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Dads have their say on Father's Day

| Sunday, June 15, 2008

In observance of Father's Day, we're letting dads have their say. We convened a father's forum, where local dads -- filmmakers, politicians, athletes, musicians and executives -- were asked to offer advice to new and expectant fathers. The most common advice: enjoy the little ones while you can. Time flies. You go from changing diapers to screening prom dates in the time it takes to say "Shut the door! Do you want to air condition the whole neighborhood?"

As Mark Twain said, "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished by how much he'd learned in seven years."

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark is the father of three: Jaden, 9, Jordan, 7, and Loghan, 3.

Clark says even though he works long hours he always finds time when he gets home to be with he kids because "you can't expect mom to do it all." Clark says telling your children you love them is important, but you must also do things with them to show them that you do love them or the words you say won't mean much.

"My advice after that is to do the little things like get up with your child in the middle of the night for feedings and help your wife by taking care of your children," Clark says. "I have found that when mom is happy, everyone in the house is happy."

Including your children in your life is key, says Clark, who often takes son Jordan to training camp because he enjoys being with the guys. Clark finds things outside of football to do with his daughters, who he says aren't impressed that their father is in the NFL.

"The best thing about showing love to your kids is that you get love in return from them, and that is something both you and your child will remember for a long time," Clark says. "They will also remember that love for a long time, and isn't that what is most important?"

Eric Wallace, executive chef, Lidia's Pittsburgh, Strip District. Father of Abby, 6, and Maddy, 4, with another child, to be named Ella, expected in October.

"Tell your wife you love her. Every day," Wallace says. "Remind her how much she means to you for giving you this little miracle. Tell your children every day how much you love them, seal this with many hugs and kisses. Take time out of your hectic life, and play, watch and listen to your children -- they are quite amazing and will offer a simple explanation to life's problems. Finally, lay in the grass like when you were a kid and imagine what shapes the clouds make -- you'd be surprised what kids can come up with sometimes."

Musician Joe Grushecky is father to Desiree, 22, and Johnny, 19.

"Being a dad is the most important thing you'll ever do," Grushecky says. "It's the meaning of life, really. It's what carries on when you're gone. It connects all the dots. When you look at your baby for the first time, every cliche they really say is true -- it really changes your life in a heartbeat. Coming from a guy who has worked with disadvantaged youth for many, many years, the key thing, the most common characteristic of the kids I work with dealing with issues is the lack of a strong father figure in their life. It's the most important thing you'll ever do."

"I've been working with kids who have struggled for a long time -- kids who don't have fathers or positive role models for fathers. Anybody can make a child. It takes a man to take care of one."

Bill Toms is a solo musician who formerly played with the Houserockers. His stepdaughter, Tina, just gave birth to his first grandchild, Logan. He is also the father of two teenagers, Heather and Lauren.

"I would tell my son-in-law, 'expect major changes.' I would imagine that the idea (is), these major changes are going to occur and if they don't there's something wrong," Toms says.

"I would say, 'learn as much from your parents and grandparents as you can, take advice, try not to think you know it all, because you don't.'

"One of the biggest things is, 'don't expect perfection from you children.' Every child, every person, has unique flaws. Every baby is not going to be the perfect specimen, as far as sleeping and all the things book say. They learn differently. They take direction differently. I raised three children and every one of them is different. Young people with children read things in books and think a child is supposed to be a certain way at this age or that age. But it doesn't work that way."

Dr. Freddie Fu, professor and chairman of Orthopaedic Surgery, UPMC and Pitt School of Medicine, is the father of Gordon, 30, and Joyce, 26.

Fu says his best piece of advice for a new father is mastering time management.

"If I was in town, I made sure I made it to every one of my kids' games," Fu says. "That's essential. You need to be there for your kids. I tell the young people in internship and residency that family is the most important. Work hard and manage your time. I know some guys who play golf on Sunday, but if you want to develop life-long relationships with your children you need to sacrifice and do things with your kids and not always for yourself."

