Four months. This is the longest time Heath Eckstein, 47, a Virginia police officer, has ever been separated from his 5-year-old daughter Kora. But those four months were long enough for the devoted father to decide that he would never be separated from his little girl again. Eckstein decided to apply for custody of his daughter, and after fighting for her for years, he was granted full custody last year.
Eckstein joins many other single fathers who have found that taking custody is not always easy. Although there are many single parents who navigate the world with their children, the story we hear is mostly single mothers who have custody. But a growing number of fathers are not only talking about their experiences as single parents, but also about their struggle to take full custody of their children.
If parents have no relationship with one another, the old cliché that children should stay with their mothers is not always true or is even accepted by modern fathers. The numbers show that more and more fathers are taking over custody. According to statistics from Fatherhood.gov from 2013, there are 2 million single fathers in the United States and 17 percent of single custody parents are men.
One of these men is Philippe Morgese, 35, and founder of the Daddy Daughter Hair Factory. Morgese has created a community of fathers and single fathers that bring sweet hairstyles and even sweeter father-child moments. Eckstein notes that Morgese, who has custody of his eleven-year-old daughter Emma, didn’t just help him with a few cool hairstyles for to learn his daughter, but also lent him an ear when he needed someone to talk to.
Eckstein began taking custody of his daughter after he and his ex-Mrs separated when Kora was still a toddler. After a few months in which he hadn’t seen his daughter at all, Eckstein was given 50/50 custody. Overcoming this hurdle felt like a huge victory for the single father who wears proudly painted toes in public because it makes his daughter happy.
"I was very nervous about being dad", he admits. “You just don’t hear that fathers get custody. I never thought I would get 50/50. "
When his daughter grew up at school age, Eckstein decided to sign a new custody agreement that he believed would provide more stability. Although at least one person said that "Boys don’t get little girls", the determined father never gave up. He worked to create the most stable environment for his daughter, built a strong support network to help him look after his daughter, and chose the night shift to accommodate her school hours and activities.
Eckstein was firmly convinced that as a father he could offer his daughter a loving home, even if the world initially seemed to be set up for mothers. "I am not a second class parent", he says. And last year the courts finally approved him. The overjoyed father received full custody of his daughter. Today, although Eckstein freely admits that he is not looking forward to Kora’s date, he cherishes every last ordinary moment with his little girl.
"The joy of being a single father who holds her hand and goes to her school", he says. "The small Things that you probably take for granted, like waking them up and putting them in their car seats. These little interactions. "
Both Morgese and Eckstein have “full custody” from their daughters – not full custody. "The only way to get sole custody is to remove her mother’s parental rights, which is almost impossible for a father", explains Morgese.
He notes that even with criminal records, drug use, and instability, courts tend to favor a mother and do everything to rehabilitate her, rather than depriving her of parental rights. "If the roles were reversed, it would be a walk in the park", he notices.
Outside of custody of a child as a father, there are also challenges in finding resources. Morgese found that basic things, like applying for health insurance, required the involvement of the mother, even if he had custody.
"When I applied for state support, I received a letter from the state saying I owe Emma child benefit," he says with a light laugh.
Despite the challenges, Eckstein tells Babble that his long road to custody of Kora shows how the system is changing in the interest of the child rather than automatically favoring mothers.
"Times change", he explains. "You don’t choose the mother or the father; You choose the best situation for this child. "
For other fathers who are trying to get custody of their children, Morgese and Eckstein advise them to do their best whenever possible to work with their child’s other parent. "Communication and compromises will make a difference," says Morgese.
For fathers like Eckstein and Morgese, there is no better indication that they are doing the right thing than the smile on their daughters’ faces.
"When she wakes up happily, I know I’m doing something right," says Eckstein. "She’s my life. That is all I live for every day. "
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