Being on daddy track can give some men a very bumpy ride

July 01, 1993|By D'Arcy Fallon | D'Arcy Fallon,Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph

Dan Siewak had always been an involved parent. He was at his wife's side when their three sons were born. As they grew, he volunteered as a playground monitor at elementary school ("one of the most rewarding times in my life"), went along on field trips, ran activity booths at school parties.

When his wife of 12 years said she wanted a divorce and planned to move from Colorado to her native Illinois with the three boys, Mr. Siewak was devastated.

He decided he couldn't yank the kids out of school and thrust them into an unstable situation in Illinois, so he fought to keep them with him. It was best for the kids, he told his wife.

"It took a lot of convincing [her] on my part," says Mr. Siewak, 42, adding that the decision wasn't an easy one.

"Every parent has to search their soul," he says. "Do I want my kids to fill that void or do I want to do what's best for them?"

Single fathers like Dan Siewak are one of the fastest growing segments of the American population. The number of men raising children on their own has grown from 10 percent of single parents in 1980 to nearly 15 percent in 1991, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Although about 85 percent of children nationwide live with their mothers after a divorce, the tide is slowly turning. More and more men are likely to ask for custody -- and get it. The trend is due partly to the men's movement, the growing number of mothers in the work force, and objective judges who are making custody decisions on what's best for the child.

As more and more men gain custody of their children, they're learning to make the kinds of adjustments working mothers have had to grapple with all along: getting interrupted at work by a child who is sick at school, carpooling with other parents, shopping for birthday presents.

For many dads like Dan Siewak, the biggest headache is day care.

"I'd tell people I had custody of the kids and they'd say, 'Oh, you're playing Mr. Mom,' " Mr. Siewak says. "I'm not playing.. . . I have nothing but praise for some of the single moms I've met. I realize how tough things are for them."

The first few months were the rockiest for all of them. There were new schedules, new rules, new limits to test.

Kindhearted friends and neighbors pitched in and helped with baby-sitting. If the boys needed someone to talk to and Mr. Siewak wasn't around, they'd lend a sympathetic ear.

Mr. Siewak, a station agent for TWA, put himself on the "daddy track." He took a demotion and two pay cuts so he could work the day shift (he'd been working nights) and be there for his sons when they get home from school. His employers, fortunately, have been very supportive, he says.

The children can -- and do -- see their mother whenever they want. Since Mr. Siewak works for TWA, they fly practically free.

Although he was awarded $207 a month in child support last February, his ex-wife seldom makes payments, he says. He now is going through legal channels to get at least some support from her. He expects to get permanent custody at a final hearing later this summer.

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