So what can a dad (or granddad) do who is living a great distance away from the kids? I quizzed a number of friends about this challenge to stay emotionally close while being far apart physically, and have added a few of my own ideas to these suggestions for keeping connected.
Reach Out and Touch Them on the Phone. Talking regularly on the telephone is a common and positive way of staying in touch. We have a cell phone with unlimited night and weekend minutes and free long distance, so we are on the phone regularly with our distant kids and our granddaughter. Every Sunday we make a point to call and talk with them. That was a tradition started by my dad when our young family lived 1500 miles away from home. On the phone you can hear voice inflections and emotions that you lose in other forms of communication. Having a regular day of the week and time of the day to call can help build some anticipation for the call.
Take and Share Digital Shots. Pictures can help distant family members stay in touch. Whether they are emailed or posted to a family picture web page, digital pictures can get photos back and forth easily and inexpensively. And if you don't have a digital camera, you can always take regular photos, have double prints made, and mail them back and forth as well.
Speaking of E-mail. I have found the best way to communicate with my college aged daughter going to school away from home is via email. I try to send her email cards from time to time, just when she least expects them, and to send an upbeat "what's new at home" email every week or two. We still talk on the phone, but e-mail adds another dimension to our relationship.
Ponder Postcards. One of the things some of my contacts said about postcards was that they are quick, easy and fun. They have the personal touch of a handwritten note, but they also don't have to be long and involved. They are especially fun when you are traveling for business or pleasure and come from wherever you are.
Videos Can Be Fun. At Christmastime, our family still at home made a video for our granddaughter. We bought some little books for her for Christmas, and then each of us took a turn reading the books on video for her. Now when her mom gets out one of the books, she puts on the video and can follow along with grandpa, grandma or one of the uncles or aunts as they read to her. Combining a picture with a voice can really help the kids feel close and connected with you.
Surprise Gifts. One of my friends tries to find a little trinket (stuffed animal, poster, cute socks) and send it along with a note every month or so to a daughter who lives far away. It doesn't have to be expensive, and it is always a nice surprise for her.
Get the Book. One of my friends ordered a phone book from the community where his kids live (or you could find information online) and orders pizza or other goodies to be delivered to his kids. I loved this idea because it was easy and creative, and lets the kids know that dad is thinking about them regularly.
Whatever your strategy, staying in touch when you are far away is important for dads and grandfathers. The relationships you build under less than ideal circumstances will communicate your love and concern all year long.