Friday, December 9, 2011

There's no "I" in Parent

Although statistically it's usually fathers who opt out, cop out or are pushed out of their children's lives by divorce, it happens the other way as well – and with equally devastating consequences.  An excellent example comes from blogger Sophia van Buren, who for various reasons lost joint physical custody of her children in a divorce and has expressed her grief – and her children's – in a most public forum.

Surprisingly, Ms. van Buren has also appeared in several online forums for divorced fathers and has come to identify – and to sympathize – with the legions of divorced dads.  As a similarly legally alienated parent, she now endorses a concept that is becoming more common in more states across divorce-torn America: co-parenting.

“'Co-parenting' is just a slick new word for an old idea – Cooperation," she writes in her blog. "Cooperation [is] a word that even looks like a thinly veiled word scramble of 'co-parenting,' and is a concept most kids are introduced to at an early age."

Hers is a sound conclusion, and one more and more people are coming to.  One parent is an individual, two or more involved parents make a team.  And just as in baseball, it's the best team that wins in parenting.  This is even more true after divorce ... especially after divorce.  Whatever it takes to field such a team, research shows that divorced parents should do it.  It doesn't do any good to have a star player on the sideline.  And let's face it, in most kid's eyes both mom and dad are star players.

Take a moment to read about Sophia van Buren's struggles to stay involved in her children's lives despite a lopsided parenting plan.  As you read, think about the millions of fathers who have gone through this same custody nightmare at the hands of a court system that customarily dismisses the importance of a father's day-to-day role in children's lives. Van Buren's story is a heartfelt one, with a strong endorsement for a solution that's working for divorced parents and children of divorce everywhere: joint legal and physical custody. 

And yes, while "co-parenting" may sound a lot like "cooperation" (and feel like it too), "parents" and "partners" is an even more thinly-veiled word scramble.  Which isn't surprising. The best parents are partners, after all.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Season of the Father

There may be at least one silver lining to the raucous dispute between NBA basketball players and owners – more time this winter for normally globe-trotting NBA dads to spend some serious time with their kids. 

A normal season would see these abnormally tall dads absorbed from late September to late October preparing for the upcoming season. Then during the potentially eight months of basketball (if dad's team goes all the way to the NBA Finals in June, as the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks did last year), there are the coast-to-coast road trips, long practice sessions and night home games that often last long past the kids' homework and bed time.

The current labor dispute that is painfully pulling apart loyalties in the pro basketball family may, ironically, help keep a lot of players' families together.  Dads taking kids to school and picking them up from practice afterwards. Dads fixing lunch, helping with homework, volunteering at school either in the classroom or on the school yard. For as long as they're locked out of their basketball arenas, the fathers of the NBA are free to be ... fathers. And that's no small thing.

As I've noted in previous newspaper articles and blogs, father absence is an undisputed factor in a huge array of social problems for kids. Families without fathers produce more kids with depression, teen pregnancy, delinquency and drug use.  Studies show that kids without dads do worse in school, drop out sooner and at higher rates, commit more crimes, and are more likely than other kids to lead a life of poverty. 

Most of these negative social factors stem from dads who have either fled the roost, been pushed out by punishing divorce laws and custody rulings, or were never in the picture in the first place. But even dads who are "there" for their kids can "not be there," if you know what I mean.  So while the NBA stalemate will predictably lead to massive amounts of money lost by players, owners and support staff, it could also result in some really positive developments for their offspring – including some awesome new moves on neighborhood basketball courts.

The Evolution of American Parenting
In the continuing vein of monitoring the changing roles of moms and dads in our continually changing society, here are some results from a survey asking parents to rate their involvement in household chores and child-care. Interestingly, these are parents rating themselves – and each other:

Statement 1: "I do the majority of child-care and housework"
Moms: 72%
Dads: 61%

Statement 2: "The work is split evenly"

Moms: 27%
Dads: 24%

Statement 3: "My Spouse/Partner does the majority"

Moms: 1%
Dads: 15%

The poll, by NBC Universal, surveyed 3,224 moms and 403 dads in June and August, 2011.  Hey, why so few dads in the sample? Maybe they were too busy running errands and helping with homework! J

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mother, Father, Nun, Kid

On the battleground of divorce, where people might be fighting for identity, pride or dreams of vengeance, it is exceedingly difficult to stand back and see the big picture on your own. For my friend Kathryn  Breyer, a human resources manager in California's Silicon Valley, a little help came from a most unexpected place during her divorce more than a decade ago.
"I went to my attorney and just assumed I would get sole custody – that's the way it always was where I came from," she said.

