7 traits of awesome dads

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America - one in three - live in homes without biological fathers present.

"Kids want and need a father figure," explains David VanLandegen, a Rock Island father of two who helped start the Boot Camp for New Dads in 2002. He noticed that when he went to his kids' activities, there were few dads around.

He wants to raise the bar for area dads.

Children without a father are more likely to have health and behavioral problems, be obese and suffer abuse. Worse, children in households without fathers are more likely to have drug and alcohol problems and be incarcerated. (See more from the National Fatherhood Initiative.)

Here at now what?, we highlight those who care for children - including dads. Here's a few traits we see in awesome dads.

He's good to himself.

Your kids look to you as a model of how to live their own lives. By treating yourself well, you are teaching your kids that they should treat themselves well, too.

Eating healthy and exercising may not be at the top of your priority list as a busy dad - but they should be.

He's willing to learn.

Being a dad can be hard work. At times, it can feel like a thankless job with long hours, little training and low pay. But the rewards are more than worth the work.

"It's not necessarily something that comes naturally," says Jesse Anderson, a dad of two in LeClaire. "I really have to work to be a good father."

Awesome dads never stop growing and learning - reading, taking classes and talking with other dads. (Dads - you need a parenting tribe, too.)

He creates stability.

What children need more than anything is safety and stability. And as a dad, it's your responsibility (along with your partner) to provide a safe home environment for your kids.

The world isn't always simple. But you can be a rock in your child's life.

"Having both parents around gives kids a richness of care," David says. "Moms and dads accent each other. This gives children more experience and resources."

He shows affection.

Babies don't know what love means. But, it's clear that they know what it looks and feels like.

Many dads avoid the "touchy-feely" parts of parenting. It may feel less manly, but great dads know they're never too macho for affection.

Give hugs. Snuggle. Kiss. Hold Hands.

A true man (and a great dad) can show love through affectionate touch. And this is an important lesson for all children to learn.

He's good to his partner.

When children enter the picture, romantic relationships can struggle. Maybe it's the combination of sleepless nights and added responsibility. Or maybe it's just that as a caregiver, you feel like you have time for little else than caring for your children.

Don't fall into this trap.

You simply must make time for all of those you love. And the way you treat your relationship with your partner will set a powerful example to your kids. (And it's likely to display the type of relationship your kids will seek out one day.)

"Lots of kids grow up not knowing what the role of the father is," says David. "We need to teach kids what being a dad really means."

So, treat your partner with respect, be affectionate and loving and make time for just the two of you. This will ensure that your child knows what a healthy relationship looks like later in life.

And what if your relationship has ended?

"Just remember that regardless of what goes on with your significant other, your child was born out of love," says David. "You need to be there for your kids and your partner."

He embraces the simplicity of childhood.

There's a lot of fun things about being a dad. And great dads know that having fun, playing and exploring with their children makes fatherhood special.

"I wish someone would have sat me down and told me that you have to try to think like a kid," Jesse says. "I really have to dive into what my children are doing and put aside the adult stuff - jobs and bills and responsibilities."

All parents need to really watch and listen to their children. Great dads know this and trust their own judgement with their kids.

He's there - more than just physically.

There's a lot more to fatherhood than physically being present with your kids. So great dads set aside the cell phone, the television remote and the paperwork.

Awesome dads listen to their kids, teach them, play with them and mostly just spend time engaged with them.

"It's about being the protector, the teacher, the provider and the playmate," David says. "Children need great men in their lives."

The value of a great father is often overlooked. But we know how important you are to your family.

(And remember that men are an important part of a child's life, regardless of the relationship. Uncles, grandfathers, coaches and friends can also be great male role models for children. )

Don't shortchange your contribution or diminish the impact you have on the lives of your kids. And be willing to learn and grow into the best dad you can be.

The love you have for your kids is a great first step.

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