A challenge to dads
Mike Carver’s commitment to promoting a climate in which fathers can be positive parental figures comes both from his experiences as a father of four and as a tribute to his own father’s role in his life.
“Children look at what you do,” Carver said. “I was blessed with a great example in my dad, Laurence Carver, and was able to watch him for 90 years.”
Carver remembers how both his parents were committed to the family and active in the community of Waverly. Years later, Carver exemplified these same ideals as an adult, raising his own four kids and sharing his thoughts on parenting with an area coalition to promote responsible fathering called the Polk County Fathers and Families Coalition.
“One of the challenges that we have today is that we have a growing number of people who are being raised without the benefit of a father,” Carver said. “How do you know what it means to be a good father if you don’t have the benefit of a role model from an early age?”
A few years ago, Carver was one of 15 people Gov. Tom Vilsack appointed to a task force to address the issue of absent fathers. The group approached the topic with the understanding that children thrive when both parents are actively and positively supporting the child.
“I don’t want to do anything to take away from the importance of the mother in the children’s lives,” Carver said. “But what I believe is that we need to recognize is that the best situation is if we can have a young person being raised by their mother and father, working together.”
Carver can attest that being a single parent is not easy. For almost four years after his divorce and before he remarried, he was the primary caregiver for his four children, Elizabeth, Matthew, Melinda and Timothy. Because of this, he sees himself as someone with “a unique background and insight.”
Carver says schools, businesses, individuals and the community have a responsibility to demonstrate father-friendly policies and behaviors. Carver, who has spent almost 40 years in the business world as a banker and a commercial real estate agent, gives special attention to the corporate climate.
“Employers need to support and encourage men in their role as a father,” he said. “Sometimes you find that men get a subtle message that someone is going to look down on them if they take their child to the doctor, rather than the wife, who is also employed.”
Carver applauds the efforts of companies to make time available to fathers but feels that employers can do more to encourage dads to devote time to their kids.
“In the last 15 years, a lot of programs and flex time have been developed to help with the work-family balance, but the real challenge is that men need to be encouraged to take advantage of the opportunities,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of cases where the executives get so wrapped up in their jobs that they kids are sacrificed. All of a sudden the executive wakes up and says, ‘What’s going on here?’ By then the kid is on drugs and going the wrong direction with their lives.”
The cost of the neglect on the part of one or both parents is measurable in social problems such as teen pregnancy, incarceration, drug abuse and teen suicide. To help fathers realize the full importance of their role, the coalition is working on a corporate tool kit that they plann to provide as a resource for local companies. This is just the beginning of a bigger effort to uncover workplace issues that inhibit fathers from being active in their kids’ lives.
“We’ve also talked about providing some education, like a lunch and learn, if there’s an interest in getting speakers on certain topics,” Carver said. “We’ve also looked at providing some kind of assessment to help companies look at whether the corporate culture is father-friendly or not.”
Maybe by thinking about father’s responsibilities in a workplace setting, the importance of fatherhood will be elevated. “I think that it’s a very important responsibility that we need to take very seriously, just like a job,” Carver said.
For the kids who don’t have a father figure present, the coalition suggests that other adults get involved as mentors to provide a positive example for the child.
“If you think about a young man, maybe back to preschool age, you have to look at what needs to be done to help that young man, maybe when they’re in their teens, to have a healthy relationship with a young woman that would grow into a committed relationship and hopefully marriage, where they would have a good environment for their children to be raised in,” Carver said.