--By Charlie Shedd, minister & father of five.--Excerpts from his newspaper columns.

         What's your number one job as a father? As I see it, my number one job as a father is to love my children's mother well. This won't be news for some people, but it took me years to realise it! Up until that point I had never given it a thought. And when I began to ponder this insight, I discovered an awful truth--I was a lousy lover!
         It wasn't that I didn't love their mother. It was simply that I had let that fact be crowded out by other facts. So I confessed to my wife, & we worked out a simple two-point solution, like this:
         1. Once a week we go out for dinner alone. Sometimes it's lunch, but whenever & wherever, we put our elbows on the table for a deep look into each other's souls.
         2. 15 minutes a day communicating in depth. You probably assume you already communicate that much. Do you? In depth? This is no small talk about bills, the kids, or planning the weekend. The subject now is what's going on inside.
         Why would all this make such a difference to a child? By watching their folks, children learn how to relate, they're more secure. They aren't wasting energy in worry. They are also getting one of the best sex educations possible--a mother & father who love each other.
         If we are to survive, we must produce a generation which knows how to love. A big part of that responsibility is Dad's. Dad's first job?--To love his children's mother well.

Dear Dr. Shedd,
         Why does my husband find it so hard to express affection? He seems to have a blockage against anything tender. I am sure he loves me, but sometimes it would mean so much if he would tell me or show me. I've told him how I feel, but it doesn't seem to do any good. Can you give me some suggestions which might help?

         Wish I could! Experts say that a baby will die if he isn't handled enough. Whatever made us think we should put that aside? Like the lady above, we need the assurance which comes from bodily contact.
         The more I work with people, the more this becomes clear--hugging, kissing & touching develop healthy emotional platforms. Sons & daughters from a loving background have a better chance to be mentally sharp & emotionally strong.
         A genuine demonstration of love at any age is a plus. We make a mistake when we let the rigid characters around us keep us from expressing our love!

         "Verbal assurance" is an all-important term worth any good lover's study. No woman I know ever gets too much of it.
         "Aw, but this sort of thing isn't my strong point...I'm not the mushy kind!" These are normal male replies. But meanwhile, back at the bungalow, the lady wonders if you love her. We make a mistake in letting her worry about it. In some way we must get the message through: "First, last, foremost, you're number one!"
         I know one husband who got his point across this way: He never took off his hat when he came home until he kissed his wife, no matter where she was.
         What is the lesson in this?: Always, without exception, every day, all week, the whole year, permanently, with no variance, & I mean 100% of the time, the female of the species responds best if she knows she is Number One on some male agenda!

Dear Dr. Shedd,
         My husband & I have had a very happy marriage for 17 years. One special thing we do is what I call our "overnight honeymoon". Every month we go away for one night to be alone. At first, before we had much money, we would camp out together. Sometimes we went to a friend's cabin. But later we just registered at a motel not far from home.
         How we ever managed this with 4 children, I don't know. But I do know it's always had top priority. It was originally my husband's idea & he's told me many times, "No way we're going to let this get away from us. Being with you alone is one of the most important things I do." And I feel so fortunate to have a man who insists on this monthly honeymoon.
         So many of my friends are crying for real love & attention. There is no way I could tell you how grateful I am.

         Any woman draws a special thrill from the feeling, "My man cares enough about me to insist that we have time for each other." What am I doing to keep the children's mother saying, "I feel so fortunate"?

         When our babies came, it always went better if I pitched in rather than getting jealous of the newcomer. For me it wasn't natural to change diapers, warm formula & walk the little intruder at 2 A.M.. But when I took a firm grip on myself & forced myself to do some of these things, I actually came to like the whole bit. Well, most of it.
         And it wasn't long until we had a great thing going. Big surprise for me! A father & even the tiniest baby
can communicate!
         That's good, but here's another kind of communication with special meaning when the new baby arrives. This is for mom & dad to plan time with each other. Sounds simple, doesn't it? But it isn't simple & we soon found it wouldn't get done unless it was done outside the home. That's why my wife & I scheduled once a week for going out together alone. Dinner, lunch, breakfast or maybe a picnic in the park. Whenever or wherever, it was just the two of us sitting there--laughing, talking, loving.

