When Sara Dahle hits the bed, exhausted from a hard days work, she knows she can count on Joseph Garcia to be up and making a warm bottle after the first midnight cry from their infant son, Bentely Garcia.
Hes a really good dad, Dahle said of her longtime boyfriend. He cooks, cleans, plays with Bentely, sings to him and teaches him.
Joseph Garcia simply shrugged at Dahles compliments. Of course, he does those things, he said, Bentely means everything to me.
The young couple is one example that the black-and-white Ward Cleaver days of fatherhood are long gone.
Today, dads are doing laundry and cooking meals rather than returning from work to find those things already done by a primly dressed wife. Theyre shuttling children to soccer practice, changing diapers and generally filling many more roles in the home than just provider.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 154,000 of the nations 70 million fathers were stay-at-home dads in 2010.
Things are changing, and dads want to be more involved, said Eve Presler, director of Advocacy for La Plata, an organization that helps at-risk families and operates a grant-funded program focused on helping dads secure more visitation with their children, comply with child-support agreements and adjust to fatherhood.
The changes were and still are needed, Presler said.
Fatherhood is everyones issue, Presler said, because the consequences of an absent father can be catastrophic for children.
Children with an absent father face increased risks of abuse and neglect from a nonbiological father figure in their lives, according to a 2010 Princeton University study. They also are more likely to abuse drugs and engage in risky or criminal behaviors, various reports say. Depression, poor grades at school, risky sexual behavior and poverty also are more common in the lives of youngsters whose fathers are absent, studies show.
The concerns led Advocacy for La Plata to launch an awareness campaign to remind parents of the importance of fathers involvement in their childrens lives and the crucial roles of parental involvement in general.
A Farmington resident produced an award-winning documentary, Absent, which looks into the effects of disengaged fathers.
With this film there are no boundaries or demographics because everyone on this planet has a father, Justin Hunt said in a telephone interview. And being absent doesnt necessarily even mean gone from the home. It can just mean away at work too much. Absentee fathers are a universal wound, and it needs a solution.
Joseph Garcia already has some understanding of how critical his role will be in Bentelys life. He lacked an involved father through much of his own childhood.
I was sad, depressed, because my dad wasnt around, Garcia said, and it led him to do things he shouldnt such as drugs.
The memory pushes him to provide a different reality for his own son. And among his childless friends, Garcia knows he also has a role.
I feel like Im setting the example of fatherhood, Garcia, 20, said.
The world needs more fathers like him, said Presler, who began working with the young family to ensure they dont return to the rebellious behavior of their preparenting lives. Simply put, fathers need to be more involved in their childrens lives, and the people around them should be working to make that an easier task to accomplish, Presler said. Extended family and friends can play important roles in childrens lives by supporting more parental involvement and pushing loved ones to develop and maintain liberal visitation arrangements when parents are separated.
One of the most critical concepts for people to remember is that money and time are separate parenting obligations.
Child support and visitation are two different issues, Presler said, and when a parent fails to provide one, it should not affect the other.
We need to put more value on the importance of being a father, and not just a paycheck, Presler said.