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Fatherhood From Afar

A dad who doesn't live with his kids can still maintain a close, loving relationship with them. The key: Show them they can count on you, even though you don't get to see them every day, says Vivian Gadsden, Ph.D., director of the National Center on Fathers and Families, in Philadelphia. Here, ways that dads can stay involved:

  • Agree on a time every day, such as after breakfast or before bedtime, when you can call or e-mail your child and catch up. If you won't be able to keep the appointment, try to let your child know in advance. Otherwise, get in touch as soon as you can, apologize for the delay, and explain why it occurred. If this happens rarely, he'll understand.

  • Keep up with your child's interests. Ask her questions, and really listen to her answers. Try to remember the names of her friends and favorite video games. And check out her latest drawing or homework assignment by having her fax or e-mail it to you.

  • Only make promises you can keep. Don't commit to a ballgame, then back out at the last minute. It's better to surprise a child with tickets than to disappoint him by breaking a date.

  • Take on some childcare responsibilities. Bring her to checkups or help her with back-to-school shopping, for instance.

And what if a dad isn't consistently involved? A mom can remind him of birthdays and school performances, but she also needs to be honest with her child by telling her that her father loves her even though he can't always be counted on. Otherwise, unrealistic high hopes will lead to hard falls. And it's always good for a child to spend time with other caring men  -- a grandfather, an uncle, or a close family friend  -- even if her dad plays an active role in her life.