Fu recalls taking his children to Long John Silver's restaurant when they were small.

"It was our time together," Fu says. "And kids remember things like that. It doesn't have to be anything fancy. It is about time together. People are more important than money."

Even when Fu traveled for work, he would take his children and wife, Hilda, with him whenever feasible. He also says letting children know they have their parents' support is key, because then they will have confidence in whatever they choose to do in their lives.

"Don't ever push them to be what you are," Fu says. "I never pushed my kids to be doctors. You can always guide them, but let them decide on their profession."

And, Fu says, new fathers need to change diapers.

Stanley Zubik, 81, is father of Pittsburgh's Catholic Bishop David A. Zubik, 59.

Stanley Zubik simply recommends spending time with a child.

"Take time to be with them," he says. "Spend time in their childhood days -- to make sure they're not neglected in any way . . . to go to church together."

After morning Mass on Sundays -- and a "quick" lunch at home -- Stanley Zubik and his late wife, Susan, often took David, their only child, to an area amusement park.

When David Zubik told his parents he planned to enter the seminary, "we were really thrilled," says his dad. "We told him, 'Whatever you feel you want to do is up you.'

"He's always been such a good boy," Stanley Zubik says. "He's always been a treasure to me."

And weekends are still special to father and son.

"We get together Saturday or Sunday, or both days," Stanley Zubik says. "Some days, he might have a place where he's going . . .and he'll say, 'You want to go with me, then we can go out and eat somewhere?' ''

Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon is the father of Jack, 6, and Shannon, 4.

Dixon says his best advice for fathers he learned from his dad, Jim.

"My father has always been there for me, and that is how I want to be for my kids and my advice for young fathers," Dixon says. "Just being there is the most important thing. Just be involved in what they are doing. My father was my coach in all sports. But it doesn't have to be just sports. There are many, many things fathers can be involved with in their children's lives. The most important thing is to be involved."

His advice is to not bring the emotional side of work home with you. Dixon tries to maintain an upbeat attitude whether his Panthers win or lose. And when he comes home late after a game or a road trip, he always takes a few minutes to go into their rooms for a hug or kiss goodnight. He also suggests creating family traditions. He and his father still go on trips. During recruiting season, he and his dad spend days in gymnasiums watching prospects, which is a tradition he can pass on to his children one day.

Pittsburgh Symphony incoming music director Manfred Honeck has six adult children ranging in age from 7 to 26.

"First, make sure you do not lose sight of the relationship you have with the mother of your children -- you are parents, but a couple as well," Honeck says. "Together, create a nurturing, loving environment, a home where your children feel secure and cared for at the same time, a place to where they can always come back to when they start to explore the world around them.

"After all, there is a lot of truth in the saying: 'You can give your children but two things, one is roots and the other wings.' And of course realizing that their father has an almighty and omnibenevolent father to turn and pray to -- the Father in Heaven -- will leave a deep impression on your children throughout their whole life," Honeck says.

David Newell, who has entertained kids for decades as Mr. McFeely from "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," has three of his own children: Catherine, 30; Taylor, 28; and Alex, 25.

Newell advises new fathers to show an interest in what their kids are interested in: for instance, take your sports-loving son to a Pirates game, or your theater-loving daughter to a stage production.

Newell says the key is "just finding out what your children love to do -- their hobbies, their sports, their interests -- and enabling them to enjoy it by going along with them."

"It's also a way to be together," he says. "Find out your children's interests -- what really appeals to them. I think you could enhance your enjoyment of it. Also, provide them with information, because they may want to base a career on (that interest.)"

Jerry Meyers, scholastic director of the Pittsburgh Chess Club, is father of son, Nathan, 12; and daughters, Reba, 14 and Judy, 16.

Meyers says parents should challenge their kids to try a musical instrument or sport, but don't push them so hard that they start to hate it. A child learning to play chess, for example, may not always want to put in the required time and effort. While that may require some prodding from parents, every child responds differently, Meyers says.

