By Patrick Mitchell
The Down to Earth Dad
Dad Support...And How it Can Pay Dividends
Enhancing father involvement where it is lacking or absent from children's lives is a noble endeavor and rewarding work, as state child- and family-serving agency administrators and local program directors supporting such work will attest. Tearing down the negative outcomes associated with father absence, and optimizing the positive outcomes associated with father presence, is good for children, and it's accomplished by helping dads, moms, and programs identify and celebrate the value of time fathers spend with their children.
Dads and moms are busy creatures who are constantly parceling out chunks of time that can be allocated for work, children, significant-other relationships, and rest. Some say dads do a poor job of this parceling out of their daily time relative to parenting, and that fathers do only a so-so job of providing financial and emotional support to their children. Others say they're doing just fine.
According to a study from the Institute for Families in Society at the University of South Carolina, the public is generally satisfied with the way fathers participate in child-rearing. Those who responded in the study said dads give adequate daily care, provide ample financial support, give appropriate moral and ethical guidance, and help their children with homework. The flipside of this seemingly rosy view of dads is growing evidence supporting a cultural trend wherein families face increasing stress, households are less stable than they once were, and fathers are often seen as the main contributors to the problems.
One such problem is nonpayment of child support. Should dads who don't pay child support be encouraged to build strong bonds with their children anyway? Apparently, we don't value father-child time as much as we value fathers making child support payments on time.
Consider this: There's a 400-to-1 ratio as to what the federal government spends on child support enforcement ($4 billion) versus what it spends on access and visitation enforcement ($10 million). To put it another way, if our government spending, dollar for dollar, accurately reflects the views of the people our government serves, then we might say that for every 400 of us who feel strongly that the paying of child support is a thing of value, there is just one person arguing equally loudly for enforcement of court-ordered father visitation rights as a thing of equal value.
Our collective perception appears to be that fathers have greater value in what they can pay, rather than what they can give to their children by way of their time. This should be an eye-opener for anyone who believes father involvement grows out of time spent with one's children and who also accepts the reality that children who don't have an involved father experience an increased risk of growing up poor, getting into trouble with the law, abusing drugs and alcohol, having early sex, becoming a teen parent, dropping out of school, and committing suicide.
I am not advocating for enforcing visitation rights at the exclusion of enforcing child support. Rather, I want to suggest there may be ways for states to help fathers connect more meaningfully with their children and thereby bring about a climate more conducive to collecting child support on time. Russell Barron, statewide self-reliance programs administrator with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, whose office administers the state's Office of Child Support Enforcement, tells me it's a worthwhile endeavor to celebrate and enhance the emotional attachment fathers have with their children. By doing so, he infers, men may be more apt to pay their child support. "The more father involvement there is, the better off emotionally the children are," he says. "And when it comes to child support, when you have that emotional attachment, you're going to want to support your children more in other ways."
Father absence cannot exist where father presence exists, and father presence is a function of father-child time spent together. State and local program directors who really believe--or want to believe--that good things happen when fathers are involved, will find creative ways to combine productive father-child interaction and the emotional attachment that derives from such interaction. One positive result may be increased payment of child support.
I interview several dads monthly in connection with the Dads Matter! ProjectTM I facilitate for state and local programs. One of the dads, Recike Johnson of Alabama, told me recently, "Love your kids. Be there for them. Be that strong figure in their life. Never turn your back on them." That's the kind of commitment our programs need to provide children with the benefits of involved fatherhood. It's a noble endeavor, and it might just pay dividends.
A regular contributor to Children's Voice, Patrick Mitchell publishes a monthly newsletter, The Down to Earth Dad, from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and facilitates the Dads Matter! ProjectTM for early childhood programs, schools, and child- and family-serving organizations. He conducts keynote addresses, workshops, and inservice and preservice trainings. To reserve Patrick Mitchell for speaking engagements, or to implement the Dads Matter! ProjectTM for your families and community partners, call him toll-free at 877/282-DADS, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.DownToEarthDad.org.
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