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Daddy-Daughter Dates, and Bonding

I have two girls. They’re 6 (almost 7) and 8 years old now. They’re still at the ages when it’s cool to hang with Dad. I like that.

At the beginning of December, I decided I was going to start setting up “Daddy-Daughter Dates” – times I would spend with each one of them individually. The intent was a quick lunch out or a trip to a store or maybe bowling. It wasn’t supposed to be time intensive, though I didn’t want it to be rushed either. The goal is to spend some time bonding withDSCF0421 the girls individually, and to cement in their minds that they can talk to me – to really make that connection now, so when they get older we’ll have that openness and trust established and hopefully habituated.

The problem is, it’s getting harder and harder to find time to do these dates. Not to mention it’s getting harder to find things to do other than eat out.

I started this during my vacation days leading up to Christmas. I had off each Friday in December and we went to lunch – and sometimes that turned into lunch plus running a bunch of errands or shopping for a few hours. As simple as that sounds, I think it ended up setting the bar pretty high. The kids really look forward to these – partially because they’re doing something with me, which is great, but partly because they love going out to eat. But if I take one out, the other is stranded with Mom (not that that’s a bad thing at all, but we can’t afford 2 simultaneous dates every week, so their time with Mom is usually lower keyed – which is ironically what I’m shooting for with these dates to begin with).

I can’t consistently take time off work for lunch on a schedule that matches their home schooling. Most days I don’t take lunch at all, really, so it actually doesn’t matter what their schedule is. Taking a kid out to dinner seems unfair to the other half of the family I’m leaving at home – plus it’s more expensive than lunch. And I can’t figure out what to do that isn’t taking them out to eat.

I have ideas, actually, but not ones that would appeal to them. I’m trying to reinforce the original definition of the date as “spending time together” and not just going out for fun stuff, but it’s hard to do. When we went out recently to recycle our Christmas tree and do some shopping at Lowes, my eldest stated flat-out “This does not count as our Daddy-Daughter Date” just in case I was considering it (which I was).

Simplify.

I’m trying to think of the things I did one-on-one with my Dad. It was always cool to eat lunch with him at the Naval Air center where he worked. I work at home. Not as exciting, nor does it lend itself to individual time. The best translation is going out to eat… but we just covered that above.

We played catch. I remember that as a time of bonding, and sincerely enjoyed it as a whole, but sports were never really my thing and I also remember having to be forced to do it more than once. Still, I don’t totally discount that as an option when the weather gets warmer. The kids definitely enjoy things like archery and whiffle-ball.

Oddly, the thing I remember the most fondly as bonding time with my Dad was the thing I had to be forced to do almost every time: help fix the car or otherwise work in the garage. Most of my friends now probably think of me as inept with machinery and tool-related tasks. I’m not, really. I’m actually pretty good at it when pressed (and given the time to refresh my rusty skills), and that is almost exclusively due to the time I spent in the garage with Dad. He was always fixing, or at least tinkering, with something out there. Heck, he built the garage itself. He had a real passion for that stuff, and he was very good at it. I have very little of that passion, unfortunately, which is probably why I appear to have no skills. But looking back on that time now, I miss it. A lot. I’d be very happy right now to sit in that garage in front of that insanely loud turbo-heater talking, learning, and fixing things with my Dad. Well, maybe not right in front of it… that thing would burn your skin off at 10 paces.

Anyway… fixing things. As I said, my passion for that is pretty low, and so is its frequency, but it does happen from time to time. And I do want to include the girls when I can. Kind of hard to bill that as a date, though.

But it wasn’t the activity so much as the passion he had for it. The closest parallel I have to that passion is computers. He spent almost as much time in that garage as I do with my computer. Come to think of it, he managed quite of bit of computer time too. Software and hardware (he was an electrical engineer and computer scientist, after all) – neither were safe from his tinkering. We spent a lot of time doing that together, too. I’m sure there are bonding opportunities there somewhere with my girls, but again… hard to bill as a date.

Maybe that’s part of the problem. Labeling. Maybe making it an event is a mistake. It should just be part of life. That’s what I was really intending for years, but to tell the truth it wasn’t really happening. The kids are so close in age and (usually) such good friends that they spend most of their time together. It’s hard to do something individually with them without planning it ahead of time.

I don’t know. Anybody have any ideas? I’ll take it from anyone, but Dads with girls, especially… what do you do to spend time with them? How do you separate them from their siblings without making it a big deal, and simply when do you find the time? Or ladies, what did you do with your dad?

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17 comments to Daddy-Daughter Dates, and Bonding

  • Dan

    It’s not often that my eldest daughter and I get time for just the two of us. When we do its usually either swimming or out for coffee/milkshake.

