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Families still call Dad to stay in touch

Many people use special occasions as reasons to pick up the phone. Father’s Day, holidays, birthdays and anniversaries represent peak telephone usage for family members who aren’t able to see each other in person.

But people also report that they are just as likely to give their family “a buzz” with no agenda in mind other than catching up, chatting or receiving emotional support. More than any other form of communication, and second only to actually being together in person, the telephone serves as a tremendous catalyst for strengthening family bonds not only on special occasions, but throughout the year.

According to a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive and sponsored by Modern Woodmen of America, a fraternal financial services organization in Rock Island, Ill., an overwhelming 95 percent of Americans still rely on the telephone to communicate with family. Americans are getting up to speed with technological conveniences, such as e-mail, instant messaging and family Web sites — more than 62 percent of the survey’s respondents said they use e-mail. But for most people the telephone is more spontaneous, more insightful, more emotionally gratifying and the most convenient of all the long-distance communication options.

A more personal way to communicate

The telephone offers advantages that most other communication methods don’t have — it’s live, it’s two-way, and it can stimulate a mental image of the other caller simply through the voice inflections and subtle nuances that accompany the spoken words.

“I can tell exactly how my father-in-law is doing just by hearing him answer the phone,” said Pam Schultz of York, Pa. “I can picture his face, and I know what’s in his head.”

Survey results imply that Americans will continue to rely on the telephone no matter what other methods are made available to them. Seventy-three percent of men and 74 percent of women said it would still be the preferred means, even if online methods were possible.

“I’m just not an e-mail person,” admitted Jane Bainter of Eldridge, Iowa. “The phone is just quicker and more personal. My family members all have e-mail, and they use it to send us jokes and stories, but we don’t really use it to communicate with each other.”

According to John Dommick, professor of journalism and communication at Ohio State University and co-author of a study on e-mail and telephone usage, this is no surprise. Respondents in his study rated the telephone superior to e-mail for expressing emotion and affection, giving advice and providing companionship.

“Both e-mail and the telephone have their advantages, but people use them for different, specific reasons and to complement one another,” said Dommick. “Telephone communication rates very high in sociability. It is definitely more relationship based.”

Who you gonna call?

One quick look at the speed dial list on your own telephone will probably tell you a lot about who your fellow Americans call. Moms, Dads and siblings garner the most calls. According to the Modern Woodmen survey, more than 75 percent of Americans cite these family members as those they are most likely to call. Nearly 25 percent of Americans say that e-mail rates higher for communicating with extended family members, such as cousins.

Telephone usage also varies depending on gender. In general, the women surveyed hold a slight edge in communicating with family no matter what the platform. Ninety-three percent of men and 97 percent of women report that they rely on the telephone to communicate with family, opposed to 56 percent and 67 percent respectively for e-mail.

Nurturing greater family ties

“I told my husband when we moved away from my family that he would have to put up with higher phone bills,” said Bainter. “We see my family about once a month, but my relationship with them is definitely stronger because we communicate regularly in between those times.”

Nothing beats a hug

“While telephone, e-mail and the Internet have done a lot for fostering greater family bonds, we should not rely on them alone,” warned Vern Bengtson, professor of gerontology and sociology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “There is a sense of something missing if you do not have face-to-face contact. Body language and gestures say a lot. And touch is very, very important, especially for the very young and very old. You just can’t beat a hug or pat on the shoulder.”

The telephone can be an essential tool in sparking family gatherings. After all, you are more likely to want to see your family if you have a greater emotional investment in their lives. Most families that gather together frequently already know the ins and outs of one another’s lives thanks to constant communication.

The next best thing

With the increased chaos of peoples’ lives today, coupled with geographic divides, the telephone is the “next best thing to being there." While nothing can replace in-person contact with your family, telephone communication is a great way to draw your long distance family closer.

“We think people prefer the telephone over e-mail in certain situations because of the richness of the communication,” Dommick said. “When we talk with someone we know well, we are gleaning information from what they don’t say as well as what they do say. There is no such thing as tone of voice in e-mail. Even with the smiley face icons. A telephone exchange carries emotionally-loaded information that can’t be duplicated by other long-distance communication.”

Which is why, long after the fancy verse in the greeting card has been read and forgotten, the gift has been misplaced and the e-mail greetings have been systematically deleted, your Dad will remember your voice on the telephone. A voice loaded with meaning, while speaking the simplest of words, “I love you.”

For more ideas on how to plan a family gathering, Modern Woodmen’s Web site at www.gatherings.info can offer some great suggestions.

— Courtesy of ARA Content

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