Fatherhood: Option or Obligation?

Guest post by Bryan Nelson, a father of two, foster parent, and Program Coordinator for Boot Camp for New Dads in Orlando. The boot camp is a part of Healthy Start Coalition of Orange County’s initiative to create and reinforce strong families.

Bryan and his son

Bryan and his son

In a Presidential Fatherhood Roundtable event in Orlando last February, I had the opportunity to ask Miami Heat All Star Dwayne Wade a simple question, “What would you say to a young dad who feels he has the option instead of an obligation to father his child?”

His answer was simple:  “Once you create a child, your options are gone. It’s your job to step up and be the parents they need. Kids don’t ask to be here and we’re not going to have all of the answers every time. There are gonna be tough days … but so what, there’s tough days on the court, I don’t quit. If I’m missing shots, I don’t quit. I go to the gym and figure it out! So why would I quit on what’s most important in the world? I’m building future leaders!  Why would I quit on someone who looks just like me, someone who acts just like me? Why would I quit on that? I brought them into this world and it’s my job to make sure I’m there every step of the way.”

It’s a refreshing breath of air to hear someone with influence, popularity and fame to tell it how it is.

One expecting father at the Boot Camp for New Dads workshop I teach said, “Chivalry isn’t dead, fathers have simply stopped teaching it!”

He couldn’t be more right. Our children depend on the standards and expectations we set for them to guide them through the tough teen and young adult years.

When a child’s father is not in the picture and not a positive role model, mom is left to pick up both roles. Moms can do it, but it would really help her to have two adults to parent the kids. Two people to walk the floor at night with an infant – and switch off when the baby’s crying becomes unbearable. Two people to alternate picking up the kids from school. Two people to clean up the house. The potential for two incomes or, if the mom is able to stay at home, another option for child care.

Orlando is ranked #58 out of the top 101 U.S. cities with single-mother run households at 46.7 percent. This is a growing problem in our society. FATHERHOOD IS NOT AN OPTION! Far too many males feel they have a choice.

I am proud of the 962 fathers who took our Boot Camp for New Dads workshop in the past two years. These men join many other great guys in Florida who stepped up and took on the father role. But I always wonder – why aren’t the other fathers stepping up? Are they scared? Do they just not care?

Some people say the men who don’t have any interest in sticking around probably won’t be good dads anyway. The popular idea in society these days is that dads are dumb, don’t want to be involved and if they are, will only screw up, so why force them? The facts however couldn’t be more opposite.

Father absence spurs significant increases in high school drop-out rates, poor school performance, abuse/neglect, teen pregnancy and even overall health.  The facts are clear; children with involved fathers are healthier and do better in school as well as socially.

For the children who are not able to be with their fathers due to death, abuse or neglect, I encourage males in the community to help these kids grow by becoming strong, positive role models. I also encourage the entire community to emotionally support the mothers who are navigating parenthood alone. It is true that it takes a village to raise a child, but fathers play a crucial role in the future of Florida’s children.

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