    You could always try doing something in the evening instead, maybe on a Friday night when a past bedtime treat wont matter too much. Plus the “past my bedtime” thing makes it even more special.

    Reply to this comment

    Jeff says:

    I could easily sell that milkshake idea. :)

    Reply to this comment

  • Fred Dietrich

    For that age group (that time, 1970s-80s), we did Y-Indian Princess, Father-Daughter ‘activity’ oriented group sponsored by YMCA-YWCA. Met lots of other fathers and daughters and had many neat experiences. Didn’t do dates, but later in college did some memorable FD-dances, softball games, etc with sorority.
    We just had Julie, so 1-on-1 was easy, and you might prefer doing all as a team 2-on-1. We did lots of athletic team things together, I ref’d and coached girls soccer teams til J was 16-18, and swim team til 18. It was MUCH more fun to actually BE INVOLVED in team activities, than just ‘watch games’. We did lots of stuff just at home with the two of us. Watched football, yardwork. I travelled a lot for business in 70s, and it was harder to get consistent time, much better in the 80s.
    Go with your heart … does it feel better 1-on-1 or with both.
    Dates can just be a shopping trip for you (or Mom), lunch, hikes, walks, bike rides, outdoor stuff. So much to do and so little time.

    Reply to this comment

  • Fred Dietrich

    Things with MY dad were a lot different. Dad-Son stuff, mostly outdoor activities, hiking, fishing, just walking in the country. We lived in ‘The City’ (Philly in 1950s) so not much in neighborhood venues or parks. Later, in Philly suburbs and in Calif, we took drives EVERY Sunday, somewhere, anywhere, usually less than 1 hr out, 1 hr back, 2-3 hrs there. Seldom ‘ate’ out, but snacks occasionally. Picnics are GREAT.
    Probably, the most impact was from going to his workplace, seeing offices, equipment, activities, doing tasks, being productive in a non-home environment, really prepared me for career choices.

    Reply to this comment

  • Fred Dietrich

    My daughter and her husband Bob, have 4 kids (3G, 1B), and the boy is oldest.
    They do NOT do home schooling, even though she is a credentialed teacher, but there is always lots of schooling activities going on. They have many many church activities, and sports teams, and are involved at all levels of those events.
    All of the kids play musical instruments, all do piano (as did Julie), and a few others. Josh is in high school, and into football, baseball and basketball teams, and engineering classes, and plays 4 instruments. Also a BIG kid, I call him Joshosaurus. All the kids get straight A’s.
    The girls do most stuff together, usually get along well, like home activities, cooking, do their own laundry, etc. Bob is ‘living the dream’ running a very successful business from home, so both parents are home all day everyday.
    One key thing is that they spend 30 mins or more 1-on-1 with each child AFTER they are in bed. Usually reading, talking, bonding, planning, sharing.
    They frequently do ‘nights out’ with Mother-Son, and Father-Daughter, but not weekly, and while being planned dates, do not always imply food and entertainment.

    Reply to this comment

    Jeff says:

    Sounds like they’re definitely doing something right! And you sound like a (rightfully) proud Grandpop.

    Reply to this comment

  • Ian

    Cameron and I get a lot of 1-on-1 time just doing regular routine things like dinner, bedtime stories and walking the dogs in the mornings. However, I try and and spend at least an hour every weekend where I focus all my attention on him. We’ve played with Lego, kicked a ball around, played in parks, read stories and even made robots out of craft materials.

    Whatever we’re doing, I always try to get him talking about what’s on his mind to help build the trust early. My Dad never spent much time with me when I lived at home. in fact it was wierd for me when we went on family holiday because I didn’t know how to act around him. I want Cam feeling comfortable around me and I beleive we’re off to a good start.

    Reply to this comment

    Jeff says:

    Ian, this is exactly the kind of thing I’m trying to do. Thanks. I’m starting to get the feeling that my biggest problem is that it’s become an ‘event’ rather than ‘something we do’.

    Reply to this comment

  • Fred Dietrich

    Got my brain running again …
    I think it is important for the girls to have some input into planning the ‘date’, as long as they make sure it meets the ‘agreed upon’ criteria:
    1. allows for 1-on-1 (or 2-on-1) communication without shouting (e.g. Chuck-e-Cheese)
    2. includes activities that increase ‘bonding’ (Bond, James Bond … LOL)
    Get them thinking about the objectives.
    3. Is FUN for all. (If it flops, go home, fix it next time)
    4. Includes some learning, education or new experience. (or not)

    The last one is optional, BUT obviously EVERY activity has that possibility.
    If it is too much for them to understand ‘objectives’, then why are you doing it?

