Ask Mary Jo: Helping dad stay healthy & being significant in kids' lives

Hi Mary Jo,

I am in health and fitness, and I want to know how I can get my dad to take my health advice because I really care about him and want him to live as long as he can.



Begin by telling him what you told me. Tell him you love him and want him to be in your life for a long time. Regardless of what interventions you try, remember your participation probably means the most to him. Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Find out his favorite sports team and buy him and you a sports jersey. Then get online and find a work out their team uses. Modify it for you and your dad. If you live near him, do it with him at his fitness level. You can share 30 minutes laughing and working out together in your team jerseys.
  2. When you can, cook healthy meals for him or with him. It’s so important you enjoy the time together because that’s what keeps good habits going.
  3. Plan an adventure for the two of you. Most dads love spending time with their children, but they’re tired and often don’t make the effort. Be willing to make the effort to spend time with him that includes physical fitness. A nature walk or a round of tennis or golf will help your dad enjoy your company and get exercise.
  4. Reward healthy efforts. When you see your dad engaged and trying to change his lifestyle for the better, tell him how grateful you are. A hug and recognition go a long way with changing bad habits. 

Hi Mary Jo,

How can younger, separated fathers be significant in their relationships with their children and their family?



The majority of children look to their fathers for security and protection. That feeling is rocked when a divorce or separation happens. No matter what happens during the break up, your child should still be able to depend on you.  There are many ways dads can still be significant in their children’s lives. These three are extremely important:

  1. Encourage and provide a safe place for honest communication. Allow your child a space to talk honestly about how they are feeling. Ask them how they are feeling. Never assume that if they don’t talk about it, it isn’t an issue. Repressing emotions causes long-term mental and physical health issues.
  2. Be a responsible and empathetic co-parent. Children love both their parents. Don’t play mind games, don’t be irresponsible with your child’s needs, and don’t badly talk your ex. Be willing to communicate directly with your ex and remain flexible with your schedule and cooperate. Going the extra mile to avoid drama with your ex is an expression of love for your child. Work to love your child more than you dislike your ex.
  3. Be present and engaged in your child’s life. Showing up at their games and big events is more important than extravagant gifts. When you show up, think of how your child will feel and put your phone away and engage with the activity they’re in. Consider taking on new hobbies with your child when they spend a weekend or weekday with you. Focus less on what your ex is doing and more on what is going on in your child’s life.

Children who grow up with an involved dad who believes in them do better in all aspects of life. A divorce happens between partners, but your child is your child for life.