family is separated, a father and mother divorced, and the child left on its own. Who is to take custody of the child? The word custody stolidly describes the upbringing of the child. Research has shown that most of the children who become delinquents in their pre-teen and teen age are single parented. This paper takes a look at the current research investigating young non-custodial fathers following separation and divorce.
Many researchers, by using a focus group methodology, have found and disputed young fathers' issues related to their children, their ex-partners and the judicial system. The results imply that non-custodial fathers are perplexing to engage, yet in need of attention and assistance.
Single fathers "can 'mother' as well as women" (DeMaris & Greif, 1992, p. 55). By an empirical research Lamb, 1999; Lazar & Guttman, 1998; Thomas & Forehand, 1993 have ascertained that men can be the custodians of a child and help the child become a respected citizen of the society. Contrasting are the views held by Daniel Amneus -- the system of female-headed "families" which has created ghettos and barrios by encouraging women to marry the state and breed fatherless children who are eight times more likely to become delinquent. In spite of these figures, U.S. statistics reveal that 40% of American children do not live in homes where their fathers live, making 'fatherlessness' "the most harmful trend of this generation" (Blankenhorn, 1995, p. 1). Proclaiming that the absence of fathers in the home is probably less alarming than our own absence of belief in fathers, Blankenhorn further questions our ability to find ways to "invigorate effective fatherhood as a norm of male behavior" (p. 2).
All in all, keeping in mind this trend that the attitude seems to threaten the significance of the father in the household, DeMaris and Greif (1992) presented data denoting that male head of households more than tripled in the United States from 1970 to 1990. These data seem to suggest that where fathers are present after separation and divorce, there is an increase in males receiving custody over their children. In British Columbia, according to the 1991 Census, lone-male parent families have increased by approximately 30% from 1981-1991 indicating that the number of father-headed lone parent families is also on the increase.
Whatever the battle may be against single fathers, we have to understand that the victims in this war are children. Many adults now acknowledge the benefit of a supportive professional as they face the challenges a divorce inevitably brings. But many parents are unsure at what point their child may be exhibiting signs that indicate a need for professional counseling. Many of these signs are similar to the symptoms adults experience when undergoing severe stress.
Some children are known to have woken with nightmares or have great difficulty going to sleep, saying they are afraid (of monsters, burglars, ghosts, etc.). Other children may regress to earlier sleeping patterns, such as sleeping with a favorite object, wetting the bed, or sleeping in a parent's room. Children also tend to withdraw and hide in sleeping, which is more likely in teenagers and sleep longer hours than usual.
Many children under severe stress have difficulty with appetite. They feel their stomach hurts or feels upset and they may appear more picky than usual or refuse to eat at certain meals. Other children find solace in food and try to nurture themselves by eating sweets and high fat foods. Both are signs that a child is not addressing directly their feelings of stress, anxiety or possible depression. Teachers have often seen when there are problems at home just by observing a child's behavior at school. A child who was once very social may isolate or even push peers away. Children can become aggressive, exhibiting the interaction styles they have witnessed between their parents.
Some children withdraw and isolate when they are afraid or upset. When isolating children may be doing things that help them feel better, such as writing, drawing or listening to music. But a child may be feeling alone, left out, frightened and obsessing about how out of control their life feels.
While some of these signs may appear for a short period of time and in mild forms during any divorce, if they are present for a significant period of time (weeks or months) it is important for the child to be evaluated by a professional therapist. Children usually feel comfortable with a therapist who specializes in treating children or has children of their own. A therapist working with children should also have supplies on hand to help children feel comfortable sharing their feelings. Some common therapy tools are, drawing materials, such as crayons, markers, colored pencils, puppets, books, sand tray and toys.
Jordan's (1985) review compared the effects of separation and divorce for both custodial and non-custodial fathers and concluded that the most striking effects of divorce for men with children was in the area of mental health. Sixty to 80% of men in these studies reported long-lasting stress related symptoms, such as sleeplessness, crying, reduced energy, poor appetite and excessive tiredness. Research pertaining to noncustodial fathers after separation or divorce reported experiences of loss, grief, and sadness, loneliness, and inadequacy and feelings of incompetence. Despite the highly stressful nature of divorce, few men sought traditional clinical resources and tended to avoid professional contact; factors that may, according to Jacobs (1982), have contributed to the lack of research on noncustodial fathers.
Kruk (1993) studied the absent or disengaged father, which he believed was the most prevalent form of the noncustodial father. Looking for reasons why these fathers were absent or disengaged, Kruk pointed to the impact of the justice system in concluding that the mother was still considered the appropriate custodial parent. He also found that disagreements over custody and access were more likely in wife-initiated divorces; fathers wanting to remain actively involved with their children while the wives were reported as wanting a "clean break" (p. 19). Greif (1985) reported that most divorced fathers identified the lack of confirmation of their role as fathers by their ex-wives and ex-wives' families as the major reason for their loss of contact with their children. Pruett and Pruett strongly suggested that men who are "visitors" do not have much impact on their children and that meaningful roles need to be created for noncustodial fathers that elevate their opportunities to contribute to their children's overall development. Nielsen suggested that recent research points to how divorced fathers are demeaned, demoralized, and disenfranchised following divorce in ways that make it difficult for them to maintain close relationships with their own children.
The current research examined the experiences of the less prevalent form of noncustodial fathers, being in concurrent with Ameus' theories. The following is an attempt to portray the importance of why fathers should have custody of his child, encompassing those who were engaged with their children to different degrees or those who were attempting to be engaged in their children's lives, or both. This study used a focus group methodology to collect information from noncustodial fathers regarding their experiences. Stewart and Shadasani (1990) described the focus group method as a group interview well suited to producing a rich body of data that is expressed using the respondents' own words and context. The current focus groups were structured using broad open-ended questions as suggested by Kreuger. These questions served to encourage a moderated discussion between participants within the group. Individual discussion as well as the discussion of issues between participants provided data for interpretation and analysis.
Participants in the current study were recruited from an outreach program for single fathers. Though these men participated in the focus groups and often talked about their program, the intent of the research was to understand the experiences of these fathers and not to evaluate the outreach program. The researchers acknowledge that participating in an outreach program provides experiences for these men that may be quite different than the experiences of fathers who have not availed of this experience. Participants ranged in age from 15 to 28 (mean = 22.3 years) with none of the fathers having custody of the children. A 15-year-old participant in the study was included because it was believed he would bring a perspective to the group that more clearly defined the overall experiences of young fathers.
All participants in the focus groups were either unemployed or had low-paying, hourly-wage jobs. None would be considered in a middle-income level. Greif (1985) in a very thorough literature review indicated that fathers studied tended to be mostly homogenous, White, middle-class, Protestant and Catholic, with a slightly higher than average income and some college education. Participants in the current study did not fit this profile. All participants had lived with their ex-spouse for 1 year or more; 15 had been married and threea had had common law relationships. At the time of the interviews only three participants were in another committed relationship.