By Gayla Grace

Rick Hoyt was born a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy. His parents were told he would be a vegetable for life and should be institutionalized. But his dad refused to believe it. Dick noticed Rick’s eyes followed him everywhere he went and determined to find a way to communicate with him. He solicited help from Tufts University, where a skilled group of engineers built Rick an interactive computer. Rick controlled the cursor by touching a switch with the side of his head, finally able to communicate with those around him.

Rick immediately relayed his love for sports and, at 15 years old, asked his dad to participate in a five-mile benefit run for a classmate paralyzed in an accident. Although not a distance runner, Dick agreed to join in the run and push Rick in his wheelchair. That day changed their lives. After the run Rick said, “Dad, when I’m running it feels like I’m not handicapped” (www.teamhoyt.com).

Inspired to offer Rick more opportunities for that feeling, Dick began training every day with a bag of cement in Rick’s wheelchair while Rick was at school. The two began participating in marathons, triathlons and other grueling athletic events and have now completed more than 1,000 races together. Rick knows he has an incredible dad whom he refers to as “The Father of the Century.”

Most dads don’t have the same opportunity Dick Hoyt had with his son. But every dad has the chance to show love and acceptance to his children, giving of his time to provide nurturing and guidance.

Children gain security from a dad willing to make time for them. I love to watch dads with their sons at the baseball fields as they play catch, practice batting or offer encouraging words. Athletics offer a great way for dads to be part of something their children enjoy while teaching sportsmanship, teamwork and respect for others in the process.

Children benefit from a dad who provides consistent love and discipline. Discipline teaches children self-control and right from wrong, while helping them feel secure and cared for. Boys, in particular, need more guidance from fathers due to their nature toward “out of bounds” behavior. Dr. James Dobson, author of Bringing up Boys, says “Boys are more likely to get off course when they are not guided and supervised carefully. …When left to their own devices, they tend to drift toward the center divider or into the ditch, toward misbehavior or danger.”

Children gain healthy standards from a dad with spiritual principles. Studies show that children who actively engage in a community of faith increase their odds toward a happier, healthier and longer life, while significantly reducing the likelihood of life problems and risky behavior.

Children need a dad who reflects a stable male role model. We’ve all heard the saying, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.” Children mirror their parent’s behavior and learn relationship skills and healthy social skills, including how to treat others, by watching them. Children benefit from a father who regularly shows them physical affection and treats his marriage partner with love and respect.

Our generation sees too many children reared without fathers. A high divorce rate, unbalanced career priorities, and prevailing addiction rates contribute to an absent father for many, emotionally and physically. However, study after study reflect the impact of a child’s well-being from the influence of his father.

It’s not always possible to be an active dad on a daily basis, but it is possible to stay involved in your child’s life in other ways. A dad’s role is a high calling that not everyone gets to experience. But for those who do, it’s a role to be honored and cherished, carried out with intentional purpose.

Gayla Grace is a freelance writer, wife, and mom to five children. She is thankful for the role her husband plays as their children’s father.

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