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"Give your children the gift of your time," is what I've been saying on television and radio talk shows across the country for the past four years. "Avoid the lure of high-priced gifts. In the end, your children will get much more out of spending more time with you, their Dad."

There's no question fathers need to spend more time with their children. In fact, the average teen-ager spends just 35 minutes per week talking with his or her father (compared to 21 hours per week watching TV). And commercialism is clearly having an impact. Public opinion polls show that it is common for parents to equate buying things for their children with caring for them.

Hence, my counsel to dads to stop buying things that will eventually wear out or lose their interest. Start giving of yourself.

Great advice. But, I wonder as I rush from store to store doing my own Christmas shopping, how realistic? If you followed it to the letter, this Christmas morning -- or the first day of Hanukkah -- might sound something like this:

"Dad, where are all the presents?" your child asks, the excitement of Christmas morning quickly replaced by disappointment.

"Right here," you say, as you kneel down, arms outstretched, offering a hug.

"Very funny, Dad. Really, where are they?"

"I'm not kidding, son. Your present is me. Your gift is my time. We'll be spending a lot more time together over the next year. Ball games. Camping trips. Just hanging out together. That's your gift."

"Come on, dad. You're kidding, right? Right?!?!" (Fade into the sounds of tears and screams.)

If this is your family scene this Christmas morning, I and other child psychologists of the world might applaud. Your stance against the commercialism of the holidays might even get you on the "Today Show." But as far as your kids go, you will go down in history as a Grinch worthy of your own Christmas special: The Cheapskate Who Killed Christmas!

So this year, in addition to just offering advice, the National Fatherhood Initiative is offering the thing that every man loves: a new tool! It's the "Dad's Tool for Measuring a Gift's Father/Child Time Quotient."

Using this tool is simple. Simply take it with you when you go shopping, answer each of the questions for each gift you are considering buying, then tally its Father/Child Time Quotient. Depending upon the quotient score, you'll know whether the gift is likely to lead to you and your child spending more time together or, conversely, will become just another reason for you not to spend time together.

The Dad's Tool for Measuring a Gift's Father/Child Time Quotient:

(1) Is it a toy or activity that requires that your child engage with another person, preferably you?

--Yes (7 points)

--No (0 points)

(2) Will the gift promote conversation between you and your child?

--Yes (4 points)

--No (0 points)

(3) Does the gift promote learning?

--Yes (4 points)

--No (0 points)

(4) Does the gift involve something that you and your child both enjoy?

--Yes (5 points)

--No (0 points)

(5) Is the gift intended to be played in silent solitude?

--Yes (minus 6 points)

--No (3 points)

(6) Is the gift a toy?

--Yes (1 point)

--No (0 points)

(7) Is the gift a piece of sports or recreational equipment?

--Yes (2 points)

--No (0 points)


18 to 26: Excellent, purchase gift (within budget limits)

11 to 17: Good, purchase gift (within budget limits) or, if you enjoy shopping, continue shopping

8 to 11: Fair, shop more

Less than 8: Poor, enroll manufacturer in Daddy Seminar 101

OK, you don't really have to add up the score. Just use the questions to remind yourself that the most important criteria you should use in deciding on what gift to buy your child is its potential for promoting interaction between you and your child. Kids really do spell love T-I-M-E.

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