Dads increasingly making time to be involved with kids

PTAs see more participation from fathers

Bob Gent pioneers his way across the gender gap as an active member of Cordley School’s PTA.

He’s part of a growing trend of fathers taking on duties once thought of as being in the realm of mothers.

“I’ll have to admit that I’m often outnumbered at meetings – and a lot of the things I volunteer for,” Gent said.

Gent is one of two men who lead parent/teacher groups at Lawrence elementary schools. There are 15 elementary schools in the district.

“I just couldn’t see being a father any other way,” he said. “I couldn’t see being a member of the community any other way either.”

National PTA does not track its members’ gender, but a spokeswoman estimated about 10 percent were men and said that was on the rise.

The number of men in National PTA leadership roles has increased from almost 11 percent in 2001 to 32 percent in 2005.

The Lawrence school district does not keep records of parent organization members, but those involved said they had noticed more men getting involved.

Bob Gent and his son, Ian, 10, work on a wooden sword Thursday in their workshop. Gent, a local glass artist, raises two kids, Ian and Helen, 13.

“I do think guys are beginning to play a more active role,” said Rick Frydman, the outgoing president of Pinckney School’s PTO.

“(Men are) realizing it’s not like women just have all this free time and that’s all they do. Most women who are involved in the PTO have full-time jobs, too.”

When Harriet Shaffer – a former two-term member of the Lawrence school board, PTA member and current counselor at Southwest Junior High School – attended her first PTA meeting in 1975, it was held in the middle of the afternoon.

“All the women were housewives and they were doing all the organizing,” she said.

Now, however, meeting times have been pushed back to accommodate schedules of parents who work, giving men and women more equal opportunities to be involved.

“Instead of just turning it over and saying my kid’s in school so they should just go to school and the teacher’s going to teach them – the way it should be is we’re all in this together,” Shaffer said.

Students benefit from having an adult role model, regardless of whether the adult is their parent. But dads say they get just as much out of their involvement.

“What I get from this money can’t buy and I can’t get it back later. I can’t go back 20 years from now and be with my 10-year-old son. It’s too late then. It only happens once and you have to grab it by the horns,” Gent said.

“When you come right down to it, I’m having the time of my life and as long as I can keep doing it, I will.”