By Dan Coulter
I heard a discussion about a dad's worth the other day as I was radio channel surfing in my car. Two talk show hosts were hotly debating some comments made by actress Nicole Kidman. The topic: does a rich single mom have anything to complain about? The female host said that even a famous, wealthy single mom can have it tough raising kids. The macho male host wasn't buying it. "Come on, she's got jillions of dollars! She can buy anything she needs."
He might have been more persuasive if he'd pointed out that many divorced dads are devoted to their kids and not all single moms are raising kids alone. But the argument that you could buy what a dad does makes this guy sound pretty clueless.
Or maybe it says something sad about his relationship with his father.
A dad who shows his kids he cares about them can be one of the most powerful influences in their lives. This is especially true of kids with special challenges, such as Asperger Syndrome.
Dads are incredible role models. Who hasn't been proud -- or mortified -- to see your child copy something you do? You're teaching even when you're not trying. And dads who put real effort into raising their kids get the biggest rewards.
I think the dads who have the most impact are the ones who find ways to really enjoy being with their kids - even kids with problems. From the other side of the picture, kids who enjoy being with their dads are much more eager to listen to them and to try and make their dads proud as they grow up.
Here are a few things I've seen great dads do that can't be bought.
First, these dads let their faces light up every time they see their child and show him it's a treat to see him. This makes a son or daughter feel really special - like an injection of self-worth. And there's nothing like self-worth to combat negative influences outside your home. If your child feels great being with you, doing things together is more like recreation than obligation. As a bonus, you're likely to wind up having more fun and finding ways to spend more time with your kids.
Second, these dads kick into "patient gear" whenever they deal with their kids. It's easy to forget that talking isn't teaching and hearing something once doesn't mean a kid understands and the ins and outs of what you're talking about. Taking the time to understand how much your child is absorbing of what you're saying can really help him learn. Some kids don't pick up social skills intuitively, just by observing others. If this is your child, you have to figure out how to help him understand. As a dad, you need to be like the test pilots in Tom Wolfe's book, "The Right Stuff." If a test pilot's plane didn't perform as predicted and the normal procedures didn't work, he'd try something new, and something else new, and something else, until he found something that worked. You can do the same thing and you don't even need to worry about a parachute.
Third, these dads use consistent, measured discipline and lots of positive reinforcement. Even if their child throws a tantrum in public, they don't let embarrassment tempt them into overreacting verbally or physically. Who doesn't respect a dad who is calm and patient with a child having a meltdown? Who hasn't seen a child glow from a dad's compliments? These dads teach a child what it means to be fair - and how to get the best out of people with praise.
Fourth, these dads look at things from their kids' point of view. They see that kids don't always understand when dad's had a hard day. These dads learn to leave problems at the door and let good times with their families bring up their spirits.
These are the dads I admire and try to be like.
The bottom line: every contact with your son or daughter is an opportunity. The way they feel about you the rest of their lives depends on the countless little interactions between the two of you every day. If you treat every contact with your child as one he could remember forever, you'll be the dad you really want to be.
That can't be measured in dollars. And, as a dad, it's kind of nice to know you're priceless.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the writer/producer of the video: "ASPERGER SYNDROME FOR DAD: Becoming An Even Better Father To Your Child With AS." You can find additional articles on his website at: coultervideo.com.
Copyright Dan Coulter 2004 Used by Permission All Rights Reserved