By Mathew Murphy
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Thousands of absentee fathers are expected to join Father's Day celebrations this month at public housing projects, where single-mother households are the majority, in a nationwide push to help dads bond with their children.
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the 3-year-old program is designed to help the one in three children across America, or more than 24 million children, living in homes without fathers.
At one such event on Saturday, 7-year-old Myles Marshall played among the inflatable bounce houses, food stands and music at the Van Dyke Community Center in Brooklyn. He was joined by his father, Robert Smith, whom he typically sees only on the weekends.
"I am just having fun spending time with my dad," Myles said.
The events are part of a broader push by the government, charities and advocacy groups to aid children raised in homes without fathers. Of those children, 42 percent are living in poverty, compared with 8 percent of children in married-couple families, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative, a non-profit group that is not affiliated with the HUD program.
It estimates that children in homes without a father are two times more likely to suffer abuse or neglect, drop out of school, commit crime and suffer poor health.
The Father's Day program was begun in 2010 by the New York Community Housing Authority in Brooklyn, and caught the attention of officials at HUD, who then took it national.
"I think it is really important to try and help these dads reconnect with their kids," said Eric Cumberbatch, acting deputy director of Brooklyn community operations, who helped start the first event.
"Often the dads feel like they are a burden on their families or financially they feel like they can't contribute."
About 300 housing authorities across America are planning fun days and dinners this month in honor of Father's Day, up from last year when 209 housing authorities took part, according to HUD.
"We get the housing authorities to put flyers up around the development because the guys are often around the place," said Ron Ashford, director of Public Housing Supportive Services for HUD.
ALL ARE WELCOME
"We are definitely not saying that single females can't raise kids well, they can and they do, but overall if two parents aren't there, then their child does worse."
He said anyone - including fathers who live with their children - was welcome to attend the events, even those who are not part of the housing development.
At the Van Dyke Community Center, tables were set up for the dozens of fathers who attended to get access to job support, health initiatives and learn about monthly activities they could participate in with their children.
Standing with his son Myles, Smith said it was a challenge to find time for all his children, including son Christopher Marshall, 23, Myles' twin sister, Naima, 9-year-old Nia Marshall and 4-year-old granddaughter Christasia Marshall.
"I have to go out and provide for my family, but I make time for them," Smith said. "There is no time you can create but there is always time you can make."
Another father, Joseph Perry, 28, said it was his wife Maggie's idea to bring their 6-year-old twin girls, Kiana and Kira, along.
"Days like this are important because every child needs a father," his wife said.
(Editing by Paul Thomasch and Peter Cooney)