It’s not unusual for a book to have a back story. Sometimes it’s told; sometimes not, but often that story is the driving force behind a book. I’m betting Mike’s story will warm your heart as it did mine. We were fortunate to have this opportunity to visit with Mike and learn of the circumstances and events that influenced his growth and, eventually, his excellent book. –JDS
Mike, in your book you talk about the struggles you and your family experienced when there was no father in the home. Did these experiences have an impact on the writing of The Power of Dadhood?
Extremely so! Every child is impacted differently when they are raised in a dysfunctional home. It could be anything from mental struggles or out-of-control behavior to excessive shyness. I think our family experienced the entire spectrum. Beyond the social inadequacies and lack of direction that are inevitable, there are special experiences that happen too infrequently–of togetherness, loving moments, and memories of happiness.
As my siblings and I grew into adults, I could see the dysfunction continuing into the next generation for too many of us. There wasn’t a model of effective parenting to follow, nor were there the tools of a proper education, moral direction or mentorship.
The troubles my siblings found themselves in were predictable. That’s when I decided that the prevention was a much better way to handle social problems than correction. Most social issues are the result of father absent homes. I wrote The Power of Dadhood to teach fathers what they can do to avoid the pitfalls children can plunge into if not mentored by loving and knowledgeable parents.
Did you write the book from a collection of thoughts and ideas that had been “brewing” over a long period of time, or did the theme and direction of the book come together fairly quickly?
It was a slow process. Over time, I saw the consequences of a disengaged father lasting into adulthood and into the next generation. Already my grandnephews were fathering children in their teens without solid educations or relationships. What could I do? My original thought was to write about being an involved father to pass on to my extended family and their children. I couldn’t make them read it, but I could write it in hopes that they would.
Prior to being a book, my fathering project began as a collection of thoughts, ideas, things that worked as parents for me and for my wife, Kathy. Kathy taught me so much from her work as parent educator specializing in mentoring young teen parents. I also read many parenting books and although there was so much useful information in these books, I realized that most young men would never pick them up. If they ever tried to read them, they would likely not connect because of the often academic or complex language. From that, and all the years of work I was putting into this as part-time endeavor, I thought a simplified parenting book could be useful to others beyond my family. I stepped up my goal to write a book written in simple terms to encourage and teach fathers how to be dads. I focused on fathers for two reasons. Fathers are usually the missing or uninvolved parent and I was a father myself.
Did you have a sense of closure when the book was finished? If so, tell us about it.
The closure comes so slowly. The joy of the accomplishment is like icing a cake more than popping a champaign cork, sweet but not dramatic. Seeing the physical book, however, was a thrill! But the real closure is not the finished book. The real closure is getting the book out to those who could use its advice. I’m still working on that one!
In spite of the difficulties you experienced in your early years, Mike, you graduated college, became a pilot in the Air Force where you achieved the rank of full colonel, and you had a successful career as a civilian engineer. None of that happened by accident. A lot of kids in similar circumstances would have given up under a ton of excuses; you didn’t. How do you account for how it turned out for you?
I think I was lucky to have a dream and a goal. My dream was to be a pilot. My goal was not to live how I had been raised. My mother was so very supportive, but all she could do with little education and six mouths to feed was to encourage and love me. My dad was the foundation that was missing. He never invested in his family but he still had emotional influence.
My success was not without a lot of pain, mostly self-inflicted. My obstacles were the pain of competing without confidence, and a feeling of being an outsider among others who seemed to have their act together. I made many mistakes but saving characteristic was to keep moving towards my goals. My hard work and persistence allowed me to get a full academic scholarship to a great university which was the help I needed.
I often tell young people without means to study hard and get good grades, and scholarships will be available. The answer I often get is, “Not everyone is like you Mike!” I don’t know understand that excuse! I am not special in any way other than having a dream and accepting the struggle to get there. Don’t be afraid of struggle. It is the badge of honor when earned success comes to you.
What would be the greatest compliment someone could pay you on The Power of Dadhood?
To hear these words: “I have learned and been encouraged so much from your book, and I will keep it by my bedside as my children grow.”
What advice would you offer young people today, especially those that are struggling?
It’s important to accept that you must take the incentive to find answers to your struggles. People, books, and actionable steps are there for you if you choose to look for and accept them. My book for dads is one of the countless tools that are out there to help. People help others who are helping themselves. As an example, let’s say you run out of gas while driving. When you are pushing your car to a nearby gas station, others will come help you push. But if you sit in your car by the side of the road, you will not get anywhere soon.
How is retirement going? What are you doing today, and what new projects are there for Michael Smith?
Retirement is great! It has allowed me to wrap up my many years of work on this book as a rookie author. I have time for grandchildren and a flexible schedule. I am, however, busier than ever as I take on things I never would have had I been working. My wife and I have traveled quite a bit. I have done a lot of work on my second home, a farmhouse in Missouri wine country, and we watch grandkids two days a week. The only downside having written this book, and it is a small one, is that it is always in the back of my head. I’m constantly looking for ways to make it known, and working with the Changing Behavior Network has been one of the joys. But promotion is difficult, time consuming, and it can be very expensive per book sold. I doubt I will ever have a monetary return but that was never the goal. If I could get 10,000 copies out there and not lose a small fortune, I would be a very happy man!
In addition to being a retired Air Force pilot and the author of the new book, The Power of Dadhood: How to Become the Father Your Child Needs, Col. Michael Smith is a husband, father and grandfather dedicated to helping fathers to be present and involved dads through his blog, “Helping Fathers to be Dads.” [website]