Tag Archives: fatherhood

A Promise, a Dream, and a Mom’s Love (Michael Byron Smith)

Michael Byron Smith shares how his single-parent mom kept her family together through difficult times, how he managed to keep a promise and fulfill a dream, and why mentoring is so important today. We present, “A Promise, a Dream, and a Mom’s Love.”


A Promise, a Dream, and a Mom's Love, Michael Byron Smith)How a child is raised has an undeniable impact on his or her success and happiness. Everyone would agree with that, but many ignore it anyway.

Occasionally, children raised in a stressful or unloving atmosphere achieve while others, raised in the same atmosphere, or even in a seemingly ideal situation, do not. However, I think most experts agree, with little doubt, that having two savvy and involved parents is a huge advantage in the mental health of a child. Children without that advantage can succeed, but they will struggle more than necessary. I lived this scenario and I’ve seen others in my family both fail and succeed, but the successes have been far fewer.

Big Job for a Ten-Year-Old

As I turned ten years of age, I was in a situation that required me to babysit my five younger siblings. My father was absent and my mother had to work to support us. She was only 27 years-old with six children to feed. My youngest brother was not even a year old. Thinking back on this is a frightening picture; back then, it was normal to me!

It wasn’t every day that I had to do this, just on occasions when nothing else would work out for my mother. My memories of these days are not totally clear. What I do know is that my father abandoned us. Where he was in the world at that time I do not know. Where and how he spent his earnings, other than on alcohol, is a mystery. But more mysterious to me is how a person could abandon his young children.

Some may think my mother should have never left us alone, but she was without alternatives. I don’t know how she got through the pressures of being a single mom with a tenth-grade education. All I do know is she did not abandon us and worked to exhaustion to raise and support her children.

Not surprisingly, a ten-year-old placed in charge of his brothers and sisters doesn’t get much respect. My eight-year-old brother would challenge me and aggravate everyone else. My five and three-year-old sisters were typical little girls getting into stuff and fighting. My two youngest brothers were a two-year-old toddler and a baby under a year old. Basically, I was there to keep them from injuring themselves or each other; I’d call Mom if someone got hurt badly.

Why am I writing this, exposing my family’s dirty laundry? It is obviously not to brag, nor am I asking anyone to feel sorry for us, but to share a story of hope. Hope, however, needs action – mostly our own action to meet our challenges head-on. It is up to each individual, but many kids don’t know what to do, or how to do it.

I don’t know where we lived when I was ten because we moved quite often, and I didn’t have many childhood friends. Because of this, I was much more comfortable around women than men. Being a shy, skinny, and often new kid, I was like shark-bait to the local bullies common in poorer neighborhoods. My self-defense plan was invisibility, staying indoors or peeking around corners before proceeding. It wasn’t even close to an ideal upbringing.

Tough Beginnings Mean Extra Work

Needless to say, this was not the best start for any young person. The difficulties my siblings and I experienced pale in comparison to the challenges too many young people suffer. But preventable struggles, like struggles caused by my father’s parental neglect, should never happen.

How did we all do coming out of this situation? Beyond the challenges all kids face as they mature, we all had extra demons to defeat, some struggling with those demons more than others. We’ve had teen mothers, a lack of a high school education, truancy, poverty and some minor drug and alcohol use, with following generations dealing with some of the same problems. Of the six of us, three extended families are doing well, while three families are still struggling to one degree or another.

Fortunately, I did not have any of the problems described above, but I did have others. The most challenging to me was a serious lack of confidence in myself. I believe my five siblings also suffered from this and other psychological issues. I broke out of this cycle of despair more successfully than my siblings because of two things: 1) a promise I made to myself and, 2) a dream.

The Power Of Dadhood, Michael Byron SmithThe promise was to never be poor! Not to be rich, but not to be poor – an error I will discuss later. My dream was to be a pilot, a dream of many young boys. But in my case, it was more of a passion. I knew that I would have to do it on my own because I didn’t know how to ask for help. Mentoring was not something of which I was aware, and being shy didn’t help. Certainly, someone would have mentored me had we stayed in one place long enough. (I apologize immensely to those I have forgotten who did give me help and advice, especially my many teachers.)


