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Matt Lauer on Fatherhood: 'I'm In Hide-And-Seek Heaven'

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In a recent public service announcement that made the rounds online last month, NBC’s "Today" host Matt Lauer plays a cute game of hide-and-seek to highlight the importance of fatherhood involvement. The PSA was just the first in the new Today Takes Action series, which will spotlight social issues important to the show’s anchors. For the campaign’s kick-off, it was Lauer’s idea to focus on the subject of fathers. 

Lauer tells Parenting that it’s his goal to raise awareness about the difference a positive male role model can make in a child’s life. He personally created the ad in partnership with the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance and the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse.

The endearing spot follows Lauer as he seeks out the perfect hiding place during an epic game of hide-and-seek. It’s an activity the host claims he excels at from years of game-play with his own family. In fact, during the filming he joked that he is the “James Bond of hide and seek.” Lauer recently spoke with about his own father, his favorite father-related news story of the past year, and gave a few choice hide-and-seek pointers to try out at home. Excerpts:

Why this topic now?
I don’t think enough is done on fathers and their roles in the lives and children. The PSA does communicate that it takes just a few minutes of your time to make a huge difference in their lives. Whether it’s sitting down to color with them, read a book, have a game of catch. Parents may say, "all I did was spend a minute with them," but kids will say “my parents really care about me.”

Your kids are 11, 9 and 6?
I’m in hide-and-go-seek heaven.

Any pro-tips for us amateurs?
You gotta change it up. There’s the static hide, where you just stay in one place and wait to be found. Then there’s the moving hide-and-seek where you’re allowed to get up and move around. Those can last for hours at my house. 

But how much time do you really get to spend with them?
I would always want to spend more time with them, no question about it. My situation is slightly more unusual. We made a decision a couple of years ago to move out of the city. Way out. So my home is in the Hamptons and that’s where our kids go to school. As a result, I’m in [New York] city three or four nights a week, and I’m home on weekends. I go for school events--I do get out there for those. Because of this decision we made--and wanted to make for them--my time is consolidated into three intense days. The time is more precious and the time you spend is more significant.

Plus: Famous Dads on Fatherhood

Is there anything you do as a dad in response to the way your own father raised you?
I had a hands-on dad. I was lucky. Even though I was a child of divorce, it was kind of a similar situation. I saw my dad on weekends. My dad was the kind of guy who got down and dirty with you, whether it was playing a sport or an art project or on a road trip for work. And believe me, it stuck with me. The most important gift he gave me is how hands-on he was. And when I say hands-on I mean in the first sense, that he was involved, but also in the second sense. He was a hugger. He was a kisser. Even as an adult, he would pick me up in the airport and he would give me a hug and a kiss. He wasn’t afraid to show his emotions. And that was so liberating for me, to know that’s ok. I must tell my kids five times a day that I love them. That’s my dad. That’s what he used to do.

Yet you’re very private as well. Is that your daughter in the PSA?
No, she’s an actor. I wanted to do a PSA on the importance of fatherhood involvement. But Annette and I have a longstanding guideline about not putting our own children on TV. We want them to maintain their privacy. In the almost-20 years I’ve been on the show, one of my children has been on the show for 20 seconds. I’ll talk on the air about homework or immunizations or what age can you have a sleepover.

What was your favorite father-related headline of the last year?
The father who shot his daughter’s laptop to discipline her. I can’t tell you how much interest that got here. At first it seems like this outrageous story, but then it brings in all these issues about parenting in the digital age.