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Absence does not make the heart grow fonder. It actually breeds resentment, contentment and leaves scars that may take years to heal. Fatherhood is for life. It’s not a matter of station or wealth. It is a matter of desire, diligence and determination. Yet the idea of being a lifetime educator, guidance counselor, instructor, fiscal advisor, protector, judge and jury can be overwhelming.

As I made my way to Philadelphia recently for a custody battle of my own, I heard that rapper Ludacris had been awarded primary physical custody of his 1-year-old daughter. As trivial as this sounds, it was just enough to give me the courage I needed to go face my ex-wife’s version of my life story.

My biological father was never there to raise me. Neither was his father to raise him. I was determined not to let the same thing happen to my children. I was determined not to be a repeat offender. I guess calling another man ‘Daddy’ up until his death has had a profound effect on me.

So often in the face of divorce, men divorce their children as well. Unfortunately, through no fault of their own, children  are the ones who live out the divorce through the upheaval of their day-to-day routines and emotional lives. The impact of being estranged from or abandoned by a parent as a result of divorce can have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences.

A parent has to be even more loving, nurturing and supportive, in order for a child to overcome many of the emotional and behavioral issues that could ensue. Every day I talk with Black men across this country – rich, middle-class and working poor – who silently endure a strained relationship with their children because of contention with an ex-wife or former girlfriend.

I tell them ‘Get over it.’ Because until you get a court order, more than likely things are not going to change. I could have definitely done without the pain and agony of going to court to fight for my parental rights. But it’s worth it. For you and for them.

For me, it was an opportunity to fight every stereotype and misconception that plagues Black men and fatherhood. I saw it as an opportunity to put to bed the ghost of my father and grandfather. Myths about Black fatherhood are rampant and though black deadbeat fathers are real, there are many fathers who want to play more than a financial role in their children’s lives.  The lie that a majority of Black men don’t want to care for their children is not just perpetuated by the white majority, it’s believed and reinforced by the Black community as well.

Recent data published by the Center for Disease Control revealed that African-American fathers spend more time in their children’s day-to-day lives than dads from other racial groups, defying those persistent stereotypes. The Pew Research Center also found similar evidence that we don’t differ from our white counterparts in any significant way and that there isn’t the expected disparity found in so many other reports.

While we are more likely to live in separate households from our children, Pew estimates that 67 percent of Black dads who don’t live with their kids see them at least once a month, compared to 59 percent of white dads and just 32 percent of Hispanic dads.

Many brothers fear going through a custody battle because of a criminal past, inconsistent finances or prior addictions. These fears do more harm than good. No matter what, you’re still a parent. And the challenges you’ve faced can become teachable moments for your children about the power of resilience and the possibility of overcoming mistakes.

We have a responsibility to change uncorroborated tales about who we are, and what we are. We have to show the nation and the world that we love our children, want to be with our children, and will go to great lengths to secure our “state guaranteed right” to participate in the lives of our children, despite whatever resistance we might face at the hands of a mother and a family court system that make up these United States. Trust me…you’ll be surprised by the results.

P.S.…I went in to court without a lawyer… and I won.

Zack Burgess is an award winning journalist, who is the Director/Owner of OFF WOODWARD MEDIA, LLC, where he works as a Writer, Editor and Communications Specialist. His work can be seen at Twitter: @zackburgess1

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