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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

August 5, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

I hate the Miami Heat. Really, I do. It’s mostly LeBron James’s fault. I know he’s a great basketball player, but as person he just doesn’t impress me. LeBron is all about LeBron. The sun rises and sets as LeBron sees fit. Or so it seems to me. Of course, if I had his fame, his talent, his money, the almost constant stream of adoration he receives, I’d probably have a pretty swelled head too, so I guess I shouldn’t criticize. At the same time, I look at his teammate, Dwyane Wade, who’s got almost as much talent and money and I see the kind of person it’s possible to be even under those conditions. I wish more celebrities had one tenth the personal dignity, grace and humility that Wade has.

I’ve written before about him, for example, here. That’s because he’s been in a donnybrook of a custody fight for his two sons against their mother Siovaughn Funches. Their divorce was widely described as the longest in the history of Chicago. It ended with Wade getting custody of the children and Funches receiving the usual visitation — every other weekend, plus.

That was two years ago. At the time, the judge who ruled on the custody case didn’t mince words about Funches’ behavior that led her to give custody to the boys’ father.

“This court finds that [Siohvaughn Wade] has embarked on an unstoppable and relentless pattern of conduct for over two years to alienate the children from their father, and lacks either the ability or the willingness to facilitate, let alone encourage, a close and continuing relationship between them.”

That’s putting it mildly. Since then, apparently Funches lost what little visitation she had, doubtless due to her nutty and aggressive behavior. She recently had one visit with the boys, but Wade tried to prevent further ones. My guess is that Funches hasn’t changed a bit since Judge Renee Goldfarb excoriated her in 2011.

When we last saw Funches, she was chained to a pillar outside the court claiming to anyone who would listen that she was homeless. That’s not a very good tactic for convincing a judge that you’re a responsible mother and of course it makes no sense. Here’s a woman who’ll soon receive something like $5 million in a property and spousal support settlement and she’s trying to convince us that no one will take her in. I don’t believe it for a second, not least because it’s Siovaughn Funches making the claim. The woman’s just not big on telling the truth.

In any event, a case that should have been over and done with years ago drags on. Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade has written a book recounting his trials and tribulations on the road to fatherhood. Here’s his article on the subject (CNN, 7/31/13). Despite his celebrity status, despite the huge public spotlight in which he lives much of his life, Wade has come to value the private virtues of fatherhood most. I say, “good for him.” And he wants to get his message about the joys and challenges of being a parent to as many men as he can. To that I say, “double good.”

Being a father is the most important and rewarding thing I will ever do, and I strongly encourage all fathers to love and take responsibility for their children.

It occurred to me that there was no guidebook out there that defined and detailed what being a great full-time single dad really was. Where was the game plan for getting this right? Well, if there wasn't one, then I would need to draw from the past and do the legwork to create one of my own.

Fatherhood, to me, isn't something you do for awards or acclaim. It's a privilege and a huge responsibility. Of course, the recognition I've been given has been flattering — except I don't think it makes sense to honor me for what I should be doing in the first place. That said, I do hope that by opening up in ways I haven't in the past, I can encourage other fathers or father figures to get more involved with their kids' lives.

Another reason I wrote this book is for my sons, Zaire and Zion. My hope is that in retracing some of my steps in life, both successful and not, I can pass on important lessons taught to me by others and that I had to pick up on my own. But I also want them to know there are no shortcuts or easy answers to being a father first, my life's mission. I want them to know I'm learning still, sometimes on the fly.

Who really tells you how to be a dad? No one. Which is why I wanted to share my discoveries about how every child is different and you therefore have to parent each differently. I want to address the priorities I'm a stickler for — my beliefs about respect, responsibility, hard work, having dreams, and always being open to learning. Just as important, I want my boys, including my nephew Dahveon, to know they are my best teachers when it comes to being a good father.

Wise words. You have to love a dad who realizes that he’s always learning, and most importantly from his children. It takes a man of Wade’s self-effacing humility to grasp that.

Wade of course is aware not only that he’s a high-profile father, but that he’s uniquely positioned to speak to — and perhaps be heard by — the type of young men who uniquely look up to professional basketball players. For that reason, he emphasizes what they can do to embrace their role as fathers. He tells them fatherhood is the best thing they can ever do as a man. He tells them to take responsibility for their children.

That of course is a good message that many men, particularly young ones, need to hear. But it’s scarcely the whole story of why children don’t have contact with their dads. My guess is that’s why Wade is part of President Obama’s Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative. The president prefers to ignore the things he can actually do something about, like divorce court bias against fathers, like the child support system that makes no effort to help fathers enforce their visitation rights, like the adoption system that does its utmost to cut fathers out of the loop and force adoption on their children. Gone from the Obama narrative is any mention or awareness of maternal gatekeeping, false allegations of domestic abuse in family courts, paternity fraud and the like.

Like the president, Wade overlooks the many systemic obstacles to fathers doing exactly what he’s calling for — greater contact with their kids. But where I criticize Obama, I give Wade a pass. The president is, after all, the most powerful person in the country. If he really wanted to put fathers back in children’s lives, he’d take to the bully pulpit at the very least and demand that states amend their laws and judges change their ways. He’d hammer away at Congress to provide funding to help men enforce their visitation rights, correct the manifold injustices of the child support system and stop paying states to traffic children into foster care and then into adoptive homes.

The difference between Barack Obama and Dwyane Wade is that one has the power to change policy, at least somewhat, and the other doesn’t. What Wade can do is use his status to speak to boys and young men about what they can do and what they need to do. Could he have written a different book? Of course he could have, but he wrote the one he wrote and it contains valuable information from a man who may come to be one of the most important spokesmen for fathers this country has ever seen.

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