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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

Dads, Daughters, and Play

Children grow up loving to play. In fact, play is a child’s career. That makes playing with your daughter a fabulous way to connect with her interests and be a potent, positive force in her life. But we fathers sometimes have difficulty playing with our children because we aren’t kids anymore.

Life is filled with stress and demands (many of them work-related) that distract us from our daughter’s playing career. If you’re a father who doesn’t live with your children or stepchildren, there can be added layers of difficulty—ranging from problems with your ex to the logistical complexity inherent in separated and blended families.

But even fathers with the easiest of billets can still have trouble playing with daughters. We tend to see every activity (even play) as directed toward some quantifiable goal. When we play a game or a sport, we want to compete fiercely—because we want to win! When playing with our kids, those attitudes can translate into insisting on producing the “right” result: winning the game, making a bigger treehouse than the neighbor’s, sticking unswervingly to the rules, etc..

But that’s not always the most constructive approach. In his book Live-Away Dads, Psychologist and fathering author William Klatte writes that making play too competitive or structured can interfere with having fun—and fun is the most important immediate goal in playing with your daughter:

When playing games with your children please pay attention to The One and Only Very Important Number One Game Rule:
Stop having so many rules!
Rules can really be a drag when you are trying to have fun. Don’t get mad if your children want to change the rules in the middle of the game. Let them. Play with them. It’s only a game. Teens may want to play by rules a lot of the time, but many kids often prefer to forget the rules or make up their own. Young kids just love to win, and they’ll work hard to arrange any possible way to do so.

We live by rules so often at work and other parts of our adult lives that we forget to be spontaneous. If your child wants to make up her own illogical rules to a board game or card game, let her! You have plenty of opportunities to teach your child about fair play and honesty in life, and those qualities are extremely important, but it is also important to sometimes be silly, laugh, and forget about doing things the “right” way. Many times, the best way to do that is forget the rules and just let go.

These principles are not limited to games with formal rules, like Chutes and Ladders or Old Maid; they apply to all fun father-daughter activities. Fun play is simply essential in building solid father-daughter connection.

When kids play, they are at their most open and authentic. Dads are also open and authentic—at least when we play playfully, rather than competitively. When you and your daughter play playfully together, you have a chance to really connect—and learn a ton about who she is inside.

Play provides a way for you to share your heart and soul with your daughter. Play breaks down barriers between you–creating an ongoing opportunity to communicate and impart the treasure of your creativity, affection, willingness to take risks—the rich heritage of your masculinity.

On top of bringing you two closer together, play makes great memories—another marvelous heritage for both of you to have.

Believe it or not, all of this holds true for fathers and their older daughters, too. It is just as possible (and important) to play with your 17-year-old girl as it is to play with your four-year-old girl, even though the type of play is likely to be different.

It’s so important for all of us fathers and stepfathers to show and tell our daughters that we believe they are capable of anything! Fathering a daughter with love, respect, and fun ensures she will choose people and situations that nourish her long after she’s left our house. There’s no greater legacy for us to leave our daughters.

These are some of the many “serious” reasons to have fun with your daughter. But never forget that playing is one of parenting’s primary perks. It’s revitalizing and renewing. It takes us out of ourselves. Most of all, playing is fun! Dig in and start having a great time!

                                                                                                                        – 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 Northeast Nostalgia Tour

When our daughters were 14 (14 years ago), we went back East to show them where we grew up; a trip they teasingly call “The Northeast Nostalgia Tour.” In New Jersey, my mother showed the girls where I was born and went to grammar school. She told how my late father was not present for my or my sisters’ births (very common in the ’50s) and how she didn’t go to my christening because, two weeks after birth, she was considered to be in “too delicate a condition.”

Our culture of birthing has certainly changed since then–returning to a semblance of the family event it was through much of history. We fathers are back to being involved in pregnancy, labor, and birth. I relish telling the story of being in the hospital 6 hours before the kids were born, when we first heard that we were having twins. I still recall, with wonder and lucidity, going to our daughters in the nursery, holding and talking to them–making the first connection while Nancy was still in the delivery room. That is surely an immediacy of involvement my father never experienced.

