And more and more children grow up without a dad

Growing up in South Africa as a missionary's kid, Rob Larson lived atboarding schools, where he played rugby and cricket and learned life-longlessons from his coaches.

Knowing first-hand a coach's influence, the Medford real estate brokerdecided to add a new dimension to his influence as a father by coachinghis son's soccer team.

He took time off work for soccer practice, matches and post-game pizzaparties, a sacrifice he made willingly so he could teach his kids aboutsportsmanship and self-control, he says.

I want my kids to learn cooperation, being a friend to one another,being respectful, not only to the coach, but to other players and beingaccepting of others that are perhaps a little tougher to love, Larsonsays.

And I wanted to show that anger doesn't have to be part of thesporting scene.

Today on Father's Day, Larson is spending the day with his wife, Karla,and children, Andrew, 7, Chad, 6 and Krista, 4, and embracing fatherhoodas a gift.

It's not a thing to be taken for granted, either.


Nearly four out of 10 children do not live in the same house as theirbiological fathers, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative, a Maryland-basedorganization that campaigns on behalf of fatherhood and family issues.

Furthermore, 40 percent of all first marriages end in divorce, the groupsays.

And the number of out-of-wedlock births has grown to nearly 30 percent,according to the Initiative.

The single biggest social problem in our society may be the growingabsence of fathers from their children's homes because it contributes toso many other social problems, President Bill Clinton said in a 1995speech at the University of Texas.

The point is that we need people to be there for their children,day after day. Building a family is the hardest job a man can do, but it'salso the most important.

A father gives stability and support in the home, especially when itcomes to discipline, says Larson, a broker with Choice One Real Estate.

It's got to be a huge challenge for a single mother to be the onewho listens to the kids all day long, and then at the end of the day, whenshe is tired, to be the one to continue consistent discipline and direction,Larson says.

When Dad comes home from work and relieves Mom of the constantpressure that children bring, then he can be the one to give direction,discipline and love. That's what my wife looks to me for.

Fathers set limits for children and teach self control, according toMichigan psychiatrist Reuven Bar-Levav.

In the absence of consistent fathering children often fail to becomecivilized beings, Bar-Levav writes in Every Family Needs a CEO(Fathering Inc. Press).

Many children never get rid of the strange notion that they areentitled to have whatever they fancy, even if it's only a passing wish...itis father's job to correct the crazy notion that one should have, or do,whatever one wishes, he writes.

One of the memories that Ron Reed, a local history teacher, has of hisown father is how loving and fair he was, even when he disciplined his children.

I always knew my Dad loved me, says Reed, who remembers gettinga letter every week from his father during his college years.

He was a great role model in that area and I've tried to followthat same pattern. I think all of my kids know I love them, no matter whatthe situation is.

Reed has a daughter, Stephanie, 20, in college; a son, Travis, 18, leavingthe nest soon to join the Navy; and a 22-month-old son, Mac Gregor, whois new to the nest.

Reed enjoys camping and traveling with his children, and he cherishesmemories of the summers when Travis joined him at his job as a seasonalpark ranger at Oregon Caves. Travis' tagging along eventually helped landhim a job with the state forestry department.

One thing I savor, and maybe more so now since we know Travis isleaving, are the daily times we have together at the dinner table in theevening, sitting down for a discussion or watching a TV program together.A lot of little things get overlooked, but they are special too.

Fathers can't always be with their children, for a number of reasons.But there are things that non-custodial fathers can do to improve communicationin the short time they have with their kids, a Medford dad says.

One thing I tried not to be was a holiday dad, says Don Stubbs,whose daughters, Heather, 23, and Sarah, 21, lived with their mother intheir growing-up years.

For the Disneyland dad, everything is focused on doing what thekids want to do or buying the kids whatever they want, says Stubbs,who helps build transformers for Balteau Standard in White City. Butthat's not giving them a realistic view of life and it makes it hard forthe mother when they go back to her house.

Even when they are absent, fathers are role models for their children,says Michael Howden, director of the Oregon Center for Family Policy, aresearch group in Salem.

It's never a question of whether or not we are going to be goodparents. Everyone parents who has a child, says Howden.

Parents have no choice about being a role model. The question iswhether or not you will be a good or a bad one.

For Medford father Joel Jones, being a role model is a 24-hour job. Hebecame a single parent after his wife, Trisha, was murdered in a carjackingduring a business trip to North Carolina two years ago.

You watch your kids grow up and you feel a lot of pride becauseof their accomplishments, especially when I go to school programs and seemy daughter (Jennifer, 14) and son (Jared, 13) doing so well, Jonessays.

When they tell you they love you, it means a lot and lets me knowI'm doing what God wants me to do as a father.

The hardest part of single fathering is the constant worry about thekids, the responsibility of paying the bills and the taxi cab duties.

I sometimes wonder, `Where is my life in the midst of all this?'But it is there, in them. The ultimate reward is seeing them do well.