Effective fatherhood plays out in tiny scenes and fleeting moments
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Gregory Locke is holding his toy helicopter out with a "let's play, Daddy," as he beckons. On this recent Saturday morning, his dad, Jeff, is ankle deep in the towels and bedding that need to be washed before he runs his errands and heads out with the family to the air show at nearby Hill Air Force Base, where they're meeting friends.
He starts to shake his head, then stops himself, reaching instead for the attentive 3 year-old. "Help me, buddy," he says, scooping Gregory up for a tickle and squirm. "Help me sort these by color and I'll show you how a manly man does wash." He flexes his arm muscles and growls and the boy bursts out laughing.
For the next 20 minutes, they'll play and work both. Soon Jeff will take his daughter, Ruby, 8, with him to run errands while Gregory stays home with Miranda, 15. And later, they'll meet his wife Joyce when she gets off work and the whole family will enjoy the sensory spectacle of the jets and the crowd, both in full roar.
Reams have been written about fathers who fail — dads absent because they left or they don't have the time or inclination or perhaps just the opportunity to be there for their kids. Effective fatherhood is a less sensational story, sometimes played out in tiny scenes and fleeting moments like a dad sharing laundry chores with his boy. But it's a story that matters to the future of children. And living it is part art, part heart.
"The most important thing is to show up for the job every day," said Treion Muller of Farmington, who wrote "Dad Rules: A Simple Manual for a Complex Job." His own father didn't, gone when he was 7, leaving his family behind in a ghetto in Johannesburg, South Africa. It's a kind of fatherhood Muller, "chief elearning architect" at Franklin Covey and father of five kids, 2 to 12, doesn't intend to mimic. "I don't claim to be an expert. I claim to be a father in motion, working at it every day because it's going to take a lifetime to be a great dad."
"My son is 7 and forever wanting to play," said Mark Greene, a dad who shares custody with his ex-wife, His response to his son is to "simply be with him, play with him." He participates in The Good Men Project, which is a media company and social platform dedicated to helping men reach their potential as men and as dads.
Dave Robinson of Highland travels often for his employer, a global software company. When he's home, he makes a conscious effort to be mentally present, as well. "I think it can be easy to think of all the things you need to do. I make sure the kids are a priority." That means one-on-one time with each of them, doing things they enjoy. Jack's easy. At 6, he likes all things sports, which his dad likes, too. Ethan, 2, "thinks anything is fun." And Lauren, 4, and Mackenzie, 12, are happy running errands with their dad, riding bikes, hanging out. It isn't what they do but the togetherness that matters, he said, noting that a simple car ride some place is a great way to get to know what's happening in his kids' lives, from what they're thinking and doing to what makes them happy or sad.
A great father needs to "love, coach, model," said Carey Casey, president of the Kansas City-based National Center for Fathering. Then he elaborated on each one. Dad is loving, both to the child and to the child's mother — "Even if they're divorced, he's not negative." Dad coaches, whether it's sports or life skills, serving as a family's "chief encouragement officer." A good father, he said, "understands that all the children are wired differently" and knows what lights each child up. And he models important behaviors, from helping around the house to how a decent, loving man behaves.
His own dad taught him that "the ball is going to bounce your way sometime. When it comes, will you notice it? And if you notice it, will you be prepared?" Modeling how to be prepared, along with the loving and encouraging, are important traits for a dad.
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