Joe and wife Brenda Sechrist work hard at cultivating relationships with their four children: Tanner, a month shy of 14, Emily, 12, Abby, 10, and Millie, 7.
?Basically you try to make yourself available and try to spend time with them doing things that they want to do,? he said. ?Encourage them to do things that might stretch them or might make them more well-rounded.?
Oldest daughter Emily appreciates her father?s commitment to spending time with her.
?What I like about my dad is that no matter how much work or how many meetings he has, he always finds time to spend with us,? Emily said. ?I also like that he can give me advice about almost anything.?
Having time now with his kids is different than during the school year. A school counselor at Allison Traditional Magnet Middle School in Wichita, Joe has more flexibility during the summer months.
That time includes playing board games and the Wii, shooting basketballs and riding bicycles.
Asked what she appreciates about her dad, 7-year-old Millie said, ?He plays games with us like Uno.?
When playing different sports, Abby welcomes input from her dad.
?Just today he told me that when I get older, I should smack (the ball) down,? she said about learning to play volleyball.
All four of the Sechrist siblings compete at swim meets.
?The kids do swim teams, so our Saturdays basically from now until the middle of July are filled with swim meets,? said Joe, who worked as a lifeguard and wants his children to be good swimmers.
Joe also tries to spend time with each child individually.
?The goal is spend one-on-one time with them at least once a week or every two weeks,? he said, although he doesn?t always achieve that goal.
The way they spend that time varies. Last summer, he took his son on a trip to Colorado to celebrate Tanner?s 13th birthday.
?He?s really competitive,? Tanner said about his dad.
?It makes me better because I want to beat him,? he added with a smile.
Recently, Joe, daughter Abby and her friend went to All Star Sports in west Wichita, which features a climbing wall, a laser tag arena, go-carts, miniature golf and other activities.
While such events take planning, others can be spur-of-the-moment. Joe often invites a child with him when he runs errands.
?That?s one of the things my dad did all the time,? Joe said.
Even communicating to his two older children via e-mail conveys the message that he values them.
?If I get an e-mail, I?ll forward it to Tanner and Emily along with a little note,? Joe said.
An early loss
Joe grew up in Bonner Springs near Kansas City. His mother and brother?15 months older?still live in the Kansas City area. In 1980, his father died suddenly at age 50 of a heart attack or heat stroke when Joe was 13.
?For Mom, raising two boys was pretty hard,? Joe said. ? And I didn?t deal with Dad?s death all that well.?
But Joe remembers his father as someone to emulate.
?He always told us that he loved us,? Joe said. ?I never had any doubts about that. He helped coach our baseball team.
?I just wish he would have been here longer,? he added.
Consequently, Joe said, he tries to take care of himself physically. This spring, he and a couple of co-workers competed in a half-marathon in Oklahoma City. They ran the race in 70-degree weather with 80 percent humidity and 45 mph winds.
?We trained all winter, but the weather kind of got us,? said Joe, who finished the race just short of his two-hour time goal.
?But I survived,? he added, with a laugh.
Joe and Brenda met at Tabor College and after graduation worked as directors of the men?s residence halls.
?We did three tours of duty,? Joe said. ?We lived on the boys? side of the street. We outgrew the apartment and I finished my master?s (in school counseling at Emporia State University).?
Joe recommends several books about fatherhood that have inspired him, including ?King Me: What Every Son Wants and Needs from His Father? by Steve Farrar and ?Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father?s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood? by Robert Lewis.
Earlier in their marriage, Joe and Brenda took a video class on parenting with three other couples. ?It put Brenda and me on the same page,? Joe said.
Joe has also gleaned good-natured advice given by family and friends.
?One of my cousins said, ?Don?t worry if the child learns to say Momma before Daddy?it will sound a lot better in the middle of the night,?? Joe said with a laugh. ?One of my uncles said, ?Nobody can be the father of your kids?you need to fill that role.??
Asked about fathering tips he strives to follow, Joe listed three:
? Spend as much time with your children as possible because ?time goes by really quickly.?
? Tell the children you love them and hug them every day??That?s the main thing.?
? Love your children?s mother and ?show it.?
?These aren?t earth-shattering but when you keep them in the forefront of your mind, it makes a difference,? he said.
Also, the initials of the Sechrist children?s first names?T-E-A-M?are a reminder of their family?s goal to work together.
?We try to do things as a team, looking out for each other,? Joe said. ?We try to be a family with our faces looking in, getting instructions?kind of watching each other?s back.?
Of course, fatherhood has its challenges.
?Being a father isn?t all fun and games, especially when your child doesn?t want to be around you and you don?t want to be around your child,? Joe said.
?You have those times as well. That?s when you can work on your reconciliation skills because there?s always going to be conflict when you live in close proximity and care about people.?
Each year, Joe and Brenda meet one-on-one with their children to set goals for the summer and what they hope to accomplish.
When the children were younger, Joe and Brenda as parents held tighter reigns on them, but as they?ve grown older, the children are becoming more independent and assuming more responsibility.
?They are good kids?we trust them and enjoy being together,? Brenda said.
?We?re at the fun stages now?the kids are more independent. They were in diapers for a decade and we?re past that now.?