    Can’t emphasize outdoor activities enough. I’m sure you do a lot outdoors now, so change it a little everytime. Turn a walk or hike into a photo shoot. Cameras for all, and teach techniques. Do flowers, or bugs, or trees, or signs. Compare results, describe each pic and look for humor in them.
    Outdoors also builds confidence in exploring and learning … but mostly bonding.

    Turn a walk to the park into a Kite Flying extravaganza. Make your own kites, tons of info online to get a couple of simple plans. Gift wrap paper makes a colorful kite, and each can create one to their own taste. Take some supplies with you, so If it breaks or tears, you can fix it on the spot. Then lay in the grass and talk about how it feels. Describe clouds. Watch bugs do bug stuff.

    If you eat out … then eat OUT! Don’t sit in a restaurant, take the food to go, and eat in the park, or school yard, or front lawn. Even in the snow … clear off a table, build a fire (if legal). When I was a kid, we did a couple of snow cook-outs every year. Out here (sunny calif, donchaknow) we can drive to the snow and come home in an hour. Sometimes, we had to clear a path in the snow just to find the table and fireplace, and then dig them out. But the hot dogs, baked beans and cider sure tasted better everytime.

    Plan a surprise on the date. Something fun, personal, silly, or scenic. Once I hid loaded water pistols and then jumped out squirting, tossing one to each of them. What a blast, and we got soaked. But a plain old walk turned into a lifetime memory.

    Reply to this comment

  • Paul N

    I like a lot of the ideas posted here already. My thought is to try one of those, like Fred’s suggestion of flying a kite, or a simple lunch at a restaurant. Then when you come home – would it be practical to create a blog for both of your girls and write about the experiences? This would combine doing something they like with a little bit of your version of “tinkering with Dad in the garage”. Instead of fixing a car you’re helping them to write about a special experience with Dad, and at the same time you are showing them (to the extent practical) a little “under-the-hood” of blog creation.

    Reply to this comment

    Jeff says:

    I like this blog idea a lot, Paul. We were considering starting something like that with them each in conjunction with school as well. Lots of lessons to be taught there, too. Still considering the security aspects of it, but I have some ideas for how to make it work.

    Reply to this comment

  • Fred Dietrich

    A couple of twists you might look into …
    Do live theater instead of movies. Check local colleges and high schools for drama class productions, usually short and cheap or free. Julie and I did one where the audience sat in a circle on the floor and actors stood on a small platform.

    Our local civic services dept sponsored kiddie art and dance classes, for pre-school and kids to 8 or 9. Classes that got kids INTO their art, body painting, funnny clothes, cardboard bus or car they could wear … art that came to life. Swim team took over around 6, and soccer shortly after. Our local little league has all co-ed teams for kids 5-8 or so, girls learn team organization and roles. Always ‘no-score’ or ‘t-ball’ but still great Dad-Daughter fun.

    When I was a kid (I was, really) our Presby church in Feltonville, had a Father-Son group called ‘Sons of the King Boys Club’ for pre-school and pre-boy-scouts. We met weekly at the church for 1 hour, usually did a simple craft project, and playground style games. Remember ‘Steal the Bacon’, ‘Red Rover’, ’3-Deep’ and ‘Dodge Ball’, stuff like that. Costume parties where the kids had to be creative and design and make their own costume. (wow, that’s digging real deeep in this old brain’s memory). I made a TV costume out of boxes once.

    This week, we are taking the G-kids to the annual opening of the local Model Train Club. They have about 5000 square foot multi-tier layout in a large building. The club opens up once a month for visitors (small fee fund raiser) and is packed everytime. They sell hot-dogs, donuts and softdrinks, and with dozens of tracks always in motion, and all scenes of local communities and landmarks, is a great treat.

    We have a local wildlife ‘museum’ that is actually a learning center and wild animal hospital, with exhibits and live animals. Kids can volunteer to help care for animals and even ‘check out’ some (like library books). We did a rabbit once, and spent weeks cleaning up little poop balls everywhere. But, that was the idea.

    Aquariums, planetariums, floral gardens, petting zoos, walk-about farms, even pet stores with fish tanks are fun. Set each girl up with a small aquarium, or large one for the family. Great learning and pet caring activities, without the poop. Relaxing sounds too.

    Uh-oh … back to work.

    Reply to this comment

  • Fred Dietrich

    The church dad-boys club also sponsored a pancake breakfast fund raiser every year, where we learned to flip pancakes and keep the crowd served. We also did a handful of outdoor breakfasts in the woods around Philly (there are some, really, or used to be), where we basically had hot chocolate and french toast. Best hot chocolate I ever had.

