published Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Baumgardner: Fathering from a distance not easy, but worth it

By Julie Baumgardner

Many fathers find themselves trying to parent from a distance due to work, divorce or military deployment. Fathering from a distance can be especially trying when it comes to celebrations and school activities.

Brian Vander Werf travels almost every week for work. Even though his girls have never known a time when their dad was home all week, it is important to him to be in the loop while he is away.

"Before I leave, I make it a point to get with each of my girls to find out what is on their calendars for the week," says Vander Werf. "I want to know about tests, ball games, concerts or other events. I share with them where I will be and what is happening in my world that week.

"I want them to know that, even though I am away, they are important to me and I care about what is happening in their world. I also make sure I get my hugs in before I hit the road."

When he is traveling, Vander Werf stays connected via texting and phone calls in the evenings.

"There is no question that staying connected while I am on the road can be complicated," he says. "My girls are older, and texting seems to be one of the best solutions at the moment. I have really struggled with it because that is not my thing and not my idea of a great way to connect, but it is definitely a big part of their world so I find myself texting back and forth a lot with the two of them."

When asked if his girls knew they could contact him throughout the day if they needed him, he replied, "Most definitely. They know I am in tune and paying attention. I would want to know if something was up."

With all of the new technology available, dads have lots of options for staying connected to their children. Here are some hints to help you connect:

• Let your child pick out a book for you to read together at a designated time each evening.

• If you won't be able to talk while you are away, create a video before you leave for them to watch while you are away. You could even hide it and leave clues behind so they have to search for the surprise.

• Purchase a book where you can record your voice reading it and leave it under your child's pillow.

• Put messages on stick-it notes and hide them in places you know they will be found throughout the week.

• Write letters to your children and include something fun or crazy in the letter.

• If they have a special event, arrange for flowers, pizza or a card to be delivered to them the day of the event.

"Staying connected isn't always easy," says Vander Werf. "However, it is absolutely worth it. Even though I am out of town, my girls know I love and care about them."

Email Julie Baumgardner, president and CEO of First Things First, at julieb@firstthings.org.

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