James Murrell easily could have been a deadbeat dad, but instead the Tulsa man told a legislative panel Tuesday of the struggles he has made to stay in touch with his daughter after his ex-wife took her with her when she moved to another state.
Murrell, 46, who grew up in Oklahoma City, said he was blindsided when his wife of two years filed for divorce about a year after their daughter's birth. His parents have been married for more than 50 years, and he didn't know anything about divorce court or child support arrangements. After his divorce, he was ordered to pay child support and half the cost of sending their child to a Tulsa day care, a fee he still pays, he said, even though his daughter now lives in Texas with his ex-wife.
Calvin Williams, director of fatherhood services for Public Strategies, an Oklahoma City firm that provides technical assistance to clients in several human services sectors, said effective fathers need good relationship and financial skills.
Children growing up fatherless is a growing trend in Oklahoma and in the nation, he told members of the House of Representatives Human Services Committee during an interim study.
“It increases when you have the economic downturns like we do because when a father has the inability to provide for his child, his absence is the guilt and shame,” Williams said. “Mom becomes an impediment at that point — you can't provide; you're not going to see your kid.”
The growing problem of fatherlessness isn't isolated to unmarried fathers, he said.
“We have plenty of children living in homes with their fathers, but those fathers are emotionally absent and distant,” Williams said.
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