Volume 91, Issue 93
Wednesday, March 25, 1998
The changing role of the father
By Carolyn Wong
©Photo by James Pugsly
JUST LIKE MOM. In recent years, the figures on fathers show a new trend is on the rise: dads are now fighting for and receiving the custody of their children and the rate of single fathers is continuing to climb in Canada.
"What helps men when they go to fight for the sole custody and even just access to see their children, is the increasing recognition of fathers as care-givers," Tim Ready, president and founder of Fathers Helping Fathers, says.
Established last October, Fathers Helping Fathers is a London-based organization that provides support for fathers who are going through the trials and tribulations of divorce and custody issues in court. Support is offered through monthly meetings, by accompanying them to court and by helping fathers battle feelings of isolation and frustration.
"Society is starting to open their eyes to what the basic needs are and they are starting to accept single fathers," Ready says.
There is sometimes the myth that courts favour women, since there is a stereotype that women are better care-givers, says Camille Riggs, a family lawyer in London and the vice-president of the Middlesex family Law Association. "The courts take into account the status quo," she explains.
"If the children have been living with their mother during the separation and that situation is fine, then the courts tend not to interfere with the status quo," Riggs explains. "The situation could be the opposite, in which the children have been staying with the father and once again, the court will try not to disturb the established arrangements."
Fathers not only have felt frustrated while fighting for sole custody but even for access to see their children: "The courts need to listen more to a father who is concerned about his children's well-being, but men also have to learn to open up and start expressing their feelings," Read explains.
While more men are fighting for custody and access, it is important to remember that in every situation, the decision must be made in the best interest of the children. "The key to understanding the role of access is to know that it is not the entitlement of the parent but the right of the child," Riggs says.
"There is a task force working on making custody and access reforms, but it will be a slow and tedious process," Cordy says.
Glazier adds, "the government will give money to those agencies that are willing to take this on, but their willingness will only increase as the need for these social services increase."
DADDY'S LITTLE HELPER. Unlike support groups for women, there are very few organizations set up to help support men.
The Hardy Geddes House of the Western Area Youth Services, runs programs that help fathers from ages 14-22 cope with problems. Mike Glazier works with teenage dads at the Hardy Geddes House and helps single fathers who may be having conflicts with the law, drugs and alcohol or just need a place to stay.
Glazier says people are becoming parents at a younger age. Single fathers are taught problem solving and life skills, assisted in job searching and finding a place to live.
Some of the teenage fathers may have sole custody or just visitation rights, but regardless of the legalities, Glazier finds that everyone he works with wants to be involved with their child.
"Although there are a lot of responsibilities involved, they see the importance of creating male role models for their children," he says.
One of the difficulties single fathers face is learning to adjust to being a proper parent. "Sometimes when the kids start fighting or disobeying you, you feel like lashing out but you can't," Ready explains. "You have to stop and listen to them and let them know that you are there for them," she stresses.
For single fathers who are struggling, Ready offers some words of wisdom. "Raising children is a constant learning experience. You just go day by day and try different things until something works and you never stop learning."
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Copyright © The Gazette 1998