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How Fathers Can Step Up to Fathering

When our oldest son was 2, my wife went out of town for a weekend. When a friend of hers called and I told her she was out of town, she said

"So you're home baby-sitting."

My response was

"No, I'm home being a father."

I'm sure my wife's friend meant no harm. It's just that I dislike the assumption that if a father is with his children without his wife, then he is baby-sitting.

Not so.

He is being a father.

It did get me thinking, however, about the role of fathers in our society.

I suppose that I am one of the lucky ones. My dad was usually there for me; I always knew he cared about me. He was easy to please and I knew he was proud of me.

I also know that there is a growing number of children who have never had and may never have that experience.

According to D. Blankenhorn in the book ``Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem,'' roughly 40 percent of American children will go to sleep tonight in homes in which their fathers do no live. Blankenhorn writes that ``never before in this country have so many children been voluntarily abandoned by their fathers.''

That's strong language: ``voluntarily abandoned.'' It conjures, at worst, pictures of biological fathers who take absolutely no responsibility for a child or might not even know one exists to, at best, fathers that leave a family through divorce, disappearance or some other type of abandonment.

But what about the type of father who is there but not there? They might be physically present, but they're absent in an emotional, supportive sense.

I believe that there are many more of the there-but-not-there fathers than those that literally abandon their children.

First, the good news.

There have been improvements in the past 30 years. According to Time magazine, the time fathers spend with their children increased by a third between the '60s and the '80s.

In addition, according to Time, in 1973 barely a quarter of fathers were present at the delivery of their children, while today over three-quarters are there for the birth.

Now, the bad news.

While we have made significant progress, it's not nearly enough.

Here's just a sample of the work that remains.

Again according to Time, fathers spend only about two-fifths as much time with their children as do the mothers, according to three independent surveys.

Now here's the fact that shocks me - and to which knowing mothers everywhere will attest -researchers have found no single child-rearing task for which fathers bear primary responsibility.

There's something screamingly, horribly, terribly wrong here.

At the same time, there is more good news.

More and more parents and professionals are making exciting changes.

One such change is the DADS Family Project (Dads Actively Developing Stable Families) developed by therapists Larry Barlow and Art Cleveland.

According to Barlow and Cleveland, the program focuses on ``understanding the fathering received by the men in the group. We identify how to establish a safe and secure home. Bonding skills feature play activities and communication training. Also featured are effective discipline techniques and stress management.''

Barlow and Cleveland offer the following tips for fathers interested in fathering. I've added a few of my own as well.

1) First, an attitude shift is required. Fathering is not a part-time job. It is full time, both in attitude and in hands-on application.

2) To paraphrase Margaret Mead, ``the future of society rests on the learned nurturing behavior of its men.'' Get involved with the nurturing of your children. This includes bathing, feeding, transporting, and all the events of their lives. These are not just mothering activities, they are parenting activities.

3) Remember that fathering is a process not an event. A process requires time.

4) Consider how you were fathered. What do you want to do differently and what do you want to do the same?

If you have a child or children, then your challenge is to truly father your children, to be a father in the truest sense of the word. If you don't have any children, then find a fatherless kid who needs your attention.

There are people depending on you.

Visit for tips and tools for creating and growing a great relationship. You can also subscribe to our f*r*e*e 10 day e-program on how to enrich your relationship today, from relationship coach and expert Jeff Herring.

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