The magic bond between fathers and their kids

Of all the contributions that dad makes to family life, the one that creates the most memories is how he played

As a magician, Giovanni Livera realizes the power that small, playful, and entertaining acts can have to amaze or delight.

Their importance in parenting, he's convinced, should not be underestimated.

"Parents are providers and teachers, but they are also entertainers," he says, "And when parents are gone, the one thing children will remember most with positive memories is how their parents played."

Mr. Livera, who lives in Orlando, Fla., still enjoys his own parents, and shares in a new book - "The Amazing Dad: More Than 400 Ways to Wow Your Kids" ($12.95, Perigee Books) - some of the special things his dad, a hairstylist, did with him as a boy.

In particular, some of Livera's top childhood memories are the simple forts his father fashioned, using seat cushions and clotheslines.

He also fondly remembers how the two of them would create a mound of sand on the beach, dig a tunnel from either side, and shake hands in the middle, or construct a miniature golf course from sand.

The beauty of such shared time has been driven home to him while working as a corporate entertainer and motivational speaker who appears at many conventions, both in Orlando and around the United States.

"For some reason, I don't know why, dads are the designated entertainers of the family," Livera says. "That's a generality, because a lot of women are very entertaining, too. It's not that one is better than the other, it's just that dads tend to be the nutty entertainers of the family."

The entertainment they provide doesn't need to be funny, Livera says, yet levity can help forge solid links.

"Laughter is the shortest distance between two people," he observes. "If my dad can teach me how to speak, how to eat, and use good manners, that's one thing. If he can provide food and shelter, that's another. But if he can create a state of wonder, and we can laugh together, that balances the whole picture."

Dads sense the value of bonding in this way and have often approached Livera, asking him to share a coin or card trick they could use to amaze their children.

"After hearing these questions for 17 years, I finally said, 'OK, I'll write a book,' " he explains. "As I did so, I began to realize that it's more than just magic tricks that bring wonder to children."

It's also gags and games and crafts and almost any sort of imaginative activity that makes dad seem like the most ingenious, fun-loving guy on Earth.

Livera is not a dad himself - at least not yet (he married in November) - but his co-author, Ken Preuss (a middle school teacher and professional children's performer), is.

What they've found in approaching friends and colleagues is an eagerness to share their own "amazing dad moments."

The result is a wide range of activities, everything from creating ad-lib stories and secret codes to setting up a squirting gallery with a hose and sponges or a leaf-pile lodge (covering an empty box with autumn leaves). The activities are all selected with simplicity in mind, so the average guy can do them, and with readily available materials.

"One of the reasons we tried to put so many ideas in the book is [that] we realize there are so many different dad styles, and also their audiences are different," Livera says. "Secret codes might be absolutely fascinating for a boy of 10, but not for a 3-year-old."

Livera doesn't think a parent should constantly try to entertain a child, but having a repertoire of fun ways to occasionally delight and astonish them can work wonders.

Most dads already have a small cache of such child-pleasing jokes, tricks, ideas, and skills, things handed down from their own fathers, grandfathers, and uncles, or learned from other people, including from TV.

"This is a fun part of being a father - a wonderful part of parenting - and I'm only trying to enhance it a bit," Livera says.

One point he makes repeatedly during a phone interview is that when passion and talent collide, special things happen in life.

He credits his dad with encouraging this collision by printing business cards for him when he was a 10-year-old budding magician who performed for neighbors.

In 1991, he won the world sleight-of-hand championship, and today counts such companies as American Express, Dell Computer, and Walt Disney Corp. among his business clients.

To be an amazing dad, Livera believes, doesn't come simply from reading a book and spending time with children. "It's about having fun and being in the moment," he says. "You can't just go through the motions; you've got to be having fun yourself."

This can occur during the snatch of time needed to perform a favorite trick or during an hour or more while playing a travel game.

The concept behind the book, Livera says, is to provide a host of amazing dad secrets. "The secrets create the moments, and moments create the memories," he explains.

As a magician, Livera knows the value of secrets, and with dads the important thing is not to make the fun seem a matter of book learning.

Consequently, the first chapter is about where to hide the book.

In keeping with this lighthearted approach, readers are referred to the website, where they can download a phony book cover with the amusingly off-putting title of "The Joy of Spinach."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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