         In one town where I lived, two rivers met. There was a bluff high above them where the whole scene came through looking awesome. Well up stream before they united, each stream flowed gently along. But right at the point of their union, look out.
         Those two streams came at each other like fury. Some days it was almost frightening to watch. They clashed in a wild commotion of frenzy & confusion. Then the angry white caps seemed to pair off, bow in respect to each other, join forces as if to say, "Let us get along now. Ahead of us, there is something better."
         Sure enough, on downstream at some distance, the river swept steadily on once more. It was broader now, more majestic, as if something better had been fashioned out of the conflict.
         A good marriage is like that. When two independent streams of existence come together, there will probably be some clashing of life against life at the juncture.
         But that's all right. As in the case of the two rivers, what comes out of the struggle might be something better than what they were on their own.
         As a dad I have the responsibility to teach my children some things about marriage. One thing I want them to know is that hostility is a natural part of life for everybody. Many newlyweds panic at the first indication that there may be things somebody doesn't like around here. Yet the truth is that a great marriage isn't all moonlight & roses. When the waters begin to churn, keep your cool. This churning can be a lovely part of your downstream blending.

         What can a dad teach his children on how to disagree at home between man & wife?
         Rule 1: Expect some disagreement. Anger is a natural emotion. Accept it as a sign that you're very much alive. If you face it honestly, you can learn to handle it.
         Rule 2: As a base for healthy disagreement, skill yourself in the use of that simple little phrase, "I like you because..." The negative always goes better against a background loaded with praise.
         Rule 3: Train yourself to speak softly when you're angry. Letting it all hang out is to be expected, but tone & volume make the difference in how it is received. As the ire goes higher, lower your voice one octave instead of raising it two.
         Rule 4: Keep your fusses at home. It's a good idea when you're quarrelling to commit yourselves to the simple little adage, "In public we will be 100% loyal to each other."
         Rule 5: Recognise the fact that some disagreements can go unanswered & you can still love to the maximum. You don't have to like each other 100% to love 100%.
         Rule 6: Don't wait too long. Surface it as soon as you can. But be careful, you may need to postpone it overnight, or at least a few hours. So while you school yourself on getting it out of your system, you must also learn to pick your times carefully.
         Rule 7: Keep these two words up front: "I apologise". Who started it & who did what to whom is not as important as how can we get it back together. In our marriage we enjoy exercising together. One of the finest exercises we have discovered is bending the neck to say, "I'm sorry."

         A friend once told me, "Everything doesn't have to be settled by sundown." That was his way of telling me to shift into neutral sometimes. When?
         1. When I'm tired or someone else is. Maybe it's one of the kids, or all of them. Could be their mother. Lots of troubles might be sidestepped if we remember they're not all that bad. The end of a hard day, the close of a rough week when everyone is exhausted--these are not times to resolve major conflicts.
         2. When I'm hot under the collar, or they are.
         3. When someone isn't feeling well, has a cold, headache, depressed--maybe for reasons unknown.
         Sure some things need attention right now. And a dad had better know what is an emergency & what isn't. But in an emergency or otherwise, in fathering or loving, it's worth remembering that "everything doesn't have to be settled by sundown."

         Axel was a big man, big builder, construction foreman on some of the tallest skyscrapers in America. Thousands of men worked for Axel, & they loved him because Axel saw some good in everybody.
         One day when we were having coffee together I asked him, "Axel, I never knew anyone with so many friends. I never saw anyone handle people the way you do. How did you learn that? Can you teach me?"
         "Well, I can try," he answered in his beautiful Swedish brogue. "Where I got it was my father. When I was 13, I came to America. I came because we were very poor. When we went down to the boat, my father said, `Axel, I am sorry I could not afford you an education, but you see how it is. So I will give you a proverb. If you will study it all the way to America, if you will remember it all your life, it will be better for you than education.' And this was my father's proverb:
         Even an ass likes to think he is worthy
         To be quartered with the queen's horses.

         "The more I studied my father's words, the more I realised what he hoped I would learn, that everyone in the World wants to believe he can do a little better, be a little better. I have taught myself to remember that. I look for the good in people & when I see it, I say, `I want to pass you a compliment.'"
         So here's a word of thanks to an old Swedish dad. He's long gone now, but his message is still modern. What miracles might happen between me & my children, my wife & me if I used the old man's message often: "I want to pass you a compliment."

