The Web-Wide World of Fathering
Copyright © by Kate Mayhall Klema. All rights reserved.
Dads. They come in all flavors these days. Married, divorced, widowed, and even unmarried. What they all seem to have in common, though, is a renewed sense of fatherhood. You see it everywhere -- at swimming pools and soccer fields, movies and grocery stores. Dads really being there for their kids, understanding that the contributions of loving fathers are unique and irreplaceable.
For lots of dads, though, taking the big leap into responsible parenthood is scary. It's like climbing up on that 10-meter diving platform for the first time as a kid, not realizing until you get to the top how high it really is. Shaky knees. Tight shoulders. You're light-headed, wondering what you're getting yourself into.
Fortunately, dads today have a unique safety net, provided courtesy of the Internet. The Web is abundant with advice, counsel, wisdom, humor, and camaraderie for dads of all kinds. A little investigation on any of the search engines turns up a world of fatherly resources.
You've Come a Long Way, Daddy
Dads used to get the short end of the stick. Married fathers were typically expected to be little more than breadwinners and disciplinarians. "Just wait until your dad gets home from work!" was a familiar refrain in a lot of homes.
But times have changed. While women are gaining ground in business, politics and sports, men are getting more comfortable with trying to strike that yin-yang balance. Today's men have the courage to take on the challenges of learning how to nurture, comfort, praise and teach -- caregiver roles traditionally expected of mothers only. To hone these new skills, dads can turn to the Web.
One particularly helpful resource is ParentsPlace.com, a user-friendly site for all parents. Described by its creators as "a grass-roots meeting ground for parents," ParentsPlace.com includes "The Fathers' Page: Fathering Issues and Resources." Here you can find information about fathering literature, participate in workshops and support groups, read enlightening essays, and link to other useful resources specifically for dads. An especially informative feature of ParentsPlace.com is "Ask the Experts," which provides a cornucopia of information from marriage and family counselors, physicians, nutritionists, teachers and lawyers.
Pioneering fathers in divorced families had to trudge through trails of misguided courts, and a society that often seemed blind. These dads were regularly banished from the daily lives of their children, regardless of the parenting competency of the mothers. They often expected nothing more than visitation "privileges," although they knew they could count on having to shell out child support on a regular basis, regardless of how often they got to be with their kids. Some fathers just got beaten down, lost confidence, and gave up -- often dropping out of the lives of their sons and daughters.
Now dads can easily turn to groups like the National Fathers' Resource Center. NFRC offers a collection of Web sites that promote national and international rights of fathers, children, and grandparents. "The Forum" lets dads and grandparents post questions and answers anonymously about anything and everything -- from custody and child support issues, to deadbeat moms and medical records.
The Fathers' Rights and Equality Exchange, dedicated to the involvement of fathers with their children, is a member-supported, not-for-profit organization specifically for single fathers. F.R.E.E. promotes education and legislation to ensure that parenting responsibilities are shared by both parents, and offers dads support that includes a hotline and attorney referrals.
Zen and the Art of Mr. Mom
The dreaded label "single dad" used to strike fear in the hearts of grandparents and well-meaning friends, sending them scrambling to find a "nice girl" who could play the role of substitute mother for the "unfortunate" children. They just assumed that divorced or widowed dads wouldn't know a bath towel from a paper towel. And unmarried fathers -- well, they didn't have prayer, even if they wanted to assume responsibility.
Now we know that dads are pretty smart, after all. Fathering Magazine is an insightful, educational, and timely online magazine that serves up a good helping of common sense articles about -- you guessed it -- fathering. A recent edition included subjects ranging from raising a two-year-old to talking to your kids about the Clinton/Lewinsky fiasco. Past issues included articles about gender bias in family courts, the risks that face boys from fatherless homes, and fathering in the nineties. This site also presents snippets of relevant news articles, fiction, and even a bit of poetry.
Another father-friendly site is sponsored by the National Fatherhood Initiative, which offers a wealth of wisdom for dads. This site includes reprints of "Fatherly Times," the Washington Post column written by Dr. Wade Horn, a clinical child psychologist and president of the National Fatherhood Initiative. These columns dish out well-written, thought-provoking essays about fatherhood, as well as responses to questions from dads of all kinds. You can also find a catalog of parenting resources, and a section devoted to insightful pointers from other fathers.
Fathers Online (FOL) is another place where dads gather on the Internet to share their knowledge and experiences. There's a list of mentors, a chat room, a question-and-answer forum, and a variety of tips from other dads.
Today there are even networks of stay-at-home dads whose wives make that daily trek into the working jungles. Some married dads -- and single dads -- do shift work so they can spend more time with their kids. All kinds of dads all over the country are downshifting on their busy careers while the kids are still young. The payback? Priceless.
ParentsPlace.com is also the home base for "At-Home Dad," a quarterly online newsletter devoted to providing connections and resources for an estimated two million full-time fathers. "At-Home Dad" was created by Peter Baylies, a former high-tech employee who now stays home to raise his sons, while his wife wears the working hat. Recent feature articles included subjects such as how to start a playgroup in your town, a look into the future for at-home dads, tips on taking trips with children, and ideas for home businesses.
No Cowards Here
The rewards are boundless when fathers have the courage to take an active role in parenting -- regardless of the structure of the family. Children with loving fathers gain self-esteem because their ideas, hopes, and fears are taken seriously. Sons learn instinctively how to be good fathers, and daughters learn that they deserve to be treated with respect by men. In touch and online, today's dads can change the future of our world, because they're not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get the job done.
Kate Mayhall Klema has been a contract technical writer in Austin, Texas, for 11 years. She is also sole proprietor of WordTech, a freelance technical and business writing service. In her spare time, Ms. Klema writes for local community organizations.