- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 16, 2002

Fatherhood is a serious business. Lt. Demitri Kornegay, of Springdale, Md., has given it a lot of consideration over the years.

Lt. Kornegay, who works for the Montgomery County Police Department, calls fathers "the drill instructors the guys you love to hate."

His only child, Rhonda, has spent her 19 years on Earth learning life's lessons under the watchful eye of her father. He says her welfare and happiness are his responsibility.

"A father's job is to prepare, provide and protect," he says. "If you don't give that child protection, where else is he or she going to get it from?"

Lt. Kornegay personifies a modern breed of fathers those engaged in the physical, emotional, spiritual and educational development of their children. This four-pronged involvement represents an enlightenment new during the past 10 years or so says Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, a nonprofit group.

Fathers of past generations were involved in the physical and perhaps spiritual growth of their children, Mr. Warren says. But protracted involvement in the emotional growth of their children was often absent.

"Now I'm seeing people now who want to figure out how to connect fathers to kids and their families from women and men, married guys, noncustodial fathers," he says.

This is good news for America's children. Those with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to perform well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social tendencies, and avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy and criminal activity compared to children who have uninvolved fathers, Mr. Warren says.

The National Fatherhood Initiative's fourth-edition report, "Father Facts," contains an analysis of nearly 100 recent studies on parent-child relationships. Father love (measured by children's perceptions of paternal acceptance/rejection and affection/indifference) was as important as mother love in predicting the social, emotional, and cognitive development and functioning of children and young adults, the report indicates. Having a loving and nurturing father was as important for a child's happiness, well-being, and social and academic success as having a loving and nurturing mother.

Indeed, today's generation of fathers often rank fatherhood and consummate involvement as equally important to their career or job, says James Levine, who has studied the issue of fatherhood for 29 years. He serves as director of the Fatherhood Project, a national research and education initiative at the Families and Work Institute in New York City.

"We're also seeing greater awareness of the importance of fathers in their children's lives a broader cultural awareness. We see it in political initiatives and social-science research. At the same time, we know there are many dads who are disengaged, so we have kind of a schizophrenic situation," he says.

But a father's interaction with his children is unique, Mr. Warren says.

"Fathers and mothers parent differently and see the world differently. The complementary parenting approach helps kids do better across every measurable category. For every kid who wants to climb a tree, there is a father saying, 'You can probably reach that next branch' and a mother saying, 'Be careful,' so 'Be careful reaching the next branch' is the message. Ultimately, what you want is your kid to have more or be more than they are … you want that sort of balance."

Guidance from fathers

Lt. Kornegay and his daughter's mother divorced when Rhonda was just 3, but he was determined that his child would continue to feel that balance, benefit from his influence and understand the depth of his love.

"I wanted to be around her," he says. "I loved the time I spent with her. I chaperoned on field trips. I called every morning 'This is our thought for the day' and then every evening. I've never missed a first day of school until she asked me not to come."

As a police officer, Lt. Kornegay says he has seen many young women who have been mistreated or dealt a bad hand in life.

"In a lot of ways, they were just trying to please," he says. "I thought, 'I wouldn't want that to happen to my child.' That, coupled with the fact that if something ever happened to me, who would tell my child about how to look for God, how to handle death, love, marriage and dating?"

So Lt. Kornegay began writing letters to his young daughter. Those letters were published this spring in a book called "Dear Rhonda: Life Lessons From a Father to His Daughter," and they illustrate his commitment to her. The passages are about boys, education, respect, love, marriage, beauty.

About love, for example, he tells her: "If someone does something for you with the express intent of getting something back, that's not generosity it's an investment. And when you love someone, you don't get the money. Love accepts a smile as payment in full."

Today, Miss Kornegay is a student at Hampton University in Hampton, Va., majoring in mass media. She and her father continue to enjoy a close relationship carefully tended and nurtured.

"The best thing a father can do for a child: Prepare you to live without me successfully, legitimately and happily," Lt. Kornegay says. "I'm just so happy and so proud that I watched this child grow up."

An eight-year incarceration within the walls of Lorton prison the terms of which he does not wish to discuss kept Charles Gantt from watching his children grow during their early years. But Mr. Gantt, 33, of Capitol Heights, credits the Concerned Fathers Abridging Program with reuniting him with his dormant Christian faith and reshaping his attitude while he served time.

The Concerned Fathers Abridging Program is a branch of the Alliance of Concerned Men, a nonprofit organization providing community service to families and children at risk throughout the Washington-metropolitan area.

Group leaders took a hand in motivating him to succeed and inspiring him to meet his responsibilities to his children Darnell, 11, and Charles, 12.

The efforts paid off: Tyrone Parker, a spokesman for the Alliance, calls Mr. Gantt an "exemplary father."

"Life has really given me a fair opportunity to resocialize myself as well as father my children," says Mr. Gantt, who was released from prison in January 1998.

