ST. CHARLES – The unicycle hanging in the Payleitner family’s two-car garage was bought as a gift for the second oldest child’s ninth birthday. Although each of the kids experimented with it, the unicycle has remained largely unused in the 18 years since.
But that’s OK with father Jay Payleitner.
The unicycle represents one of his beliefs about fatherhood: A dad’s job is to open doors for his children. It’s up to the kids whether they want to pursue those opportunities.
Though a father for nearly 30 years, Payleitner does not claim to be an authority on fatherhood. However, he compiled 52 pieces of advice in “52 Things Kids Need from a Dad,” a book published this year.
“I’m not an expert, but my kids are turning out well,” Payleitner said in the kitchen of his family’s St. Charles home.
“I’m like a beggar who found bread telling other beggars where to find bread.”
Payleitner said he had no expectations about fatherhood when, at 23 and clueless, his son Alec was born 10 months after he and his wife, Rita, wed.
Their family later grew to include Randall, 27, Max, 24, Isaac, 22, and Rae Anne, 17.
Throughout the years, Payleitner said, he learned that good fathering cannot be explained by a formula. Instead, it is a combination of things, such as being there, being intentional and putting aside hobbies to make time for the kids.
After a few minutes in his home, the priority he places on his sons and daughter becomes obvious. He opened a door to reveal a hall of fame comprising newspaper clippings about their athletic triumphs. He also paused conversation twice, first to call up to Rae Anne to tell her some good news, and then to share a moment with Max as he read disappointing news.
Payleitner said he finds joy – joy he never imagined he would have – in all of his children’s moments, good and bad.
“There’s a soul-satisfying joy in watching your kids grow and do things I’m not capable of,” he said.
Today’s society could better show fathers how important they are in their children’s lives, Payleitner said. For example, he said, dads are generally bumbling fools in TV sitcoms, and in the news they are often reported as deadbeats.
Payleitner said he did not fully realize the important role fathers have until he worked as interim executive director for the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative, a nonprofit organization promoting responsible fathering and equipping men to become better fathers.
“I knew I was doing well,” Payleitner said, “but I didn’t know how much pain is out there and that so many [fathers] don’t get it.”
Part of the inspiration for his book came from a boy he coached on a youth baseball team whose games were held on weekdays – days the boy’s father couldn’t attend. So, when the team had to make up a rainout one Saturday, the boy was ecstatic. That morning, the boy arrived to the game with his head down. He told Payleitner his dad couldn’t come. He had to play golf.
Payleitner includes this story in his book, in a chapter titled “Kids Need Their Dad to Quit Golf.” He ended it with this takeaway lesson: “There are moments in every kid’s life when he needs his dad. Unfortunately, a father can never know when that moment comes. The only choice – the best choice – is to be there every chance you get. Even if that means rearranging your schedule, passing up a promotion, or putting one of your passions on hold.”
Payleitner hopes young fathers read the book but said there is something in there for all dads. Most of the chapters are no longer than two pages and address a variety of subjects, including the importance of catching kids in a lie, of answering their questions with questions and of setting the bar high.
“It’s not a book of rules,” Payleitner said. “It’s 52 invitations that kids are sending out.”
What: "52 Things Kids Need from a Dad" by St. Charles resident Jay Payleitner
Publisher: Harvest House
Availability: Wherever books are sold