The many divorced women she knew from her suburban circle of friends had all been awarded physical custody of their children. It was the way things were before laws providing a presumption of joint custody and co-parenting went into effect in many states.  But two things got in Kathryn's way: her husband – and her own attorney, a nun.

"We argued over it for quite awhile. She kept saying, 'you have to reach the core of your character and put your children first. And the best thing for your children is to keep both parents in their lives. No matter how much you hate your ex-husband, or how disappointed you are in the marriage, just always focus on your children.'"
Kathryn didn't want to hear it. Like many divorced people, she harbored the fantasy that the other person would simply fade away. "I couldn't come to terms with the fact that he was going to be in my life, no matter what. There was this fantasy that somehow it's like a bad date. You know – 'beep, that's over, I don't have to see that person again.'"

Eventually, her lawyer-nun prevailed and Kathryn settled for joint custody. "Although I really disagreed, I believed her that it was important to have their dad in their life. I couldn't stand him, but it wasn't about what I thought of him any longer.  He was a good father.  He rejoiced in those children. But most important, I realized this is my children's father. It was us who wanted to divorce, not the children."
Today, she is absolutely certain that she made the right decision, as painful as it was at the time. "I have two of the most emotionally centered and grounded kids you could possibly meet. All through school the teachers would say they have no symptoms of coming from divorce."

For parents who would carry their anger, disappointment, frustrations and fears into custody battles over their kids, Kathryn Breyer has these words of wisdom: "Be as generous to each other as you can, for the sake of your children. It will only come back to give you gift, after gift, after gift. My children trust and love me so much for being supportive of that, and love him [their father] for staying in their lives. It's beneficial to all of us."

As a journalist, I had the opportunity to interview one of Kathryn's children a short time after interviewing his mom.  "I can't imagine not being allowed to see my dad – or my mom," the young man said 13 years after his parents divorced.  "The fact that they both made sure that everything was done equally, that they both lived close to our school, was really important.  It showed us they really loved us. So when I think back on my childhood, it was a really good time. My parents did a great job."
For help negotiating custody issues in divorce, go to Kids' Turn.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Now Comes BAD – Baseball Affective Disorder

Like millions of people, I’ve suffered from SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder.  My spirits fade with the light, darken in direct proportion to the lengthening shadows, turn gray with the clouds that bring winter rains and snow.  But the other evening as I was leaving my office and learned Game Six of the World Series had been rained out, I realized that my affliction isn’t really SAD at all, it’s BAD – Baseball Affective Disorder.

For most of the year I'm able to hold off BAD with the help of my city's team, the San Francisco Giants. Via radio, television, newspaper sports pages and summer nights at Big Phone Bill Park, the 2010 World Series winners were a hugely entertaining diversion. Players like The Freak (Tim Lincecum), the Panda (Pablo Sandoval), the Beard (Brian Wilson), baby-faced Darren Ford, the slightly seedy Aubrey Huff, choir boys Matt Cain and Freddy Sanchez and the budding Natural, Nate Shierholtz, had all become part of the everyday fabric of my life.

I realize of course that these people are literally strangers, but their exploits united our city in a thousand intangible ways. I could always ask a passing stranger wearing Giants gear how the team had done that day and get a friendly, heartfelt response. With our almost daily connection through baseball, we had become something more than fans.

We had become family.

Take the brutal, season-ending injury to catcher Buster Posey (please!). It wasn’t just the loss of the 2010 Rookie of the Year and sparkplug of the World Series. It was the demise of a favorite son, the felling of the longed-for-hero who had helped redeem our baseball "family" from a legacy of failure.  Buster was the youngest sibling making good, the child who actually absorbed the game’s stated virtues of devotion, humility and excellence.  He done us proud.

No other sport allows for this level of intimacy.  Basketball, hockey, soccer are simply too fast, with little space between the action to reminisce or embellish with tales, legends, myths.  Football’s plodding pace comes closest, but there are only 16 games – as opposed to baseball’s 162 – played weekly. Everyone knows it takes more than one day a week to hold a relationship together.

No matter how bad things get – and this has been a bad year for me, with two close friends succumbing to cancer and another fighting for her life – I always look forward to a baseball game somewhere. Even without my favorite players on the field, the game's stateliness and pace bring me comfort. To turn on the radio or TV and hear the laid-back voices of announcers, the conversational tone of the crowd and demonstrative crack of the bat helps keep winter and its chilly silences at bay. 

