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October 2002

The Bledsoe Family -
Parenting With Dignity

by Joseph H. RADDER

Just as Drew Bledsoe, the Buffalo Bills’ new quarterback, is known for excellence in football, his parents, Barbara and Mac Bledsoe, are known for excellence in parenting. They’ve dedicated their lives to helping kids by teaching parents skills that are not necessarily new but are seldom used.

Both Mac and Barbara were teachers in Washington. About 25 years ago they became disillusioned with the culture they saw in the classroom. After much thought they finally hit on the idea of using their teaching skills to teach parents ways to improve relationships with their children. It all started when Mac and Barbara Bledsoe invited the parents of their students to come to the school to discuss parenting. In that first session the Bledsoes shared some ideas they had about parenting and some of the things they had learned themselves from making mistakes as parents and classroom teachers.

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Mac’s maternal grandparents George & Helen Whisler with their children, including Mac’s mother Betsy (center) in 1931.

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Barbara’s maternal grandparents George & Ruby Ennis.

Mac’s dad Stewart Bledsoe with his father Albert McQueen “Mac” Bledsoe.

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Barbara’s parents Maxine & Dick Matthews.

Mac’s paternal grandparents Florence & Mac Bledsoe.

“It had a profound effect on the kids in our classes” Mac Bledsoe says. And now, 19 years later, what started as an informal sharing of parenting skills is now a well-organized program called Parenting with Dignity. The idea has really caught on nationally. Their web-site, www.ParentingWithDignity.com, has had over 20,000 visits since it was established and users are downloading an average of 8.6 pages per visit. “Internet experts will tell you that’s an incredibly high number of pages,” Bledsoe said.

About six months ago, Mac appeared on ABC-TV’s 20/20 program with John Stossel. They have also appeared on numerous local TV shows like AM Buffalo, “We gained 22,000 new subscribers just as a result of that 20/20 program” Mac said.

In addition to the web-site, the Parenting with Dignity curriculum consists of a monthly newsletter, a parenting workbook, a CD version of the curriculum, nine videos, a manual and a summary of warning signals on drugs, alcohol and even computer addiction. Furthermore, the Bledsoes take their program before live audiences, at PTA and PTO groups, for example.

“One of the most gratifying types of groups we visit are in prisons,” Mac is pleased to report. “84% of the men in prison are fathers,” he continued. “ It’s amazing how these people change from men of steel into gentle souls when talking about their children. Most of them truly want to be good parents and they don’t want their kids to follow in their footsteps.”

A question parents frequently ask is “What does the program cost?” Thanks to the Drew Bledsoe Foundation, costs for members are kept surprisingly low. For example, the complete set of nine videos can be purchased for only $79.95, actually less than it costs the Bledsoes to produce them.

The story of how the Drew Bledsoe Foundation got started is an interesting one. “Some years ago, Drew came to us and told us he had a dream of using the fruits of his success to help children. What a wonderful coincidence! Drew put up $1million to get it started and the Foundation has become self-supporting thanks to contributions by individuals and corporations.

Funds are also raised with activities like the Drew Bledsoe Celebrity Golf Tournament, which he hopes to move to Buffalo. “And we also want to establish some family-oriented events.” Mac said. “For example, we envision a Family Day with 20,000 or more families coming together for a day of fun in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Mac expands on these by saying “Tell your kids what you want and make sure they understand you. Involve your kids in decisions on behavior standards. Whether you approve or not, your children will make all of the big decisions in their lives, so our only hope is to teach them to make good decisions.”

The Bledsoes believe the fifth rule is perhaps the most important. “It’s so important to show our children that we love them. Fathers sometimes think it’s a sign of weakness or unmanly to say ‘I love you’. Not true.”

The main objective of Parenting with Dignity is to improve the lives of children by promoting and teaching effective parenting skills. Feedback from subscribers repeatedly tells the Bledsoes that their program works.

The idea for the name Parenting with Dignity came from an experience Mac had while serving as an Army officer during the Viet Nam War.

“A lady who worked in my office, Shirley Poe, continued to amaze me with the way she treated everyone with respect and dignity without regard to rank, age, color or position. Even more amazing was the fact that she continued treating everybody with dignity, even after a horrible experience at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. They had burned a cross in Shirley’s front yard the night before because the KKK apparently did not approve of a forthcoming marriage in her family.

Shirley is black—and it seems one of her relatives was marrying a person who appeared to be of lighter skin. Yet, despite this terrible and frightening experience, there she was at her desk, bright and early the next morning, as calm and cheerful as ever. When I asked her how she could be so cheerful, respectful and kind to everyone, including a sergeant at a nearby desk who was reputed to be a Klansman, she said ‘Oh, Lieutenant Bledsoe, that’s easy. In our family we are respectful and dignified, not because the people around us are acting respectful and dignified but because we are’.”