Being a mentor is a wonderful way to help anyone who could use advice or guidance! My book, The Power of Dadhood, is, in fact, a mentoring book intended to teach fathers to how to mentor their children. It may be obvious, by now, why I wrote this book.


My dream of being a pilot seemed so distant, like a star in another galaxy, but I kept my focus. This dream supported my goal of never being poor. It is amazing what one can do when they have a dream as a goal backed up by a promise. I also had two distant people that I looked up to: Jack Buck, the announcer for the St. Louis Cardinals, and Jimmy Stewart, my favorite actor and a US Air Force pilot himself. I admired their values and personalities. Never was there a bad word said of either, not by anyone I would respect. It was to my benefit to invent my own mentors because everyone needs role models and teachers.

A Dream, a Promise, and a Mom's Love, Michael Byron SmithI succeeded in my keeping my promise and achieving my dream. I have never been poor since the moment I graduated from college. I also became a US Air Force pilot and loved every part of that experience.

But it wasn’t easy! The required steps to make my dreams come true were demanding, but not really the issue. The toughest hurdles in this journey were the exaggerated and fabricated hurdles I put upon myself, thinking I was not worthy! The hurdle of self-worth will also cause one to underestimate their potential. I should have had a goal to be rich; instead, I just hoped to not be poor. I’m doing very well but what if……?

In Closing

My message here is two-fold. The first message is that anyone with a dream can overcome obstacles. That is a common theme of encouragement, but your self-imposed obstructions are the first and most important to overcome. There is no need of having a fifty-pound dead weight on your back when you’re climbing Mt. Everest. This or any other test in life has its very own challenges to conquer and that extra, unnecessary weight could cause you to fail.

The second message is the desperate need today for parents and other mentors to help young people grow. Having proper mentoring and a decent childhood atmosphere will help a child avoid unnecessary burdens. A much easier and effective way to be successful, of course, is to not have those extra burdens in the first place. Children raised in a good, nourishing home will have a head start because their lives have been streamlined, not encumbered with self-imposed friction and speed bumps. If the number one factor in a successful life is self-reliance, a very close second would be the way one is raised and mentored.

I challenge parents and all adults to be aware of the needs of the young people around them. Your help and guidance will save them from being an adversary and/or an obstacle to themselves. It just takes a kind word or a bit of attention. ###

Michael Byron Smith is the author of The Power of Dadhood [website]. He also hosts the “Helping Fathers to be Dads” blog.


When the Brain Lags the Heart (Michael Byron Smith)

What happens when our need to love and be loved clouds what we KNOW to be true? Michael Byron Smith, author of The Power of Dadhood, offers some personal insight with this piece entitled, “When the Brain Lags the Heart.”


Michael Byron Smith, The Power of DadhoodThe heart is very loyal. It is faithful to which it loves even when all evidence appears to  indicate it is useless to remain so. This allows us to have hope and patience for the people we hold dear. It also gives those we love time to turn themselves around when they may have been failing us.

A Personal Story

This is a personal story which I am sharing only to help families that may be in a similar situation. Most who read this will hopefully not relate directly, but perhaps you can share it with someone who does.

I loved my dad. He was so interesting and mysterious. He did things I wanted to do. He had been to places I wanted to see. Stories of his travels had me breathlessly spellbound. I longed for his attention and waited for him to come home – sometimes for hours, sometimes for months, even years.

He was a contradiction in himself. My dad was slight in build but had very strong hands. He was a real gentleman, charismatic, very intelligent, and well-liked by most people. There was just one huge problem: My dad was a raging alcoholic.

Some dads are ‘stealthy’ alcoholics that can still function in a somewhat reasonable manner. Not my dad. When he drank, he became an entirely different person from the gentleman I just described. His language became crude and his actions were awkward, then catatonic. His charming persona became slovenly and indecent, a dreadful person to be around. These are difficult things to say about my father, but they are true. With all that, I still rooted for him whenever I could!

An Unearned Title

when the brain lags the heartWhen I think of “Speedo” (his nickname), I think of him as “Dad,” but he never earned that title. He was our biological father, but an appalling example of a husband or caretaker. A lone wolf by nature, he would often disappear for months, going to sea as an able-bodied seaman. (That’s him at sea in the photograph.)

