Dads get a bad rap, oftentimes, when it comes to our role in raising children. We are often portrayed as interested only in pushing our sons to excel in athletics and sitting in our recliners mindlessly watching sports. While I know that the latter may be accurate in at least one situation with which Iím familiar, the former certainly is a true picture of fatherhood.

Across the Fort Worth-Dallas Metroplex, and probably nationwide, fathers are taking on a more active role in their childrenís school activities. There are reportedly growing numbers of organized male volunteers in the PTO ranks, on field trips and other school activities. If youíve been to a Brownwood High School football game, you can see that parents travel to support their own children, as well as their friendsí children. We need to be sure similar things are happening in the classroom.

Study after study has shown how important it is for young boys and girls to have a strong father-figure in their lives - someone to set an example, someone to create and enforce boundaries, someone to complement what they learn from their mothers. The need for that influence in childrenís lives is reinforced by organizations like Big Brothers/Big Sisters and numerous mentoring programs that are in place inside and outside schools.

Many men played sports - formally and informally - as youngsters and possess a basic knowledge of the rules and strategies required to coach them. At least at the younger age levels. The same holds true when it comes to helping with basic math and reading concepts that our kids bring home for homework. Most of us can generally keep up with our kids at the lower grade levels. Some of us, though, lost the ability to do math and comprehend science at one point during middle or high school. What little I did learn during the process has been lost through inactivity ó and no, I still havenít used algebra as an adult. I fear the day that one of my daughters starts asking for help with algebra, theorems or protozoa.

At several colleges and universities there has been a growing trend of holding womenís football clinics where they invite the wives of football fans to come enjoy a night of learning the fundamentals of the game in an entertaining way. The event might include some basic rules and strategies, a fashion show of the teamís uniforms, refreshments and the opportunity for fellowship. Itís a fun way to get fans ó many of whom are in the stands reluctantly or because of who they married ó involved in the game by educating them.

Perhaps the local schools could take a page from that idea and offer similar menís homework clinics to fathers with children in the local system. The basic math and reading assignments that come home for a second grader are easy enough, but one need only watch the television propgram ďAre You Smarter Than A Fifth GraderĒ to know that there is scary danger lurking right around the corner for us parents. Done properly, this could be a good program that refreshes our knowledge of subjects long forgotten, subjects that as parents we would like to be able to help our kids understand.

Thereís a lot of information to cover for each grade level, admittedly, so the program parameters need some tweaking. But if there were a way to offer a two-hour program on a subject or two, provide a barbecue dinner - or better yet something our wives and doctors say weíre not supposed to eat - and impart enough of the basics so that we are not intimidated to help our children with their homework, it would be an idea worth investigating. For the adults involved, a little extra knowledge is always a good thing. For the school system, it would be a positive way to build relationships with the community and generate parental involvement. And for the children, it would be another way that we fathers can constructively interact with our kids, and offer them the help they need when they struggle to understand a new school concept.

Bill Crist is associate publisher and general manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesday. He may be reached by e-mail at bill.crist@brownwoodbulletin.com.