Good Life

Good life | ‘Fathering’ dads share top tales

This Father’s Day, we wanted to share some of the favorite articles we’ve written over the past 14 years, while continuing to encourage you to keep the fathering conversations going. Thanks for reading our pieces over the years — the process our group goes through in writing, meeting and editing has amazingly enriched our fathering experiences. Enjoy your day, dads!

Helping children manage life changes

Both of my daughters just took off on a trip to Morocco last week. My oldest daughter has traveled abroad but my youngest has not.

This is an exciting opportunity for both of them but at the same time, causes trepidation and anxiety in both of them as well as in me.

Traveling to another country or moving away from home for the first time requires a lot of forethought and planning. Fathers can be instrumental in helping children prepare for such life-changing events.

Action ideas:

• Think about how/if your father helped prepare you when you moved out of the house, went away to college, or experienced some other life change.

• Be available to help your child brainstorm potential obstacles, and ways he/she might navigate them.

• Help your child with logistical issues such as navigating through an airport, finding a place to buy or rent, and developing a budget.

• If your child is studying abroad you could help them with securing a Visa, receiving necessary immunizations, getting contact numbers of chaperones in case something goes wrong and determining how they will keep in contact with you.

• Encourage your child to take advantage of his or her new surroundings by seeking out walking tours, clubs, and mini-trips

• Purchase a travel guide for your child so they can become familiar with the people, landscape, and culture of the place they are visiting or relocating to.

Becoming a father — again

I am experiencing a “role-reversal” with my father. Through most of my life our relationship was clear: he was my father and I was his son. True, since I became an adult his authority over me ended, but his influence in my life didn’t. Now things are changing. My father’s dementia is slowly taking away his mind. He is in many ways becoming a child, and I am finding myself increasingly having to be a father to him. As his needs grow I will increasingly be making the ten hour drive to “father” him as best I can. He taught me how to do this. This experience has prompted me to consider this question: In what ways have I taught my children how to care for someone?

Action ideas:

Caring for someone requires patience. The listening ear of another family member, a good friend, or a pastor can be an important source of encouragement.

Focus on what your aging parent can do, not what they can’t do. Being positive makes providing care less challenging or burdensome.

Consider ways to involve your children. Having children provide some of the care of their grandparent not only is good for the grandparent, but gives children the opportunity to demonstrate their love in a tangible way.

Nature journaling with your kids

When I first saw this idea I discounted it thinking it was not “manly enough.”

But Nature Journaling has been a fantastic point of connection with my children, particularly my daughter. Nature journaling is the recording in words and pictures what you are observing while you are out in nature.

There is no “wrong way” to journal.

You don’t have to have artistic talent.

You just record sights, sounds, smells, and anything else you observe.

Years after creating a drawing you will, almost magically, be able to recall the feelings and details of that day.

I encourage you to grab some colored pencils, a pocket size notebook, and at least one of your children and try this.

You’ll be glad you did.

Action ideas:

• Think about the “connection activities” you have or had with your dad, your children and your wife. What makes them great?

• Is or could nature be incorporated into your time together? Canoe rentals at places like Tussey Mountain Outfitters are very reasonable.

• Pennsylvania offers (one of the top states) abundant outdoor activities and places for outdoor recreation. Is there a family hike in your future? Don’t forget your notebook.

Fathers nurture children by listening, not advising

Not so long ago, my son was playing in a basketball tournament and went to the free throw line to shoot a one-and-one with the score tied and 3 seconds left.

He missed the shot, the game went into overtime and his team ended up losing.

After the game, I knew he was going to be upset and I wanted to tell him “You didn’t lose the game.” I reminded myself that it was more important to validate his feelings than to attempt to make him feel better. I didn’t talk and let him start things off.

Sure enough, he said he lost the game by missing the free throw. I said, “That’s really hard to take, and I think I know how you feel.” He just looked at me, and I told him about how I had missed a free throw once in a game that would have made the difference. Later, at dinner, he was better able to see that many misses by others played into the loss, and that he actually played pretty well.

Action ideas:

• Think back to your childhood. Did your father validate or deny how you were feeling?

• Practice just listening when one of your kids is upset. Instead of offering advice, consider silence. Try to help identify the feeling you think your child is experiencing.

• Aim to paraphrase what your son or daughter is expressing to you to show you have been listening and understand.

• Check out the book, “How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk” by Faber & Mazlish. With cartoons and examples, it’s a tremendous resource that discusses opening communication with your kids by validating feelings.

Look me in the eyes when you text that: The lost art of face-to-face communication

While waiting to start a family golf outing recently, I pointed out to my brother the huge contrast in communication going on in the two golf carts ahead of us.

In one cart, two of our uncles were facing each other, gabbing away and laughing; in the other, two teen-age nephews (not brothers) were looking down at their cell phones, texting away and saying nothing.

Eighteen holes of golf and five hours later, I’m guessing that the uncles’ version of “catching up” was quite different than that of the nephews.

With the average teen sending over 2,000 text messages per month, what can we do as fathers to keep our kids from drowning in the text pool?

Action ideas:

• Teach old-school manners in a texting world. Back in the day, it was considered rude if we didn’t look at the person who was talking to us or if we interrupted them. Remind your kids that many consider it rude to fiddle with cell phones in the middle of a conversation.

• Model good old fashioned face-to-face communication. When you want to talk with your kids about something important, make a point to go to a different room to “have a talk.”

• Consider setting guidelines. In addition to putting a cap on the number of texts per month, you might want to establish situations when you don’t want your kids using their cell phones. Some parents, for example, don’t allow cell phones during dinner, social functions, or family vacations.

The local fathering effort, in cooperation with the National Center for Fathering, provides bi-weekly Action Ideas to stimulate conversation between fathers and parents.