A father, on average, has 37 seconds of meaningful interaction with his child per day.
With the average child spending 30–50 hours per week in front of a screen — be it television or computer — it’s not surprising that when teens under stress were asked where they would turn to for help in a crisis, their fathers ranked 48th on a list.
When thousands of teens were asked what question they would like their parents to answer, half said, "Do you love me?"
These statistics were presented at a Great Dads seminar at McLean Bible Church to a group of about 100 fathers last Saturday.
"It’s hard when I hear the stat about 37 seconds. They’re not that far off," said father of six, Mike Hopper of Brambleton in Ashburn. "It can get like that. You come home from work, and you’re more worried about everyone not being loud."
Hopper attended a class that encourages fathers to turn their hearts outwards towards their children. Clifton resident Bob Hamrin, founder of the Great Dads organization, taught portions of the seminar.
According to Hamrin, over half of the children in America suffer from father absence, which occurs in two forms: physical, which effects 24 million children, and often occurs because of divorce, separation, or no marriage in the first place; and mental, which effects 11 million children, and takes place when the father is physically home, but spiritually and emotionally absent. "It’s a terrible scourge," said Hamrin.
HAMRIN FOUNDED Great Dads in 1996 based on his conviction that father absence was a having a terrible effect on society. Hamrin’s own personal experiences with fathers in the D.C. area was that most were absent from their children’s lives. Their wives would come to him, he said, and ask him to talk to their husbands. "He’s never there in the home-front, and when he’s there, he’s a tyrant with the kids," said Hamrin, echoing their sentiments.
Hamrin, in starting the organization, left behind a 23-year-old career as a consultant and economist. During his career, he worked with congress, served on a presidential commission, and even began working on a presidential campaign, though he left the campaign when he was told he had to be there on weekends. "I didn’t want to sacrifice my three kids," he said, even though the prospect of becoming an economic adviser to the president had been something he had long dreamed of. With no desire to work a crazy number of hours, he left government behind.
"I personally experienced the joys of fatherhood," said Hamrin, who, with his new-found freedom, was able to attend his children’s field trips at school. "I realized how much joy that brought me, and could bring to other men." Hamrin said he didn’t think he’d last six months working in an office at home. He lasted 14 years.
Hamrin admits that many have questioned what an economist could possibly know about being a great father. With a Ph.D. and 23 years of experience as a researcher, Hamrin said that he is just a good researcher. He claimed that one-fourth of his book "Great Dads" was based on personal experience, and the other three-quarters on research.
ON SATURDAY, Hamrin took turns presenting "The Six Basics of Being a Great Dad" with Dr. Bob Harris. During one of his presentations, Harris instructed the fathers on the importance of just showing up. He told the fathers to not believe their children when they say it’s OK if you’re not there. "They’re lying to you," he said.
According to Harris, when children are asked what is important, "Doing things together," is the No. 1 answer. While illustrating the importance of family traditions, Harris offered this: "Kids may not understand it when they are young, but they will miss it when they’re older."
Hamrin lectured the fathers on the importance of actively listening to their children. Focus on the child you’re listening to, and don’t read the paper, he said. Be interested in their world. He asked the fathers to ask their children two questions: "What do you like that I’m doing as daddy, and what don’t you like that I’m doing as a father?"
Hamrin and Harris both stressed the importance of time. Hopper, the father of six, took this to heart. Hopper makes sure to sit down with his children every evening, even if it’s just reading a book to two of them, or getting on the floor and playing with them. "When you look back, it’s the best time I spend," he said.
Sterling resident Carlos Parraga, father of an 18-month-old daughter, attended the Great Dads seminar after receiving admission as a gift from his wife on Father’s Day. Upon getting home, Parraga began talking to his daughter and hugging her. "I talk to her a lot, even if she doesn’t understand," said Parraga. "I tell her I love her, and tell her she can do anything she wants."
"I’m trying to be the best dad I can," said Parraga.
Great Dads can be reached by telephone at 1-888-GRT-DADS or on the internet at www.greatdads.org.