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Legislative Task Force Listens To Emotional Testimony On Fatherlessness

Public Policy


December 09, 2008

Bulkeley High School teacher Greg Bartlett sat before a panel of lawmakers Monday afternoon and spoke about the pain of growing up without a father.

"My dad never came to one of my games," recalled Bartlett, a skilled athlete who grew up in Hartford. He would watch with sadness as other kids' fathers congratulated their sons. All he ever wanted, he said, was for his dad to hold him and say, "Greg, great job ... you made your dad proud.'"

Bartlett's emotional testimony came during a hearing convened by the legislature's Task Force on Fatherhood. The panel was created earlier this year to address the impact of fatherlessness, and the ways public policy might encourage it.

From a welfare system that penalizes two-parent families to a need for programs that support fathers who are incarcerated, "The issue is broad, multifaceted and complex, and it involves so many areas of state policy," said state Sen. Gary LeBeau, an East Hartford Democrat who co-chairs the panel.

The task force is expected to issue a series of recommendations during the 2009 legislative session.

The centerpiece of Monday's hearing was a visit by Bill Cosby. The entertainer and author of the book "Fatherhood," Cosby spun his trademark, rambling yarns as he tried to put a face on the sobering statistics.

The annual median income of households without a father present is $28,385, less than a third of the $94,527 median annual income of households consisting of married couples, according to statistics from the 2005 U.S. Census. Female-led households are 10 times more likely than households led by married couples to receive public assistance.

Cosby alluded to President-elect Barack Obama, whose father was largely absent while he was growing up. Cosby also spoke of the powerful influence of caring men in his own life, including one who started a Boy Scout troop for Cosby and his buddies.

Of course, the state can't legislate good fathers. But legislators can pass laws that strengthen and support families, said Democratic Rep. Bruce Morris from Norwalk, co-chairman of the task force. "Government cannot do everything ... government, families, communities, we can all play a role," he said.

In addition to Cosby, the task force heard from several young people who conveyed the emptiness and hurt left by an absent father. For Bartlett, that pain has not dulled. After graduating from college, he returned to Hartford and saw his father. By then, the older man had become an alcoholic and needed a kidney transplant. He asked if his son would consider donating one of his.

"Because of my pain and anger, I told my dad no," Bartlett said, his voice breaking. A year later, around Christmas, his father repeated his request and Bartlett again refused. A few weeks later, his father was dead.

Bartlett remains haunted by his decision. "[I] turned my back on my dad because he turned his back on me," he said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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