- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2002

One daughter thinks her father is the "coolest." A son tells how his father helps him with his homework and is "fun" to play chess with.
Meanwhile, nearby, one father grieves over a custody battle that keeps him apart from his two boys.
And so it went yesterday at the inaugural American Coalition for Fathers and Children's Father's Day picnic on the Mall where sons and daughters came to celebrate their fathers, and fathers came to promote awareness of their plight in custody battles.
"Children need both their parents," said coalition founder and Executive Director Dianna Thompson. "But we have a fatherhood crisis in the country. Often, the courts make decisions [in custody cases] that result in 'deadbolt dads' fathers locked out of their children's lives."
The coalition, a nonprofit organization, counsels parents in divorce cases about their children and lobbies for equitable custody arrangements.
Yesterday, during the organization's first Father's Day celebration, clowns greeted children having their faces painted. Fathers and children played "Twister" on a giant, inflatable mattress while children romped in a Moon Bounce. Hundreds stopped by to take advantage of carnival games and listen to music.
Race-car driver Michael Morris of Pennsylvania drives a Toyota Atlantic sports car to promote the organization, which he says has helped him through his divorce. He came to the celebration with his daughter, Megan, 12, whom he called "his best friend" and "the joy of my life."
"[The coalition] helped me to understand things I knew were wrong such as why the courts seem to want to separate parents from their children," he said.
These days, Mr. Morris and Megan spend as much time as they can together, he says. "She's a blast."
Megan returned the compliment.
"He's always been the go-to guy and he is always there for me," she said. "If I get into a fight, I can always talk to him and he listens. He's the best dad."
James Jackson of Martinsburg, W.Va., said he lost all rights to his children after a dispute over corporal punishment "was blown out of proportion." Yesterday, he came alone to the picnic and mourned the deterioration of his relationship with his two sons, Chan Mao Jackson, 18 and Kao Ming Jackson, 10.
"I came to give support to this organization that promotes fathers," he said. "Being away from my two boys has been so hard and so wrong."
Chase Shifflett of Richmond knows all about custody fights. After his divorce, he fought to see his son, Brandon, 10.
"I came down to offer support because I don't want my son to go through this in his lifetime," he said. "He's the best gift I could have ever been given, and he is my heart."
Brandon, quiet and thoughtful, said he was enjoying the celebration. Asked to describe his father, he said, "He supports me, plays games and helps me with my homework. He is a good man."
How do you feel to have such a father? "Blessed," he said.


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