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Fathers bonding with their kids
The Herald-Mail Online / Hagerstown, Maryland
June 14, 2001
Fathers bonding with their kids
Fatherhood - it's about time.
Taking time to get to know your children. Making time to be at their
concerts and sporting events. Taking time to really listen to what they're
telling you.
"Whatever you do, there will always be a time if you wish to make it," said
the Rev. James Riley, pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Martinsburg,
"I think the key is availability," agreed Candace Rutherford, clinical
manager of child and adolescent services for Summit Behavioral Health
Services in Chambersburg, Pa.
Rutherford encourages fathers to spend as many hours as they can with their
kids - "not just quantity, but quality," she said. That could mean riding
bikes with them, even doing yard work.
"I think some kids ask for more attention from dads on a physical level,"
Rutherford said, perhaps through rough-housing or doing chores together.
Demonstrating your love - through hugs and kisses - is important too, said
Jim Weidmann, executive director of the Heritage Builders ministry of Focus
on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colo. A former football player who spent
countless hours in the locker room, he said being an affectionate dad could
have been a stretch for him.
But because he showed his children love when they were very young, his
children still welcome it. If you spend time with your children when they're
young, they'll want to spend time with you when they're older, he added.
"That affection is so critical," said Weidmann, who is still "daddy," to his
children, ages 11, 14, 16 and 19.
Stop and listen
If you give them an ear, children often will tell you exactly what they
need - sometimes by saying nothing substantial.
If you're not paying enough attention to your children, they'll let you know
with subtle language: when you ask them questions, you'll get one-word
"You need to get past the 'nothin',' that 'OK,' " Riley said.
Take your conversations one level deeper. Ask them what they're learning in
school, what's going on in their lives.
Talk to your kids while you take them to and from activities, Rutherford
said, and make an effort to get to know their friends.
"You have to convince that child you're part of their life," said Riley, the
father of a 21-year-old daughter.
Arnold Hammann, principal of Washington County Technical High School, was
once told by one of his daughters that he cared more about his students than
his children. He feels lucky for getting that wake-up call.
"The biggest challenge for me is making sure I block out those evening
hours," said Hammann, who has two daughters, Amanda, 18, and Lauren, 15.
"I'm glad I've made time." As they grow, "They will feed back information to
you about what they still want," Riley said.
During the teenage years, sons and daughters may crave more space but they
still want guidance.
Parents must be open and willing to discuss their mistakes with their
teenagers so the children will in turn be open, Weidmann said.
"The journey is what they want," Weidmann said, and fathers can coach them
along the way.
"Step back and let the kid grow," said Susan Wolpin, chair of Bucks County
Fathers' and Children's Equality Inc. in Bucks County, Pa.
Roles in flux
With the times, the job description for fatherhood has changed.
In the last year, Rutherford has seen more women working and fathers staying
In double-income families, parents are making their household roles more
flexible. That may mean that the father is working more set hours,
Rutherford said.
"We're in a new day and age," said Dianna Thompson, executive director of
American Coalition for Fathers and Children.
Some fathers are more involved than ever before in their children's lives,
both by choice and necessity, Thompson said. They are in a position to
nurture their children more, sometimes just by changing diapers and giving
Fathers sometimes are unfairly compared to mothers. They may not do things
the same way, but that doesn't mean they do them incorrectly, said Thompson,
the mother of six children ranging in age from 3 to 15.
"Sometimes we shortchange fathers," she said. "They have their own style."
Fatherhood can get more complicated when parents are not living together.
But just because the parents' relationship doesn't work out, fathers must
not run away from their familial responsibilities, said Linn Davison of
Hagerstown, facilitator for a Hagerstown support group for divorced and
separated individuals.
If a couple separates or divorces, they should keep their children's lives
as unchanged as possible, Thompson said. If dad was home during the day with
them before the breakup, have that part of the day still be his time with
the kids, she said.
"Children want and deserve both parents in their lives," Thompson said.
To help make the situation as positive as possible, fathers should not talk
negatively about their kids' mother, Wolpin said. Doing so can hurt
children's self-esteem.
Focus instead on building a relationship with your children.
"Let your kids know that you love them in word and deed," Davison said.
Weidmann said a counselor told him that the top reason families are falling
apart is because men don't understand what it means to be a father.
Some families also are negatively impacted by fathers' lack of commitment to
their families and absenteeism.
"They need to understand that impact and that responsibility that they
have," Weidmann said.
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