March 13, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Back last December, the National Center for Health Statistics that’s part of the Centers for Disease Control published this report on fathers’ daily involvement with their children. Here’s an article about it as well (The Voice, 1/2/14). Its none-too-surprising revelation? That fathers who live with their children have more contact with them than those who don’t.
To those whose response might be “well, duh,” I say “not so fast.” The survey is valuable for a number of reasons. For one thing, it acknowledges what we all know, but too few admit, that children with fathers actively involved in their lives do better on a wide range of measures of well-being than do those without.
So whether or not a father lives with his children or not is perhaps the most important single factor in whether he’s a hands-on dad or not.
Another important fact about the report is that its data were gathered by asking fathers what they do in relationship with their kids. I know, you’d think that would be obvious, but, again as the NCHS report states, until 2002, data on father involvement were gathered by asking mothers, not fathers, about what fathers do, how often, etc. So the fact that these data come from the fathers themselves instead of a proxy is significant.
What’s perhaps most remarkable is that the study reveals that black fathers, often portrayed in popular culture and the news media as uniquely feckless and uncaring, in fact spend more time doing activities with their kids than do white or Hispanic dads.
Now, let’s be clear; the study includes step-fathers in its definition of “father.” So fathers who live with their kids aren’t all biological fathers by any means.
And finally, it’s worthwhile seeing the reality fathers and children face when mothers file for divorce and the dads are booted out of their children’s lives. For example, on page seven, we see a chart that graphically demonstrates the effects of fathers’ absence from children’s homes.
So 66% of fathers with children in their homes ate meals with the kids every day for the last four weeks, but just three percent of those living apart from their children did. Twenty-one percent of residential fathers took their children to or from an activity every day, compared with just four percent of non-residential dads. Some 65% of fathers talked with their children about what they’d done that day, but only 16% of non-residential fathers did. (That 16% is interesting because it’s so much higher than the other three statistics for non-residential fathers. My guess is it shows men taking advantage of being able to pick up the phone and have contact with their kids.)
And finally, 30% of residential fathers helped their children with their homework every day compared with only 6% of non-residential fathers.
The bottom line being this message to judges: “See what you’re doing with your every-other-weekend visitation schedule?” As Woody Allen once famously said, “Eighty percent of life is just showing up.” It’s precisely that that judges prohibit fathers from doing.
Similar statistics appear for other activities like bathing, diapering and dressing the child, playing with the child, reading to the child, etc.
Unsurprisingly, fathers’ perception of the job they’re doing as dads depends to a great degree on whether they’re present in their kids’ lives and therefore able to do the things parents do for and with their children. So 44% of residential fathers say they think they’re doing a good job as a parent, but only 21% of those who live apart from their children say the same.
In the NCHS study, black fathers come across very well when compared to white or Hispanic dads. For example, 70% of residential black fathers bathed, dressed or diapered their (under five year old) children every day compared to 60% for white fathers and 45% for Hispanic dads. In other words, given the chance to live with their children, black fathers are anything but the indifferent or unfit fathers we so often see in popular culture and the news media.
But for all fathers, the key to being a hands-on dad is living with their children. Again, that comes as no surprise. How could it be otherwise? But the message for everyone is that fathers generally are very active and hands-on with their kids.
That’s conveyed by data from other sources as well including those from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that periodically debunk the popular image of mothers slaving away at work, only to face a “second shift” when they get home. The reality is that fathers still do more paid work than mothers and mothers still do more childcare than fathers. When fathers paid and unpaid work is added up and the same done for mothers, the two are equal. It’s a fact the anti-dad crowd isn’t at all happy with.
But statistics can be a bit impersonal. The article on the NCHS study is out of the U.K. and puts some real flesh on the bones of the data.
Nick Makoha, 39, a poet turned screenwriter from Croydon, south London, and father of two children - Olivia, 9, and 3-year-old son Iden — described the findings as refreshing.
Having grown up without a father, Makoha who wrote and directed the play My Father and Other Superheroes Superheroes based on his journey from childhood to fatherhood, told The Voice: “My heart expanded the day my children were born. I don’t have the same heart that I did before, so I always wonder how [some men] allow [themselves] to walk away.”
He added: “In my mind I always wanted to be a good father, but I didn’t know what it looked like, I didn’t know how to be a good father.”...
Makoha said he wanted to show his children the importance of relationships. He said: “It’s my role to make my children feel special, so when or if they decide to become parents, it’s something they will enjoy doing.”...
Andrew Bryan, 45, a secondary school teacher from south London has an eight-year-old son with his former partner...
He said: “When there is divorce or separation, the UK family court only give men one weekend per fortnight and half the holidays (as standard contact time), which limits what a father can do.
“Anymore is at the discretion of the mother. However, if they don’t get on, minimal contact time means minimal fathering. This is a serious problem.”
Bryan believed the results of the survey would show even greater involvement, if parents had equal access to their children.
“There is an unfair bias towards women when it comes to separation and divorce,” he contended.
Just so. But for a legal system that believes, against all the evidence, that fathers are unimportant to children, evidence like this NCHS report may be just so much more fish wrap. After all, if the judges, legislators, custody evaluators, guardians ad litem, etc., haven’t gotten the message by now, will they ever? Even now, there are literally dozens of bills pending before state and national legislatures that would expand fathers’ access to their children post-divorce. But those that pass are so modest in scope as to likely have little or no effect on the actual decisions of judges.
Those judges tell us they’re acting in “the best interests of children,” but mountains of social science show they’re doing the opposite. What will it take to get everyone in the child custody system to acknowledge the obvious — that greater father involvement in children’s lives is good for everyone?
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National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
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