C.J. Wood will tell you that being a father is about answering questions, going fishing and wearing out the swings at the local playground.
But sometimes, a fathers willingness to do those things does not guarantee an ability to do them.
Wood is among a number of parents fighting for access to their children. A 2008 U.S. Census Bureau report found more than 35 percent of children whose parents live separately had no contact with their noncustodial parent in 2007. However, advocates and state researchers said its impossible to know how many of those cases involved parents who were denied access to their children.
Locally, though, its extremely common for us to get calls from fathers who want to be in their childrens lives more than anything, but someone, or something, is stopping them, said Eve Presler, director of Advocacy for La Plata, an organization that helps at-risk families and operates a fatherhood program aimed at helping dads increase their parenting time and comply with child-support agreements.
For Bret Burrows, who began working for the fatherhood program at Advocacy for La Plata a year ago, the situation is alarming and somewhat repetitious.
Its almost like every story is the same with a few details changed, Burrows said.
He sees parents fighting over support payments and dodging visitation schedules. Some even have kidnapped their own children, leaving the other parent to fight for months or years just to see their children.
Wood said in his case, school schedules and distance make an equally shared parenting arrangement impossible. Contention over who should have the children when has landed them in court, where it is up to a judge to sort out the situation.
Its painful, Wood said of the childrens absence. Theyre growing, and Im missing it.
Burrows said he sees both positive changes and old stereotypes playing out in courtrooms as the families sort through their concerns. Though the laws try to ensure equal rights and responsibilities for both parents, there still are times when a knee-jerk reaction in the mothers favor is apparent, Burrows said. Fathers are not only having to fight mom for access to their kids, but theyre having to fight the system, too, Burrows said.
Its a frustrating situation, but one that a parent fighting for access to his or her child must not abandon, said Burrows, Presler and Wood.
They need to know theyre worth fighting for, Wood said of his and others children.