LANSING, MI -- According to a recent study from Pew Research Center, fatherhood in America is changing in important and sometimes surprising ways. Today, fathers who live with their children are taking a more active role in caring for them, making decisions regarding education pursuits and helping out around the house. The number of stay-at-home and single fathers have grown significantly in recent decades. At the same time, more and more children are growing up without a father in the home.
The changing role of fathers has introduced new challenges, as dads juggle the competing demands of family and work.
Some of the key findings in the Pew reports are that fathers see parenting as central to their identity and they are much more involved in child care than they were 50 years ago.
Aaron Lee is thirty-three years old and has worked at McCreary's Healthy Homes Inc. for four years. The last three years, he has held the position of office manager. He has come a long way since becoming a single father and non-traditionally started his job at home so he could take care of his children 8-year-old Cameron and 3-year-old Ava.
Lee said, “Having children has given me the opportunity to learn how to lead. Cameron, and Ava have impacted my life with unconditional love and structure. I see life different through their eyes and heart.”
It has not been easy for Lee who was raised in poverty by his mother along with his four sisters. His father abandoning him as a child impacted his perception of “love” and until he had children “love” was just a word.
“The love I was taught is different than the love I practice now. I knew tough love my whole life. My perception of love was "love was a lie." If love did exist, I thought is just skipped me. I remember as a child thinking I was a mistake. I saw so many unhealthy relationships between men and women who said they loved each other. I can admit, I didn't trust love.”
Lee felt so lost in life and had his share of run-ins with the law, until his perception of love changed when he had children. Cameron and Ava really inspired him to change that perception and to break the cycle. He made the decision to start going to church. Soon thereafter, he began to take his children to church with him. He found so much comfort in prayer.
“I struggled with my identity, until I became a father and surrendered my life to God to who I call my father. Through God's love, I learned how to love myself, children and others. Although, I didn't have a father growing up, I wanted to be the father I never had. We eat physically as a family and we also eat spiritually as a family. I didn't know how to love other people, but I knew I needed to teach my children,” said Lee.
Being a loving father who believes in quality over quantity took time for Lee to become grounded. He is an active father who consistently seeks a relationship with his children. As a father, it's his job to protect, provide and guide. Ava and Cameron have given him purpose. Learning Along the Way
Lee said being teachable, means to be humble. He added that he demonstrates humility in front of his children by taking accountability and making amends if necessary. He said he must protect them physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
“I know they watch my every move as I watch their every move. I don't have all the answers to life, I make mistakes and there's no perfect way to be a father. To be a father means I'm given the opportunity to be involved, show them how to behave responsibly, be emotionally engaged in them, physically available to them, show them how to provide financially, and influence their decision making. Sometimes our children teach us, and sometimes as parents we owe our children an apology. Being a good parent means to teach responsibility at home,” said Lee.
There are so many ways that being a single father has changed the concept of being “involved” in his children’s lives. Lee had to be responsible for positive activities and making sure that his children always felt appreciated and loved regardless of what he was dealing with. The other activities such as buying things for his daughter as opposed to his son was a process or trying to figure out what movie they could all watch together to make sure that both child’s needs were met became lessons in compromise.
The biggest surprise about being a father is the way Lee feels when his children shed tears, when they’re sad or when they get hurt. But being able to sit back and to witness the unconditional love creating a warm environment, is the high point of parenting.
Lee said, “When I am in the other room and I hear my children laugh, there is this unconditional feeling that emanates somewhere deep in my soul that makes it swell with pride. When I see them smile, the feeling I get when they tell me they love me, when Ava tells her big brother she loves him… I wouldn’t change any of that in the world.”
Being a parent is not an easy job. However, being abandoned by a parent can affect the mental and physical well-being of a child. Lee believes there are some who think it's easy to be absent in a child's life and not to take on the responsibility of taking care of what you helped to bring into this world. Lee does express sympathy for his own father, who he believes was broken as well.
“I think about the guilt and shame my father must of had for not being there, for hurting me to the core. I believe when you hurt, neglect or abuse a child you change their perception of love. When you abandoned your child or children you live with that guilt and shame all the time, but most importantly you've broken their heart. It's not easy being a single father, but it's a terrible thought not be an active father in my own children's lives,” said Lee.
One of the top priorities of Lee is showing his children the importance of being in a healthy relationship. He believes that is the root of the problem with most dysfunctional families is that both individuals show respect for one another. “This doesn't mean you have to be intimately involved in a relationship, but even in co-parenting. For an example, if my son sees me treat women badly or sees a woman treat me badly that's exactly what he'll do or accept. As far as my daughter, she'll think this is how men are suppose to treat her or she's suppose to treat a man. Now, if a father is absent in their child or children's lives they have less of a chance to learn this because there's only one active parent. Fathers are just as important as mothers, but mothers are super special,” said Lee.
He went on to explain how critical it is to display a healthy relationship to children. There are many men who have children without being married or become divorced and the key is to work together so not to devalue or disparage each other.
“I can't speak for women, but men need to do better! Some times we treat woman and even our children like property. The facts are we don't own the women or children in our life, but are given the opportunity to encourage, motivate and lead them,” said Lee.
He went on to say the future is unknown but what is ahead is going to be filled with days of doing the best he can to not break promises or deliberately create situations that will be unfulfilling. He is optimistic about what he will tell his children about this world.
“I will tell them, this world is full of good and bad people, it's your choice to determine which one you want to be. Bad things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. There's no way around it, everyone gets a turn with the good and the bad. It's not like math, where we are taught two negatives equal a positive, it can always get worse. At times, you will feel lost in life, you will lose in life, you fail throughout life, but that doesn't make you a loser or a failure. Life is a marathon, not a race. When you fall, stumble, trip, get back up and keep your head high and continue to have integrity with love,” said Lee.