As schools reopen, the most important thing fathers can do now to make a positive difference in their children’s lives is to accompany them to school on the first day.
It is critical that fathers support their children academically. This is especially true for divorced or never-married dads who have limited parenting time with their kids. Knowing where and when their kids go to school and who their teachers are is essential knowledge for fathers.
The consequences of fathers not being allowed to care about their kids are significant, as I detail in my book Fathers’ Rights, available in English, Spanish and Chinese: Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school, and children whose fathers are absent consistently score lower than the norm on reading and math tests.
Another manifestation of the difference between an active father and an absent father is in gang recruitment, which is a problem in many American school districts. The simple act of fathers accompanying their children to school and making their presence known is a setback for the gangs. They have a harder time selling gang life to kids with involved fathers, and they know it.
“Fatherless children are easy prey for street gangs and end up as targets,” says Maureen Gorman, a senior matrimonial litigator at my firm. “These children need father figures, not gang affiliations.”
After recognizing all the good that comes from father involvement in their children’s lives, and all the harm that comes from father absence, I have to point out that there are hurdles placed in the way of fathers, who continue to be on the short end of gender bias in our courts. There are fathers who are not awarded parenting time with their children, there are mothers who refuse to comply with parenting time orders, and there are men who are kept from their children by baseless orders of protection. (Though there may have been a physical altercation involving the parents, this seldom portends a threat of harm to the children.)
In some cases, fathers are not even aware of where their children live and attend school. If fathers are kept in the dark about these basic facts – so they can’t be good fathers no matter how hard they try – then how can we as a society blame these men when the costs of father absence become evident?
In the four decades that I’ve been practicing family law, I have fought for improvements in the way fathers are treated in child custody disputes. But there are still too many cases where the fathers are considered useless except as an ATM – and if they don’t have money, then they’re of no use at all. We must continue to change this way of thinking.
But the first day of school shouldn’t be only about evading gangs and preventing dropouts. The first day of school is a marker in the life of a child: They’re another year older, they’re embarking on a new academic year in which they’ll learn new things, both in the classroom and in life. It is an unforgettable experience, and when their father is there to experience it too, it strengthens the bond between father and child. That’s something that will deliver benefits for a lifetime.
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