''Why don't you ever do anything with the kids?'' may have a familiar ring in households where fathers are wrapped up in their work and find little time to spare for their children.
''Real Men Enjoy Their Kids'' (Abingdon Press), by Wenda Goodhart Singer, Stephen Shechtman, and Mark Singer, rests on the idea that fathers have a significant role to play in providing love and caring support for their growing children. As men participate in activities with their children, the authors say, they are demonstrating the importance they place on their homes and families.
Written in a bright, easy style, this practical guide, to be published in June, offers ways to make everyday activities meaningful and fun. The authors hope it will encourage fathers to reflect on their relationship with their children and find ways to develop and improve it. The book is also designed for other men who have some involvement with children, such as uncles, grandfathers, or stepfathers.
Although society's expectations are slowly changing, the authors believe traditional views of the father's role have dampened men's enthusiasm for cultivating warmth, sensitivity, and creativity in raising children.
''For a man to be nurturant in our society is seen as weak or something you can only be in the privacy of your home,'' says Dr. Stephen Shechtman. Traditionally, he believes, ''men had problems relating to kids until they were old enough to play baseball.''
On an individual level, he finds men are trying to find more ways to develop the more tender qualities in dealing with children. ''The big problem,'' he says , ''is that schools and television do not offer heroes to reinforce the concept.''
As a divorced father, Dr. Shechtman faces a special challenge in establishing a close relationship with his 41/2-year-old son, David, whom he sees on alternating weekends and for five to six weeks in the summer. He talks to his son frequently on the phone and writes at least two one-page letters with pictures every week, which David's mother reads to him.
''A divorce does not end the relationship between a father and a child,'' Dr. Shechtman says. ''The bond or connection can still be there, but it requires creative ways to rebuild the network.''
Among other aspects of a father's influence, active concern and guidance from both parents help children resolve questions of ethics, form judgments and opinions, and learn how to handle relationships with other people.
According to Dr. Mark Singer, a sociology professor with two children, a father's role in this learning process can have great impact in shaping a child's values. He believes it is particularly important for men to support moral and spiritual values in everyday living.
In a section on the spiritual dimension of a child's upbringing, the book states: ''Children's understanding develops most clearly as they observe and experience moral teachings being lived out by those around them.''
Building and maintaining a strong bond with children calls for reassessing priorities and putting career in perspective with family life. As a start, the authors suggest that fathers identify some of their own interests and include their children in leisure and professional activities from time to time.
Dr. Singer, for example, occasionally takes his children to the classroom to watch him teach or into his office when he is talking with students.
''When I say I'm going to work, they know what I mean and they can picture it in their minds,'' he says. ''A lot of fathers don't bridge the gap between home and work.''
The authors also suggest setting aside certain times during the day to spend with your child on a regular basis. Spontaneous activities stemming from errands or chores around the house are natural ways to spend time with children. Activities, however, are only a means to an end; undivided, unhurried, uncritical time together develops mutual affection and respect.
To stimulate ideas, the book offers a series of activities separated into four general categories: household chores, leisure time, world of work, and family time. Step-by-step instructions and a list of necessary materials are given for each project.