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Barriers To Responsible Fatherhood

Some fathers choose to be uninvolved in their children's lives. Others, despite their longing and love for their children - especially the low-income and unmarried - face unwarranted, impossible barriers to participate in their children's lives.

Having low education levels, most low-income fathers flounder in intermittent employment, often barely earning enough to care for their children and themselves. The jobs they have are minimum wage, without benefits, seasonal in nature, subject to layoffs, inconsistent and lacking regular, predictable paychecks. Construction jobs for example are subject to demand and vacillating weather conditions. Unreliable transportation to and from work further hinders employment opportunities.

Most low-income, unmarried fathers neither share, nor have custodyof their children. Many never-married fathers fail to establish paternity due to lack of information and legal system understanding and as a result, they have no rights regarding their children

Unmarried fathers in low-wage and inconsistent employment situations have difficulty keeping pace with child support payments. They miss work to attend court yet find themselves entangled in the child support system with no one to turn to, little tangible help or information. Once behind in child support, they face stiff penalties such as revoked driver's license and/or incarceration, further hurting their chance to get ahead. With their incarceration time completed, they are even further behind in child support payments, other debts, and have likely have lost the job they had. If they fathered more than one child, they may even be behind on a second child support order, the default of which could send them back to prison initiating a vicious cycle.

Although required to pay child support, many low-income, non-custodial fathers have no access or visitation rights and are denied parenting time with their children. They often have to rely on the good graces of the mother or positive relationships with the mother's family. However, when these relationships are strained or non-existent, visitation may continue to be denied. These fathers would need to hire a private attorney to establish enforceable visitation rights; however, attorneys often prove too expensive leaving fathers only one other option, proceeding Pro Se, often a dead end street.

Communication difficulties often contribute to job loss, wrecked relationships, and frustration. Insecure in their parenting role, they may question their fathering ability. Parenting classes abound but are often aimed at mothers and focus on traditional parenting methods. It is rare that instruction is customized and offered to non-married parents to help them collaborate as partners to raise their children. It's no surprise that many fathers suffer depression and low self esteem. Often they turn to drugs and alcohol to escape life's struggles and hopelessness. With meager money and no insurance, they find little help to overcome these addictions. Social and human service agencies are well-equipped to support single mothers yet, few father-friendly services exist to aid fathers. Although fathers often conceal the emotional devastation of growing up in a father-absent home themselves, they cannot hide the pain caused by separation from their children. They are angry at life's tolls and they trust very few - often not even those trying to help them.

Some fathers only encounter a couple of these barriers while others experience each one. Without the benefits of fatherhood programs, father-friendly policies, and individuals willing to support dads, these fathers will continue to stumble and often fail in the fathering role. But, it's not because they do not love their children as many would choose to think.