You've know the stories: Deadbeat dads who abandon children and refuse to pay child support; more and more single-parent homes, with the father being the absent figure and very often getting the blame for the home's breakup; the great need for male mentors and role models to replace the father figures too few children ever know.
On Father's Day, the stories are enough to make even the best of fathers wonder how they rate, including those fathers described by researchers as “Superdads” -- good providers who also praise their children's accomplishments, read bedtime stories and change diapers."
Just how accurate are the impressions of fathers? What research has found contradicts some conventional wisdom:
- Married minority fathers are just as involved with their children as are non-Hispanic white fathers.
- College-educated fathers spend less time on child care of their preschoolers than do less-educated fathers.
- Better than six in 10 ever-married absentee fathers pay some child support.
On a good day, full-time working parents may spend four hours with their children. This precious time must contain all of the daily chores of child care, including dressing, feeding, bathing and putting children to bed.
Nearly all married men with a preschooler do some of these chores, but working fathers still aren't putting in nearly the same number of hours as working mothers.
And what of absentee fathers?
What researchers have found is that nearly half of all ever-married absentee dads see their children less than once a month or never. Younger fathers are more likely to never see their children; college-educated dads are more likely to see their children less than once a month.
Hispanic fathers go to extremes: They have the highest proportions of both men who never see their children and men who see them at least once a week.
And if an absentee father is married, he's much less likely to see his children who live elsewhere. Even without a new marriage, as the years pass, Dad is more and more likely to disappear.
The researchers say many factors reduce how often absentee fathers see their children, including geographic distance from children, legal agreements and payment of child support. Custodial mothers may also erect barriers to separate absentee fathers from their children.
Even the most highly involved absentee fathers must struggle to maintain the closeness and involvement with children that residential fathers take for granted. Many absentee fathers, especially those who see their children less frequently, are not Deadbeat Dads -- they're Disney Dads.
Disney Dads are not teachers, coaches and disciplinarians -- they are adult playmates who entertain the kids on recreational outings.
On the other hand, some absentee fathers focus on making their children feel like family members in their second home, rather than like occasional guests.
They spend their visits doing the kinds of things intact families do -- yard work, preparing meals together and schoolwork.
Draw your own conclusions about dads. Fatherhood may be different today, but the need for fathers is as great as ever. That is indisputable.
Above all, it is important that fathers themselves realize just that.