It recently occurred to me that all of the discussion about fathers and responsible fatherhood has occurred from the perspective of adults, whether it is fathers, mothers, grandparents - or the church with sermons, songs and programs - or the government, through its laws, policies or practices.
It's high time to get a child's view on this fatherhood discussion, so I would like to introduce you to Crystal. She is a 14-year-old ninth grade winner of an essay contest sponsored by the National Center for Fathering and the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative.
I "met" her when her essay was read at a national conference on fatherhood and immediately felt her innocence, passion and pain. When her essay was read, there was not a dry eye in the room. Crystal has been an inspiration to me ever since.
You see, children write from their hearts. When a son or daughter renders an appraisal of his or her dad, it's heartfelt and it's honest. Its sincerity cannot be challenged or doubted. And that appraisal — whether painful or uplifting — can be the most powerful tool we possess for learning.
Here's what Crystal had to say about her Dad:
I am 14 years old and my father left me when I learned to say "daddy." Even though my father's not around, in my heart he is always here. Every birthday and every Christmas, I cross my fingers in hopes that father will come home. Does my wish come true? No, but I never quit looking and hoping.
What really hurts is walking through the mall and seeing little girls with their fathers walking hand in hand. I can see how much each one loves his little girl, but I can't see my father loving me as his little girl. See, in my life, there's not "morning," "daddy" and me; it's just me and "morning."
I see my father a lot in my dreams, but never does he turn around. I call for him, but he just keeps walking away. I'd like to believe he misses me, but how can he miss a stranger?
Every time I blow the candles out on my birthday cake, I wish the same wish that I have for the past 13 years. I wish that stranger would turn around and look at me. Maybe if he saw all the pain and suffering from living without him in my eyes, he would become a part of my life. For now, all I can do is to wish and never give up hope, for hope is all I have to hold on to.
Even though it's hard to say, my father means the world to me, and if I had the chance to tell him all of this, I would not change anything, but I would add a couple of "I Love You's."
Of course there were some extremely uplifting essays that are also winners. But, you know, children writing about their fathers being in the home is almost the exception rather than the rule. In case you missed it, almost half of the children in the Virgin Islands live in homes without their father present.
I have heard countless explanations as to why men are absent from the home, why men are not actively involved in the lives of their children. I also can tell you that I have never heard one explanation that includes a child's point of view, let alone mentions the child as the reason for being absent. While adults are fighting among themselves, our children are suffering. And don't think our children don't know or feel the pain.
Because I'm always with this fatherhood stuff, a young girl asked me recently, "If men are the head of the household, why aren't they living at home? And why do men prefer to buy their children things rather than spend time with their children?"
I did not have a good answer for her. From her vantage point, through her eyes, I don't believe any answer can make her feel better about not having her father in her life.
Editor's note: Richard L. Brown is the volunteer coordinator of the Fatherhood Collaborative of the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands. A former vice president at Chase Manhattan Bank, he is following his heart and teaching at Charlotte Amalie High School. Readers may respond to him by e-mailing to firstname.lastname@example.org.