He once told me that, while at sea, he never drank. But as soon as he got to a port, he could not pass up the first bar. He did this knowing he had six children in far-away Missouri that could use his love and support.

He once told my mom, as he walked out of the house going to who knows where, “You take care of them; you’re better at it than me.” “Them” were my three brothers, two sisters, and me! He was irresponsible and unapologetic. Our family could never count on him for anything. The funny thing is, on the occasions when he did provide for us, we were thankful to him. I guess it was because it was so unexpected and rare.

My Chance to Be Supportive

When I was in my early teens, there was a conflict between my mom and dad; they were divorced by this time. Of course, this wasn’t unusual and the circumstances aren’t important. What was unusual is that I saw this incident as a chance to support my father. He was not drinking during this time and could win anyone over with his sober charm. I wanted him to be the virtuous one for once. Never was I against my mother, just longing to support my dad. However, I felt very guilty for rooting for my dad over my mom, who had always been there for us.

The Power of Dadhood, Michael Byron SmithWhat I did was not so unusual. In supporting my dad, despite all the wrong he had done, I was putting my heart before my brain. It happens to all of us at one time or another. I see nothing wrong with it until it starts hurting you and/or others. That’s when your brain must catch up. My dad was never able to beat his alcoholism nor do right by his family, but I gave him every chance.

I’m glad I did because it might have worked. I stopped, however, when I became a man with my own responsibilities. I then confessed (to myself) what I really already knew: He would never change. I couldn’t let him affect my life or my own family’s lives any longer.

He passed away in 1996 of liver disease. Ironically, I was on the Pacific Ocean at the time, on the stern of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln on a dark night, looking at a million stars and thinking about my dad.  A seaman walked up to me and said I had a message in the radio room. This only happens at sea when something bad happens. When I got to the radio room, my wife was on the phone. She told me he had passed away. I became very emotional; I had just lost my father, but it could have been my wife or one of my kids. Sadness and relief came at the same time!

When the Brain Lags the Heart

If you have a spouse or a parent that is failing your family, don’t let your brain get too far behind your heart. You will have to let them know that you need their love and support. Let them know how important they are to you and ask them to change their ways. It might be  a long shot, but it’s well worth a try.

If you are a father (or mother) who is failing his family in some manner, yet you still are adored by your children, don’t think your inattentiveness or failures won’t come back to you somehow, someway. I know my dad suffered from great guilt; he told me so. But that only gave him another excuse to drink.

Get professional help, if you need it, before you lose the closeness, love, or support of your family. Take advantage of the time your loved ones’ hearts are giving you, and turn yourself around. If you don’t, their brains will catch up some day, and then it will be too late. ###

Speakers Group MemberMichael Byron Smith is the author of The Power of Dadhood [website] He also hosts the “Helping Fathers to be Dads” blog


What I Learned in Prison about Being a Great Dad (Keith Zafren)

BTAboutThemI know, it’s the last thing you might expect.
Men behind bars often learn to become better criminals.
But for me, it was a very different story.

What I Learned

When I was in prison in Texas for six years at the Cleveland Correctional Center, I learned that:

• It’s never too late to become a great dad.
• No matter what mistakes I’d made in my life, kids can be incredibly resilient and forgiving when they feel loved.
• Even though I’d had a really painful relationship with my own dad, it was still possible to become the dad I wished I’d had.
• It’s actually a lot easier than I thought it would be to become a great dad.

KZafrenphotoHow Did I Learn All This?

Well, by teaching it to other dads, most of whom had little or no relationship with their kids. And then by watching remarkable changes take place.

You see, I wasn’t locked up myself. I enjoyed the incredible honor and privilege of being a coach and teacher to about 600 inmates who were part of a larger training called the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP). Through teaching these men and working with them each week over six months, we quickly realized that they would be much more likely to succeed in business in the outside world if they had a meaningful family support structure and better relationships with their kids.

I will never forget the transformations I observed in these men, and in the lives of their children (about 2,000 of them). It changed me as much as it impacted them, and it shaped my life’s work.

How Did These Changes Take Place?

