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Good fathers, unfortunately, are not a dime-a-dozen
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 A good man is hard to find; a good father, even harder. By circumstance or by choice, the United States now leads the world in the number of households headed by a single mother. Consequently, many people seem to view fathers as a nice thing to have, but not a necessary ingredient in raising a child. It is almost expected that a certain percentage of men will walk away from their families or take lightly this business of raising children.

We err, and our nation's children suffer, if we continue to accept this as the status quo. A good father is just as important as a good mother, in some ways, even more so. Studies have shown that a strong sense of self-worth is rooted primarily in the unconditional love and acceptance of a father.

If you ask me, it doesn't matter if a man is the President of the United States; nothing he accomplishes is more important than how well he raises his children.

I conducted a random poll of 40 friends to find out what character traits are most prevalent in a good father. I received dozens of adjectives describing the ideal dad, words such as honest, wise, gentle and protective. Others described a good father as one who encourages their children, always supporting their dreams without casting judgment on their decisions.

A few mentioned that a good dad will not push his own agenda onto his children, trying to live out his own dreams through them. More than a few talked about how important it is for a father to take his children to church, pray with them and let his integrity serve as a strong spiritual example.

I loved the description of fatherly communication shared by my friend, Beth. She said that a good father listens compassionately and looks his children in the eye when they speak to him, so that the child is never left feeling unheard or unseen. She went on to talk about how a father's wisdom should guide his speech, so that his children look forward to talking with him instead of fearing what he'll say next.

Tears stung my eyes as I read her response because my husband and I are guilty of giving our sons mere scraps of attention instead of truly looking them in the eye and listening to their hearts. They deserve so much more, and I am thankful for this reminder to give it to them.

I was surprised to see how few mentioned traditional fatherly virtues, such as being a steady financial provider and a strong disciplinarian. Instead, five descriptions were included in nearly every response, providing a rather clear prototype of the current image of the ideal father.

According to my poll, the best kind of dad is loving, playful, involved, patient, and a stable foundation of the family.

"Loving" was the most commonly listed virtue, described not only as an emotion, but as being unafraid of showing physical affection toward ones' children.

Playfulness coupled with a sense of humor was the second most commonly mentioned attribute of an excellent father. This is probably the easiest task of fatherhood, as most men I know are big kids at heart. Fathers and mothers play with their children in different ways. A mother's instinct is usually to protect her baby-regardless of that "baby's" age. A dad's instinct is to encourage his children to bravely try new things. Kids thrive with a balance of both.

I doubt that a survey taken 30 years ago would've included as many comments that a good dad is engaged and actively involved in his children's lives. When I was growing up, it was rare to see a father serve on the PTA or take his daughter to dance practice. Now, dads can be found everywhere there are children, and it's a beautiful thing.

Patience is a virtue, and ranked high on this list of qualities we admire in good fathers. Heaven knows our society could use more men who respond to life's challenges with level-headed wisdom; men who think before they speak or act.

Fathers provide the solid foundation of their family. Many survey respondents called Dad their "rock." Mothers are wonderful things to have, but there is no replacement for a loving father's stability, leadership, and involvement. If you don't believe me, just ask your kids.

 Kari Apted may be reached at