Archive for Thursday, June 15, 2006

Father’s influence important in childhood development

By Marilyn Laws Porter

June 15, 2006

School has been out only a few weeks and the neighborhood is now full of kids on bikes, throwing balls and chasing each other on skateboards.

Watching the neighborhood children became a favorite pastime of mine this past year as my grandson Grant came to my house each Monday and Friday after school. Since a number of his classmates and friends also live in my neighborhood, he stopped at my house only long enough to throw down his backpack and hurry out to see what was up with the little horde of kids playing in the yard next door. The group is mostly boys, but there was always at least one girl who came to tag along to join the fun.

Watching these kids interact, I realized kids haven't changed much since I was a youngster. Even the winter months found them playing outside -- bundled in coats and hats, and running around the neighborhood making up games of their own. Sometimes a ball was introduced, and for awhile, the more athletic of the group engaged in a spirited game of dodge ball or keep away while others sat on the neighbor's air conditioner refereeing and shouting encouragement or insults.

One day this spring just before school was out, a dead snake was found near the street, and for the better part of an hour, the entire group poked and prodded at it to see if there was any action left there before depositing it in the street and watching for some unsuspecting motorists to run over it.

Finally I interceded and suggested they might just let the poor thing be. Eventually some teenage boys arrived and took it away, freeing the group for another adventure.

I was also struck by how the children with only a few toys were able to spend at least two hours enjoying each other's company, playing tag or running in and out of yards for the sheer joy of freedom from school and adults.

Recently my kid watching took yet another form while I was waiting for a meeting to begin at St. John's church in Lawrence.

The church sits across the street from South Park and my eye was caught by a group of young married couples and their children sitting on the lawn enjoying a picnic in the park.

Three little girls were playing in the middle of the group, the youngest wearing what appeared to be a white ballerina dress of some gauzy material that flowed around her slight form and caught the sunlight as she twirled about. I watched as she constantly tried to engage her father by hanging on his back or around his neck. All the while, he continued to talk to the other adults. At one point he stood up and held the little girl by the feet exposing her thin little body and prompting screams of joyful glee.

Another time she urged him to his feet and pushed him on the seat of his pants (the only point she could reach) trying to move him out of the group. For almost 15 minutes, he patiently endured this harassment (as long as I was able to observe) and once again I was reminded of the times my own father endured my harassment -- whether begging for a piggy-back ride to the ice cream parlor blocks away, often after a long day at work, or sitting patiently reading the "funny papers" on Saturday as I braided his hair into tiny little piglets that stuck up all over his head. Then there were the hours he pushed me in the swing on the large oak tree in my grandfather's back yard -- the same one he swung my children in years later. What a blessing those memories are.

I hope everyone has fond memories of their father, but I realize not all of us are that fortunate.

Working for a mental health agency has exposed me to the fact that many a child never had the opportunity to know dad, let alone create memories with him. I have also learned how very important a father's influence is in our early childhood and how important their affirmation is to both girls as well as boys.

I am reminded of one of the counselors who told me that most women who have good self esteem and a sense that they can do anything they set their mind to often had a doting father or at least a father who affirmed them as a child.

The flip side of a father's attention or non-attention was also brought home to me lately in a recent article in a weekly magazine -- a grim story to lead into Father's Day but a reminder yet again of the importance of a father's role.

During the recent trial of the Washington, D.C., sniper, John Allen Muhammad, his companion in the killing spree-- the young Lee Boyd Malvo-- faced the man who bought his love and loyalty for video games, looked at his father figure and said, "You took me into your house and you made me a monster."

Another lonely, fatherless boy looking for the attention which all children crave.

A father's love and attention in the life of every child cannot be measured.

For those of you still fortunate enough to have your father, this weekend is a good time to remind him of his importance in your life.

It would also be a good time to reconnect if your relationship has become estranged or if your father is no longer alive, perhaps a few flowers at his gravesite are in order.

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