It’s important we know why dads matter. In the passenger lounge of the Kansas City airport some years ago, I saw the most amazing thing: an infant flying up above a dividing wall, levitating for just a second, then dropping back down behind the wall. I couldn’t look away; it happened again. And again, and again. I surmised one of two things. Either they have flying babies in Kansas City, or this baby was being tossed a couple of feet above head height by someone. And dollars to donuts, it was bound to be a father or grandfather doing the tossing.

I walked around a corner in order to see the event in full and sure enough, it was a “good ol’ boy” American father doing the throwing, with baby loving every bit of it. Not by coincidence, mom was nowhere in sight.

On a recent trip to Asia, I turned on Chinese television, not able to understand a word. But I did understand what I saw in a commercial, and I saw the same thing happening in parks as I walked to my meetings. Fathers and grandpas were throwing their little ones into the air, to the children’s immense delight and happiness (assuming that giggles have the same meaning across cultures). Apparently, this startling dad behavior is universal.

Consider this from the perspective of the baby, for whom the challenge of trying to figure out this interesting world is a full-time job.

Every baby who has ever taken flight in such a way learned an essential life lesson. I call it the “scary world–safe world” experience.

When a baby–boy or girl–is thrown into the air the first few times, what does he or she do? You know, because you’ve seen it yourself, and in fact likely experienced it yourself way back when. The children gasp and hold their breath, eyes wide as quarters. With my children, I’ve often caused and seen that look of sheer terror.