It takes a real man to be a dad

Some of the best ways to be a great father don't cost a dime, but they are worth a million bucks

June 12, 2013|Bill Kohler

About 11 years ago, a billboard outside Milwaukee caught my eye. It featured a sad-looking baby and big bold red words:


That was a wake-up call.

I was a young father at the time. My daughter was 4 or 5 months old, and I was still fumbling around with changing diapers, my career, my marriage and a looming relocation back East.

I saw that giant sign as a huge reminder that I needed to step it up and be a man.

“Take this more seriously, Kohler, you have people depending on you.”

Like most men, I’ve stumbled plenty since then, but I’ve always tried to keep the responsibility and joys of fatherhood as the main focus of everything I do.

I really felt like I officially became a man when my daughter, Madison, was born. I think most fathers feel that way. The responsibility and overall wow factor can be mind blowing as well as sobering.


I never asked him, but I think my dad felt the same way. He and my mother raised four kids, including three boys born less than 11 months apart. Talk about sobering. Although he was one of the most measured and laid-back men I’ve ever known, I’m sure he was freaking out on the inside from time to time.

But here’s the thing about him, me and millions of men out there: We stayed. We hung in there. We put our kids first.

Now I’m not about to throw people under the bus because you can’t change the past, and every situation is different.

However, I’m issuing a challenge for the future. I’m making a case for fatherhood and the impact a great dad can have on a child. The impact is big, bold and impressive.

According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, here are some staggering statistics:

  • Children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor. In 2011, 12 percent of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 44 percent of children in mother-only families.
  • A 2002 Department of Justice survey of 7,000 inmates revealed that 39 percent of jail inmates lived in mother-only households.
  • A study of low-income minority adolescents ages 10-14 found that higher social encounters and frequent communication with nonresident biological fathers decreased adolescent delinquency.
  • Being raised by a single mother raises the risk of teen pregnancy, marrying with less than a high school degree and forming a marriage where both partners have less than a high school degree.
  • In a study of 6,500 children from the ADDHEALTH database, children who were close to their fathers had fewer friends who smoked, drank and used marijuana.

Nothing is absolute anymore, except perhaps a parent’s love, but it’s hard to argue that being an interested father doesn’t leave an indelible mark. Yes, traditional mother-father homes are not as common as they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago, but no matter the arrangement, chances are good that an engaged father will have a positive impact on a child.

On a personal note, I still remember the times my father said he loved me, including one particular time when I was my daughter’s age. The incident and his reaction profoundly affected me, and had a major impact on who I am today and how I interact with my own children.

We don’t have to be fathers of the year every day, but we can do the things that make a difference and show we care. Whether it’s taking tickets at our daughter’s dance recital, standing in the rain cheering her on during a soccer game or staying up late to work with her on the science fair project that is due at 8 a.m., we as dads need to do that stuff.

My dad did that stuff, I’m doing that stuff, and I expect my nephews and son to do that stuff.

The funny thing is that some of the best ways to be a great father don’t cost a dime, but they are worth a million bucks.

Come on fellas, be great.

Happy Father’s Day on Sunday.

Bill Kohler is Tri-State editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reaced at 301-791-7281 or by email at

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