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Divorced, single fathers face old stereotypes

Even though child custody is legally gender-neutral and more fathers than ever are raising children as single dads after a divorce, men are still battling old stereotypes and suspected of being less qualified parents than their female counterparts.

A father who takes his child to the park or to ballet class risks being stared down by the mothers watching their own children, either out of curiosity or suspicion. What is he doing here, they might wonder. He doesn't seem to belong. No matter how loudly we all scream for equality and the fading of traditional gender roles, many people can't resist the urge to ask a man spending time with his kids if he's "baby-sitting" or "giving his wife a break."

There are about 1.8 million single fathers in the U.S. That's a 27 percent increase in the past decade, according to the Census. Divorced fathers comprise 46 percent, and 19 percent are separated. Fathers seeking sole custody in a divorce are successful 50 percent of the time. In fact, the number of fathers awarded custody has doubled over the past 10 years.

So why are we still suspicious of the man who shows up to volunteer in his son's classroom or attend his daughter's Little League game? As one professor and author puts it, "It's kind of bad for men to be interested in other children."

At least that's the perception at times. Fathers also face another dated assumption: that they can't possibly be as good at single parenting as mothers are. Many divorced fathers say people are surprised they've been granted sole custody or even half of that. What gives people the belief that dads don't want to play at least an equal role in their children's lives as their mother does?

Perhaps as the number of fathers awarded custody continues to increase, the stereotypes will fade. In the meantime, don't assume that the man cheering on the players at your local T-ball game is there just because his wife couldn't make it.

Source: Huffington Post, "Fathers: Equal In Marriage But Not Divorce?" Vicki Larson, Dec. 14, 2011

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