Toronto Star

Jun. 16, 02:01 EDT

The many faces of fatherhood

`I've seen both sides'

Martin Patriquin
The Toronto Star

CYCLE OF LIFE: Vernon Beck likes to stick to a normal routine when daughter Amber comes for her weekend visits.
Vernon Beck gets happier every other week.

That's when he gets to spend the weekend with his 7-year-old daughter Amber, a giggly little dynamo with almost limitless energy. She arrives Thursday mornings, and for four consecutive days, Beck packs in all the fun, experience and education he can.

Call it truncated parenting. Call it fatherhood on deadline. But don't call it unique.

Beck, a divorced father, is part of a staggering statistic: More than a third of Canadian marriages end in divorce. Like many of the dads involved in nearly 24,000 cases of divorce in Ontario in 1997, his time with his daughter is measured out by a court.

But Beck is also a rare case. He raised his children from a previous marriage Amy, 28, and Jenny, 27 practically on his own, meaning he has been both a custodial and a non-custodial father.

"I've got a glimpse of something that people don't see very much," says Beck, a 51-year-old heating and air conditioning consultant. "I've seen both sides of the fence."

First married in 1961, Beck had two grown daughters when Amber arrived in 1994. For a few years, there were kids from three marriages under one roof including two children from his second wife's previous marriage.

After his divorce from Amber's mother, and before his older kids moved out, his three daughters were living under the same roof on the weekends Amber came to stay. They got along great, Beck says, despite the age difference.

Nonetheless, the divorces had an effect on all three, he says. "It always causes stress to the kids. They want both their parents, no doubt about that."

Divorce, Beck figures, means a loss of trust for the child. Relationships are particularly hard for the children of divorce. "They have a fear of being hurt themselves. Everybody loses in divorce, financially and emotionally."

For him, a big part of fatherhood means "minimizing the damage" of divorce, and his time spent with Amber is as normal as can be. He volunteers at her school on Thursdays, helps her with homework and does his best to involve himself in ordinary routine, whether that's watching a movie or washing the dishes.

"These experiences build their character," Beck says. "It's important that both mothers and fathers be seen by the children in as many aspects as they can."

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