Engaging fathers in Suffolk

Published 5:57 pm Saturday, January 30, 2010

The parking lot at Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School was so full on Thursday night that there were cars waiting for the spaces that other cars vacated as they left the school.

A parking-lot traffic jam is the kind of problem most folks only see when flat-screen televisions or Nintendo Wii consoles go on sale for Black Thursday. Seeing such a problem in an elementary school parking lot is a singular event. And considering that the event in this case was one designed to get fathers to spend some time with their children who are students at the school, it was an event of singular importance to those who participated, even if they had to wait for a parking space to get inside.

Mack Benn’s WatchDOGS program takes direct aim at one of the most important factors in a child’s education and, indeed, life: fathers. The Dads of Great Students program recognizes fathers as a vital influence in their children’s lives. And the need for the school system to actually promote healthy relationships between fathers and their children confirms the premise of their absence in the lives of many of those children.

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Both common sense and a bevy of studies prove that children with involved fathers fare better in life than do children whose fathers are uninvolved or absent from their lives. They feel more love, they are better adjusted, they get higher grades, they are less likely to wind up in jail — the list just goes on.

It would be wonderful if this weren’t a world where school systems felt the need to beg fathers to be involved with their children’s lives. But we no longer live in the world of “Father Knows Best,” assuming we ever did. If it takes programs such as the WatchDOGS one to get that paternal participation, then we’re glad to have them in place. And we encourage other schools and organizations to get to work and find other ideas to fight the devastating epidemic of disengaged fathers. The children can’t wait.