National Post

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Tuesday, March 30, 1999

Critics claim ad campaign urging fathers to become more involved in children's lives is misdirected
'No-Show Dad' stereotype

Donna Laframboise
National Post

A new public-service-announcement campaign emphasizing the importance of fathers was launched across the U.S. last week. Four states, in conjunction with the American federal government, developed the advertising spots, whose main slogan is: "They're your kids. Be their dad." Donna Shalala, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, says that, "Without the involvement of both parents, too many children don't get the chance they need and deserve to reach their full potential." The campaign encourages fathers to remain active in their children's lives even if they don't live in the same household. It warns that kids growing up without an involved father are significantly more likely to drop out of school, end up in jail, and suffer from emotional and behavioural problems. Girls are more likely to get pregnant as teens and commit suicide, while boys are more likely to run away and abuse drugs. Greg Kershaw, the founder of Fathers Are Capable Too, a Canadian non-custodial fathers' group, says the campaign is a step in the right direction, but is nevertheless founded on erroneous assumptions. "The premise that fathers willingly walk away from their children is a gender stereotype," he says. "The majority of dads would like to remain active in their children's lives," but often encounter opposition from their former wives. In his 1998 book, Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths, psychology professor Sanford Braver agrees that the "no-show dad" is a stereotype founded on "information provided by only one side of a two-sided story." His research indicates that while some divorced fathers abandon their children, the vast majority struggle to remain involved. Moreover, a full quarter of the custodial mothers Braver studied admit to denying fathers access on at least one occasion. Other studies, including one by U.S. researcher Cheryl Lee, have produced similar findings. In one case cited by Lee, a mother "not only discouraged visitation, she went as far as calling the police when [the father] did come to pick up the boy. But there was no reason for it . . . The mother simply wanted to erase the boy's real father" in favour of her new partner. "If you want to get fathers more involved in children's lives," adds Kershaw, it's mothers "you should be educating" via public-service announcements. The reality, he says, is that "fathers' involvement in children's lives is contingent on the mother's co-operation."

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