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About Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly is a father, best-selling author, blogger, activist, and primary media source on fathering, appearing on the Today Show, Talk of the Nation, Fox News, as well as in Time, People, New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Parenting, and dozens of other outlets. He has written for Parents and Mothering, and blogs for www.DadsandDaughters.com and Deepak Chopra's IntentBlog.com.

Kelly speaks and teaches across North America on fathering, media and marketing’s impact on families, successful strategies for raising girls and boys, and how professionals can mobilize fathers as allies in their work.

His best-seller, Dads and Daughters: How to Inspire, Understand and Support Your Daughter has been called “an essential aid for the fathers of adolescent girls.” Kelly won Father of the Year Awards from iParenting.com and the Women’s Sports Foundation. He belongs to the Center for Family Policy and Practice, the Men’s Task Force of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Save Title IX Task Force, and serves on the board of the national Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Minnesota Fathers & Families Network, and is a consultant for the Men's Resource Center for Change, American Psychological Association Task Force on Sexualization of Girls, Take Our Daughters & Sons to Work Day, and other nonprofit organisations.

Here are my most recent posts

Do You Know Her Best Friends

How well do we know–and how much do we know about–our daughters’ best friends? The answer to that question seems like a pretty good barometer of where our father-daughter relationship stands.


I always seemed to know my daughters’ best friends fairly well.  When Nia was 19, I asked her why she thought that was so.


“Well,” she said, “you’re friends with them. You worked with Marta and Amanda and Liz on New Moon Girls (the girl-edited magazine that our family founded).  You did stuff together. And you didn’t worry that being friends with them would undermine your authority.”


I’ve been blessed with opportunities to have connections with my daughters’ friends– sometimes outside of my daughters’ own relationships with these young women. And that gives me a unique perspective on my daughters.


The key to making this work, I think, lies in Nia’s last comment: “You didn’t worry that being friends with them would undermine your authority.”


Some folks equate authority with being able to demand that someone do what I say.  That kind of “authority” never came into play with my daughters’ friends. By working together, being together, and listening to each other, I shared respect and power and authority with them. I didn’t surrender my ability to say “no” or to set limits. And they didn’t have to surrender that ability to me, either. We listen to each other and take each other seriously. That seems wise in any relationship.

                                                                                                                                      – Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly is a father, author,
blogger, activist, and primary media source on fathering. He has
written several books including the best-seller Dads and Daughters.


Why Teen Magazines Might be Bad for Your Daughter?

Back when you and I were kids, girls read Seventeen magazine hoping to learn how to look and good get a date.  Today, even with cable and the internet, young girls still turn to Seventeen, Cosmo Girl and Teen Vogue (and their websites) with the same hopes.  Girls today have many more life opportunities than they did a generation ago, so why are their most widely-read magazines still in a hyper-sexualized, hyper-consumerism time warp?

Because they care about making money off our daughters, while giving only cynical lip service to caring about their best interests and well-being.

The big-name “teen” girl magazines are driven by ads, which fill 75% of the pages.  Ad sales drive the publisher’s profits.  This translates to lots of articles about doing just about anything to get a boy’s attention, fads, fashion, makeup, music, movies, celebrities and deluge of “must-buy” products.  Both ads and articles prey upon a girl’s normal desire to be popular and attractive, telling our daughters and stepdaughters that they are lacking and need those “must-buy” products to fit in or measure up.

Don’t underestimate the brainwashing effects when those messages are repeated over and over. Numerous studies show a drop self-confidence and healthy body image after only a few minutes of reading fashion and beauty magazines. Then, remember that 17-year-olds wouldn’t be caught dead reading Seventeen; they’ve moved on to Cosmopolitan.  Seventeen as its sorry sisters aim their toxins at girls as young as 9 and 10.

How can we protect girls from these hostile messages?  Ban the magazines?  I don’t advocate that, even though our daughters eventually banned Seventeen themselves, because they felt depressed after reading it.  Tween and teen girls need to make such decisions themselves.  Rather than turning Cosmo Girl into forbidden fruit, try this:

  • Read her magazines so you can converse casually (not lecture her!) about them.
  • Tell her ahead of time at what age you will allow her to read certain magazines.
  • Look critically at the adult magazines you read and their effects on you and her.
  • Ask her what articles and ads she liked in each issue and why. Listen for her underlying emotional needs and think about other ways you can help her meet them.
  • Educate yourself on how advertising and media images are manipulated with Photoshop® and other techniques. Show her the short film “Evolution”.
  • Ask her what she thinks is real and unreal in each issue and why.
  • Ask her what effect she thinks an article or ad is trying to have on readers.
  • Express your opinions (after listening to hers) about the articles/ads.
  • Provide her with alternatives like New Moon Girls (www.newmoon.com) and Teen Voices (www.teenvoices.com), even if she doesn’t ask for them. It’s like stocking the kitchen with healthy snacks, even if she begs only for chips and soda.
  • Cut up images and words from old magazines with her to create articles and ads with respectful, nurturing messages. Compare them to the usual fare.

