“It’s making a huge influence,” Danenhauer said, citing surveys the group collects. “Kids feel safer. Faculty feels safer because of the extra male presence. Kids perform better, and feel better emotionally, socially and physically when a dad is engaged in their education.”
The problem of fathers being absent from their children’s lives has become a huge issue in the United States, said Kenneth Braswell, director of the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, which works to support engaged fatherhood under a federal contract.
Braswell, a single father, knows personally the challenges of maintaining a presence in his children’s lives while working to support them. He suggested ways that in-home and non-custodial fathers could involve themselves with school life.
Dropping children off at school before heading to work is a great place to start, he said, because it establishes a father as a physical presence in front of children’s’ friends and teachers. Attending parent-teacher conferences — and not as a mere silent partner — is another important avenue.
Braswell likes helping kids with homework and school projects, though he says today’s math assignments stymie him.
“My kids have a different excitement level for projects if I show I want to work with them,” he said. “It becomes fun.”
There’s a volunteer assignment to fit every dad, Braswell said, from coaching sports, mentoring academics, or serving as a guest speaker once a year. Programs like WATCH D.O.G.S. make male volunteerism easier. But simply attending parent-teacher conferences is a good start, Braswell said.
For Anderton and Toone, that meant scheduling separate conferences with teachers when their divorce was painfully new. Now, though, they work together smoothly to share custody and support school activities for their children. At the time of the divorce, Toone didn’t favor sharing custody and school engagement with her former husband. The benefits she’s seen from Anderton’s continued involvement in their children’s lives changed her mind. Her battle with cancer during the past year and a half cemented that new outlook.
“His help has been a blessing,” she said. “He’s so involved that we can both pick up the slack with the kids, school and events. He’s really been a team player.”
Anderton’s presence at school has helped Cambri and Caleb feel important and cared for, she said, and makes them feel like their friends can understand who both of their parents are even though they don’t live together.
Toby Carmichael, Jr., a veterinarian in Acworth, Ga., helped start a WATCH D.O.G.S. group at Acworth Intermediate School where son Grant is a 4th grader and daughter Rachel attended until moving on to Arbor Middle School last fall. The program starts in the fall with a pizza dinner for dads and kids, where a video is shown to encourage dads to sign up. Those who do receive guidelines, and are scheduled to help in several classrooms during the day, always including those of their own children.
After checking in, a volunteer dad might help kids out of cars and into classrooms, listen to reading, play games on the playground or help kids find books in the library. And, always, eat lunch in the cafeteria with their child(ren).
Daughter Rachel says its “pretty cool,” because all of her friends got to meet her dad. She didn’t even mind that he was kind of “goofy” on the playground at recess time.
Her dad likes being recognized by his children’s friends. In fact, it’s his favorite compliment.
“First I was ‘Toby’s son,’ then I was ‘Toby,’” Carmichael said. “Later, I was ‘Mr. Carmichael’ and then ‘Dr. Carmichael.’ Now I’ve reached the epitome. I’m ‘Rachel and Grant’s dad.’ That’s the highest I think I’ll ever get.”
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