         Is there one compliment a woman appreciates above all others? I was conducting a seminar for women, & at the end I asked them to give me some input on the appreciation a woman most appreciates. When the returns were in, I had from them the number one compliment. By a whopping majority this led all the rest: "You just go on getting better all the time."
         Now why would a woman like to be told that above all the other nice things she could be told?
         Since I'm not a woman, I decided to ask some women who always level with me. My wife says, "A woman's world is filled with input on keeping youthful. You know, `Don't let yourself get seedy.' These gnawing little worries go into your subconscious till you fear that you might be losing ground. So it gives you a lift when someone assures you that isn't true."
         Here's the word of my secretary: "I find what pleases my husband now is different than it was when we were first married. People change. I guess that's why if he tells me I'm getting better, it gives me confidence for the future. Anyway, I sure like it."
         So there it is, the "compliment of compliments". Once more, loud & clear: "You just go on getting better all the time!"

Dear Dr. Shedd,
         I'd like to tell you what my husband did on Valentine's Day this year. He often does some nice little thing. One day he was in a grocery store & he saw a box of raisins. He knows I'm crazy about raisins, so he bought them. Then when he got home, he taped a little message on the box & left it on the kitchen shelf where I would be sure to find it. Wasn't that nice?
         On Valentine's Day he asked me & our three little girls to sit on the patio & wait. Then he & our two sons slipped into the kitchen & he had the boys present me with a half dozen roses. But that isn't all, when they were through with their speech, my husband presented each of the girls with two roses & made a little speech to them. It was a touching & tender moment I will never forget, & I'm sure the girls will never forget it either.

         Not your style? OK! But even if it isn't, you might want to try it sometime. This dad not only knows how to turn women on, he's done another good thing--boys have a way of picking up on these little extras. Some day down the road, they may be better husbands from watching their dad do his thing.

Dear Dr. Shedd,
         I have never seen you write anything about fathers who come dragging in late for dinner & expect everything to be 100% perfect.--Warm food & warm love & everybody in a good mood. My husband thinks he can show up any time he pleases. I think you would do all of us women a favour if you would write about that.

         Letters like this come in from everywhere. Over & over again the message:
Late is a four-letter word.
         Why does it bother a woman when her man is constantly behind time? Like almost everything else in marriage, there are many reasons, but here are a few possibilities.
         The feminine mind thrives on little things. A woman likes to know that the man she loves, loves her enough to be thoughtful, to avoid frustration whenever possible. Then too, late men aren't the best employees. "What if his boss gets as tired of his perpetual tardiness as I do?"
         Then comes another letter sounding a different note. The mother is saying, "There is one thing which alarms me about my husband never getting anywhere on time. That is that the children are beginning to be that way too. Maybe it doesn't matter all that much, but I can't help wondering."
         Are you a good sample to
your children? Do you try to call when you know you'll be late?

         How long has it been since you expressed appreciation to someone who wasn't expecting it? Do you know how lonesome the World is for a good word? "Thank you" & a pat on the back could make all the difference for somebody.
         I had finished a series of books, Bible study guides written by a famous American author. There were 12 in the series & great helps to me. When I completed the last one, something moved me to write the man, a short letter, very simple.
         Now hear this. My letter was mailed on Monday. On Friday came an airmail special delivery note thanking me for thanking him. My letter happened to arrive on a day he especially needed it. He went on to say, "Many a night in preparing this series, my wife came to me after midnight & said, `Come to bed. You can finish in the morning.' I worked on those guides like I'd never worked before. And now comes your letter to make it all worthwhile."
         Nice. But that's not all. The next week I heard from him
again thanking me one more time for thanking him!
         What does all this have to do with fathering, with being a good husband? Maybe a lot. One of our friends says her husband almost never says "thanks". He tries to show it sometimes, but he can't express it verbally. Is that so bad? She says sometimes it's desolate.
         A good question: Am I getting my children ready for a happier marriage? And would they make better mates if I trained them more carefully in the wonderful art of saying a good word? And finally, do they hear me saying enough good words to their mom?