Most important, keep the communication lines open and trust that feeding her “father hunger” is the best way you can help her mature, gain self-confidence, and ultimately find shallow, hyper-sexualized magazines less interesting.

                                                                                                                        – Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly is a father, author,
blogger, activist, and primary media source on fathering. He has
written several books including the best-seller Dads and Daughters.

The Big (Capital “T”) Talk

I happen to be an alcoholic and, thankfully, I got sober before my daughters were born. As of today, they’ve never seen me drink. I used to think that, because I didn’t drink, I hadn’t modeled for my kids an example of responsible alcohol use. I felt I hadn’t said enough to my daughters about alcohol; that maybe I should have a big “T” Talk on the subject.

I never had that Talk, but I never hid the fact that I have a drinking problem and that’s why I regularly spend evenings meeting with other alcoholics. We also didn’t hide the fact that some other relatives have similar addictions, nor did we ban alcohol from our home. When my wife or guests occasionally have some wine, it’s no big production.

Still, I was uneasy when the girls went off to college; would they go overboard now that they were away from home? Would they have any internal compass for moderation and safety? Turns out, the answer is yes. That’s something I didn’t quite grasp, especially when remembering how drunken my young college years were. I recently asked one of my daughters to explain.

Well, I know you’re an alcoholic; I saw you go to your meetings every week. I know other relatives have a problem with alcohol and drugs, and not all of them have gotten sober. And I know that there’s probably genetics involved. Maybe I’m being too controlling, but I figure I can’t become an alcoholic if I don’t drink. So I don’t.

While folks might want to argue the merits of her strategy, its effect is practical and positive. She’s content living without using a drug to alter her mood. What I learned from her answer is the influence of my everyday conversation and behavior; my words and actions were consistent and part of life from her earliest memory. I had communicated clearly enough, without resorting to a Big Talk.

Indeed, our Big Talks carry much less weight than our Big Behavior. I find the question of what you use alcohol or drugs for more illuminating than the question of how much alcohol or drugs you consume. For example, do you use alcohol as a self-prescribed medication in order to get through anxiety or anger? When you come home from work, does your daughter see that one of the first things you do is to fix yourself a drink, get out a cigarette or light a joint? Do you drink or smoke when you are feeling stressed or upset?

Does your daughter see you drink only on occasions when friends are present or during a special holiday? Does she see family members use alcohol as part of traditional rituals, but not in a way that the alcohol is the center of the ritual?

In other words, we have to look in the mirror before we can hope to reasonably and effectively deal with our daughters about alcohol, smoking and other drugs.

It is not easy to break an addiction or chemical dependency. But that temporary discomfort and long-term effort is worth increasing the quality and quantity of time we’ll have with our daughters (since we’ll probably live longer), and increasing the chances of our daughters being healthy now and in the future. Plus, it makes our lives more meaningful, useful and acceptable to ourselves.

It’s simple: in the case of chemicals, your daughter will respond a lot more to what you do than to what you say. If you have a problem with alcohol, tobacco and/or other drugs, get help for yourself now.

              – Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly is a father, author,
blogger, activist, and primary media source on fathering. He has
written several books including the best-seller Dads and Daughters.

Why Aren’t There More Groups for Fathers?

A lot of dads have to be doing something else before we feel ready to start talking to each other about our kids. A jog, a card game, a yard project, a round of golf, or any number of other “guy” activities can serve as safe places for us to jump in, or at least stick our toes in to test the water. For others of us, a more formal, organized setting dedicated specifically to talking about raising daughters works best.

Whenever I mention men’s groups, there’s at least one guy in the audience who rolls his eyes or makes a wisecrack. Men’s groups have a bad reputation with many men; they’re considered weird, bizarre, creepy, or just plain ridiculous. There are probably men’s groups that are all of those things, but that doesn’t mean that every men’s group is. It doesn’t mean that we can’t start up groups with our own rules; and it’s also no excuse for staying silent about our fathering.

A big part of the problem is that there simply aren’t enough men’s or fathering groups out there. The smaller the number of groups, the smaller the variety, and thus the fewer chances for a dad to find a group in which he’ll feel comfortable. Somebody must be responsible for this shortage, and that somebody is me and you. It looks like we’ve been too afraid to take the risks and do the work to get what we need from one another.

