Be a Dad Who ‘Pays It Forward’ with Your Kids


Carey Casey from the National Center for Fathering shares an inspiring story to share with your children about paying it forward.

Did you hear about #AJO? It’s a fantastic story, although it’s also quite tragic.

A.J.O. are the initials of Alyssa Josephine O’Neill, an 18-year-old who died suddenly during an epileptic seizure. She had texted her mom and asked if they could go to Starbucks the next day for a pumpkin spice latte.

They made the plans, but they never got the chance to follow through because Alyssa died early the next morning.

During the grieving process for her parents and her siblings, they came to a point where they wanted to honor their daughter’s memory in some way. So, they came up with this idea: they went to Starbucks and bought pumpkin spice lattes for the next 40 people—just whoever happened to come by. At their request, the Starbucks' staff wrote #AJO on every cup they handed out. Then, moved by the gesture, the managers gave free lattes to 50 more people.

From there, this small effort to honor a daughter and the Twitter hashtag #AJO turned into a worldwide “pay it forward” movement. People went nuts with random acts of kindness! They started buying meals and gift cards and paying bills for others. Some people went to a local hospital with a bunch of coins and maxed out all the parking meters. On Twitter, #AJO continues to show up in photos from Mexico, Germany, Afghanistan, Australia, and many other places around the globe.

Alyssa’s dad, Jason, has said that just when he thinks, Nothing can top this, he hears about another incredible act of kindness that was inspired by their story. And while nothing can replace his daughter, it helps to know her legacy is about helping other people.

Now, dad, if you’re like me you’re inspired by this story, and it leads me to ask, what do you think your kids would do with an idea like this?

I would challenge you to get them thinking in this direction and then see what happens. Who in your neighborhood needs some encouragement? What could they do to create a spirit of selflessness and kindness at their school? What would happen if you took five, ten or twenty dollars and went out together in your community simply to see how many people you could bless in some way? (Don’t you think that experience for you and your kids would be worth the money?)

You never know what kind of impact that could have on your kids. It might rock their world; they might start doing nice things for their siblings; they might stop complaining about chores. Hey, it could happen!

One of my heroes, George Washington Carver, said this about the importance of being kind to others:

How far you go in life depends on your being
Tender with the young
Compassionate with the aged
Sympathetic with the striving
Tolerant of the weak and the strong
Because …
Some day in your life,
You will have been all of these.

I think you’d be surprised at what can happen through simple acts of kindness. We need a lot more of that in our world, and in our families.

Action Points:

  • Teach your kids to see a need and respond: The yard is full of leaves, therefore I need to go get the rake. Plant similar ideas in their heads before the need arises, and then give all kinds of positive reinforcement when they do respond.
  • Talk with each of your kids about who in the family is especially busy right now, or who is struggling in some way. Ask, “What can we do to help or encourage him?” “How can we make her life a little easier?”
  •  Dads, we have to model this “pay-it-forward” way of life, demonstrating with our lives that we aren’t here just to be served or take up space; we’re here to make a difference in some way.
  • Help your kids develop sensitivity for a friend who’s been left out, a needy neighbor, and so on. Create the impression that kindness and thoughtfulness are natural responses, and reward them when they take initiative.
  •  If you have found something useful to your fathering journey—a resource, a skill, a truth—pay it forward to another dad you know.


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