Shirley gave Mac Bledsoe a principal to strive for the rest of his life. “When we began to develop our parenting curriculum,” he said, “ I felt that it was only fitting that we call it Parenting with Dignity, because our approach to parenting requires the same kind of self-control that I had seen in Shirley.”

It’s clear that Barbara and Mac Bledsoe wouldn’t be as well equipped to manage such a program if they hadn’t had a wonderful experience with their own parents and grandparents, and if they hadn’t done such a great job raising their two boys, Drew and Adam.

Mac told us, “My father was a cattle rancher in Washington state, where Barbara’s father was a dairy farmer. Both our mothers were full-time stay-at-home parents.” He agrees that’s often impossible with today’s busy lifestyles. He says new techniques are called for. Yet, even though both parents may be working eight hours a day or more, they must remember that they are parents 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. “Full time parenting is very important” Bledsoe said. “Barbara and I were fortunate to both come from long lines of love. We learned a lot about parenting from our own parents and grandparents.”

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Mac’s dad Stew and baby Mac.

Mac’s mom Betsy and baby Mac.

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Barbara’s mom Maxine with new baby Barbara.

Barbara being held in hand by dad Dick.

Traditions of strong character go way back in the Bledsoe family. Mac told us the story of his great, great, great grandparents who crossed the continent in a covered wagon. One day they lost a child to a fatal illness and were forced to bury him on the trail. That same day they traveled ten more miles before nightfall.

Mac and Barbara met when they were both in the 8th grade. Mac asked Barbara for a date and the rest is history. They celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary this year.

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Barbara in 1951.

Mac and Barbara’s Army days - 1970.

Drew Bledsoe was born on Valentine’s Day in 1972 and, of course, they are tremendously proud of him, not only of his football stardom but of his fine character and selfless lifestyle as well. “We were really happy to hear that Drew was coming to Buffalo” Mac said. “Even though we bled Patriot red for nine years, we have always been Bills fans. We tried never to miss a Bills-Dolphins game on TV because both teams had great quarterbacks. We look forward to a long and happy relationship with the people of Buffalo. We’ve never experienced a welcome as warm as the one we have received here.”

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Barbara, Mac & Drew, 1972.

Adam, age 1 & Drew, age 7.

Surprising perhaps to many readers, Drew Bledsoe was a late bloomer in sports. “He was beaten out for the quarterback position in 7th grade,” Mac said, “It was in college that his work ethic and determination paid off. “The ideas in my head rule my world and I get to choose them,” was an idea important to his success. He is gifted with a great arm and a mental mastery of the game but he also works harder and is more dedicated and determined than most players. These, the secrets of his success.”

Those who have met Drew’s wife, Maura, tell us that she too will soon be taken into the hearts of Buffalonians.

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Drew and Maura’s wedding, 1996.
From left to right: Adam, Mac’s mother Betsy, Barbara, Mac, Maura, Drew & Barbara’s parents Maxine & Dick.

Drew & Maura, 2000.

Barbara and Mac’s son Adam is six years younger than Drew. He was born in January 1978, and in their words “he’s also a wonderful son”. Adam graduated from the University of Colorado last year where he majored in History and was a quarterback on the Colorado football team. This past year he has been playing professional football in Italy and has carried on the Bledsoe tradition of excellence. Adam was recently engaged to Courtney Owens and they plan to be married in May 2003. “Adam is extremely outgoing,” Mac said, “unlike Drew who is more of a private person.”

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Drew age 26 & Adam age 20.

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Adam (13), Grandpa Dick Matthews & Drew (19) havin’ some fun.

Barbara, Adam & Mac, 1995.

Parenting with Dignity’s plans for the future may involve both sons. Hopefully there will be a prime time TV show on PBS, expansion of the videos, the newsletter and the speaking program. Right now both Mac and Barbara Bledsoe are available to speak at PTAs, PTOs or any group that’s interested in quality parenting.

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Mac’s mom Betsy with Drew.

Adam with Mac’s mom Betsy.

Buffalo is indeed fortunate to have Drew Bledsoe as the Bills’ new quarterback. The great fringe benefit is Buffalo’s new relationship with the entire Bledsoe family and their effective Parenting with Dignity parent education curriculum.

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4 generations: Mac, Drew’s oldest son Stu, Dick Matthews & Drew.

Dick & Maxine Matthews, 1991.

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Adam, Barbara, Mac & Drew, 2002.

Stewart Bledsoe (Mac’s dad) and Mac.

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Drew with his three sons: Henry, John and Stu.

Proud grandparents Barbara & Mac with John, Henry & Stu.

Living Prime Time readers who are parents or grandparents are invited to subscribe to Parenting with Dignity via their web-site www.ParentingwithDignity.com or wwwDrewBledsoe.com. If you prefer, you can write to Parenting with Dignity c/o the Drew Bledsoe Foundation at 730 Capistrano Dr., Kalispell, MT 59901. Or reach them at mac@drewbledsoe.com or barbara@drewbledsoe.com.

Joseph H. Radder is a freelance writer.

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