As Father’s Day approaches, I’ve had a quirky song from childhood stuck in my head (my mom informed me it is entitled “My Dad,” by Janeen Brady) and the lyrics go a little something like this: “My dad’s the biggest guy, and my dad’s the strongest guy, and my dad’s the nicest guy of any guy in town. / He can do anything, he’ll fix your bike or fly your kite, ’cause my dad, my dad’s the greatest guy around.” There was something more about knowing the name of every kind of jet, and always having money for bubble gum…And as I thought about all the different fathers I know (my dad, my grandpa, my own sweet husband, my brothers and friends), the one commonality they share–the thing that makes them heroes to their children and the people who know them–is time. Time–spent compassionately, patiently, lovingly, unselfishly and endlessly–with their kiddos and the people they care about.

A funny example from my then four-year old daughter: we had taken her to see Disney’s “Tangled” in theaters, her very first “big-screen” experience. She was absolutely enthralled with everything, from the popcorn to the 3D glasses and stadium seating. If you haven’t seen it, there’s this handsome, roguish thief named Flynn Rider, who mistakenly winds up in Rapunzel’s tower as her captive. He’s a smooth talker, and obviously used to being in tight situations. After spending some time trying to talk Rapunzel into releasing him, he says something like, “Okay. I didn’t want to have to do this. Here comes the smolder…” whereupon he fixes Rapunzel with his most dashing look. My daughter had been pondering this and asked her dad, “What’s a smolder?”

Her dad explained about the live coals that can smolder after a campfire, burning slowly without flame, but with a lot of heat. He connected it back to Flynn, noting that he apparently thought himself to be quite a handsome guy. “Do you think he’s good looking?” my husband asked.

She thought for a moment. “I like his face okay,” she said finally. “But I don’t like his hands.” A pause. “Or his arms. They’re all….puffy.” We sat, confused, for a moment.

“You know, like your arms aren’t very puffy. Well, the top kind of is. But not this part,” she explained, indicating her dad’s forearm. We began to laugh as we realized: puffy = big muscles.

“Oh good,” my husband said. “I’m glad we’re training our daughter to think the right kind of men are tall and skinny like me.” I love that her personal experiences with a loving, hands-on father trumps pop culture.

This month’s featured book, Blue-Ribbon Dad by Beth Raisner Glass and illustrated by Margie Moore, celebrates the time fathers dedicate to loving and raising their kids. The story begins with a young squirrel telling his mother that he is planning a big surprise for his dad, who is coming home in just five hours. He begins to recount all the small, yet important, tasks his dad undertakes daily, like packing the young squirrel’s lunch, cheering him on at his swimming lessons, or encouraging him in his reading. The hours count down (“My dad is coming home soon, / And with one more hour to go…”) until at last the father returns, and the young squirrel presents his dad with a homemade gift.

As you read, ask your little reader to guess what the surprise might be, and point out the activity of the mother in the background. After reading, use the story to generate a discussion about all the things fathers do to care for their children, and come up with a list of special things for which a child could thank his or her father. Share a personal story about your own father, a memory or time when he showed his love.

Above all, remember to say “thank you!” to the fathers and important men in your life who have loved, encouraged and taught you. Happy Father’s Day!

A special thanks to Abrams for making this story available to read for free throughout June.

Happy reading,

Kristen