I think we haven’t formed or sustained groups because we’re afraid. It takes courage to admit we don’t know everything and to ask other fathers for help. It takes leadership to keep the conversation going even when other fathers say they are too busy to participate.

A few years ago, I was part of a loosely organized book group made up of a half dozen men who I didn’t know all that well. There was a business consultant, a naturalist/teacher, a psychiatrist, a city planner, and a man who manages his wife’s chiropractic office.

We discussed novels, a collection of environmental essays, a memoir about sailing to Greenland, and even a volume of poetry. These all struck me as pretty safe topics and, while no one revealed any deep, dark secrets, we really enjoyed each other’s company. When it was my turn to pick a book, I tried to push the envelope a bit by picking Will Glennon’s The Collected Wisdom of Fathering (Conari Press, 2002), my favorite fathering book.

I thought the conversation got off to a slow start. It seemed as if there was more off-the-topic small talk than usual, and a couple of the guys didn’t seem as enthusiastic about the book as I am. We only talked about our kids a little, and only after prodding each other with plenty of questions.

When the group broke up for the evening, I was disappointed, for I’d hoped we might be ready to use our fathering experience to jump into a deeper level of conversation. I didn’t feel as if that hope had been fulfilled.

The next day, however, I got a phone call and two e-mails from the guys thanking me for the topic and saying it was the best meeting we’d had yet. They were excited and stimulated by a conversation that I had considered halting and uncertain. They’ve mentioned several times since how much they enjoyed the discussion. And I learned something important.

When sitting down to talk fathering with another dad, I have to set aside my expectations. What I think is irrelevant might be central for him; a conversation I find stumbling and disjointed might be the first time he’s ever spoken to another father about being a dad—and those words might amount to great eloquence for him. It turns out that our book group’s halting discussion of fathering had laid a foundation for more interesting and personal talk down the road. It’s slow going, but it’s progress.

                                                                                                                        – Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly is a father, author,
blogger, activist, and primary media source on fathering. He has
written several books including the best-seller Dads and Daughters.

Listen, Listen, and Listen Some More

Girls tend to be a riddle to fathers and stepfathers.  Like any mystery, the relationship with our daughter can be frightening, exciting, entertaining, baffling, enlightening or leave us completely in the dark; sometimes all at once. If we want to unravel this mystery, we have to pay attention and listen, even in the most ordinary moments.

Why? Because a girl’s voice may be the most valuable and most threatened resource she has. Her voice is the conduit for her heart, brains, and spirit. When she speaks bold and clearly—literally and metaphorically—then she is much safer and surer. Dads must help nurture these qualities.

In recent years, research has well documented the silencing of girls’ voices in our culture during the pivotal adolescent years. Girls are typically loud, opinionated, and physically confident until age 12 or so; then many girls begin silencing their own voices. The sassy, tree-climbing 10-year-old who expects justice from the world for everyone, including herself, often turns into a soft-spoken, passive 13-year-old who may still demand justice from the world—but, strangely, not for herself.

Nancy Gruver, creator of New Moon Girls magazine (www.newmoon.com), explains the change this way: “A girl silences herself because she encounters a culture that still encourages her, in ways both subtle and blatant, to put her own needs second. Our culture is extraordinarily uncomfortable with girls who know what they want and expect to get it. It labels girls’ complaints as whining and their pursuit of their desires as bitchiness and being self-centered.”

When a girl runs into the notion (sometimes reinforced by Dad) that loud behavior is not ladylike, she learns that it’s unattractive to recognize her own needs and advocate openly for them. People (sometimes within her family) begin seeing her as a sexual object rather than as a person. She begins to wear the gender straight-jacket that squeezes out her breath and she learns that she’ll be rewarded more for her looks, passivity, and soft-spokenness than for her passions, insights, and beliefs.

A girl also gets strong messages that silencing herself is the only way to maintain her relationships with girlfriends, boyfriends, family, and others important to her. She learns the myth that loudness and friction threaten the survival of relationships—and that a relationship will not continue if she demands that it meet her needs.

Fortunately, fathers and stepfathers are in a powerful position to counter these negative cultural messages by encouraging our daughters to speak up and rewarding them when they do. When we respect what our daughters’ voices say, we build up their inner strength—the best foundation for future safety and success.

And that’s worth doing, even if it makes us feel (momentarily) uncomfortable.

                                                                                                                        – Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly is a father, author,
blogger, activist, and primary media source on fathering. He has
written several books including the best-seller Dads and Daughters.