – trust me I know this to be true, I once was one of those “black-or-white” dads!
  • Moreover, the rewards associated with being more vulnerable and with a heightened sense of father/daughter awareness and emotional intimacy are well worth the effort it takes to get there.
  • In fact, where eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors are concerned, a father’s willingness to participate in his daughter’s recovery on a more visible and intimate level may be the most important gift he can ever give his daughter, his family and, ultimately, himself.

Here’s the bottom line:  People are hurting – millions of people – and many are dying.  Some are young, some not-so-young.  They are our mothers and daughters, sisters and friends.  They are our teachers and classmates, coaches and teammates, bosses and colleagues, our neighbors – the person sitting next to us in the pew at church on Sunday.  They are remarkable and courageous people, with “over-sized” hearts, compassion beyond measure and, ironically, an insatiable desire to help and be there for others.  Like most of us, they long only for peace, for joy, to be loved and, above all else, for a respite from their inner storms.

We have choices.  We can continue to pretend that eating disorders aren’t real or at least not “as real” as other life-threatening illnesses that rightfully command so much of our individual, societal and charitable attention, despite overwhelming medical and scientific evidence to the contrary and the alarming mortality rates associated with them.  We also can convince ourselves that none of the above is “our problem” – at least until, God forbid, an eating disorder affects someone we love or the loved one of someone we love – or, if it makes us feel better, that, as one person, we are powerless to make a meaningful difference.

The truth is, however, there is much we can do.  We can educate ourselves to better understand these insidious and powerful diseases, so that we can speak intelligently on the subject and, if the occasion presents itself, educate others.  With our vote and our voices we can support legislative initiatives that, directly or indirectly, benefit those suffering from eating disorders, by, among other things, affording them the full extent of insurance coverage(s) offered to those afflicted with more “traditional” physical ailments.  Where possible, we can provide financial assistance to organizations and foundations dedicated to eating disorder awareness, research and support.

As for me, between the book, this blog, my recent presentation at the NEDA conference, my undying love for my daughter, I’m simply too far from the boat to even think about turning back – and drowning is “simply” not an option.  I’m all in.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wddc8UzNiG8

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