Dear Dr. Shedd,
         The reason I am writing you is to tell you what a great husband I have. As a child, I was brought up in a home where there was almost no privacy. My mother read my diary, snooped through my mail, rifled my purse, searched my pockets & watched me so close I could hardly move without feeling her eagle eye following me. My dad wasn't quite so bad, but almost.
         So when we got married, I guess I was expecting Stanley to treat me that way. But he didn't. He never has. He trusts me completely. He gives me time to be alone when he thinks I need it, lets me do things I like to do on my own. Then he lets me tell him what I want to tell him about it.
         Do you know what happens when a husband treats his wife that way? She would never do anything she thinks he wouldn't like, because she appreciates living with a man like that so much.
         The more he respects her little peculiarities, the more she respects him in every way. Isn't that interesting how that works?

         Sure is! And right on to the good lover theme. The good lover will not overpush for more togetherness. He will not overquestion nor pry. He lives by the poet's line: "Let there be spaces in your togetherness."

         We live on a beach where women swim in bikinis & stroll in bikinis. They also loll in bikinis. I kid you not, there are so many bikinis around here a man's mind is sometimes overloaded with bikinis. And their contents.
         So what can a wife do with scenery like this? One thing she can do is make a game of it. She can do this, because some men are leg men. Some have a thing for a beautiful bosom. Some are especially appreciative of a well-rounded derriere. I happen to like almost all women & almost all of each woman. My wife knows that's true, so she gets me talking, comparing. We discuss, we evaluate, we laugh. She told me once that she didn't mind my looking as long as I could tell her what I was thinking.
         If your marriage is the kind of marriage where you can be open with each other, this is a fun little thing you can develop between you. For us it's been a cleansing factor, a purifier.
         And one thing more. In a marriage like this, neither party has to go prowling. They have everything they need right there.

         They call it "Mom's Day In" & the whole family says it's lots of fun. Here it is straight from the happy mom's letter:
         "I am a person who has always enjoyed sleeping late, a slow starter.
         "Before we began our family, I worked. When I became pregnant & quit my job, Bruce let me sleep in the mornings. But after the baby arrived, naturally I couldn't do that & missed it. I guess Bruce noticed how much I missed it, because one day he said, `I'll make you a deal, Honey. I sleep on Saturday morning & you take care of the baby. Then you sleep on Sunday & I take over.'
         "Now five years & another child later, the deal is still on. The kids call it `Mom's Day In' & they love it. Of course some of it, like straightening up the house, is only going through the motions since they're so small. But when they get it all done, they go out for a fun time. They go for a ride, go to the park, go fishing in the pond, or sometimes a special treat.
         "Meanwhile, I wake up to a quiet house, have a cup of coffee & read in peace. When they come back, I'm feeling good & we do something together.
         "I thought maybe some other husband would like to know about this. I think Bruce is one neat dad."
         So do I. There is a lot more involved here than a woman sleeping late. He is a special kind of husband, but he's also a special kind of dad building a special kind of relationship with his children.

         Do you sometimes get down on yourself?--I mean as a dad, a husband. You intended doing it right, but this week things went bad.
         I had one of those weeks recently. The words were hardly out of my mouth before I knew I'd blown it. How could I be so stupid? Why did I say anything?
         What can we do when we bomb out completely? Well, one thing we can do is accept ourselves as faulty human beings. This is worth checking now & then. "Am I expecting too much from me?"
         Perfectionism is a bummer any time. It can ruin the fun for everyone: The wife, the kids, & you, Charlie.
         When I can accept that, then I can do another thing. I can tell my family the plain unvarnished truth: "Now hear this, troops, I'm not really so high & mighty. And I know it. I make mistakes & you may get caught in the flak. Sometimes I'll say the wrong things, make the wrong moves, & on occasion I'll even be a total ass. Whenever that happens, I will appreciate your sympathy & tolerance, plus one more thing. I want you to tell me when I'm not all I should be."
         I received this comment from a sixth grader in a packet of letters: "My dad is the neatest. He doesn't even pretend to be right all the time like a lot of my friends' fathers do. He will even say `I'm sorry' & I've heard him say it to my mom too. You can really feel good when you're around people like that."

