A Simple Request

Aaron —  September 16, 2014 — 3 Comments

10648768_787151671307735_4624794679919594397_oFriends, a simple request for you to consider: when I started at First Things First of Greater Richmond in January, I knew a little bit about what I was getting into. I had been to one class, after all! But what I have discovered is there is so much more…

  • experiences for dads, all over the region, to help them be better dads.
  • workshops for couples to be better at parenting and loving each other.
  • camps and classes for youth to understand how to have a healthy relationship.

Two stories for you:

One of my favorite days so far in this role was back in July. We planned a day-long workshop for Camp Diva which combined our usual teaching time but also included plenty of time outside, playing games and interacting with the girls. At the end of the day, it was clear they had soaked up so much of what we had taught because it was such an interactive experience.


Second, I facilitated our Boot Camp for New Dads at Henrico Doctors’ Hospital back in August. (For those of you who haven’t heard my First Things First story, Boot Camp was my first interaction with the organization before T was born!) On this summer Saturday morning, there were three dads who stood out — one dad was preparing to move to Boston with his wife until their daughter was born, just so they could be nearby some of the best pediatric cardiologists in the nation (they came home over the weekend, and baby girl is doing great!); one dad is shifting careers and will be working part-time at home to care for their new baby while his wife works; and one dad was making plans with his wife to adopt a newborn, their first child. There are a lot of dads with a lot of stories, and these three guys are just some of the dads who will pass through one of our 37 Boot Camp classes in 2014.


So far this year, 4,149 people have crossed paths with our organization during an event, class or workshop, and we still have 3+ months to go. In any given week, I work with schools, churches, correctional facilities, businesses and local government. It’s an exciting place to be, and it’s great work to be part of.

Our goal in the Amazing Raise (6 AM Wednesday to 6 PM Thursday): at least 50 unique gifts of $50. The first 50 will be matched by a generous donor.

I know giving is a personal decision, so now I it to you. I know there are a lot of great organizations out there, and I hope you’ll consider supporting at least one during the Amazing Raise.

Thanks for considering, and thanks for supporting me in all of the many ways you do.

You can give online to the Amazing Raise on our website, www.FirstThingsRichmond.org, from 6 AM Wednesday morning through 6 PM Thursday evening.

Since I’m not a youth pastor anymore, I’ve been “downloading” my habits, rituals and best practices and mentally shifting gears. Summer certainly reminds me of a lot of great memories in youth ministry, as well as some of the more stressful moments. – aL

http://www.flickr.com/photos/flickerbulb/13704773/It’s summertime, which means youth groups across the country are hitting the water. Every time the church bus pulls out of the parking lot, there’s always at least one person upset with the dress code for the girls.

One of the biggest problems dude youth pastors face is trying to tell these teenage ladies how to dress on the beach. Here are a few common scenarios:

“Beach = Monastery” Guy

This guy creates rules, enforces rules and likes it. He is solely responsible for the most well-covered, modest-looking youth group on the coast. The group leaders probably didn’t need to pack sunscreen because there is no skin showing here. There will also be no hanky-panky.

Arch-enemy: the high school girl who thinks she needs deserves a little sun…to feel good impress the boys.

“Anything Goes” Guy

Rules? This guy doesn’t believe in them. As few rules as possible make for the best memories. Police and property managers should keep an eye out for misfits lying in the shadows, because hey, there’s no rule against that.

Arch-enemy: the mom who remembers everything she wasn’t allowed to wear on youth group beach trips growing up.

The “Ladies Call” Guy

This guy leaves the girls rules to the ladies and takes care of the guys. No “purple” here.

Arch-enemy: this guy doesn’t know, because somebody else is taking care of it.

Guys, consider this:

  • young ladies today need adult males who respect them more than their peers. Delegating these “rules” to responsible female adults in your group sends the message that modesty is important and you respect these girls, and the influence of your female leaders.
  • don’t go there. You don’t need to be making bathing suit rules any more than you need to be taking girls home after youth group in your car. How do you spell trouble?
  • young guys need to hear you talk about respect, too. The world around them isn’t teaching them any differently, and you will be doing a great service to the ladies these guys date and marry down the road.

