GLENDALE, Ariz. — More than a week ago, DeMarcus Ware decided his kids — Marley and DeMarcus Jr. — were going to rip open packages, littering the floor with brightly colored wrapping paper, and celebrate Christmas two days early.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — More than a week ago, DeMarcus Ware decided his kids — Marley and DeMarcus Jr. — were going to rip open packages, littering the floor with brightly colored wrapping paper, and celebrate Christmas two days early.

It wasn't even a big deal.

Ware's daughter is 3 years old and his son is an infant, more interested in his next bottle than whatever Santa left, so Ware figured they wouldn't know whether Christmas came early or not.

Ware and his wife, Taniqua, withstood a series of painful miscarriages before adopting their daughter, followed by the birth of their son.

So there was no way Ware was going to miss Christmas with his kids just because his job as one of the NFL's premier pass rushers required him to spend Christmas Eve in Arizona preparing for the Cowboys' Christmas Day contest against the Cardinals.

This is a part of fatherhood Ware cherishes, the part he missed out on as a kid because his parents split when he was only 3 years old.

When he became a father, Ware vowed not to miss birthday parties and holiday gatherings, in part, because he never forgot the disappointment that often consumed him on those special days.

Understand, there's no blame or bitterness when Ware discusses his father, Otis Pitts. Their relationship, like many others, is the collateral damage that occurs way too often in our society when couples split and one parent moves away for whatever reason.

In 2002, the United Stated Census found that three of every 10 children raised in America are living in single-parent homes. The same census noted that nearly all of the households are headed by women.

The bond established in the womb between a mother and her baby creates an unconditional love that's the foundation of our society. Women give birth to us and nurture us until the day they exhale for the last time.

Every toddler says mama first, then daddy. And there's a reason why every athlete says, "Hi, mom," the minute the camera focuses on him.

But the greatest mother in the world can't teach a boy everything he needs to know about being a man; fathers must do that. And if they're not around, then father-figures — teachers, pastors, uncles, coaches — must assume the role.

"As a man and a father, you want the responsibility of being somebody's rock, that person they know they can lean on, no matter what," Ware said recently.

"You want to be an example for your kids and instill in them the kinds of things that they need to know to be successful in life. That responsibility is such a blessing. I love it."

While Ware was in elementary school, middle school and high school, his father stayed in touch sporadically. Occasionally, birthday cards and Christmas cards arrived in Ware's mailbox. Sometimes, they spoke on the phone.

But no schedule existed.

"Sometimes, when you don't have that dad in your life, you feel disconnected," Ware said. "It's like you don't know everything about your past or why you act the way you act or why you do the things you do."

Pitts surprised his son by attending his high school graduation. It was the first time they had seen each other in about 15 years.

"We had tossed our caps in the air, and I was walking over to see my family," Ware said. "I hugged my mom and shook some hands, and I saw this guy who looked like me, but was a lot shorter. I just said to myself, "I know this ain't my daddy.'

"Our relationship really started after that. I initiated it because I really wanted to know him."

These days, father and son see other at least once a year. Pitts lives in Bloomington, Ind., about an hour from Indianapolis.

When Ware makes his annual visit to the NFL's safety summit in Indianapolis, he makes sure to plan at least a day or two to hang out with his old man. The father attended the Colts game earlier this month, watching the Cowboys beat Indianapolis.

Their relationship continues to evolve. There have been long talks about topics — pleasant and difficult.

This is good because every relationship of substance has its own set of complications because each person must make himself vulnerable for it to mature and gain depth.

"I wanted a relationship," Ware said. "My mom and I are very close, but something was missing in my life until I was able to start having a relationship with my dad."

Two kids living in Southlake have no idea how happy it made their dad to celebrate Christmas with them — even if he had to do it a couple of days early.