Dads Do Parenting And Education On Their Terms

A panel of dads discuss the ups, downs, and challenges of making sure their children get a good education. Host Michel Martin speaks with Glenn Ivey, the state's attorney for Prince George?s County, Maryland; Lamar Tyler, a founder of BlackAndMarriedWithKids.com; Keith Wilcox, blogger at AlmightyDad.com; and Manny Ruiz, of PapiBlogger.com.

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MICHEL MARTIN:

Im Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

They say it takes a village to raise a child but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner.

Every week, we visit with a diverse group of parents for their common sense and savvy parenting advice. Today, we want to continue our focus on education. We've been focusing on education all this month by taking a closer look at the role of parents, but specifically, dads in shaping their children's educational experience. We called up a few dads to talk to them about this.

Joining us in our Washington, D.C. studio is Glen Ivey. He's the state's attorney of Prince George's County in Maryland. He also happens to be the husband of one of our mom regulars, Jolene Ivey.

Also with us, Lamar Tyler, he is founder of BlackAndMarriedWithKids.com, the website. And he joins us from Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta.

Keith Wilcox blogs at AlmightDad.com, where he writes about homeschooling his two sons. And he's joining us from KGNU in Boulder, Colorado.

And Manny Ruiz runs the blog PapiBlogger.com. And he writes about creative parenting and bilingual education. And he happens to be in Wilhelm, Massachusetts this week. He's from Miami. Thank you all so much for joining us.

Mr. GLEN IVEY (Attorney General, of Prince George's County, Maryland): Thanks for having us.

Mr. LAMAR TYLER (Founder, BlackAndMarriedWithKids.com): Thank you.

Mr. KEITH WILCOX (Blogger, AlmightyDad.com): Thank you.

MARTIN: There is, of course, some people might call it a stereotype, some people might just say its just common sense that moms are really on the frontlines when it comes to interfacing with their children's schools and taking charge of their kids' education. So I'd like to ask each of you, do think that that stereotype is true, Glen?

Mr. IVEY: Well, I mean I think it's still largely true. I think women are still carrying the bulk of the parenting role. Im not saying no, you know, there's no dad involvement. But generally speaking, I think its right.

For Jolene and I, it - certainly the 16 years she stayed home she was definitely on the frontline. And now it kind of ebbs and flows depending on, you know, work demands for both of us.

MARTIN: And why was she on the frontlines? Just because she was not working outside the home so it was just assumed she would take the lead? Or is it because you didnt feel competent to do it?

Mr. IVEY: Well, I think the reason she stayed home was so that she could take that lead role, and she was fantastic at it and continues to be.

MARTIN: Okay. Lamar, what about you?

Mr. TYLER: I'd have to agree with Glenn. You know, I think women kind of holding down the forefront. And in our own personal situation, that was the case up until a few months ago. And it was purely because of work and me, you know, making that D.C. hour and half commute each way and not being at home, to tell you the truth.

But, you know, recently we kind of switched things around and I work from home and she also works from home now. So I've directly seen me being able to get involved a lot more with the kids in their education and really it's affected our relationships, as well.

MARTIN: You mean your relationship with the kids?

Mr. TYLER: Relationship with the kids, relationship with my wife. She's a lot happier now...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TYLER: ...that she help.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: How about that?

Mr. TYLER: And so I think it's all the way around. Yeah, everybody is happy.

MARTIN: How about that?

Keith, tell us your story. Now, as I mentioned, you can't opt out because you're homeschooling. But talk to me about that - your role as a dad and how you see yourself in terms of your kids' education.

Mr. WILCOX: When I started homeschooling or staying at home with my kids, it was a product of having lost my job. And my job was something sort of unusual. I ran a martial arts academy in Texas and we closed down due to, you know, bad business. We just couldnt make it and I wound up staying at home.

But my wife was at home, too, and she happened to get a job first, which left me at home with the kids. I had every intention of going back to work and doing something further. But I discovered that I was really good at it, I really was good at staying home with the kids and I enjoyed it. And it's been like that for six years now.

MARTIN: Manny, before we bring you in, I just want to read some numbers from the Department of Education. This is from a 1997 report, so I admit that it's old. But this is the latest that we have so far. It said that fathers in two-parent families are substantially less likely than mothers, or fathers in single-parent families, to participate in these kinds of activities.

