Play: The Surprising Way Dads Connect with Their Children
By Robert R. Jones

When I drive through my neighborhood in the late afternoon, I notice a substantial number of fathers playing with their children: swinging the end of a jump rope, pitching a ball to a little fellow not much larger than the bat he’s trying valiantly to master, shooting baskets or simply having fun together.

You may not find this unusual, but from my perspective, it’s not only unusual, it’s absolutely delightful to behold.

Fifty years ago, when I was a teenager, it was an extraordinary father who played with his kids – a rara avis. Fathers were the sole breadwinners and rarely had time to play. Oh, there were occasional exceptions; a few dads took active roles with their sons in scouting, but while scouting could be fun, it certainly wasn’t play. Back then, boys and their fathers were left holding a nearly empty bag, one that could have been full of warm father-son moments.

I’m very pleased when I witness today’s dads playing with their children. I’m all the more pleased because I’m just as likely to see a father and daughter playing sports as I am to witness a play-filled moment between father and son. Dad, the major role model for his son, has a critical cross-gender role to model for his daughter. A father’s consistent and positive interactions with his daughter help her form good self-esteem, as well as healthy relationships with other males as she grows older.

By engaging her in an athletic or strategic play, Dad is helping her develop a strong body and a strong mind. He’s also showing her that she’s just as important as her brother, and preparing her to see herself as an equal on the playing field of life.

There are further unspoken, multilevel benefits in play-filled moments between a father and his children – boys or girls. Dad is tacitly saying, “Yes, there are hundreds of demands on my time and attention, but you are so important to me that those other matters will just have to wait.”

Children are unparalleled as copycats, a reality most parents know too well. They observe and copy the attitudes, behaviors, language, posture, beliefs and more of the most significant adults in their lives. Be a really great role model, and your kids are likely to follow suit. Fathers need to take an active role in both serious parenting matters and in play. The rewards are too great to miss.

Getting Girls “Into” Sports – Starter Tips for Dads

• Discover your daughter’s potential athletic interests by engaging her in a candid, one-to-one conversation about sharing more fun activities with her.

• Encourage her to watch a variety of live sports or to play games with you.

• Share your own childhood experiences with sports – compare likes and dislikes to find a common bond.

• When your daughter indicates an interest in a sports activity, stock up on the necessary equipment required and start playing together.

• Once you find a sport you both enjoy together, make regular “date” to play.

• While it’s important to engage her regularly, don’t fall in the trap of maintaining a relentless schedule. She will not be likely to continue unless it’s fun for her – and if she’s having fun, so will you.


Great Books for Dads

IZE: 10pt">• 101 Ways to be a Terrific Sports Parent: Making Athletics a Positive Experience for Your Child, by Joel Fish and Susan Magee, Fireside, 2003.

IZE: 10pt">• Dads and Daughters, by Joe Kelly, Broadway, 2003.

• Father Courage: What Happens When Men Put Family First, by Suzanne Levine, Harcourt, 2000.

• What a Difference a Daddy Makes: The Indelible Imprint a Dad Leaves on His Daughter’s Life, by Kevin Leman, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.