South Florida fathers honored for untraditional involvement in raising their children

 

asteward@miamiherald.com

In 2010, Scott Anderson walked away from a commercial litigation law career to stay at home with his newborn daughter while his wife pursued her career.

Anderson, a father of two girls, said that as his focus shifted to his children, he was faced with negative reactions to the non-traditional arrangement. When he would take his daughters places, for example, people would assume that he was babysitting for a few hours -- not that it was his full-time duty.

“It’s hard to envision yourself as being anything other than the breadwinner,” he said. “Now I see how it’s paying off with my children and how well-socialized they are.”

Anderson, of Coral Gables, was one of three fathers honored Wednesday at the Fathers in Education Day breakfast. The event, which took place atHenry S. West Laboratory School in Coral Gables, recognized men who show extraordinary involvement in the lives and schooling of their children.

The breakfast, sponsored by the Fatherhood Task Force of South Florida, is part of a statewide initiative called Fathers in Action and Advocacy Week.

Parents and educators sipped coffee and orange juice as they listened to local leaders share the importance of strong father figures. South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard and Sen. Dwight Bullard were among the speakers.

Holly Zwerling, president and CEO of the task force, said the organization’s mission is to facilitate the involvement of fathers in the lives of children. Zwerling said Miami-Dade County has been a leader in the efforts to make fathers more involved.

She was inspired to start the organization after her experience as a marriage and family therapist.

“I came to realize fathers were systematically being left out of parenting, educational decisions and family and court decisions,” she said. “I found out fathers really wanted a support group.”

Miami-Dade Firefighter Robert Alsopp was recognized by the task force for his involvement with his 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter and for inspiring friends to become more involved with their children.

Alsopp, of Kendall, was raised by a single mother. He saw his mother struggle to raise him on her own, and he was determined to make sure his wife didn’t face the same hardships.

Alsopp doesn’t let a hectic schedule stop him. Even though he typically works 24 hours straight followed by 48 hours off, he volunteers at sporting events, carnivals, dances -- whenever he’s needed, he’s available.

“It’s an experience my kids aren’t going to get ever again. Once they’re in high school, they’ll say, ‘Dad, you can’t come around today!” he said, laughing.

The breakfast was also attended by people who have benefited from the initiative. Task force member Emmanuel Philogene said he felt like there was little respect for single fathers until he met Zwerling.

After separating from his son’s mother, Philogene left a production career in Los Angeles to raise his son near his family in North Miami.

“There were just a lot of sacrifices to be made,” he said. “I did what I had to do to make sure he was structured.”

Philogene hopes he can motivate fathers to take a more active role in the education of their children.

“I know too many fathers who are not in their children’s lives,” he said. “I just want my story to encourage them.”

For Anderson, it’s been an adjustment. He said his family had to get used to relying on only one income.

“We live a very different life than we did,” he said. “But for us, it’s worth it.”

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