Day in park offers glimpse of what’s right in culture

It was one of those early spring days — clear blue sky, low 70s, just a little wind — when people say, “It’s too nice to be indoors.”

Becky and I met Kevin, Rachel and the G-kids on Saturday for a pizza lunch then decided to spend some serious play time at Greenwood City Center Park.

We wound our way through the maze of classic cars and their owners who cluster regularly around the old root beer stand and edged our way on the not-quite-complete section of trail along Pleasant Creek. We passed the barbershop where my dad took me on Saturday mornings long ago. Eventually we made it to the playground area.

Becky and Rachel and the G-kids had visited the park when it was warmer and the splash pad was open. April is too cold for ground sprayers and water buckets, but the playground equipment seemed to be quite enough to satisfy the many children already there who were scrambling up the ladders and climbing on the variety of metal and plastic shapes. From their smiles and laughter, it was clear the parents and guardians were enjoying the afternoon, as well.

After some playtime with the G-kids, I found a bench and watched the young parents interacting with their children. I especially watched the fathers. Over there was Kevin the “monster” chasing and being chased by his four children. Over here was a young dad with arms encircled ready to grab should his child let go as he struggled to climb hand-over-hand across the bars.

I heard one dad talking to his son: “I used to swim here a long time ago.”

“I did, too,” I thought to myself. The park is on the site of the old Greenwood City Pool built back in 1958. I took swimming lessons there one summer just a few years after it opened. My dad had taught me the fundamentals on his own, but a few organized lessons were an opportunity to fine-tune some skills.

I was struck by the observation that almost all of the family groups at the park that day included two adults, a male and a female. These kids who were running round and climbing and screaming with delight were blessed with involved fathers.

I found myself surprised by this. I realized my surprise was because of all of the stories and statistics I have read through the years describing the huge number of absent fathers in the U.S. My logic told me that in a group of people this large, so many couples together with children must be out of the norm.

Or maybe, I argued with myself, the couples that are here are here because going to the park is one of the things that happen when both parents are raising the children together.

When we came home, I checked out some data on dads. According to the Census Bureau, one out of every three children in the U.S. — that’s 24 million — lives in a biological father-absent home. The National Fatherhood Initiative calls this the “father factor” in nearly all of our social issues. Poverty, crime, emotional and behavioral problems, drug and alcohol abuse, education issues all are affected in a negative way by fathers who aren’t there.

The flip side is true, as well. The presence of responsible fathers improves academic performance and reduces disciplinary problems among children. Only 12 percent of children in married-couple families live in poverty compared to 44 percent of children in mother-only families. The evidence overwhelmingly agrees that involved fathers contribute to healthy, well-adjusted children.

Sitting there at the park, I wasn’t making judgments about the decisions parents make concerning their children. I was just enjoying the momentary thought that, even in the face of all the negative statistics, there might be hope for the future.