"I can think of kids whose parents have pushed them perhaps to play where they were reluctant themselves. I've seen that sort of thing go both ways: I've seen it where I think it backfires, and it's not a wise thing, but then, I've seen kids who didn't think they'd like it, but once they tried it, they enjoyed it.

"When you see that they're into positive things, support them. Be the tail wind behind them," he says.

He also advises new fathers to try to take it in perspective. "The early years, of course, there's a lot of physical work involved in taking care of them. They have basic needs. They're crying and they need their diapers changed and that kind of stuff, but, boy, when they're in a happy mood and they flash that smile, it's pretty special."

Dick Skrinjar, assistant director, Citiparks, is father of Zachary, 30, Gabriel, 28 and Elliott, 25.

"Your children will copy everything you do rather than listen to what you say, always behave as if your parents were watching you," Skrinjar says. Asked what he would do differently, he says, "Force them to pitch left-handed; you can never have enough left-handed pitching in the majors."

Gavin Rapp, independent filmmaker, writer and producer, Aspinwall. Father of Kieran, 7 and Jack, 5.

"Seeing the birth of your child is an inspiring, life-changing moment. Your life will never be the same after it has happened," Rapp says. "It is an overwhelming experience that you need to grow into as much as your baby does. Try to remember that you are both going through a new journey. Your baby is just as anxious as you are.

"Be as patient as you can. Try to live in the moment, for it passes quickly. See life through your child's eyes, and remember that you are the entire universe to them."

Marty Ashby, executive producer of MCG Jazz at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, North Side. Father of Eric, 9, and Linda, 6.

"Take the time to treasure every moment every with your new child -- and thus every moment of the day. Allow yourself to remember what it was like to be a kid, and see the joy in everything. Accept that your purpose is to make the world a better place for your child."

Mike Tomaro, director of jazz studies at Duquesne University, Uptown. Father of Natalie, 11, and Andrea, 8.

"I've always been told children grow up way too quickly. My girls are at the age that Nancy and I have started thinking about how quickly the time has flown. It just teaches you that you have to cherish every moment. It also teaches you spending time with them is much more important than buying them things."

Tim Hartman, of Ben Avon, actor recently seen in "The Big Bang" at CLO Cabaret. Father to Mark, 17, and Jonathan, 16.

"Don't listen to anybody, including me," advises Hartman. People tend to go to extremes either offering a rose-tinged eyeglass view of childrearing or making it sound impossibly difficulty, Hartman says. "The reality is, if you have a little patience, fathering is not such a difficult thing. The rewards so outweigh all the problems."

Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D., founder and medical director emeritus of Gateway Rehabilitation Center. Father of four adult children, Isaac, Benzio, Shlomo and Sarah.

"There is no greater obligation than that of bringing a child into the world. Children do not ask to be born. We bring them into a world that is fraught with hardships. It is a parent's sacred duty to give a child the best opportunities for success and happiness," Twerski says.

"When parents do not get along well, and especially if they separate, this causes a great deal of anxiety to a child, which may cause a variety of symptoms and compromise the child's ability to make an optimal adjustment to life.

"Sometimes conflicts between a couple are because one or both feels that their emotional needs are not being met. But think! Should you not be rethinking the importance of your own needs• Does your dissatisfaction justify placing so heavy a burden on your child?

"Perhaps the couple could make the changes in themselves that would allow them to have a harmonious relationship, so that the child does not get hurt," Twerski says.

Robert Vickrey, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's artistic administration and a former principal dancer and ballet master at several of America's top dance companies, is the father of one adult daughter.

Vickrey looks back at parenting from his new perspective as grandfather. "Our daughter Rachel was talented in many areas, academically and as a young dancer. We tried to learn how to lead her and also let her make educated choices. A lot of that has to do with listening and never forcing.

"She made her own decision to become a dancer. My wife was a dancer, too. We thought about it being a hard, but wonderful, road. When it comes right down to it, listen and encourage, but let them make their own choices in life," he said.

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