    Our church in San Diego had Christmas Caroling in open buses for kids 10 and up. Chilly even in San Diego, but tons of fun singing throughout the city and delivering meals to shut-ins. The same group also did hay rides.

    We did a Halloween party game that had all the kids screaming. The sponsors picked up REAL animal body parts from local butchers, and passed them around to blindfolded players in the dark. Goulish and gorey, but really gets the kids out of the normal activities.

    Anything today that gets something in their hands that is NOT a VIDEO game or computer screen is a winner.

    Reply to this comment

    Jeff says:

    Fred, ALL of this is great! It’ll take me a year just to get through all these ideas! Thanks! And it sounds like you have an awesome family over on your side of the tree.

    Reply to this comment

    Fred Dietrich says:

    Well, Jeff, it’s a lifetime of the stuff that’s easy to remember. YOU and Pam are doing a GREAT job too!! I see it reflected in your daughters eyes! Every pic is full of love and trust!! You and Jason both have beautiful families, I know your Dad can be mighty proud of you. I love the pic of Vic and the four girls at the computer. It says so much in one pic.

    Yeah … problem with my fam is that they’re enough like me to be dangerous.
    Julie went to UC Davis, and I had a long-term contract in Sacramento, nearby, so we frequently had dinner and lunch together. One night we did Chinese, and I said it looked like I got her fortune cookie. She said the same and we swapped … yep, you guessed it … they were identical. Anytime someone tells her she is like her Dad, she says “Yep, and we even get duplicate fortune cookies.”

    I taught the kids to play chess when they were all young, and they still do. Josh is too busy now, but Carina(13) is always ready for a game. The tough one is Cammie(10), who surprises me everytime we play. Now she’s varying her openings and setting traps, I’m in trouble for sure. I love chess for kids, and think it expands their minds and perspective far more than video games.

    On the Blog suggestion … Cam and Carina are always cooking, and making up their own recipes. I tried to encourage them to Blog on it for pre-teens, but I guess it seemed too much like work. As you know, Blogs can give kids a great forum for sharing, experssion and friendship.

    Thinking more about other suggestions, the 1-on-1 chat time with the kids after going to bed, can quickly expand your bonding opportunities. I like the idea that the kids last thoughts before sleep, are of the things their Dad said. And it keeps them from going to sleep angry or depressed, and likely with a plan for tomorrow. A balm for their inner person.

    Reply to this comment

  • Keith McClain

    Hi Jeff. I commend you for your thoughtful concern for your daughters. They are a special gift and your place if their lives in irreplaceable. (I remind myself I that the many times I feel more like a bystander when my girls do the teenager thing with my wife.)

    I wrestle with this continually as well. I take solace in the fact that something is better than nothing, that less than awesome is good enough. It is clear that already the girls are treasuring their special times with you even if you want to do more.

    Having four daughters makes dates tough and expensive. You do need to keep it fair. On most Sundays after church I take one of them out for lunch, their choice, fast food type to keep the cost down. They look forward to it. I take them in order, and no swapping. I often feel like I should do more, but I think the point is really to open up a space where you can relate to each other differently. Some of my girls are real chatty, some not. Sometimes we talk about school or me growing up or about stuff we’ve done as a family. Sometimes we sit in silence. But this practice has already paid dividends. I believe having that one on one time has made my older girls much more likely to share stuff with me. If my experience is at all normal, as teen years come, daughters begin to seem distant and mysterious to dads. Moms seem to step in even more. But doing these dates has forced my daughters and me to learn how to keep relating. And that has been good for everyone. And they always say dads are even more important to their daughters in the teen years. That’s also when it gets hard to be involved.

    Another side of this is you are also teaching your daughters how men should treat them when they do date. So stop making them pay :). And a good dating relationship is relating to each other, sharing with each other, not just entertaining her. Maybe you could do with them what you did in dating Pam. That would be truthful to who you guys are and what you want for your girls. And she married you!

    Whatever you do, do not fear, Jeff. You are the perfect dad for your girls. And they will bear the same loving witness to you as you have to your dad. Be not afraid.

    Reply to this comment

    Jeff says:

    I like your approach, Keith. That was approximately my initial intent. It’s encouraging to know it’s working for you. I agree with the ‘teaching them how to date’ side, though that hadn’t even crossed my mind.

    And we’ve reached an agreement that they only have to pay if the day ends in a ‘y’. Sounds fair to me.

    Thanks.

    Reply to this comment

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