FSU works to bring fathers back
By Margaret Leonard
Editor-in-chief, Florida State Times
Whether it's feminism, modern culture, sexual freedom, welfare, the
erosion of religious values or television - blame the villain of your choice
- few will deny that there is a crisis in the American family today, and
a crucial element in the crisis is the missing or uninvolved father.
The absent or inactive father means more than an unfair burden on the remaining
parent. It can mean rejected, depressed, angry and even violent children.
Those children, even though they aren't yet a majority - about a third of
Florida's children in 1995 - often feel pain, conflict and fear, which they
may (many do not) express in destructive and criminal ways.
Florida legislators decided last year to have a look at the problem. They
created a 25-member Commission on Responsible Fatherhood to find the causes
of the diminished involvement of fathers in families, identify barriers
to greater involvement and find ways to overcome those barriers.
"Children in single-parent families are at a greater risk for school
failure, juvenile delinquency and teen pregnancy," said state Rep.
Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, who sponsored the legislation that created
the commission. "Strong demographic and cultural trends are leading
us toward being a 'fatherless nation.' Reversing this direction is imperative."
FSU's School of Social Work is organizing and staffing the commission. Dr.
Brenda Jarmon, FSU social work professor, is vice chair.
"This is the kind of work that has been too long left undone,"
said Charlie Peters, a Honeywell executive from Clearwater, who is chairman.
"We must find ways in our institutions, laws and cultural expectations
to restore the essential role of fathers in the family."
The commission held an organizational meeting in Tallahassee in September
and plans to meet three more times before July 1997 in various locations
around the state. The commission will make recommendations on ways to encourage
the involvement of fathers with their children through the judicial system,
schools, the workplace and other institutions.
'Beat dead dads' says mothers,
courts won't let them be fathers
When Florida's new commission meets to discuss ways to get fathers back
into their children's lives, a handful of fathers who yearn for involvement
have vowed to be at every meeting, clamoring to be heard.
They are members of Dads Assisting Dads, an organization of divorced men
who feel victimized by what they say are false allegations of domestic violence,
unreasonable child-support orders, anti-male bias in the courts, denied
visitation and other impediments to their full fatherhood.
"We are not Dead Beat Dads (or Moms), but Beat Dead Dads," a brochure
explains. "... We want to co-parent our children and resent being replaced
by a welfare system ... most of all, we want our children to know us as
their fathers (or mothers)."
(The group welcomes women as members, if they have non-custodial-parent
When commissioners seek to identify barriers to full participation of fathers
in raising their children, members of DADS are ready to name a few:
- vindictive former spouses who refuse to allow visitation, even though
it is court-ordered;
- deliberate alienation of the child from one parent;
- child support levels that impoverish one parent;
- false allegations of abuse;
- exorbitant legal fees in custody battles.
Members of the Pinellas County chapter of DADS spoke to the commission in
September, and said they would be back at subsequent meetings. Interested
parents can reach the group c/o Bob Zeller, 150 174th Terrace, Redington
Shores, Fla. 33708.
Members of the Florida
Charles S. Peters, chair; Honeywell Inc., Clearwater
Commission on Responsible Fatherhood
Dr. Brenda Jarmon, vice chair; FSU School of Social Work, Tallahassee
Mose Alexander; Deputy Sheriff, Rockledge, Fla.
Keith Thomas; Florida A&M University, Tallahassee
Calvin Ross; Department of Juvenile Justice, Tallahassee
Rep. Lois J. Frankel; Florida House of Representatives, West Palm Beach
Rep. Stephen R. Wise; Florida House of Representatives, Jacksonville
Sen. Betty S. Holzendorf; Florida Senate, Jacksonville
Sen. W.G. "Bill" Bankhead; Florida Senate, Jacksonville
Jack Levine; Florida Center for Children and Youth, Tallahassee
Kathy Hermann; Shelter for Abused Women, Naples
Thomas R. Stringer; Circuit Judge, Tampa
Ann Davis; Capital Area Healthy Start, Tallahassee
Dr. Karen Sowers-Hoag; FIU School of Social Work, North Miami
Robert A. McNeely; National Congress on Fathers and Children, Tallahassee
Patrick Hadley; MAD DADS, Ocala
Evan Marks; Florida Bar, Family Law Section, Miami
Corrie Roberts; AARP, Miami
Douglas M. Mann; Florida Chamber of Commerce, Tallahassee
Mark Merrill; Florida Family Council, Tallahassee
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