ARE fathers an undeserved population? Do single mothers get more support than single fathers? After seeing the effects of children growing up without fathers in her Oklahoma community, former army officer Lynda Steele decided to do something about it. But she doesn’t fall into the old narrative of fathers abandoning children or being “deadbeat dads,” her work has taught her that fathers are a forgotten class with unique needs that aren’t being met. She created a non-profit to provide them with the support they need to be in their kids' lives.
Steele’s journey to be a fatherhood advocate grew out of her experience in the army. She got a lot of push-back from people saying that America wasn’t ready to see a woman sacrifice herself in the line of fire. This didn’t surprise her but seeing so many of her male comrades suffering gender discrimination when it came to being in their kids’ lives did shock her.
“When I spoke with the men in my National Guard battalion about being non-custodial fathers, they unanimously thought it was normal for fathers to have limited contact after divorce,” Steele said. “But these soldiers were willing to make incredible sacrifices for their kids. I saw many fathers who kept re-enlisting because they needed the insurance for their families or because their children would receive their college benefits. These men also don’t ask for anything more then equal time with their children. If that isn’t a cause worth helping, I don’t know what is.”
“The Mission of a Child’s Worth is to create collaborative and innovative resources for non-custodial and single fathers,” said Steele. “The needs of fathers are different than the needs of single mothers, and we want to bridge that gap. We furnish around 150 homes per year in Oklahoma for divorced and single dads and have been able to travel out of state on a few occasions to create other loving homes.”
Furnished homes are important for fathers to maintain contact with their children because often it is a requirement for dads to get visitation after divorce. Many lower-income fathers pay large portions of the paychecks to child support and the consequences for non-payment are high, including suspension of drivers license, professional license and jail for contempt of court. All parents who use the civil courts are required to hire their own council, which is very expensive or out of reach for many parents. This can lead to fathers losing visitation or custody, since they can’t fight in court.
Steele’s plans go beyond providing furniture for single dads. She wants to provide families with access to resources so can afford to advocate for their parental rights. Steel is also expanding her reach beyond Oklahoma.
“We just launched Dadvocates which is a network of nonprofits, community neighbors and grassroots resources that are streamlined to parents and people in need, in real time, who otherwise don’t qualify for state resources,” said Steele.
“We are in beta testing of an app called Civil Rights Matter where members can privately document civil issues and create a visual timeline of events. This can be used in cases of workplace discrimination, be it sexual harassment, gender or racial discrimination or hazing. But most importantly it aligns with my mission of helping single parents because when you go through a divorce, legal fees add up. By having all of the documentation in one place, creating a timeline with it, and choosing who you share it with—be it an attorney or other advocate—can make the legal process easier. Living in Oklahoma, we simply lack the opportunity to connect with big investors and tech gurus who can make our vision a reality and raise start-up capital.”
Steele is looking for a mentor and angel funding. Since she has created a thriving non-profit from scratch, she is confident she will conquer this next challenge.
Women should care about fatherless children because the lack of bond between a child and their parent is a lifetime impact regardless of gender-girls as much as boys can be impacted by fatherlessness, according to Steele.
“I see society’s lack of support of fatherhood as the same as equality for women to operate equally and successfully in the workforce” said Steele. “People shouldn’t be limited by gender, whether they are women who want to fight for our country or dads who want to be there for their kids.”
Reprinted by permission--Forbes Women. ( PHOTO COURTOSY OF LYNDA STEELE)