Number of Oklahoma single fathers stays on the rise

Saturday, August 28th 2004, 4:43 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ When Randolph Butler and his son talk, Butler emphasizes the importance of education, family values and staying out of trouble.

Like thousands of fathers in Oklahoma, Butler, 30, is single and raising his child without any help from his son's mother.

Butler struggles to find work and to give his son the stability an 11-year-old needs. It's tough and he never wants his son Randy to know what that feels like.

``What do I always tell you,'' Butler says as the two sit on a bench at a park. ``I want you to be better than me. I want you to do better than me.''

The youngster nods his head and looks down at his tennis shoes. He changes the subject to how his dad cheated in an afternoon basketball game by calling too many foul shots.

The number of single fathers in Oklahoma has increased dramatically in the last 12 years. Census Bureau figures for 2002 showed about 60,000 single fathers_ up from about 34,000 in 1990. There were 146,569 single-mother households in Oklahoma in 2002, compared to 125,469 in 1990.

These figures are in line with numbers from the 2000 Census showing that out of the country's total 105.5 million households, 2 percent, or 2.2 million, comprised fathers raising children without a mother living there. The number of single-father households rose 62 percent in 10 years.

Single-mother homes comprised 7 percent of all households, up from 5 percent over 30 years ago.

Kids from single parent households are at a higher risk for dropping out of school, unwed pregnancies and substance abuse, said Ken Canfield, National Fathering Center founder and president.

Census figures from 2000 showed California with 500,000 single-father households, highest in the nation. Wyoming had the lowest number, with 6,700 men raising their children alone.

Marriage therapist Charlotte Lankard says the increase in the number of single fathers is a sign of the times.

``I think those in my generation saw marriage as more of a religious thing,'' she said. ``Divorce just doesn't have the same stigma that it once used to.''

Oklahoma has one of the highest divorce rates in the country. There are nearly six divorces for every 1,000 people. The national average is about 4.2. About half of all single dads are divorced.

Some courts have become more willing to grant custodial rights to fathers, and some mothers relinquish these rights because of career goals or personal problems.

Butler became his son's guardian after his ex-girlfriend gave up her parental rights when Randy was four months old.

It's been a struggle.

Butler recently lost his job after suffering an arm injury. He lost his apartment and his mother agreed to keep his son until he can secure enough money to get another place to live.

``I worry about being the perfect role model for my son,'' he said. ``I sometimes feel like I'm not man enough, because I have a hard time providing.''