         Jim & Kathy did an unusual thing recently. They erased the word "divorce" from their vocabulary. They struck it forever from options in their marriage.
         Like all of us, Jim & Kathy have so many friends separating, breaking up homes, calling it quits. They knew that some of these marriages were on shaky ground, but others were real shockers. All kinds of reasons: Good, superficial, phoney. Some with no reason at all, & others with reasons which didn't make sense. What they did was to re-evaluate their entire relationship. Then they made a compact:
         "We will stay together forever. We expect some problems. We've already handled some. But here & now we recommit ourselves to the vows we made. We vowed, `as long as we both shall live.' We meant it then. We mean it now. Divorce is not one of our options."
         So why bring this up? How does it fit in? How it fits in is that Jim & Kathy did one more thing--they told their two sons what they had done.
         Experts say that the most stabilising factor in any child's life is the certain knowledge that his father & mother love each other with a lasting love.
         Wish I didn't have to add this, but I think it has to be said. In counselling with thousands of couples, I have seen some where I thought divorce was the only answer. I've also seen far too many where I thought by working a little harder they could have made a go of it. For readers who need it, Jim & Kathy's elimination of one word from their vocabulary could be right on.
         Divorce is heavy no matter how it's done. It always leads to heartbreak, heartache & the tangled thread of many lives in trauma. So the good lover, the man who really cares, lifts an eye now & then to look to the future. He knows that divorce is sometimes justifiable. But he also knows that divorce can sometimes be prevented far in advance. Like the poet says,
It is the little rift within the lute
That by & by may make the music mute.

         The story you are about to hear is true. Once upon a time there was a man who became a big success in business. Also in ranching & railroading. Then he became a lawyer.
         In addition to these things, he was a mighty hunter. He hunted grizzlies, mountain goats, all kinds of exotic game.
         This man had also been the leader of a regiment known for its escapades. A real battler, & more often than not his gang came out on top.
         Then he went into politics. Some ups, some downs, but finally he was elected President of the United States. That's the story of Teddy Roosevelt. And when somebody asked him, "What do you consider number one of all your accomplishments?" he answered, "A house full of children makes all other forms of success lose their importance by comparison."
         Now that's a wise word for dads. Life makes so many demands on us, it's easy to get our priorities out of whack. It costs a lot to stay on top of business as well as kids. But from the children I see coming out of homes like this, it's worth it. And here's another bonus: Those feelings in the heart of a woman when her husband puts his family first.

         If you were stranded on an island with just one person of the opposite sex; if you were the only two around; if there were no rescuers in sight & you knew there might never be any, do you think you could make a go of it if you decided to set up housekeeping? Crazy question, but it's a super beginner for an evening talk with the young set.
         "Marriage & who will it be for me" is one of their favourite themes. And spinning off from that come these plaintive queries: "In all the World is there just one right person for me?" "Then what if we miss each other?" "How will I know him?" "Will I recognise her?" "Wouldn't it be terrible if we met & didn't know it?"
         What does this have to do with fathering? It could have a lot to do with it. Too many sons & daughters, well-schooled in making a living, have been taught next to nothing about making a life.
         Maybe we should be leading them in some heavy discussion on "how to select a life mate"..."how to evaluate the possibilities" ..."how to blend your weak points with another person's strengths"..."how to remain cool long enough to size up the positives & negatives."
         Thank God for romance, like moonlight & roses, dinner by candlelight & dreamy music for two. Fortunately for me, my wife likes these too. And we hope our children will have plenty of these good things in their tomorrows.
         But with all the froth & fluff around, are they getting this other note? "I hope you never forget, troops, marriage isn't so much
finding the right person as it is being the right person."

         Cherise has light brown hair, dark brown eyes, plus a birthmark to match. And this is the story she told me about her birthmark.
         "Do you know what a birthmark can do to the person who has one? It can give them a complex. From the time you are little, if you have a birthmark, people will look at it, ask you about it, & you know how children are. They can even be cruel about it.
         "It was a big day for me when I had my first date. It was also a long time after my friends were dating, & I knew why. And the truth is that I never had a boy friend until my sophomore year in college when I met Ernie. I couldn't believe it. He wasn't like the others. We kept right on dating & that was the most exciting year of my life. But he never said anything about my birthmark. In fact, I hardly ever caught him looking at it, & that was different too.
         "Well, I worried so much about what he was thinking, finally, when I couldn't stand it any more, I brought it up. I think what he said is the most beautiful thing I ever heard.
         "`Cherise, I love your birthmark. It makes you different. You're not plain & ordinary like other girls. You're special. Besides, the color blends with all the rest, your freckles, your hair, your eyes. If you ever worry about it again, you just remember it's the total you I like.'"
         Good lover isn't a good enough title for Ernie. "Great" is the word for him. The great lover always takes those things he can never change & blends them into the total picture for total appreciation, total relationship, total love!