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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

A Daring New Year Reflection for Dads

Updated: Jan 24

By Allan Shedlin

Grampsy and Founder, DCG and Daddying Film Festival & Forum (D3F)

It's no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”  

– Alice, Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland

For a few years, I conducted a monthly daddying workshop for fathers and their 3- to 4-year-olds at a Washington, DC, nursery school. Dads (and some granddads) brought their children to school, ate a brief breakfast snack with them, watched a short video based on a family-themed story the kids had heard in class, and did a simple, joint art activity before the kids headed off to class with their teachers.


After the kids left, the dads became accustomed to forming a circle with their chairs so we could look at each other while we discussed issues that came up in the video stories. It never took long for the fathers to discover they faced common parenting challenges and could help each other by sharing various approaches that had been successful.

“If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.” – Cheshire Cat, Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland

One year, in the session prior to our pre-winter holiday break, I told the fathers I would be giving them a gift for their children – the one gift their kids wanted most of all. Yep, that got their attention.

I’ll bet it gets yours too.


I handed out envelopes and asked them to all open them at the same time. Within each envelope was a small mirror. I instructed them to look into the mirror so they could see what their kids most wanted: THEM!

It was their presence, not presents, their children most wanted. After years of qualitative research with children and youth, 5 to 21 years old in three countries, the quality most desired from a father was being there, fully being there, emotionally as well as physically.

The daddying workshops at the nursery school were a variation of many other workshops I have conducted on “Becoming the Dad YOU Want to Be.” Whether the sessions have been at the World Bank, Native American Pueblos, Head Start Centers, penitentiaries, or one of myriad other settings, I always begin by asking the dads why they have volunteered to attend. When they tell me the session's title drew them in – they want to be the best dad they can be – I used to ask them what that “best” father would look like.

But I discovered that asking that question seemed overwhelming, intimidating in its scope. I learned that if I instead asked, “How do you want your child to describe you as a dad – now and years from now?” it became more concrete and manageable.


I also learned that very few of us take the time to reflect on that fundamental question. So, as the New Year approaches, take a good look in your “looking glass,” be reminded of the importance of being there, and if you dare, ask yourself how you want your daughter or son to describe you as a dad.

Then resolve to do what you need to.

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Allan Shedlin has devoted his life's work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, five grandchildren, as well as numerous "bonus" sons/daughters and grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, school leadership, parenting coaching, policy development, and advising at the local, state, and national levels. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he was honored as a "Living Treasure" by Mothering Magazine and founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, where he now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019, he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He has conducted daddying workshops in such diverse settings as Native American pueblos, veterans groups, nursery schools, penitentiaries, Head Start centers, corporate boardrooms, and various elementary schools, signifying the widespread interest in men in becoming the best possible dad. In 2022, Allan founded and co-directed the Daddying Film Festival & Forum to enable students, dads, and other indie filmmakers to use film as a vehicle to communicate the importance of fathers or father figures in each others' lives. Allan earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D and GRAND D-A-D the most important “degrees” of all.


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