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WETZSTEIN: Dropping the ball on fatherhood

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Maybe you have heard Roland Warren's football story before. But if you haven't, it's worth a listen.

Mr. Warren recently recounted his tale at a Capitol Hill briefing on the importance of involving men in the prenatal and postnatal care of their families.

His story starts out with familiar scenario: Handsome teenage guy becomes enamored of a pretty teenage girl. She reciprocates. They ended up getting pregnant.

Since this happened in the 1980s heyday of legal abortion, it would have been typical for this young couple to end their pregnancy and split up.

But Mr. Warren had grown up without a father, and he and his girlfriend decided to get married and create a family.

Before long, he found himself in a Lamaze class to learn about childbirth.

When the big day came, though, he soon realized he still didn't know what was going on.

People were bustling around "and a lot was happening," he said, "but I really felt like an outsider in that process."

Then, "at some point … someone gave me a baby."

"I remember thinking to myself, as I looked down at the little guy, 'Wow … a baby ' And the nurse had a look on her face that was sort of like, 'Good luck with that.' And here's the bill."

That day's experiences "helped solidify" his thoughts about the importance of a father's involvement with children, said Mr. Warren, who has been married 29 years and is the president of the National Fatherhood Initiative.

But a second illuminating experience happened as he and his wife were bringing their newborn home.

It was a snowy day, and after they parked their car and his wife got out, Mr. Warren told her, "I'll get the baby." He carefully gathered his son from the car seat and "took two steps and hit a patch of ice and went airborne."

The only thought that filled his mind stemmed from his years playing football: "Don't fumble the baby."

Seconds later, Mr. Warren slammed into the parking lot, landing "all back and all head."

His wife rushed to him from around the car, crying, "'Are you OK?' And it was interesting because I looked down at the little guy, and he was sound asleep," said Mr. Warren.

"For me, that became a metaphor for why this issue [of father involvement] is so incredibly important. Because that's what fathers are supposed to do: They're supposed to take the hits, take the pain and all that stuff, and make sure that … your little guy, your little girl is still asleep."

Today, it's like there are millions of babies "in the air" and "they're taking the full hit" if they don't have a father to catch them or protect them, Mr. Warren told the briefing, which was held to release 40 recommendations from the Commission on Paternal Involvement in Pregnancy Outcomes, a project of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

"Every child has an involved father at conception," Mr. Warren said. The question is, "will he have an involved father at graduation?"

There's a lot more to do to help men, especially blacks, avoid juvenile delinquency, finish school and stay out of jail. And the solutions lay in "knowing that it all start*, way back at the beginning," Rep. Danny K. Davis, Illinois Democrat, told those in attendance at the briefing.

Speaking personally, he added that "I'm so glad my folks were married … sometimes, I just thank God."

Neither of his parents finished high school, he said, "but I can tell you, they had something going on that made me and my nine brothers and sister feel like we were top of the line, that we were cream of the crop."

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.