Wed, Aug 08, 2007 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE: Nation's single fathers are not getting enough help

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

For many single fathers, "Happy Fathers' Day" is a wish rather than a reality, as the social resources that could help to alleviate the economic and psychological pressures they face every day are unavailable to them.

"There are as many as 740,000 single-parent households nationwide, of which 40 percent to 45 percent are single-father families," said Chu Chien-fung (朱建鋒), president of Single Parent Association of Taiwan, citing statistics by the Ministry of the Interior and Taipei City's Department of Social Welfare during an interview on Monday.

Chu is a single father himself.

"The numbers are from last year, but the figures are from three years ago. I think it must have gone up since," he said.

In Taichung, a citywide survey conducted last year by the Child Welfare League Foundation with elementary students in the fifth and the sixth grades found 120,000 single-father families in the city alone, Taichung City Shiang Ching Family Center director Wu Ying-chi (吳英琪) said.

The center was created by the foundation and Taichung City.

Although the number of single fathers is high, the help available to them is small.

"The government's single-parent services are available only through women's welfare departments," Wu said.

Chu agreed it was a serious problem and recalled that the association had once applied for funds to organize a single-father support event, but "the application was rejected because they said the money is only for single mothers."

Single fathers face heavy economic and psychological pressures, Chu said.

Although single fathers earn on average NT$6,000 (US$180) more than single mothers per month, "we [single fathers] have to support our parents in addition to supporting our children," Chu said, adding that the study showed that 60 percent of single fathers take care of their parents as well.

However, being a single father could also mean unstable employment.

"Single fathers have to take leave from their jobs when something happens to their children at school. We can't work overtime as much either," Chu said. "This means that you don't have as many opportunities for promotion and you can lose your job if the boss does not understand the situation you're in."

In addition to economic pressures are the emotional ones.

"When my wife passed away, I felt the family had collapsed," Chu said. "When I went to bed at night, there was no one to talk to and I often just stared at the ceiling until morning came."

Another single father, surnamed Chen, had a similar emotional breakdown.

"I drank every night, but it didn't help," Chen said. "I couldn't sleep at night, but still had to work during the day and take care of my children after work. It was horrible."

Chu later found support from other single parents at the association, while Chen resolved to see a psychiatrist.

Although the two have overcome their difficulties, many others are still unable to.

"A lot of single fathers became melancholic and end up committing suicide. Some even take their children with them," Chu said.

"I have been a volunteer suicide prevention councilor for 11 years, but I almost committed suicide myself when I was in that situation," Michael Lien, another single father, said. "It was total psychological destruction."

As he was about to jump into a river, a blind street musician nearby inspired him to live on, Lien said.

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