Make dad's day by boosting numbers

6th June 2003 at 01:00
Yo Dad," begins Kerry's text message for Father's Day, "api Frthz dai 2 da v best Dad in da ole wold."

It is one of hundreds of entries arriving from schools in the current "Message to Dad" competition, sponsored by the Department for Education and Skills to reveal children's hopes of this important man in their lives.

Some are specific. "On June 15, it is Father's Day," writes Daniel.

"Perhaps just the four of us could go camping. I wish you could be everywhere with me."

Many are moving. Like a daughter's to her dead father. "To the best dad in the world! Are you fine up in heaven?" Or a son's poem to a man who is often fun: "But sometimes he's A 'Go away-please' A snorey snarl, a sleeping slump A yawny mouth, a sprawly lump And I'm a kite without a string Waiting for Dad to dance again."

Then there are the children whose parents have separated. "Deyrest dad. I wish you didn't haf t go," says one primary pupil.

And there are those who have never met him. "Dear Father," begins one boy's letter, "I don't say dear dad, because you have not been a dad to me, have you? I haven't introduced myself yet. You might not remember my mother, but I think about you all the time... For the Sats we had to write a story and mine was very long and magical. Do you have a similar talent? Please write back by email, even though we have never met."

Whatever the role a dad plays in his child's life, these responses show he is a central figure in their imagination and emotions. And, as research demonstrates, his involvement can be key to academic success, self-esteem and behaviour in girls and boys.

So how can one help fulfil these desires to spend more time with dad? We're making a start on Father's Day weekend when leisure attractions from Legoland to the London Aquarium will offer concessions to children who bring their dads or a male carer. Children are logging on for details of what's on in their area so they can "earache" dad.

Schools can be more welcoming to fathers. Pen Pych community primary in the Rhondda Valley, for example, which has recruited dozens of dads to support their children in the classroom, points the way. There are also opportunities for schools to acknowledge and encourage the role that separated men play in their children's lives. It is easy to dismiss them as "feckless", yet a survey by the University of York of 600 such fathers reports that 47 per cent see their child at least weekly. Many schools, I suspect, are not communicating as well as they might with this group of parents.

A social revolution is taking place in fathering. The Equal Opportunities Commission reports that, in dual earner families, fathers now do one third of parental childcare. Committed dads could offer a solution to the teacher recruitment crisis and tackle the idea that education, particularly in the early years, is a female preserve.

A high-profile example is Trevor Morris, chief executive of Britain's largest public relations group, who quits his job this month to retrain as a teacher.

His decision is underpinnedby a belief in education and a desire to give more time to his kids "while they still want to talk to me".

Mark Shepherd is, likewise, a pioneer. A photographer by profession, he became a "homedad" when his partner gave birth to the first of their two children. As the children have reached school age, Mark, 34, has rethought his career and taken a BTech diploma in childhood studies.

Currently a childminder, he opens his own nursery next year. Mark's career aspirations, like Trevor Morris's, were transformed by the experience of being an involved parent. We know this happens to mothers, but this more recent phenomenon in fathers could help to meet the DfES requirement that by next year 6 per cent of staff working in early-years childcare and playwork should be male.

The decline in the number of male educators is about to be reversed.

Celebrating Father's Day as a time when dads and children have fun together is an important first step.

Father's Day events: www.fathersdirect.com fathersday, or www.teachernet.gov.uk. The author is a co-founder of Fathers Direct, the national information centre on fatherhood. Email j.osullivan@ fathersdirect.com

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