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I get sad letters like this every day:

I am divorced from my son’s mother and have to move across the country for work. My son loves me very much and I love him very much. We talk on the phone every few days. Is there anything you would suggest I can/should do? Like topics for conversation and things can be done across long distance?

This problem seems to be increasing in frequency. Today’s economy with its layoffs and downsizing forces a father to go where the work is.

It’s tough to keep in touch from afar but fathers are so important to their children that the effort must be made. A child needs a healthy dose of the Three Parenting Vitamin from each parent every day: AFFECTION, ATTENTION, ACCEPTANCE. The absent parent must find creative ways to supply all this from afar.

Heins suggestions for long-distance fathering:

• Make face-to-face visits as frequently as possible. When my husband, who loved nature, was a teenager he started his “Africa Trip” bank account with the first money he earned selling papers. Every week he put money in the account starting with just a quarter. Thirty years later we went on our first trip to Africa. Set up a “See My Kid”account today. This old-fashioned way of saving still works.

• As soon as the child is old enough to travel there should be visits to your new location. Children need to see with their own eyes where the father who used to be part of the child’s home is living. They worry where you are sleeping.

• Get a phone plan with unlimited long distance so you can call every day.

• Conversation tricks: Don’t ask “Was school good today?” as you only get a one word answer. Instead ask your son to describe his teacher or tell you what he learned at school that day. You tell him about your new home, your job, etc.

• Invest in a computer as soon as the child is old enough so you can exchange daily emails. You can also forward funny things and send links to good sites you have previewed.

• Even when you send daily email use snail mail too. Send frequent letters and post cards as well as little gifts like stickers that slip in an envelope.

• Send occasional “surprise” or non-birthday gifts. Read a book before you send it so the two of you can talk about it.

• Make use of another old-fashioned gadget, the tape recorder. Tell the child what is happening in your life. Describe your new house, room by room. Talk about your new job. Tell stories about when you were a little boy. If you are creative you can make up a story and record it for your son. Maybe a story about what life was like when you were a little boy.

• Ask the child to send you drawings and photos. An absent father of a young child needs good cooperation from the mother. Email her this ParenTip.

• Ask your child lots of questions about extracurricular and recreational interests as they will change as he grows up.

• Ask about friends and tell about your new friends at work or in the neighborhood.

• Communicate with the child’s school and get on their email or mailing list so you get newsletters and announcements as well as any necessary information about your child.

Several of these suggestions cost money and money can be tight these days. But the child needs daily parental contact so this is not the time to get a plasma screen.

Disclaimer: This ParenTip is not a gender-balanced piece as I am writing about a father who misses his son. But fathers miss daughters too and vice versa. And, of course, there are mothers without primary custody who are forced to move.