Jeff* celebrated his first Father’s Day when his daughter was 9-months-old, and he is thankful for that day with her. Jeff is a single father who shares custody of his daughter with his ex.
“Our relationship ended shortly before our child was born,” says Jeff. “Things were crazy. I am an industrial engineer and teach people how to build cars for a living. I knew nothing about going to court and all that would be involved with being able to see my child.”
Since he wanted to be an active father even before his child was born, Jeff took a class for new fathers through First Things First, along with other classes.
“In spite of the circumstances, I did not want to be an absent father,” Jeff says. “My ex was very nervous about me taking care of our child by myself. There was a lot of tension in our relationship. Through a series of events, I ended up in the Dads Making a Difference class. That was a real game-changer.”
In addition to learning communication and conflict management skills, Jeff found out more about the importance of a father’s involvement with his child. Plus, he learned what it meant to protect and serve both his child and her mother.
“From the time I began the class to now, the transformation in the relationship between me and my ex has been amazing,” Jeff says. “A personality inventory we took in class helped me to understand her better, which led me to handle situations differently. The response surprised me. We have moved away from supervised visitation. In addition to getting more visitation time with my daughter, she spends every other weekend with me and that is pure joy.”
In Jeff's opinion, being a first-time father and learning about caring for a baby has been a steep learning curve, but worth every minute.
“I love spending time with my daughter,” Jeff says. “I want to nurture her in a way that will allow her to thrive. Being an engineer, I love math and science but I also love art and music. I sing to her a lot and enjoy playing with her, and watching her develop her motor skills. I can’t wait for her to walk.”
Believe it or not, Jeff is an exception to the rule.
In 2014, 17.4 million children in the U.S. were growing up in a home without their biological father. Moreover, data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing survey indicates that a third of non-residential fathers had no contact with their child five years after birth. Jeff has no intention of becoming a part of this statistic.
Through various circumstances, including divorce and unwed births, there are many men who are missing out on the gift of a relationship with their child. While it can be complicated, unnerving and extremely challenging, don’t underestimate a child's need for a healthy father's involvement. Literally thousands of credible studies show that children need mom and dad engaged in their lives.
So, if you're actively involved with your children, consider yourself blessed. On the flip side, if you are estranged from your children, remember that you can still make a change regarding that relationship.