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.