Angel Torres is a 23-year-old father of two. We first met Angel when he was referred to the Together Time Program. Together Time is a Family Plus program that provides services to separated and divorcing parents in order to increase access and visitation to children by both parents.

Together Time services include a neutral exchange site for visitation and co-parenting education classes. Before parents start the co-parenting classes, they sometimes hold resentments and refuse access to visitation by the non-custodial parent. By the end of the six-week course, parents have usually worked out a way to peacefully transition visitation and share co-parenting without the intervention of our Boys & Girls Club social worker, Rocio Mata. But in the beginning there are challenges to build trust.

Here is Angel’s story, a non-custodial dad seeking a relationship with his daughter as told by Rocio Mata, Together Time social worker, for the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen.

Angel was referred to us so that we could facilitate visitation between him and his eldest daughter, Ariel. Ariel was two years old at the time and it had been more than a year since he had last seen her. He came in for his intake, and I advised him how important it was that he do his part regardless of the outcome. I knew that due to the history of the case, the likelihood of his ex-wife bringing Ariel to visit with Angel was slim to none. He arrived at his first visit as scheduled. He brought a small backpack with him. I escorted him to our library where he unpacked a coloring book, crayons, a juice box, and some crackers. He was ecstatic. Sophia arrived and she signed Ariel in, but when it was time for her to leave Ariel, she refused, and left despite the judge’s orders. I went into the library and let him know Ariel would not be staying. He packed up his stuff. He said he understood and left. I didn’t feel he would be back.

The following weekend, surprisingly, Angel came. He was eager to see Ariel. But when Sophia came, again she refused to leave Ariel. I advised Angel, and again he left disappointed. Week after week Angel would come in and wait, and week after week he would leave disappointed. He came in every week for the next three months.

Three months later we went to court and because of his persistence and tenacity, we were able to provide the judge with enough evidence to work in his favor. The following weekend Angel came in as usual, but this time Sophia had no choice but to leave Ariel. For the next six months we watched as Angel visited with Ariel. Every week he would bring her toys, read her books, watch movies with her, and play dolls with her. He seemed oblivious to the fact that he was confined to our building. To him all that mattered was that he was with his daughter.

Father absenteeism is a growing trend in the United States. The life consequences for children without fathers are grave.

• Children in father-absent homes are five times more likely to be poor. (U.S. Census Bureau, Children’s Living Arrangements 2002)

• Youth are more at risk of first substance use without a highly involved father. Each unit increase in father involvement is associated with 1 percent reduction in substance use. (Bronte-Tinkew, Jacinta, Kristin A. Moore, Randolph C. Capps, and Jonathan Zaff)

• Teens without fathers were twice as likely to be involved in early sexual activity and seven times more likely to get pregnant as an adolescent. ( Ellis, Bruce J., John E. Bates, Kenneth A. Dodge, David M. Ferguson, L. John Horwood, Gregory S. Pettit, and Lianne Woodward, May/June 2003)

• Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

Ariel has a more positive beginning as a result of her involvement with her dad. Today, Ariel visits with Angel every other weekend at his own house.

Angel Torres refused to give up on his daughter. He is the Boys and Girls Club of McAllen’s inspirational Father of the year for his commitment to his daughter.

Laura Reagan-Porras is a sociologist and the chief professional officer of the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen. For comments and questions, call (956) 802-2461 or email lreagan_porras@bgcmcallen.org