After a hard day at work, how do you reconnect with your kids? Here are 10 tried-and-true techniques from real dads. Steal these paternal strokes of genius, or use them to spark some ideas of your own.
1. Play Larry King: There's an art to getting kids to open up. If you say, "What did you do today?" they tend to reply "Nothing."Instead, ask a specific question, such as "What toys did you and Kim play with when she was over?"
It worked for Lowell Johnson, a teacher in Cambridge, Minn., when his two kids were young.
"To ask specific questions, I had to pay attention. Once they got in the habit of answering specific questions, they could also answer the general ones."
2. Join activities already in progress: Rather than initiating a new game when you get home, slip in and get in sync with what the kids are already doing.
When he finds his 9-year-old is at the computer, New York City social worker Jose Barbosa asks, "Can you show me how to do that?"
His reasoning: "If I ask for help and follow his lead, he lets me into his world. Then I'm not forcing myself on him just because I'm home and I missed him."
3. Work at it: Sometimes you'll want to relax before hanging out with your kids, but you don't have that luxury.
While his kids were growing up, Minneapolis therapist William Doherty learned to appeal to his own work ethic.
"I pretended I was still at work, which made me more willing to do what the kids wanted to do. I told myself my job wasn't done until the kids went to bed, which, of course, is the way most mothers operate."
4. Make mealtime matter: Sandeep Shrivastava, a marketing manager in Chicago, finds that feeding his baby is a great way to get closer.
"As he grows, he doesn't want his baby food or bottles. He wants what's on my plate. He'll say no to one thing and yes to another. I'll move his arm as he tries to touch my drink. Every day we understand each other better."
5. Get physical: Hugging your child or just putting a hand on his shoulder helps you get back in touch - literally and figuratively.
San Francisco attorney Henry Winetsky used to give his two sons a "stomach raspberry" when they were young. The boys now greet their dad with a raspberry on the neck when he walks through the door.
Daniel, 14, says with a loving smile, "I guess it's kind of a revenge thing."
6. Brush up on Battleship: After dinner, Midian Kurland, a software developer in Cupertino, Calif., plays games - like Candy Land, Uno, Mancala - with his 5- and 8-year-old daughters.
"If there's stuff to talk about, we talk, and if not, we concentrate on the games."
7. Notice the little things: Because he is divorced, Baltimore TV producer Ademola Ekulona gets to see his youngest daughter, who is 4, only two or three times a week.
"I make a big deal about seeing her every time," he says. "I pick her up and hold her, and I usually compliment her on her hair because she is very proud that her sisters have done her hair."
8. Share a secret language: David Charne, a New York City entertainer and father of 4-year-old Madeline, stumbled upon this ritual.
"One day when I came home, Maddie said something to me in gibberish. Instead of asking her to explain, I answered back in gibberish. Now we have our own made-up language when I come home.
"It's been a real bonding thing because nobody else does it with her."
9. Do say, "When I was a child . . .": Los Angeles physician Lee Kagan doesn't usually get home until 7:30 p.m., so he bonds with his 9-year-old daughter over nighttime conversations.
"She loves to hear stories about when I was a kid, particularly times that I got into trouble or goofed up."
10. Be there for bedtime: David Wasserman, who runs a store in New York City, doesn't get to see his 11-year-old son until 9 p.m., after a "long retail day."
He uses bedtime to reconnect: "He needs me to lie next to him. Then he says, `How was your day, Dad? I bet you were overworked and understaffed.' He's mimicking me, and it's mostly a rhetorical question, but it draws us together."