As a kid, Jim Higley collected bobblehead dolls. A sharp tap to Mickey Mantle, his favorite, sent its smiling head bouncing for a long time. Thirty years later as a father of three, Higley realized, “I was much like that bobblehead, going through the motions of life – perfect smile and all - just bouncing away.” For many dads, preoccupied with daily demands, it is easier to nod and smile. It’s easy to overlook the healing power of life’s little moments. But in times of tribulations, such memories are lifesavers.

As a kid, Jim Higley collected bobblehead dolls. A sharp tap to Mickey Mantle, his favorite, sent its smiling head bouncing for a long time. Thirty years later as a father of three, Higley realized, “I was much like that bobblehead, going through the motions of life – perfect smile and all - just bouncing away.”


For many dads, preoccupied with daily demands, it is easier to nod and smile. It’s easy to overlook the healing power of life’s little moments. But in times of tribulations, such memories are lifesavers.


Higley recently published “Bobblehead Dad: 25 Life Lessons I Forgot I Knew” (Greenleaf Book Group Press, $14.95, June 2011). From a father’s perspective, he shares how the rich joy of creating and recalling family memories offer lifelong support through all crises. Until illness slowed him down, Higley was a do-it-all, multi-tasking, single father of three kids, breezing through life with smiles and nods.


But in 2005 bobbling screeched to a halt. At age 44, Higley was diagnosed with prostate cancer, an aggressive form unusual in a young man. The hereditary odds were against him. His mother, father and brother had died from cancer. During treatment, journaling gave him purpose. Cancer was a forced step back to rediscover the wonder of family.


During treatment, Higley warmed his spirits with childhood recall - summers in Nebraska, his mother’s garden, horsing around with his four older brothers, remembering his father’s wisdom. During his recovery, the compassion and maturity of his children – Kevin (then 15), Wallis (13) and Drew (9) – surprised him.  His book was born, 25 lessons to sustain a man through any ordeal, all based on family memories, common to all, written with depth, simplicity and humor.


For example, “Lesson 5: Give and Take” is about letting people in and allowing them to “do for you,” a difficult concept for those who are “doers” by nature. “Lesson 10: Plant Yourself in Good Soil,” recalls how his father created a foundation of high expectations and accountability, coupled with unwavering support. “Lesson 20: I’d Rather Be The Jackson Five” celebrates siblings. One of five sons, Higley hated being the baby brother and the odd one out. But he came to appreciate the influences of the amazing older boys that were his brothers.


Now at age 50, Higley is cancer-free. His book strikes a chord among those who feel the pressures of fatherhood’s ever-changing role. Dads are called to be more active and loving with their children. At speaking engagements, men often ask him, “How do I do that?”


First, if a child shares a problem, don’t jump in to fix things. “What they want from us as fathers is to go on the journey with them, to be available emotionally and spiritually,” said Higley, who shared the example of his daughter’s frustration with school. To offer problem-solving strategies was the worst thing he could do. “The best thing I do is to lay on the floor, stare at the ceiling with her, and listen. I say, ‘Well, that stinks’ or ‘Holy cow, I’m so sorry.’ I just hang out with her and send signals that I’m here 100 percent for her.”


Second, a father can convey “spiritual availability” in whatever manner is true to the parent, according to Higley, a Catholic who believes a spiritual connection was vital to his healing process.


“I am a person who is most comfortable living my faith in the minutia of my life; how I interact with the grocery store clerk, how I let my children see me treat others, how I interact with my children during the deepest, darkest moments of my life. I tend to be a father who shares my faith through my actions.”


“Bobblehead Dad” is an engaging guidebook for tapping into the enduring strength and power of family bonds.


Contact Suzette Standring at suzmar@comcast.net or visit www.readsuzette.com. She teaches writing workshops nationally based on her award-winning book, “The Art of Column Writing.” She is syndicated with GateHouse News Service.