Young dad fights for father's rights

Relates to:
Date: 2006-11-18

Walter Jones
Morris News Service

ATLANTA - Rashad Head, 17, is accustomed to challenges as a high school football player. And he's used to hard work after holding two jobs over the summer.

Those experiences could serve as preparation for what he's gotten himself into now. He's fighting one battle in the courts of two states to get custody of his 5-month-old son, and now he's advocating for legislation that would keep other Georgia fathers from winding up in his predicament.

He's taking all of this on and still worrying about exams and gridiron practice. If he's successful in the Legislature, fathers would get the right to veto any adoption planned by unwed mothers.

His bill was introduced Wednesday by his pastor, Rep. Ron Sailor, D-Decatur, who intends to name the measure Rashad's Law, even though it would be too late to affect Rashad's quest for his son.

Mr. Sailor also tried to head off any opposition from women's rights groups.

"This (proposed) law (would) take nothing away from the parental rights of mothers," Mr. Sailor said.

Georgia law gives fathers no say over the matter. Mr. Sailor's bill would require mothers wanting to give up their rights for adoption to contact the father, who would have 30 days to assert his rights.

If the father isn't known or has no objection, the adoption could go forward. But if the mother put the child up for adoption without notifying the father, he would be able to sue.

Rashad said he offered money to his ex-girlfriend and volunteered to raise the child himself but that she told him she intended to give the child away to the unnamed couple living somewhere in Florida.

"I believe I could take care of a child as well as they can," he said, adding that he would take on a second job if granted custody of his 5-month-old. "... She said it wouldn't be in the best interest of her if I kept the child."

The bill would grant custody to the father automatically whenever a mother gives up her parental rights and would do so without consideration of the father's finances, maturity or fitness to raise a child.

Mr. Sailor, as a minister, urges teens to practice abstinence. But, he said, once the baby is born the government should protect the rights of biological fathers, and he didn't see the proposal as weakening the institution of marriage.

The measure is likely to curry more favor with conservatives than with feminists.

Still, whether it ever gets a hearing will depend largely on the amount of public support since Mr. Sailor is a member of the minority party in the state House.

From Rashad's standpoint, he's hoping to spare other young men the anguish he feels.

"Just imagine that your son, that you should have by moral rights, is going off to Florida and you can't do anything to stop it," he said.

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