Fatherhood Series, Part 2

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Meridian, Miss. The issue of absentee fathers is believed by some to be a cause of a host of other ills in the community, including crime.

How does a community get more fathers involved in the lives of their children?

Dustin Markham seems to have the world at his feet right now. He's a lawyer, a Meridian city councilman and is even talked about by some as a possible future mayor. He's known for his sharp mind and passion for the community.

Though he's all grown up now, Markham still remembers well what it was like to be a student at Carver Middle School, where his dad was the principal.

"Constant pressure to perform, constant pressure to do well. If I didn't do my homework, my teachers called him," said Dustin Markham. "If I was a behavioral issue, my teachers called him, and you know I'd get disciplined.
Robert Markham ran Carver Middle School for years. The school won numerous awards during his tenure; he held the students and teachers to high standards and it was no different at home."

"Friendly, firm and fair, and wanted to be involved in his life. And I had a lot of help," said Robert Markham.

What Markham did obviously worked. His son is developing a reputation that may one day overshadow his father's.

Experts say stories like this are proof that having a dad involved in the lives of his children can make a world of difference. But they say it's the community's job to make sure parents are doing what they should do.

"If we don't do something about it, then shame on us," said child psychologist, Dr. Lee Lee Marlow. "It is our responsibility as a society to hold parents more accountable for where their kids are and what they're doing."

That's just the kind of thing the elder Markham has been doing since his retirement from the school system. Now it is educating men on how to be dads. Markham works in local Head Start centers with a program called the Fatherhood Initiative, which encourages young dads to be involved in the lives of their young children.

Robert Markham says it's going to take more older men, getting involved and encouraging younger men to live up to their responsibilities, if the cycle of fatherlessness is going to be broken.

"Fathers make a difference," Robert Markham said. "If you take the father out of a child's home, you take the sunlight out. The child will grow, but something is missing."

In the meantime, Dustin Markham has more than a successful life to thank his father for; he has a model for the day he becomes a dad himself, with a few tweaks.

"I won't be the disciplinarian he was, but I will do my best to try to instill the same values in my children that he did in me," said the younger Markham.

In Part 3, we'll look more at solutions, specifically what the community can do to help children who do not have fathers in their lives.