A Dad for All Decades

THE '90s dad, supposedly, is someone who puts his family ahead of a demanding career - who rushes out of the office when children have to be picked up and shuns the 14-hour workday.

This kind of father wouldn't think of missing Little League games or violin recitals. He takes the time to talk with the kids when they have problems, or even before they have problems. He probably cooks dinner a couple of times a week; he may even volunteer to clean the bathroom.

But let's not go too far. We don't want to make today's dad into a myth. Such efforts to strike a better balance between work duties and family responsibilities deserve praise. And the praise can be shared with conscientious fathers of all decades.

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Remember the '50s dads who arrived home around 6 in their chrome-grilled Chevies and managed to play with the children before conking out in the easy chair? Or the '30s dads who kept families going, emotionally and financially, through the Depression?

They may not have had the same flexible schedules or understanding bosses as some of today's fathers, but they had an instinctive grasp of "quality time."

While similarities in good fathering span the decades, recent years have deepened trends that change the terms of fatherhood - notably, the movement of women into the workplace and the frequency of divorce and remarriage.

A household where both dad and mom hold outside jobs demands a different degree of partnership. Both parents have added obligations to make time for the kids. New reserves of energy are needed.

And the dad with more than one set of offspring, or with kids he can only see on weekends or holidays? That's a whole other set of challenges.

The qualities of fatherhood include strength, integrity, reliability - and, of course, love. Dads who strive to be a good example are performing a crucial parenting role. In juggling priorities, why can't men be led by a "male intuition" to sort things out? Regularly taking a few quiet moments for reflection can yield tangible benefits.

Father's Day is thought of as a time to remember dad with a card, a gift, or a simple thanks. But it can also be a chance for dads themselves to think about their task - and pray for the wisdom to do it a little better.

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