Thinking more about it, maybe the rainout of Game Six of the Series was a good thing. It helped extend the season one day longer and postpone the onset of BAD, an affliction guaranteed to last from the final out of the season to the opening tosses of Spring Training.

Unless I go to Mexico to catch some winter ball, which I've done in the past.  I'll do almost anything to counteract BAD.  Even watch the Yankees.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dad Stats

Everybody knows that baseball is "stats happy." Beyond comparing Batting Averages (BA), Stolen Bases (SB), Hit By Pitch (HPB), and Earned Run Average (ERA) and Blown Saves (BS) for pitchers, denizens of the diamond provide an ever-expanding field of acronyms that any bureaucrat can be proud of. 
Baseball now measures hitters' prowess with Runners in Scoring Position (RISP), their ability to move a runner to the next base –Runners Moved Up (RMU), On Base Percentage (OBP), the number of GWHs – Game Winning Hits – and the stat all teams dread, LOB – runners Left on Base.

True to this blog, how about some stats measuring the evolving state of American  fatherhood?  It is changing, after all.  An earlier post referenced the 2010 Census, which showed that single-father-headed households with children increased 27% in the decade from 2000 to 2010. Over two-and-a-half million single parents today are single fathers.  And the number of stay-at-home dads is rising with them – a nearly 60% increase between 2003 and 2008.

That's a strong AHP – At Home Percentage – for fathers.  But it also reflects a broader rise in fathers'  TWK – Time With Kids. This positive trend was borne out by Newsweek's Julia Baird, who reported in a column that "Millenial fathers – those under 29 – spend an average of 4.3 hours per workday with their kids, which is almost double that of their counterparts in 1977."
In addition to swelling AHP and TWK counts, social scientists are also measuring increases in dads' SPI – School Participation Index.  A survey by the National Center for Fathering and the National Parent Teacher Association found that the percentage of fathers who bring their child to school increased 16 percent in the past ten years, while 11 percent more attend classroom events and visit their child's classroom, and 8 percent more attend parent teacher conferences.

This suggests a rise in another general category – DPA, or Dad Point Average.
Finally, there's the all-telling HPD – Hugs Per Day.  Lisa Belkin of the New York Times cited a study that found that four out of five dads who responded "show more physical affection to their children than their parents did with them." A startling statistic from that study was that "fathers hug and kiss their children an average of five times a day." Wow! That HPD rating is exactly five more than my father ever logged.

These ascending stats are not surprising as more dads leave the workforce for the nursery, dads are doing more childcare and housework in general, and many fathers are feeling as torn over balancing work and family as mothers are.  Unfortunately, not every statistic involving dads is on the upswing, however. Let's look at a few of the most important ones, many of them from the web site of the National Fatherhood Initiative.
LWF – Living Without Fathers

More than 24 million children are currently growing up in this country without a father at home – making us the world leader in this distressing category.  Numerous studies show that a high LWF leads to a glut of other social problems, such as: 
CAD – Crimes per Absent Dad

A study of 13,986 women in prison revealed that more than half grew up without their father. Another showed that even after controlling for income, youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds of serving time behind bars.

DIDU – Dad-Induced Drug Use
Numerous studies show that kids are far more at risk of substance abuse without a highly involved father. Each unit increase in father involvement is associated with 1% reduction in substance use. In other words, as a father's AHP increases, the child's DIDU decreases.

MMO – Missed Mentoring Opportunity
Boys from fatherless families reported higher rates of drinking and smoking as well as higher scores on delinquency and aggression tests when compared to boys from two-parent households. For girls, being raised without a father increased the risk of teen pregnancy, marrying with less than a high school degree, and forming a marriage where both partners have less than a high school degree.

SLI – Shitty Life Index
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that children in father-absent homes are five times more likely to be poor. Children who live apart from their fathers are more likely to be diagnosed with asthma and experience an asthma-related emergency even after taking into account demographic and socioeconomic conditions. Figures for obesity are similar.

DPD – Dropouts per Dad
A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concludes simply: "Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school."

The picture is clear.  A father's low AHP and TWK leads to rising CAD, DIDU, SLI and DPD for kids. So let's work on lowering that LWF and getting the DPA back up. One suggestion: keep upping those HPDs.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

One Week Becomes a Life-Long Gift

Like most fathers from "The Greatest Generation," mine wasn't known for his emotional range. Communications were terse. Praise was meted out like World War II ration coupons. Hugging was an alien behavior still far away in an unexplored future world.

