published Sunday, June 15th, 2014

Baumgardner: Don't miss out on being a father to your children

By Julie Baumgardner

Today will be the first time Jeff (name changed) celebrates Father's Day. His daughter is 9 months old, and he is thankful he will be celebrating this 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."

In an effort to be as prepared as possible to be active in the life of his child, Jeff attended Boot Camp for New Dads, along with other classes.

"In spite of the circumstances, I did not want to be an absent father," he 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."

Jeff learned communication and conflict management skills, in addition to how important it is for a father to be involved in the life of his child. He also 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," says Jeff.

Jeff is quick to say that being a first time father and learning about caring for a baby has had a steep learning curve, but worth every minute.

"I love spending time with my daughter," he 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. There are 24 million children in the United States growing up in a home without their biological father. Data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing survey indicates that one-third of nonresidential 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 how much a child needs the involvement of a healthy father.

This Father's Day, if you are actively involved in the lives of your children, consider yourself blessed. If you are estranged from your children, it is never too late to make a change.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at julieb@firstthings.org.

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