Father and son backpackingEmma's Father's Day card starts out this way: I love you, Daddy—a lot. Now that sixth grade is done, I've found out by being around other kids that you're really awesome. Here are a couple things I really like about you.

1. I have so much fun when you take time to hang out with me. You know how we spend time together every month, just you and me doing something together for a morning. I really liked it last month how you helped me buy an outfit for our summer trip to Grannie's house. How you thought that pink blouse looked just great, and you said you've never seen anyone so beautiful. And I really like the 15 minutes you take with me alone after dinner to just hear about my day. If it's boring to you, you don't act like it. Could we do it twice a week, maybe? Oh, yeah, I almost forgot our summer vacation time as a family. I can't wait to find out where we're going together. (Can you give me a little hint?)

2. I like it that you listen when I mess up and you don't yell at me (very much). You know how last month I got into the habit of not doing my homework and you caught me lying a bunch. You listened to me a lot before you grounded me for the weekend. I felt so bad, but it was easier to tell the truth 'cause you listened a lot and didn't get too mad. Even though I didn't look like it, I really felt relieved to get it all out and have you check to see if my homework is done, and then checking the school website to make sure I turned it in.

Do you think I'll find a boyfriend like you? Hope so. Love you! E

Jared's Father's Day card reads this way: Hey, Dad, can't believe I'll be a senior next year. Actually, I've got mixed feelings about graduating and going to college. Even though I think it'll be great to be on my own, I think I'll miss the times with you. I guess it's a little mushy, but here goes with what I've been thinking now that I have to write a Father's Day card (you know how Mom is).

1. The big thing is how you handled my running into that fencepost during that ice storm the night you let me borrow your new pickup. I was totally dreading having to face you when you came to pick me up. But you really weren't that mad. You said, 'Hey, this could happen to anyone. The weather was fine when you left home. We couldn't have known how bad it would get." You don't know how hard it was to hold back the tears when you hugged me. It's weird. You always start out talking when there's a problem like "Tell me what you're feeling." You are strict and really, Dad, you don't let me get by with much. I used to hate it, 'cause my friends dads aren't that strict. But, I guess it's helped me. Seems like adults like me. That's cool.

2. One more thing. You know how Rachael and I have been dating for a year. Even though I was really embarrassed, the talk you had with me about romantic stuff (you know what I mean) helped me a lot to make some good decisions about that private stuff.

3. Yeah, one last thing. Thanks for always being there for me. I can't wait for our semiannual guys-alone backpacking trip. You're a cool dude, Dad. Love J

Dad's take-home lesson: You're really important, way more important than you think you are. Thanks for being a great dad to your kids.

Gary M. Unruh, MSW LCSW, is a child and family mental health counselor with nearly 40 years of experience. He is the author of the book Unleashing the Power of Parental Love: 4 Steps to Raising Joyful and Self-Confident Kids.