Except for one week out of the year. Every year no matter who was playing, my father took half of his allotted vacation time to watch the World Series at home. The Dad who was gone every day at his factory job from 7 am to 5 pm ... the Dad who every night after dinner disappeared into his workshop to smoke Chesterfields and build stuff ... the Dad who golfed every Saturday, marched his kids into church every Sunday, and every once in awhile played catch or shot baskets or showed my brother and me how to grip a golf club was home for an entire week.

He was there at breakfast, making coffee and buttering toast.  While I was at school he'd get out the storm windows he'd made himself and prepare them for winter, repaint peeling shingles, clean gutters, prune the lilac bushes, change the furnace filter.  It was a working man's holiday for sure, but afternoons were for baseball – and family.

The World Series was played in daylight back then so when I got home from school Mom and Dad were in front of the American-made Zenith TV, tray tables crammed with bowls of Planters Peanuts and pretzels and potato chips and glasses of Standard Dry Ale from the local brewery.  I'd squeeze between them and watch some of the great dramas of my youth: the 1957 Series, when Hank Aaron and the Milwaukee Braves vanquished the hated New York Yankees (Dad always rooted for the underdog, which the Yankees never were) ... Bill Mazeroski's startling ninth-inning home run to lift the Pirates over the Yankees in 1960 ... the dramatic 1962 Series that didn't end until the Giants' Willie McCovey lined out to Bobby Richardson ... the 1963 disassembling of the mighty Yanks by Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres.

For an entire week we cheered together, booed, laughed, hooted and groaned.  It was during these times that I recall the emergence of most of my father's unsolicited aphorisms. Keep your eye on the ball. Play hard every inning. Don't try and hit a home run every time up. Swing at strikes. I didn't know then that these were metaphors, only that they were true. Because my Dad said so.

The main thing I remember about that week, however, is simply being together.   Columbus Day sometimes came during the Series and I'd be home too. I'd share some of the chores around the house shoulder to shoulder with Dad, holding boards he was sawing, painting storm windows he'd patched and sanded, raking leaves to the curb.

It was a magical week. I felt comforted, inspired, protected and – here I add a word that my father actually never used, but I know he felt – loved.

The beauty of that one week a year with my Dad gave me the inspiration to try and spend 52 weeks a year with my son. I know it's impossible for every father to be there every day for his kids, but it's not impossible to try.  You won't regret it.  Look at time with your kids like you used to look at it when you were a kid. Unless you had the misfortune to have some SOB as a father, wasn't it great to have him around?  Isn't it great for your kids too?
The glue that sticks people together takes time to dry. I'm forever grateful for that one week a year I got with Dad. And eternally grateful to baseball for helping make it happen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Custody is for Parents

It's always seemed ironic that people who support the death penalty are often those most adamantly opposed to government programs. They distrust government to provide health care, education, regulation of businesses, protection from hazardous waste and to set a fair level of taxation, but give a "thumbs-up" to political institutions picking which people will live or die in an official government killing program.

I firmly believe that government has its purpose, but killing isn't one of them.  I also question the level of government interference that divorcing couples invite into their lives, especially when it involves the heart-wrenching issue of child custody.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not equating divorce with the death penalty. In many cases, divorce is far worse – a sentence of seemingly unending turmoil, confusion, loss and sadness, a kind of living death for some people. With divorce, the imagined trajectory of marital bliss is brutally terminated.  Instead of an expected cocoon of protective love and support, the marriage becomes an arena of gladiatorial brutality. For couples with children, the situation often becomes tragic and self-defeating. And one of the great self-defeating tactics is when a couple invites government to get involved to determine who takes care of the children, where, for how long, how much each is to pay, etc.

Take the now-celebrated case of Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Erik Bedard. In the midst of a furious pennant race, Bedard's ex-girlfriend had him served with child support papers prior to a Major League game – by a Yankees fan!  The mother of Bedard’s daughter, Julie, was seeking to tear up their previous agreement on child support, which provides for Bedard to pay $80,000 in child support and another $80,000 for Julie's education.

The case has gotten more than a 1,000 news mentions, the couple is funneling money down the courthouse drain, and daughter Julie is being subjected to the specter of their parents fighting in public over her and her future. 

