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A dad’s perspective on Father’s day

by Nancy Hamlett

Steve Thaler’s perspective on Father’s Day is built on a three-way involvement – as a full- time stepfather, a part-time father and as a professional.

Thaler is the director of China Spring Youth Camp, a facility for male juvenile offenders in Douglas County. At times, there can be as many a 40 adolescents at the camp. That equates to a lot of fathering.

“I don’t have the hand-to-hand daily contact with the boys, my job is to keep the camp going,” said Thaler. “But I am involved in the major decisions, like what’s going to happen after they leave the camp. However, we all work together to impress the boys with our philosophy – that they should do the right things, even when no one is looking.

“We give these kids a lot of attention and we are their positive role models. It isn’t any different here than it is in the world outside. Kids need certain requirements. It’s our job to see that these requirements are met, and they have the skills to continue once they return to their own environment.”

As the divorced father of two children, Thaler said that his role has been reduced to a part-time father. His 16-year-old daughter, Melody, and his son, Sean, who is almost 14, live with their mother, Ellen Rosenberg, in the Ranchos.

“They live somewhere else and I don’t see them on a day-to-day basis. It’s frustrating not being with your children 100 percent of the time,” said Thaler. “But Ellen is a terrific mother, and her husband is doing just what I would be doing with my children. I couldn’t ask for a better stepparent to my children than Dennis Rosenberg.”

– Tightrope. Thaler understands the difficult tightrope that stepparents walk. When he married his wife, JoAnn, he became in instant parent to her son. Jeff Zinn was only 7 or 8 when Thaler entered his life. The young man is now 18 and just graduated from Douglas High School.

“Stepparents have a say, but they don’t have a say,” said Thaler. “I happen to be lucky. Jeff’s father lives in Las Vegas, and I know he doesn’t get to see Jeff as much as he would like to. But he is supportive of what JoAnn and I do. It makes the decisions easier to make.”

Thaler sees his role as a father and stepfather as multi-faceted, with the most important components being communication and commitment.

“The key to any success between a father and a child is communication. With communication skills you really can get through to a kid,” Thaler said. “We need to get back in the mode of talking to our children. When something doesn’t look right, sit them down and talk about it.”

Commitment is another component of Thaler’s philosophy of child rearing. He wants to know what his children are doing, and he stays involved with their lives.

“We all talk about keeping our kids busy to keep them out of trouble, but it is more difficult than that,” said Thaler. “It takes a commitment to stay busy with them. Cheer at their games. We sometimes drive hours to go to Jeff’s football games. Or attend their recitals. And when they are in school, don’t just pack them off. Follow their grades. Show them that it is important to you.

“Being a positive role model will teach our children to do the same. It’s a full-time commitment. And it should be our first commitment. But the commitment comes with a lot of rewards. That’s the special part of being a father.”

With the upcoming Father’s Day celebration, Thaler feels that children from divorced families can often become confused.

“Everybody needs a special day – not only the natural father, but the stepfather, adoptive father or surrogate father, it doesn’t matter – they are all the same. But they can often be overlooked on Father’s Day even though they are a father just like the natural father,” said Thaler.

“And kids get it wrong when they think that divorce is terrible. Instead of just two parents caring about what they are doing, there are now four parents caring about them. They are lucky in that respect.”

n Good role model. Thaler’s philosophy of fatherhood hasn’t been developed through only his personal trial and error. He credits a family that he considers as a role model for good parenting.

“My wife’s family (John and Barbara Indiano) is what I consider to be a great example of a family unit. They are wonderful people who have raised a wonderful family,” said Thaler. “As long as you follow their example, you can raise a good family.”

According to Thaler, Father’s Day is more than just to day honor fathers. It is a celebration of family as well.

“Maybe dad is the focus of the day, but to celebrate fatherhood, the family needs to be a unit,” said Thaler. “You shouldn’t just say Happy Father’s Day and then take off in your separate directions. After all, you can’t be a father unless there is a family. That’s what it’s all about.”