A big shout out to Suze. She was my go-to female leader for most of my last few years in youth ministry. She did a great job being fair, appropriate and leaving me out of it. And she always took care of the “purple pouch” (don’t ask).

I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Support Working Families

Aaron —  June 23, 2014 — 12 Comments

President Obama on Monday convened the White House Summit on Working Families. For all the coverage of debt ceilings and international diplomacy lately, today’s summit is a breath of fresh air.

Believe it or not, the United States is the only developed country in the world which does not offer paid family leave.

How does this affect everyday families?

obama cnn

Watch the President’s full interview at CNN.com.

In the US, federal law protects the job position of a parent who takes family leave for the birth or adoption of a child, or other family leave, but does not require pay. Imagine how this lost income affects a family.

What happens if you need to attend your child’s school play or a parent-teacher conference, or your child gets sick and you have to stay home? You risk not being paid.

The time has come for the United States to step up to the plate. Businesses claim this will hurt their bottom line and work will not get done. Companies like Google, who have already enacted some of these practices — Google offers five months of paid maternity and paternity leave — have seen the rate of women leaving the company decreased by half, according to the White House.

President Obama said, “For companies who are offering paid family leave, who are offering flexibility, their workers are more productive, more loyal,” he said. “There’s lower turnover and ultimately, they’re going to be more profitable.”

While paternity leave looks like a “perk” or “free vacation” for new dads, according to Liza Mundy in The Atlantic, “the true beneficiaries of paternity leave are women.”


When women and men share parental responsibilities and develop balanced habits from the beginning of the child’s life, the women feel more comfortable returning to the workplace, if they so desire. A stronger workforce means better pay for women and commitment to the employer, which in turn lowers turnover and the associated costs.

Mundy says, “the genius of paternity leave is that it shapes domestic and parenting habits as they are forming.”

We need to shift paternity leave from a “perk” to an expectation: if we do not spend these early days with our young kids, we will forever lose these moments. When Malia was born, President Obama shared with CNN, “I was lucky enough that my schedule allowed me to take that first month off. And staying up until 2 in the morning and feeding her and burping her creates a bond that is irreplaceable.”

Provisions for all types of family leave also allow single parents to support their kids’ school efforts by providing time to meet with teachers and attend concerts or assemblies. Parent involvement is a big deal, and we need to support this, too.

In an earlier day when women were discouraged from the workplace and expected to care for home, children and family, the current laws would have made sense. My grandfather dropped my grandmother off at the hospital for the birth of my aunt and went back the next day to meet the baby.

The times are different. Many dads are engaged, and many more want to have more flexibility to be involved to a greater degree. With the right support, they will feel valued and respected in the workplace for taking care of family at home.

baby's first dayLet’s take first steps. Men, no matter when you take time, investing in the early days of your child will be important. When my daughter was born, I had stockpiled vacation and sick leave and spent three weeks at home, like the President, helping with mid-night diaper changes and bonding with my daughter. With our second daughter due in October, I envision a more flexible arrangement, because I work for a small nonprofit and don’t have stockpiled vacation time to use.

Consider taking some time when your child is born, then more time a month or two later, or coinciding with the time when your partner returns to work. Also look into teleworking for a portion of your time off. Flexibility is the key as the new baby and new parents learn patterns, but getting some work in from time to time does not defeat the purpose of leave. Communicate all of your expectations clearly, and your co-workers will know what is coming and when to expect a response to any work-related communications.

Most importantly, dads, know your stuff: the more you know about the benefits of paternity leave on your family — and the company’s benefit of a dedicated workforce — the better you will be able to set the record straight. You will also need to be armed with this knowledge when someone commends you for being “such an amazing father!” as Rikki Rogers wrote at The Muse. Dads are sometimes held in high regard for being involved, when these dads view their involvement as doing the right thing.

At First Things First of Greater Richmond, we are dedicated to strengthening the family for a better community. I believe our community and our families will be strengthened by raising the profile of today’s Summit on Working Families.

How will you be involved in conversations such as these?