When a marriage breaks up, the temptation to retreat behind walls and lob bombs at your Ex is almost impossible to resist. Betrayal, heart-break, broken dreams all come with the territory. But so do your kids. Any kind of warfare between the separating couple is guaranteed to inflict collateral damage on innocent bystanders, especially your kids.

I have followed this issue for years and come across cases where men, women and most importantly children have lost big when the hand of government gets involved.  A hard-working New York lawyer whose stay-at-home husband challenged her claim for primary custody lost – and was handed that dreaded consolation prize, "visitation rights." A father I know who had  his wages and benefits at work reduced went to court to reduce his child care payments by a corresponding amount – and saw the court actually increase payments based on the inflation rate.

The question here is – who knows your children better than you and your Ex? Rather than "lawyering up" and heading for court, experts recommend that divorcing couples grow up and work out their custody issues together.  It helps to have a state law like California's presumption of "joint custody" to encourage divorcing parents to see themselves as equals in this process rather than Aggressor vs. Potentially Vanquished.  Going into a conflict knowing that the most you'll win is 50% of anything takes away the incentive to screw the other person.

My Ex and I, my partner and her Ex, and hundreds of thousands of divorced couples across the country have worked out joint custody arrangements that fully involve both parents in the emotional and financial care of their children. It wasn't easy, but well worth doing. 

There are a number of organizations working for joint custody laws and co-parenting across the country, including Fathers & Families, The American Coalition of Fathers and Children) and Kids' Turn.  Joint Custody/Co-parenting is a win-win-win situation. Divorcing couples saves tens of thousands in legal fees, children are spared the specter of their parents squabbling well past the final out of their marriage, and an example is set for a lifetime of cooperation to further your children's life. 

Of course if you need a lawyer to overcome an unyielding or abusive Ex, by all means get one. But first try to work it out together.  Keep the government out of your divorce.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Giant Fathers

Last week's entry about the drop in testosterone in men intimately involved with their children's upbringing presents an interesting challenge to a professional baseball playing dad.  A key to success in baseball is "explosiveness." Players, managers and students of the game constantly talk about a player's "explosive" fastball, "explosive" bat, "explosion of speed" needed to steal a base or catch up to a drive deep in the alleys.  The physics of baseball features explosiveness at its very core, with a hardball thrown 95 miles an hour towards conditioned athletes swinging seasoned bats with hitting  techniques perfected over a century-and-a-half by craftsmen such as Cobb, DiMaggio,  Kaline, Clemente and Bonds. 

But who wants a father to be explosive?  A General, a courtroom lawyer, a corporate CEO or a professional athlete has to learn to leave his – or her -- work at the office, or at least at the front door.  To be a tough hombre out in the world and a testosterone-receding dad at home requires a masterful balancing act of competing existential demands. 

It's not an easy task.  Check out this video from Showtime's unusual reality baseball show about the 2011 San Francisco Giants – The Franchise.  These are wonderful stories about character, ambition, love, family.  And here are some shorter clips from the same Showtime series, which focus on particular points of the season or key relationships in the

players' lives.

Check out Giants' pitcher Matt Cain, the 6 foot 4 "work horse" of the pitching staff with a 94 mile an hour fast ball, cooing like a kid when he's greeted after a game by his children. Once he walks in the door, Cain's concerns obviously shift from his ERA to his DPH – Diapers per Homestand, or BPF – Burps per Feeding.

These are fathers, sons, husbands, sons-in-law ... partners in life.  These are baseball players. Spring Training runs from mid-February to the first of April.  Half of a team's 162 games are in far flung cities, and even for most home games in the age of night baseball Dad doesn't click open the garage door until after midnight, long after the little folks have gone to bed. 

Yes, baseball takes a man away from his family for long periods of time, but not forever.  Several works have dealt with this challenge, most notably the film "The Rookie" with Dennis Quaid and my own novel Home, Away.  Besides regulating his testosterone, a baseball player must learn to segregate what fosters his success on the ball field – strength, speed, explosiveness – with the gentleness, patience and love needed by his kids.  Even when they're on the road, a lot of these guys try to "be present" in their children's lives in creative ways – by phone, Skype, YouTube, FedEx.  This is beautiful stuff when it's done right, as these videos show. 

Work and family – how does a father do it all? Thankfully, more fathers than ever are struggling with that question, which is half the battle.  Previous generations of dads simply ignored it, at great cost to their kids and themselves.  This generation, thankfully, is holding itself to a higher standard – a Giant one.

