Merlene Davis: UK researcher wants to hear from non-custodial fathers

Divorced or unwed fathers, especially black fathers, have been portrayed as dead-beat dads. And some are.

They have been characterized as irresponsible, inconsiderate, unreliable, untrustworthy and absent. And some are.

But those adjectives are used by people other than the fathers themselves. What do those fathers, who live separately from their children, have to say about their experience?

That's what Katrina Taylor Akande, a University of Kentucky doctoral candidate, wants to find out. She and other researchers in the Department of Family Sciences are conducting a study concerning the parenting experiences of black fathers who don't live with their children.

Akande, a divorced mother, said most of what we surmise about black non-custodial fathers has come from the mothers of their children, and that can paint a distorted picture.

"Black men face different challenges," she said. "There are obstacles some fathers face that others may not."

Some black fathers, for example, are unemployed or under-employed, which doesn't bode well for the collection of child support. Sometimes the fathers have felony convictions, which can limit the amount of money they will earn.

Some black fathers have children with multiple mothers, making scheduling time to spend with their children more difficult.

Akande said she became more aware of the different experiences of black fathers through her ex-husband, who was stressed by being separated from their daughter.

"I've also had male friends who talked about how difficult it was not being in the home," she said. They feel "the stress of fearing the child would think they didn't care."

Often, black fathers also bemoan not having adequate access to the child to teach him or her how to navigate the world of racism, she said. Because the court system has awarded custody of children more often to mothers, mothers often have more power over the fathers.

"So, when you factor in everyday stresses to dealing with a mother who may be hostile and multiple mothers, it all adds another level of complexity," she explained.

The study, Parenting: What's It Like for Black Fathers Who Live Apart from Their Children? started out as research for divorced African-American fathers but recently changed to include unmarried fathers.

To be eligible for the study men must live in Kentucky and have at least one child, between the ages of 2 and 17, who lives outside their home. They also must agree to answer an online questionnaire about their parenting experience.

Men can register online or by phone. Akande will then screen them to make sure they meet the eligibility requirements.

The deadline for participants is Aug. 1 and Akande needs at least 250 fathers. "Hopefully we can learn a great deal by looking at the fathers' perspective," Akande said.

To register, contact Akande at (859) 544-9194 or Fathers also can learn more about the research and register at