Dear Dad, you’re falling down on the job. Show a bit more respect to Mom. Praise daughters with the same kudos that sons get. Above all, spend time with your kids.
Advice like that — from the Southwest Center for Fathering at Abilene Christian University — aims to demystify fatherhood and make men realize just how crucial they are for their children.
The center echoes a line from the chorus of trendy “family values” speeches these days: Two-parent homes tend to promote stability and happiness.
“I know it’s not politically correct,” said Michael O’Donnell, the center’s [former] executive director. “It feels sanctimonious to say that one form of family is better. But research backs it up.”
O’Donnell collects data on fathering in an array of manila folders and videotapes.
It is here … where O’Donnell incorporates that data for Christian and secular seminars.
The seminars train men to conduct seven-week sessions for wanna-be-better dads. About 400 men have earned … certification to lead such fathering groups at churches and social agencies nationwide.
Men come to the groups for peer support, O’Donnell said. They leave with heavy doses of parental platitudes (consistency, awareness, nurture) and assignments, such as reading bedtime stories to their children.
“We’re finding the male presence is stabilizing, dynamic, brings balance,” O’Donnell said. “We tell men the greatest gift they can give their children is to love their mother.”
What’s evident, he said, is that children suffer when their busy dads ignore them or desert the home.
Father absenteeism exacerbates a child’s academic struggles, low self-esteem and aggressive behavior, O’Donnell said. Boys tend to take up drug use; girls become more sexually promiscuous.
“The two-parent family is still the best social institution ever invented to rear children,” he said. “We don’t want to burden single moms, but we shouldn’t hold them up as the ideal.”
Not necessarily, says the National Women’s Law Center.
Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the Washington, D.C.-based group, applauded efforts to get men involved with family life. But she emphasized that good families need not resemble Ward and June Cleaver’s.
“We do take issue with the assertion that a two-parent family is always better than a single-parent family, or anything in any way that would demonize single-parent families that are doing a good job,” she said.
The U.S. Census Bureau counted 3.4 million Texas children in two-parent homes in 1990.
Single mothers in Texas were raising 758,617 children that year, the census said. Homes headed by single Texas fathers contained 155,196 children.
O’Donnell said America has begun holding men accountable. The wakeup call goes beyond political rhetoric and feel-good television ads, he said.
O’Donnell, [former] president of the Texas Council on Family Relations, [had taken] his pro-Dad message to the United Nations. He … summarize[d] feedback from more than 4,000 well-adjusted teen-agers, who said in surveys they feel less stressed growing up with two parents at home.
His point in Vienna: The world faces a potential fathering crisis, especially in war-torn nations.
But Luther Cammack in Abilene already sees an improved outlook.
Cammack, 67, has adopted his 10-year-old grandson. Together they worked on school projects and built a prize-winning Boy Scout derby car, Cammack bragged.
Sessions with a fathering group persuaded him to allot special time for his grandkids — time he didn’t spend with his own four children years ago, he said.
“It’s more fun,” Cammack said. “We play catch. I can catch a ball better now than I could in high school.”
David Cory, community organization specialist for Children’s Protective Services in Abilene, pointed out that children need adult role models from both sexes.
Cory said his agency’s No. 1 problem arises when fathers shrug off their financial and emotional duties.
He offered a pre-Father’s Day word of advice for men who put in too many hours at the office.
“They’ve got a precious gift,” Cory said. “The reward that they get from spending time (with their kids) will last a lot longer.”
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