A generation ago, the portrait of a divorced father was radically different. He had less custody of his children and fewer rights. Judges typically -- even automatically -- sent the children of divorcing couples to live with the mother, assuming that she was the better caregiver without considering the particular needs of the children or the resources of either parent. Primary custody for the father was almost unheard of, barring extreme circumstances.
Much has changed in the past several years when it comes to fathers' rights. Dads have been given the opportunity to spend more time with their children, thanks to the courts' recognition that children need the guiding presence of both parents. Primary custody is granted to fathers more often, and today's joint custody arrangements have divorcing couples sharing parenting responsibilities much more equally.
Still, many single dads report feeling frustrated over not being able to do more for their kids. A recent "Good Morning America" profile of divorced fathers with at least shared custody demonstrated that while attitudes toward divorced fathers have shifted -- yes, they CAN cook, clean and have compassion -- some admitted having feelings of inadequacy and fear that they can't make a big enough impact when their time is limited to weekends and a few holidays. One father said he relies on older female family members to teach his girls to be girls.
But these insecurities can affect either parent, mother or father. And as a fathers' advocate interviewed by "Good Morning America" said, there's no such thing as a perfect dad (or mom, for that matter). Having a father or father figure decreases the likelihood that a child will grow up to be poor, drop out of school or get pregnant as teens, he said. What's important is simply being there.
Determining child custody can be a difficult process, especially if there are disagreements over how much time each parent should get. Fathers in the throes of a divorce could greatly benefit from having an attorney who can advocate for their rights and ensure that they're able to continue being a positive influence on their children.
Source: ABC News, "1.7M Single Dads Coping at Holiday Time: 'I Can Only Do so Much," Susan Donaldson James, Nov. 30, 2011