Here’s what I did to foster the kind of changes that made such a difference:

1. I started by creating low-risk conversations among the men in small groups. They shared the names of their kids, their ages, and a little bit about what their family situations were like, including their relationship with their own father.
2. I told lots of stories about my difficult relationship with my own father, and how I slowly overcame the negative effects of that relationship so I could become a good dad to my three sons. When I talked about my boys, I showed the men pictures of them and honestly told real stories—successes and failures.
3. In small groups, the men talked about what they loved most about their kids, how they missed them, and how great it would feel to reconnect with their kids, and to build relationships with them.
4. I encouraged the dads to write letters to their kids on a regular basis, sharing about their lives, and asking questions about what was going on in their kids’ lives. I taught them how to do it by reading some of the letters I had written to my sons.
5. Many of the men had to ask permission from their children’s mother before writing these letters. I challenged the men to do this, and I taught them how. I asked each man to write to their children’s mothers, apologizing for not being there, telling them about the positive changes they were making in their lives, and sharing their commitment to be more present as a dad, even while still in prison. I challenged them to offer more time with their kids, and financial support to their children’s mothers when they got out of prison.
6. I then encouraged the men to ask permission from their children’s moms for visitations while still locked up. Would their mom’s be willing to bring the kids to visit dad in prison?
7. I coached each man who wanted help in writing his letters to his children. I helped them figure out what to say, how to say it, what not to say, and what to promise, and not yet promise.
8. And finally, I asked the men to invite their families to their graduation in prison at the end of the PEP program.

Tears of Joy

If you have never seen a grown man cry, especially a man who has not been close to his kids, I wish you could have been there to experience one of these graduation ceremonies. Each father made a stuffed bear for each one of his children, like the Build-a-Bear brand in stores. At the end of the graduation ceremony in the gym on prison grounds, the dads stood in the front of the room while we invited their children to get out of their chairs and to come to the front to find their dad. When they did, the dads pulled the stuffed bears out from behind their backs, embraced their children (some for the first time), and they all wept together. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I tell more stories about these events in my book.

In that moment, and others like just like it, I became convinced that coaching fathers to become great dads, no matter what their family or life situation, was the most meaningful vocation I could experience. That’s why I now say that I found my life’s work in prison.

Every Father Can Become a Great Dad

When I stood in the classroom teaching—with executive volunteers in business suits on one side of me and men in prison-issued jumpsuits on the other—I realized that it doesn’t matter what our backgrounds, histories, or education levels are. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a good dad or a bad dad, or a present or absent dad. Every father can become a great dad now if he desires to do so, and he gets the help he needs.

So here’s what I learned in prison: If the 600 men I coached, all of whom had such limited exposure and opportunity to connect with their kids, were able to do this, you can, too.

Your Turn

Here’s how you can get started today:

1. Imagine what it would feel like to have the relationship with your kids that you dream of. What would it feel like? What would you do? How would your life feel different?
2. Take a few minutes to think about and then actually write down what you love most about each of your kids.
3. Now, take 15 minutes to write that down in a short letter to each one of them.
4. Then, either give that letter to your child in person, or leave it as a surprise under their pillow or in their lunch box/bag, or mail it. If you aren’t living with or in contact with your child, mailing your letter is a great option.
5. Finally, do the same for your child’s mother. It doesn’t matter if you are deeply in love or deeply divided, or if you are not in contact at all. Writing to your kids’ mom can be very difficult in some situations, but it’s worth it. Take one small step to reach out to her and apologize for not being there more for your child (if you haven’t). Let her know how much you value and appreciate her (look for and find the positive). It will go a long way towards repairing some of the breakdown in the relationship (if it exists). You can make it better. And when you do, it opens the door for building better relationships with your kids, or seeing them more.

To learn more about the simple yet amazingly effective steps you can take towards creating fantastic relationships with your children, check out my short, free video training (link below).###

Post by Keith Zafren, founder of The Great Dads Project and author of the award-winning book, How to Be a Great Dad—No Matter What Kind of Father You Had.
KZafrenBookMen who want to be great dads love the stories Keith Zafren tells, the practical skills he teaches, and the personal coaching he offers. Keith has spent seventeen years learning firsthand how to raise three great teenagers and stay close to them, no matter what. He coaches busy dads not to repeat the mistakes their fathers made, but instead, to create fantastic relationships with their kids. Check out his FREE Great Dad video training course.