How can you measure a father? How much time do you have?

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In 2003 I wrote a column for Augusta Family magazine about the difference between being a “father” and a “daddy.” I listed several examples, but really it’s like the definition of jazz: If you have to ask, you’ll never know.

Back then, I was a newly minted daddy, and my mission was to become a dad that would make Ward Cleaver look positively sick. But there was one problem with that. Ward Cleaver had a script.

Know this on this Father’s Day: Actual fatherhood is unscripted.

Sure, there are those calmer moments when you’re throwing the ball around in the back yard with your son. But there also are those moments when your two kids are learning about physics after choosing a laundry basket as their mode of transportation down a flight of stairs.

Also, actual fatherhood has no time limit. TV dads usually can solve all their kids’ problems in 30 minutes. After several years, I’m still figuring out how to get my daughter to eat all her peas.

But it’s good to have no time limit. Beyond all the toys and video games and Disney vacations and over-the-top birthday parties you can throw at your son or daughter, the least expensive thing you can give your kid – and the most valuable – is your time.

I’m not just talking about that intensely scheduled “quality time,” either. I’m talking about what comedian-turned-senator Al Franken once described as “big, stinking, lazy, nonproductive quantity time.”

Walks are the best for me. When the kids and I walk our dog, it’s like the movement of their legs triggers the speech center in their brains, and they simply can’t stop talking. That’s fine with me. I’m just not looking forward to the teenage years when kids’ communication with parents withers to sullen one-word responses.

If you spend more time with your child, it reduces the likelihood of behavioral problems. Study after study has found that family time builds confidence and encourages healthy habits.

I could’ve thumbed through all those studies and buried you under a dense pile of statistics, but instead I reached out to Dan Hillman. He’s executive director of the Augusta-area advocacy group Child Enrichment. Back me up here, Dan:

“Fathers who spend time with their children, play with them, nurture them and who participate in basic child care for their children are significantly less likely to abuse or sexually abuse their children,” Hillman told me. “These fathers typically develop such a strong connection with their children that it decreases the likelihood of any maltreatment.”

Dan heads up a team of advocates who work within the court system with children suspected of being abused or neglected. He has far too many case files on kids whose lives would’ve been drastically different – that is to say, immeasurably better – if they had the chance to thrive under the investment of time.

Otherwise, you get incidents such as the one last month in Sarasota, Fla. A 27-year-old father decided he (a) didn’t want to spend time with his 4-year-old daughter, and (b) did want to spend time playing what his daughter described as “bad guy” video games. So Heath Howe, according to police, tied his daughter up in the kitchen, tightly enough to cause bleeding under her skin. Howe now faces a child abuse charge.

My son is 9 and my daughter is almost 8. And I’m not getting any younger. So I try to catch my tongue if I ever find myself saying to one of them, “I don’t have time to do that.” If you don’t make the time now, you can miss out permanently on the great memories of being a parent.

Like this one: I’m eating breakfast with the kids. The son is about 3; the daughter is about 1½. Daniel pipes up with, “Daddy? Mommy is a good mommy.”

“Of course she is!” I said. “She’s about the best mommy ever!”

He went on: “And Tess? She’s the best sister ever.”

“Sure is. Don’t you forget it,” I said.

“And Daddy?”

My moment had arrived. “Yes, son?”

“You’re a giant robot!”

Thanks, son.

And to all you dads, happy Giant Robot’s Day.

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HighSociety 06/16/12 - 10:49 pm
Well said!

Well said!

Craig Spinks
Craig Spinks 06/17/12 - 12:37 am
As there are more males than men,

there are more male progenitors than Fathers.

HAPPY FATHER'S DAY, Chris, Paul, Fred, Stewart, Denny, Danny, Patrick, Greg, Kelvin, Ricky, Heard, John Paul, Cliff, Dave and Jeff.

specsta 06/17/12 - 01:51 am
Poor Comparison

I don't really like this analogy that fathers who spend more time with their children are less likely to abuse them - as if men are genetically wired to abuse their children. They are not. Statistically, it is mothers who are more likely to abuse their children and in most cases, they spend the most time with the children. It is really sick that our society looks at men and fathers as if they are some kind of pervert in the making, unable to properly raise a child - especially if they are a single parent.

Fathers, in general, are disrespected and dismissed as non-important to the raising of their children, by the family courts and by some mothers. Some are called "deadbeat dads", even though mothers are more likely to not pay court-ordered child support. Society demands that fathers take care of their children financially but will not give them the same respect when it comes to ensuring that the emotional bonds are nourished and protected between a father and child.

Fathers have a difficult journey to traverse and it is not an easy responsibility - and it is rarely appreciated. The bias in the media toward fathers is astounding. And even on a holiday to honor fathers, shoppers in the US spend $6 billion dollars LESS to show appreciation to fathers.

Until society holds up the father with the same regard and respect as the mother, it is the children who will be continue to be cheated out of the wonderment that is the security, love, and encouragement that defines true fathers.

Willow Bailey
Willow Bailey 06/17/12 - 09:13 am
My daddy

was the best parent, role model and friend that I have ever had. My memories of him go back to very early childhood and though he is now in heaven, not a day goes by that I don't think of him or benefit from his counsel.

My dad was the first man who loved me, my hero, my knight in shinning armor, the one who stood by me when my heart was broken, my defender and champion, the one who gave me the rules for living, the ability to respect and love myself and others, love for my country, and the knowlege that family loves and takes care of family.

I had the honor of caring for him in his last years of life, and the gift of holding his hand as he took his last breath on this earth. What a gift from the Lord my daddy was to me. I will never outgrow being my daddy's girl.

Willow Bailey
Willow Bailey 06/17/12 - 09:32 am

I agree with you regarding your thoughts and feelings about how men are treated. I don't think many understand some of the negative and devastating results that have come out of the feminine movement, nor how the government has used women's rights to their own political advantage and greatly contributed to the breakdown of the American family. Dad's are not optional. They are essential to healthy children, emotionally, physically and spiritually, and that corresponds to including husbands.

I work with female broken hearts, and the root of the problem can usually be discovered at the level of the father.

Jake 06/17/12 - 04:03 pm
The old man

That was never a disrespectful term when talking with my dad. He encouraged it. Of course that was never a term I would or could use when I was a kid, he was simply known as "dad" or "sir".
He taught me to respect all people at a time when there was a segment of our population who did not have equal rights. His greatest lesson was the value of good, honest work. He has been gone now for almost 8yrs but just about every morning when I look at myself in the mirror when I am shaving, I think I kind of see him looking back at me.

KSL 06/17/12 - 10:00 pm
Specsta, I would love to see

Specsta, I would love to see information that backs up your claims. Near me lives a dad avoiding child payment, yet he is a great hands on dad to his latest child. Except for financial support. You see, he does not have to rise to the occasion to pay. I am sure he would if he actually had to.

No doubt he loves the children from both of the mothers. But the system allows him to avoid any kind of support for any of his children. He lives quite comfortably without doing any kind of work.

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