But how does that involvement sustain itself after infancy? Lamaze-type classes train dads how to contribute to the birth experience. Where is the training for us to contribute as much to the ongoing life of our child after birth? Where is the “cultural script” for getting and keeping fathers involved?

I don’t really know what led me to be involved with my daughters as much as I was. Nancy and I both worked part-time through their younger years, so we could each be home with the girls (and I cold claim the “At Home Dad” moniker). As they grew closer to womanhood, it remained fun to be their father. They parried puns, conversed, and poked fun with me. They still liked piggyback rides and sitting on my lap. They also spoke up to me.

During the Nostalgia Tour, we also went to New York City–where the city’s tempo used to combine with my fears and bring on major anxiety. As I was rushing down the street trying to battle my way through the crowd, Mavis turned to me with her arms stretched urgently in front of her, palms down, and said, “Calm down, Dad!” That’s a startling forthrightness I appreciated then (and now) in my daughters.

They were not always that direct during their teens, of course. They sometimes kept things to themselves, as they should, I suppose. But by any standard, they were (and still are) more emotionally direct, honest, and articulate than I ever learned to be. There are times I felt rejected by the way they sometimes expressed their feelings, didn’t turn to me with a problem, or wouldn’t take comfort from me. Sometimes, I’m the one who reacted like a “teenager”–moping around, feeling put upon.

But overall, I think my biggest success was to remain connected with them. That’s a new experience for me. As I grew up, I kept my relationships long on intensity, but almost always short in time and on commitment. I think our “cultural script” gives us men more permission to bail out on intimate relationships–even with our children. Nia, Mavis and Nancy taught me a lot about hanging in there–and all the fullness of life that follows from that. Can we challenge ourselves and our brother fathers to rewrite that old script? Try it next time you’re with another father at school, on the field, having a drink, at the bowling alley or golf course, in the market, at work. It might have consequences far beyond our own families.

                                                                                                                        – 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.

When the Door Slams

It’s hard on our fatherly pride when we don’t instinctively know what our adolescent daughters are trying to tell us or when we feel disrespected by how they communicate. When my daughters were teenagers, we had emotionally charged conversations that sometimes resulted in one of them angrily and emotionally (or actually) slamming a door on me. Sometimes, my feelings got hurt and my reaction was, “OK, if you’re gonna be like that, I’ll blow you off, too!”

Fortunately, my wife (a former teen girl herself — and thus a valuable source of information) assured me that such eruptions are normal for teenage girls as they try to discover and hang on to who they are. My growing girls needed to have me hear them out–and they also needed to find safe ways to push away from me. My job was not to drown in my wounded pride and say, “I’ll show you; I’m taking my marbles and going home.” Instead, it was to remain outside that “slammed door” so that when my daughters eventually emerged from their adolescent explosions and snits (which they always did), they knew that I was still available, still interested and still loved them. It is tough to stand there waiting and to open yourself back up when your feelings might once again be hurt. After all, if your daughter is a teenager, there are surely more slammed doors in your future. But, take it from dads who have been down this road already: it is worth it.

A tween or teenage daughter needs us to acknowledge and affirm what she feels and goes through. She may think, “If Dad doesn’t hear what I’m feeling, maybe what I’m feeling and what I’m going through is not important.” But her experiences are important. We must show her that we believe this; and never belittle or dismiss her or her world. In other words, we have to trust her. When we trust what our daughter feels, she learns to trust herself now and later in life.

Much of a girl’s strength is in her voice. By listening to her, you are being true to her voice. That will help her get through the difficulties of her own life and give her courage. When you provide your ears and your presence, you amplify your daughter’s voice and strengthen her belief in herself. It can be painful to listen when she is feeling sad or angry. But you have to have the courage to listen, and the courage to not prevent, deny or abruptly try to end her painful experiences.

                                                                                                                        – 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.