Manny, you're a divorced dad and two of your three children split their time between you and your ex-wife. So I'd like to ask, how do you handle that, the whole question of school meetings, do you both try to go? Do you alternate? How do you handle that? And do you find yourself spending more time on school activities since you're heading up two different households?

Mr. MANNY RUIZ (Founder, PapiBlogger.com.): Yeah, its interesting, my children are ages two, six and 10. And my ex-wife, who happens to be a teacher - so I am fortunate and blessed in that sense - she'll go and do the face-to-face with the teacher.

But when it comes to school activities or, you know, special school function or they're getting recognition or something, I am present there. I mean it would be very difficult for me not to be there, because I am very actively involved in my kid's lives. I can't necessarily influence their day to day homework and - but what I tend to see is that my ex-wife will tend to assign the projects -the longer term projects - tend to fall on my lap.

We just did a project not too long ago on President Obama, and, you know, low and behold, that was a project that she said, well, you know, youre not doing the homework every day; can you help him do this project? So, you know, we went and we did the research. We bought the books we needed to.

And then the other way that I feel I can influence my children's education, is culturally. So I go out of my way to make sure that if I'm not doing the day to day homework stuff, I'm at least able to give them a bit of the big picture of life type of things, like taking them out. We just did a 12,000 mile, 33-state, 46-day road trip across the entire United States - from Miami to L.A., L.A. to Seattle, Seattle to Maine, Maine back to Miami. And, you know, yes, it's a little bit over top.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RUIZ: But...

MARTIN: Yeah. We were like, whatever, like, whoa.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RUIZ: You know what, that one of the ways that we were able to transmit, you know, that cultural education, right, which I feel it burdens to make sure that I'm contributing to my children's education in a very positive way.

MARTIN: If youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking to dads about how they get involved in their children's education. With us are: Glenn Ivey, state's attorney for Prince George's County, Maryland, he's a dad six children; Lamar Tyler, who blogs at BlackAndMarriedWithKids.com, he is a father of four children; Keith Wilcox blogs at AlmightyDad.com, he's a father of two; and Manny Ruiz, who blogs at PapiBlogger.com, he is also the father of three.

Glenn, you and your wife are both public officials.

Mr. IVEY: Right.

MARTIN: And you are completing your term as state's attorney and she's just run for reelection as a Maryland state legislator. So this does raise an interesting question for me. We often talk about the squeeze.

Mr. IVEY: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: The, you know, moms feeling the squeeze, the pull between home and job and feeling that they're never quite putting in enough time at either place. And I'd like to ask you, Glenn, if you ever felt that way. I mean you have -both of you have high-profile jobs.

Mr. IVEY: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: Do you ever feel that way? Particularly because youre a public official and people expect to see you, do you ever feel that squeeze?

Mr. IVEY: Yeah, and I mean, you know, the particular irony is when I'm out talking about youth and, you know, parents need to be, you know, spending time with their kids and keeping them on the right track and mentors and tutors and all of that stuff; and here I am out at, you know, 9 o'clock at another community meeting not being home with my kids.

But its harder on women. I mean just I think it was two weeks ago, a guy, you know, Jolene was out campaigning and the guy said to her, my wife and I are not going to vote for you because we think you should be home with the kids.

MARTIN: No he didnt.

Mr. IVEY: He did. And, you know, of course, you know Jolene, she...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IVEY: It's a wonder they didnt need a squad car to break that one up. But, you know, as he pointed out to him, no one had ever said something like that to me. And the fact that this guy would say it, and that sort of bluntly, was astonishing to me.

MARTIN: He told her to her face...

Mr. IVEY: To her face.

MARTIN: ...I did not vote for you because you should be with your children?

Mr. IVEY: You should be home with your kids, and then she told him well, I was home for 16 years. But I dont know that the facts were going to confuse his opinion on it at that point, so...

MARTIN: You know, a couple of you mentioned President Obama talked a lot about parental involvement. Yesterday he talked about this in an interview with "The Today Show," and one of the things he mentioned was the importance of motivating his kids to do well in school, and here's what he had to say.

President BARACK OBAMA: I mean Malia and Sasha are great kids and great students. But if you gave them a choice, they'd be happy to sit in front of the TV all night long - every night. At some you have to say, your job, right now, kid, is to learn.

MARTIN: And, of course, I do want to ask him how often he's the one who has to deliver that message but, you know. I'd like to ask each of you how you think your involvement makes a difference? Lamar, why dont you start? You noticed that you say youve noticed the difference since youve been more available to participate. What difference do you think it makes and in what area?

