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Rich Batten
Colorado Department of Human Services
303.866.3808
Maggie Spain
The Bawmann Group
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June 6, 2007

Of Dads and Dandelions

A 1924 Father’s Day story in the New York Times reported that “the official flower of the day is the dandelion, which was selected originally by the members of the Martin W. Callener Bible Class of Wilkinsburg, Pa. They picked the dandelion because the more it is trampled on the better it grows.” In his scholarly yet readable book, The Modernization of Fatherhood: A Social and Political History, Ralph LaRossa observes that we can’t be quite sure if the dandelion was chosen as a metaphor for how strong fathers were, or how much they were picked on in the ‘20s! The same could be true today. We live in a society where more men then ever before are actively and responsively involved in the lives of their children but we also live in a time when more dads then ever before are disconnected from their kids. The description of a dandelion truly lies in the eyes and circumstances of the beholder.

Small bouquets of dandelions were the first flowers I received from my daughter. I carried them proudly and promptly returned the favor with bouquets for her. Through my Kentucky Bluegrass tinted glasses those yellow rosettes with “lion’s tooth” leaves were nothing but weeds, but through the eyes of a child, my child, these weeds were a gift given with great love and delight.

I’ve always strived to be the best dad I can be for my four children, but I recently changed my benchmark. I used to measure my “fatherwork” by the few things I was intent to do like my father and the many things I sought to do differently. I have tried to be the dad I want to be, and while there is nothing necessarily wrong with that, I no longer father from that perspective. What changed? A statement by Roland Warren, president of The National Fatherhood Initiative, significantly altered my point of view. On a national talk show discussing fatherhood Warren stated, “You can’t be the kind of dad that you want to be. You can’t be the kind of dad that you wanted to have. You’ve got to be the kind of dad that your child needs you to be.” Wow, kind of like seeing a flower instead of a weed! Seeing my father role through the eyes of my child changes everything.

As a father, I will be the best dad I can be when I am responsible and responsive to the needs of my children. One of my primary jobs then is to be a full-time student of my child by paying attention to their developmental stage, their personality, their joys and their sorrows. Sounds like hard work, but it really comes down to being emotionally present and available to them on a consistent basis.

As a community, we help men be the dads their children need them to be by providing them with the encouragement, skills and resources that enhance the well being of their children. In October 2006, the Colorado Department of Human Services was awarded a federal grant of $10 million to be used in the next five years with the focus and intent of improving paternal relationships and parenting. Of the $2 million to be received annually, nearly $1.2 million will be sub-awarded to organizations providing direct services to fathers. Nineteen programs across the state have been awarded funding and we are currently taking applications for the next funding cycle that begins October 1.

This may be the best of times and the worst of times for children when it comes to the positive presence of their fathers, but I am convinced that together we can rediscover the resilient beauty of the dandelion, one father and child at a time.

Rich Batten is the father of four teenagers and a family and fatherhood specialist with the Colorado Department of Human Services.