Hi - my name is Kate; I am a gender expert, writer, and Advisor for the Gender Equality subgroup at Fathering Together. To celebrate Father’s Day and #MoreThanANecktie, I’m talking to 10 dads over 10 weeks about what it really means to be an engaged father. If you like this series, you can read more on gender (in)equality. Website. Twitter.
Location: Milwaukee, WI
Ages of Kids: 4, 12 and 21
I asked every dad I interviewed what they thought about the term “caregiving” as it relates to being a father.
DJ said that when he hears the term caregiver he thinks of a job; a person being paid. To him, parenting is different. It is more than a job. He agrees – perhaps the word caregiver is more inclusive and can be used for a range of people in a child’s life – like a foster parent, a grandparent, etc. But for him, he thinks of himself as a father, not a caregiver.
A lesson learned about talking to other parents.
DJ has working with the courts on and off for 20 years to ensure joint custody. I asked him if his kids, especially the older two, have come to appreciate the time and money he has spent – fighting for the right to be present in their life? He shook his head. No, he says, he doesn’t think so. But he hopes one day they’ll come to respect what he has tried to do for them. And even if that never happens, he knows in his heart he was doing what he thought was best for his kids – and whether or not they agree, he is still at peace with his decisions.
Advice on finding a lawyer.
DJ he has learned the tough lesson that a lot of lawyers are not particularly good at their job while others simply do not care. Over time, he has gotten better at finding good people to represent him. I asked him what advice he had for other dads who might be new to this situation. His advice was so good, I thought I’d include it all.
DJ was extremely eager to spend time with his kids and saw each month filling out paperwork, filing motions, waiting on court dates, and going through mediators as a giant waste of time. He was also very mindful of the high costs. At first, he chose the cheapest lawyer he could find. (Bad move, he admits.) He has found that choosing the wrong lawyer only slows the process down, and ends up costing you more in the end – not just in terms of a financial loss, but also a loss to the father and child relationship. He suggests that dads take their time, interview several lawyers, and pick the right one from the start. Investing in some time to research up front could save you months in the future. (It took DJ two years to finally win custody of his oldest daughter.)
DJ recommends that dads try to find a lawyer who cares about you as a person, and cares about helping your kids. He says anyone can learn the law, but you can’t easily teach empathy.
He suggests that dads always go into court with representation. DJ says he tried representing himself, and it did not end well; the judges were disrespectful, which was only compounded by the fact that he is a man of color. Always go into court with a lawyer.
DJ told me that dads need to understand that the court does not care about anyone’s backstory or emotions. His opinion is that the best way to succeed isn’t by pouring your heart out to a judge – it is to figure out the judicial formula needed for custody, and methodically work your way down the list.
Like many other men, DJ doesn’t have extra money left over each month for lawyers’ fees. Instead of a “rainy day” account, DJ has a PayPal Legal Defense Fund. Whenever a friend pays him back, he does some extra work on the side, or a friend is able to help out - the money goes straight to PayPal. Even if it isn’t needed immediately, it will be needed at some point in time.
“The best is when I can hear my kids together, laughing, in the next room. When I’m not even there. I love that sound… Parenting is a burden and also a privilege, but those are the moments that make everything worth it. That and the hugs.”
The next Dads Who Care article will be posted next Friday, July 30.