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Posted: June 15, 2011 12:30 a.m.

Apted: The power of Dad

The late afternoon sun sparkled brightly across the crystal blue swimming pool. Tree frogs croaked lazily from the surrounding forest, and the air smelled of fresh, clean chlorine. It was hot, much hotter than June should be, and we were all beyond ready to dive in.

All of us, that is, except for the littlest one. 20-month-old Jonah looked around apprehensively as we removed our cover-ups and kicked off our flip-flops. Not yet two, but with the memory of an elephant, he certainly hadn't forgotten being dragged to this horrible place just a few days before.

"Be gentle taking him into the water," I warned my husband, Donnie. "Last time, he started crying the minute we got in." I dreaded a repeat of the screaming fit he threw last week, acting as though I dipped him into a vat of boiling acid instead of soothing, bathtub-warm water.

On that day, I'd taken my three sons to the pool alone, thinking that Jonah would follow in his brothers' footsteps and be my third water-loving baby. Alas, one should never assume. The older two swam while I held the screaming tot - and then had the sweaty, miserable "pleasure" of chasing him around the deck for an hour until Donnie came to pick him up.

I am no dummy, so I made sure Dad would be at our next swimming session in case things got ugly again.

Donnie scooped up Jonah and went straight down the pool's steps. So much for a gentle entry into the water. "Slow down, honey - maybe he'd like to just play on the steps first?" I cautioned.

"Oh, he's fine!" Donnie replied nonchalantly, as they swooshed together into the chest-deep water. And, Jonah was indeed just fine. His few whimpers faded fast, held safely there in his father's arms. Half an hour later, my previously pool-phobic son was laughing and splashing and having a grand old time.

I commented that I couldn't believe the difference in Jonah's behavior. Our son Zach replied, "Hey, it's just the ‘Power of Dad'!"

I like that phrase: The Power of Dad. Fathers do exude an almost magical form of strength and encouragement, the kind that inspires kids to ride the big roller coaster, stand up to the bully - or bravely splash about in what must feel like mile of water to a very small boy.

My heart hurts for every person who's never known the security of having a loving father present in their lives. My friend Amy is a teacher, and recently shared this saddening incident with me.

"I teach in an urban school and had an at-risk class of 11th graders - kids that were slightly off track for a variety of reasons. We were reading The Great Gatsby and were talking about how Gatsby tried to reinvent himself and reinvent his past. I asked my students if they could reinvent their past, what's the one thing they'd want to have. I was thinking they'd say things, like a bike or something. I used going to Disney World as my example - I'd always wanted to go as a kid, so I made sure I did that as an adult, and made sure that my kids got to go. Well, every single one of my students said that the thing they wish they'd have - and the thing they'd make sure their own kids had one day - was a father. It was heartbreaking."

How sad that in an entire classroom of teenagers, not one had grown up knowing the love of a father. And that is just one class, in one urban school, in one American city - how horribly have we have failed our children, that so many are growing up fatherless?

But did you catch the glimpse of hope in Amy's story? These kids want to make sure their own kids grow up having relationships with their dads. Dear Lord, may it be so.

I've never met a perfect father - or mother - but if your life is better because you've experienced The Power of Dad, take a few moments this Sunday, on Father's Day, to let him know.

Kari Apted may be reached at kari@kariapted.com.

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