Washington Times

16 September 2001; page D5

More dads are gaining custody of children

By Ashley Estes, Salt Lake Tribune
The Washington Times

Courts look favorably at fathers

Jordan Valdez, a construction contractor, is no slacker when it comes to hard work. But when he received custody of his 10-month-old son following his divorce about two years ago, he knew he faced the toughest job of his life.

Diapers. Feedings. Day care. Baby sitters.

"It's really trying," Mr Valdez says. "They can wear you down like you would not believe."

But the Utah resident is quick to say the rewards of raising Jake, now 3, far outweigh the challenges.

"I love my son. He's fun. He is the light of my heart," Mr Valdez says. "I love him more than I loved his mother, and I loved her an awful lot."

More and more men are becoming single fathers, according to Census 2000 numbers.

"In years past, the law was that there was a presumption that the mother should be the custodial parent," says 3rd District Judge Timothy Hanson, who handles some divorce and custody cases.

Since then, he says, statutes have changed. But Judge Hanson believes the increase in the number of single fathers stems from more than laws alone: "It's a recognition that fathers can be equally as good caregivers as a mother, all things being equal."

Mr Valdez, who lives in Murray, Utah, isn't surprised that more fathers are willing to raise their children alone. "We're getting better and better about that, and it's time people started seeing that," he says. He remembers getting double takes - surprised, admiring glances - from people at the sight of him, "a construction-worker type," toting Jake in an infant carrier.

The job of single father is one Dan D'Amico has held for years. He was granted custody of his three daughters when he divorced about six years ago. Today, 16-year-old Danielle and 14-year-old Nicole live in California with their mother. Dena, 18, remains in her father's Herriman, Utah, home.

"It was hectic at one point," Mr D'Amico remembers. "They all went to three different schools, and they all got out at different times."

His job as a painting contractor allowed him flexible hours, which came in handy. But he admits he was often at a loss dealing with three adolescent females.

"You don't worry about boys like you do girls," he says. "I've got to know where they're going, I've got to meet who goes out with them."

When they learn he's a single father with three daughters, some people react with an "Oh, wow" attitude. "Someone in the grocery store or

something will say, 'Oh, you're a single dad. You've got three girls. I feel sorry for you,'" he laughs.

Dena D'Amico says that "when I get paid, if I want to go shopping for clothes, he's like, 'You need to save that money.' I don't talk to him about girl stuff."

Mr D'Amico says he was always a "kids' dad." In fact, he believes his insistence in taking his daughters everywhere might have been a factor in the breakup of his marriage. He didn't realize at the time that couples need to spend time on their own, he says.

He says he usually doesn't ask his own mother for advice - "My mom raised kids differently than we do nowadays" - but instead tries to seek it from friends who have teenage or grown children. He also attended a parenting conference once. "It helped a lot."

His girlfriend has a 10-year-old, he says, but when he asks her for advice, it's obvious she doesn't know how to handle teenagers.

"She'll tell me, 'You should do this and do that,' and I think, 'You don't have any idea what would happen if I did that.' She wants me to be really strict."

He admits he isn't. "I've gotten mad at them and yelled at them, and then usually apologized later. It's a little tougher when there's no mom around to back you up and help you figure out what to do."

Mr Valdez says his biggest challenges arise when Jake asks about his mother, or wants to know why he has only one parent. His ex-wife sees her son occasionally, he says.

"It's hard sometimes to answer those kinds of questions. I tell him that it's just us, honey, and Daddy has to raise you.

"As a man, you actually have it harder than a woman in a lot of ways. I didn't carry [my son] for nine months. It's hard for me to have that maternal instinct. It's something you've got to try and develop a little bit."

A "fuzziness" in societal roles also plays a part in the increase in the number of single fathers, Judge Hanson says. "More fathers now, because the roles are changing, are more interested in being custodial parents. Society's and people's perception of the roles of parents is changing. You'll see a lot more sharing of parental responsibility, joint legal and physical custody."

Although single fatherhood can be exhausting, "there's a lot of really good things about it," Mr Valdez says. "The hugs, and to watch them grow, you just see a little person, and it's kind of amazing to see them blossom like a flower."

Copyright © 2001 News World Communications, Inc.