He had to look hard for role models before the Concerned Fathers program reached him. The second oldest of eight children, he lost his mother to illness at age 13. Two of his siblings died as a result of life on the street.

Now, as a senior outreach worker for the Alliance's Save a Child program, Mr. Gantt works within local areas to reunite children with the District's Child and Family Services Agency. It's a job that keeps him in the neighborhoods and reminds him of the influences and dangers within easy reach of his boys, who live with their mother in Southeast Washington.

"I'm always concerned about their well-being," Mr. Gantt says. He visits his children almost daily. They attend church with him and his wife, LaShawn, who is expecting the couple's first child in August.

Mr. Gantt says he has an open relationship with his sons.

"There's nothing I won't disclose to them. I let them know what's out there and what not to let people persuade them to do. My older son is moving into puberty I tell him about girls 'Of course, you want to have a relationship, but it's important that you acquire things like job skills and being financially situated so you'll have something to offer her,'" he tells the child. "I didn't get a college education."

Mr. Gantt says he does not want his boys to father children out of wedlock.

"I did," he says. "I tell them I was exposed to street life and didn't really have anyone to tell me these things. I tell them to keep themselves until they find those ladies they want to spend the rest of their lives with. Respect and manners will carry you a long way."

Mr. Gantt was recently ordained deacon at the Holy Temple Church of Christ in Southeast Washington. He says he will be a minister some day. His children attend Sunday school and sing in a choir at the church. He tells his boys to be God-fearing, only marry once, and be responsible leaders to their own families.

"I try to instill leadership," he says. "Don't just be a follower. Work for what you want."

A big world out there

Arlington father Tom Cardamone tells his young daughters that they can achieve whatever they want if they work at it.

He puts words into action by exposing Sofia, 6, and Alexa, 4, to "a sort of a sense of possibility," he says. "It's a big world out there … not pushing them toward anything but serving it up."

On Saturdays, Mr. Cardamone might take the girls to the zoo or the swimming pool. They might hang out at the house, listening to music ranging from traditional Greek to Disney to rhythm and blues. They might go grocery shopping or to the playground. Or they might practice their budding in-line skating skills in the driveway, he says.

"I try to hold them up when they need it, but if they fall over they're not going to get too hurt," says Mr. Cardamone, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation. "I try to give them a little space."

Mr. Cardamone serves his daughters breakfast every morning and gets them dressed for school. He usually is responsible for bathing them.

But, he says, there is the "whole thing of girl stuff, for lack of a better word," that his wife, the girls' mother, Soula, handles. Mrs. Cardamone is the director of an arts nonprofit organization in the District.

"I don't do their hair in their morning. The clothes, too. There's those things that are Soula's domain that they like doing with her. I do other things. I'm in the yard, in the garden. We're digging in the dirt looking for bugs. Soula wouldn't do that. And we both work on discipline but have different styles."

He says he believes in giving his children "a little rope. You have so many rules when you're a grown-up. Let them be kids. They're going to be a little loud sometimes and messy sometimes. Not to say there aren't rules and that I don't expect them to behave. Everything in moderation discipline and rules are important, but give them some time to spread their wings a little bit. That is how they find out who they are."

'A bunch of commitment'

No one knows who 8-week-old Ratik Mathur is, not even his father. It's yet to be determined whether Ratik will be analytical like Sachin Mathur, 30, an information technology consultant, or creative like his mother, Neha Mathur, who recently left the graphic-design field to stay home with the baby.

But that does not matter just now as Mr. Mathur holds his tiny firstborn, who gazes steadily up at his father, making intermittent squeaks.

"I don't really have a plan because I don't have a good sense of it yet," Mr. Mathur says. "We want to provide him with all the opportunities he needs so he can make his own decisions about what he wants to be. In order to be successful in life, you need to have a dream and pursue that with focus. Nothing in life comes easy and you get what you work for."

Mr. Mathur says he enjoyed a supportive start, living within a large extended family in his native India. Now, his parents have come to the United States to help with the birth and first several months of their grandson's life.

This lengthy visit to the Mathur home in McLean exemplifies a cornerstone in the life of baby Ratik: family and culture.

"We are Hindus. I would want him to experience both our culture and our religion," Mr. Mathur says. "I want him to understand his roots in India very well. Out here, you have to make an extra effort because there aren't so many Indians here. I go [back] every year, so he'll go, too, and meet his extended family. I also think that he will be a respectful son and grandson. He needs to know how to respect others."

All in all, says Mr. Mathur, he loves his new job as father. He plans to teach his son to grow up like a man, he says, showing Ratik how to face the world, how to be tough when the situation calls for it, how to be caring and gentle with women.

"I'm just kind of getting into gear about fatherhood," he says. "It's a great feeling. It's also a great responsibility at the same time … a bunch of commitment, I feel, for the foreseeable future."

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