Note: Look for New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey's upcoming autobiography from Penguin Books.  As yet untitled, Dickey promises to recount "the simultaneous frustrations of a pitcher trying to carve out a career in baseball and a husband and father with a short fuse and difficulty in separating his marriage from bad pitching performances."  You can follow him on Twitter: @RADickey43.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"Daddy, why's your testosterone falling?"

Fathers often struggle to describe how becoming a dad transforms them in profound and moving ways.  "I feel more connected ... more grounded ... more sensitive ... just different, you know?"  Changing diapers, pureeing carrots, backpacking the baby through local parks, reading The Little Engine that Could until he can't leads Dad to believe that his very essence has been altered.

Thanks to researchers at the National Academy of Sciences, now we know it has.  The results of a study following more than 400 fathers shows that testosterone, the King of male hormones, actually decreases after a man becomes a parent.  And the more involved he is as a parent, the steeper the decrease in testosterone.

The implications of these findings are enormous.  Contrary to those who deny any family role for men other than insemination, this report confirms a biological foundation for fathers-as-nurturers as well as a sociological imperative for society to radically alter its expectations of dads.

In the study, testosterone was measured when the men were 21 and single, and again nearly five years later. Although testosterone naturally decreases with age, men who became fathers showed much greater declines – more than double that of the childless men.

And men who spent more than three hours a day caring for children – playing, feeding, bathing, reading or dressing them – had the lowest testosterone.

It looks likes the Daddy Gene has been found.

"The real take-home message" of this study, said Peter Ellison, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University interviewed by the New York Times, "is that male parental care is important. It's important enough that it's actually shaped the physiology of men.

"My hope would be that this kind of research has an impact on the American male," Ellison concluded.  "It would make them realize that we're meant to be active fathers and participate in the care of our offspring."

Of course one worry is that men will see that active fathering lowers testosterone and head for the hills – or the nearest pick-up bar.  But have no fear – testosterone levels lowered by active fathering isn't irreversible. One study of Air Force veterans shows  that testosterone climbed back up after men were divorced.  Others show that an elevated testosterone level isn't a requirement for an active libido, welcome news to sexually active moms and dads alike.

So to those fathers pulling down major time with your kids: it's clear that's exactly what you're made for.  And to those not involved, and to divorce courts that customarily cut fathers out of their children's lives by limiting them to "visitation rights" – get with the plan and keep dad in the game.  It's good for everyone.

“Humans give birth to incredibly dependent infants," said Lee Gettler, an anthropologist at Northwestern University and co-author of the study.  "Historically, the idea that men were out clubbing large animals and women were staying behind with babies has been largely discredited. The only way mothers could have highly needy offspring every couple of years is if they were getting help.”

So do not ask for whom the testosterone lowers – it lowers for the kids.  And that's a good thing.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fathers playing harder, having more impact

In a major development on the family front, the advocacy group Fathers and Families reports that father-headed households are on the rise across the country. Fathers and Families co-founder Robert Franklin cites the 2010 Census, which shows that single-father-headed households with children increased 27% in the decade from 2000 to 2010.  This rise in single-father-headed households shows a trend toward greater custody for dads, a welcome change in a country where fathers for generations were not expected to be much involved in raising their children -- and far too many men met those low expectations.

Increased involvement in family life by fathers has been shown to be good for everyone, especially in cases of divorce. Rather than excising a father from children's lives, hugging him closer to the bosom of family has shown to decrease depression and delinquency for kids, improve kids' social life, strengthen life-long relationships between parents and children and improve kids' performances in school and at work. As I've often remarked, "father" is a verb.  To be a father, a man has to be involved in every aspect of his children's lives -- from parent-teacher meetings to late night talks about reproductive health.  Divorce can be a painful and disrupting divide between husband and wife,  but it needn't divide children from the love and support of both their parents.

One of the greatest conflicts a parent faces is making that delicate balance between caring for and nurturing your kids and caring for and nurturing your career.  This is an especially challenging task for professional baseball players, who spend long periods of time away from home both at Spring Training and during the season for weeks at a time playing road games. As the author of an award-winning book about baseball and fatherhood (Home, Away) published by Chin Music Press, I will be discussing fatherhood in general, divorced parenting issues in particular, and adding in some compelling examples from the All-American game of baseball.  Send me your comments, experiences and criticism.  This is about Dads stepping up to the plate. Play Ball!