Mr. TYLER: I think the kids just, you know, like to be engaged a lot more. Like I said, because, you know, my wife at the same time, she was at home but she's actually working from home, so, you know, she could show them time and attention but it still was, you know, in the course of her work day and things like that so it still was tied up. So just, you know, being able to focus all of my attention on them and not just saying, you know, I'm here but I'm actually present and I'm attentive to what's going on in your life, what's going on with school work. And I think it instills an additional sense of pride into the kids as well. And like you said, just knowing that, you know, dad and mom are both behind them, that dad's, you know, actually involved and cares about what they're doing.

And something that struck me as so positive is when we moved out here to Georgia to school that my third grader goes to, they actually have besides the PTA, a group called the FBI, Fathers Being Involved. And I just love the idea that they had a specific group, you know, for fathers to come out and get involved in the lives of their children.

MARTIN: What do they do? Do the fathers do different things than moms would do?

Mr. TYLER: Yeah. Well, there's different activities and such. And I know they just had the first one about a week or two ago and it was movie night at the school, so it just was kind of, you know, instead of, a lot of these things where you normally would see all moms in, maybe see no fathers in the audience, just, a night when we say okay, this is the night where the fathers are going to kind of step up and bring the kids in. And I think actually, you see a certain sense of pride in the children and, you know, seeing that okay, dad cares about what I'm doing tonight or cares about bringing me out to the school tonight, because you dont always see that.

MARTIN: Keith, what about you? You home school so there isn't that interaction with school administrators and so forth. But what difference do you think it makes that its you doing this?

Mr. WILCOX: Well, I can start off by saying that what President Obama said is absolutely right. If I were to not enforce certain rules and regulations in my house, my kids would be perfectly happy to sit in front of the TV, play with their Xbox or Wii all day long. But when I'm there with them and I say hey, it's time to do some lessons, we sit down and we do our lessons. And with my kids, since I home school them, we get to enjoy education together.

MARTIN: And finally, before I let you go, this is really helpful and interesting, I do have to ask, are there any subjects that you just won't touch, where with your kids say - you know what, go ask your mom?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Anybody gonna fess up?

Mr. WILCOX: Yeah, there are actually.

MARTIN: Yeah?

Mr. WILCOX: But more...

MARTIN: Yeah, Keith?

Mr. WILCOX: ...from an educational standpoint then that I'm scared to do it. My boys have a lot of questions about their - they're half Mexican. My wife is from Mexico and they dont get to see their other half of the family very often, so they frequently have questions that I know nothing culturally about because I grew up in New England and Southern California and I had never been out of the United States until college. So they have many, many questions that they want to ask their mom and I just cannot answer them. It's not like - its not that I'm scared to answer, its just that I factually dont know.

MARTIN: Well, that's interesting. Okay, anybody else? Anybody else want to fess up?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TYLER: I think with me its...

MARTIN: Lamar?

Mr. WILCOX: I thank God every day that my wife is a math wiz.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IVEY: I could second that.

Mr. WILCOX: ...because it's not me. And we actually have four kids and we're a blended family, so we go from a two-year-old that I was working on it today, trying to get her to understand her colors besides pink...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILCOX: ...all the way up to a senior in high school and he's working on AP calculus. So I work on the colors in pink and mom works on the AP calculus with the senior, so...

MARTIN: Wow. Manny, what about you?

Mr. RUIZ: When it comes to math, my son, who's the one who gets hit with the harder math things, knows that he should talk to his mom or even his stepmom, because dad just does not compute.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. Glenn Ivey is a state's attorney for Prince George's County, Maryland. He also happens to be married to our regular TELL ME MORE parenting contributor, Jolene Ivey. He was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. Also with us, Lamar Tyler, founder of the website BlackAndMarriedWithKids.com. He joined us from Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta. Keith Wilcox blogs at AlmightyDad.com, where he writes about home schooling his two sons, he joined us from KGNU in Boulder. And Manny Ruiz runs the blog PapiBlogger.com, where he writes about creative parenting and bilingual education. He happened to be in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Thank you all so much for joining us.

Mr. IVEY: Thank you.

Mr. WILCOX: Thank you, Michel.

Mr. TYLER: Thank you.

Mr. WILCOX: Thank you for having me.

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