Art Alexakis, front man for the band Everclear, was raised by a single mother in a Los Angeles housing project. His deadbeat father inspired him to write one of his most popular songs to date," Father of Mine." Art and I have partnered up this Father's Day to push for Responsible Fatherhood by asking you to sign the Stand Up, Man Up initiative.
Veronica: Growing up, how did you view the idea of Father's Day? How did you mark it? What did it mean to you then and what does it mean to you today?
Art: Well, being a child that grew up with a single mom back in the 70s, Father's Day to me was always a very uncomfortable time. At school, we would make Father's Day cards for our dads and I usually mailed one to my dad and he hardly ever responded. I didn't see him from the age of six to the age of twelve, and the only reason I saw him at twelve was because my brother died of an overdose and he came to the funeral. Now, you know, today, I'm the father of two kids and it's a pretty big deal to me. I'm really proud of it. I'm proud on Fathers Day when I get a call or a card. If I get a call from my eldest daughter and she's like "Happy Fathers Day, I Love You," everything's good. But a Hallmark card is not as important to me as the feeling I get when I kiss my 5-year old daughter goodnight and she tells me she loves me more than she can even express. She'll use words like that!
"I can't even express how much I love you!" I'm like,"Oh my gosh, I'm just going to go on the other side of this door and cry for a little bit." It's pretty awesome.
Veronica: With all that said, how has growing up being raised by a single mother changed your perspective as a father now? How have you brought what you've learned growing up into your role as a father today?
Art: That's a good question. One of the things about being a boy, especially growing up without a father, is you really don't have that role model to teach you how to do things. I know now I'm a role model as a guy in a band with great songs who's in the public eye. As fathers and parents, I think we're all role models, every minute of every day. It's a responsibility. That being said, I was raised by a woman who taught me how to be a man. My mother taught me how to be a man. She taught me what men do. My dad wouldn't sign the house over to her because he was mad at her and we ended up living in a housing project just out of spite. She told me, that's not what a man does. A man moves down the street and raises his children because that's what you do. My dad didn't do that. Your responsibility and your relationship with your child is for life and, knock on wood, I hope it never happens, but if something doesn't work out between me and the mother of my 5-year old, her mom knows I'm going to be there. I'm going to be there for her and my child. Forever. That's just the way it is. That's what a man does.
Veronica: When it comes to co-parenting, even though there are issues between the two parents, why do you think it's important to do it? You had said that even if something were to not work out between you and your child's mother, you would make sure to be there for both of them. Why do you think it's so important to maintain that relationship?
Art: That goes back to being a role model and I think that not just boys, but girls also need strong male role models in their lives. That's what teaches them about the men they'll want in their lives; both as friends, lovers and as partners, and I think that's really, really important. It's also important to have consistency and to be consistent. Being a parent is not just about how you treat your child; it's also about how you treat the other parent. If you treat that person with respect, that's fine, that's the way to go. But if you don't, you're not being the parent you could be. I didn't believe that for a long time, but I do now, 100 percent. If you cheat on your wife or your husband, you're not being a good parent because you're putting your child's happiness and normalcy in life at risk, and that's not being a good parent.
Veronica: I know that you've been really active working on the issue of deadbeat dads, pushing for legislation and so on and so forth. Tell me exactly why you decided to become politically active.
Art: First of all, I don't think anyone decides to be politically active.You eat, you go to school, you work, you have sex, you play with your kids, you vote- same thing. You do it. Anybody who says otherwise is missing out on a part of life. That's part of being an American. It's not an option to me. You have to. That's your voice. It's what being an American is all about. That being said, I did support a bill, HR1488, but it was commonly known as the 'Deadbeat Dad Bill'. It was a bipartisan bill with Representative Henry Hyde on the Republican side and Representatitive Lynne Woolsey on the Democratic side and it had a really good chance of passing. But then, the election of 2000 happened with Gore and Bush, and everything that was bipartisan just went away, just kind of disappeared. That bill just got buried. But I am talking to people now about creating a new bill.
Veronica: In terms of this legislation, what exactly would you be calling for? What types of demands would you make?
Art: I would make it specifically about taking the responsibility of collecting child support out of the municipal, county and state hands. Most of it comes down to state. Like we said yesterday, that changes from state to state. What this would do would be to make it a federal law and if you didn't pay your child support, you'd have a judgement against you. Now getting it fulfilled and getting them to actually pay, getting whatever government apparatus is available to force them to pay is all but impossible. What this would do is, if you had a local judgement, you would then automatically go to the IRS and they would garnish your wages from your social security. Any money that was made to that security would come straight to the IRS. I think that would be a really good step in making people responsible. Hopefully, they're going to do more than just pay the money they owe. Hopefully, they're going to be there for their children, but you can't legislate that and that's something I believe pretty strongly. But at least we can make them fiscally responsible and that's a huge step in the right direction for a lot of kids and moms. At any given time, there's over $100 million in owed child support every year.
Veronica: What does all of that mean to you on a personal level, after growing up with the issues that existed with your own father. How did it make you feel?
Art: I think it made me angry. When some people get angry, they turn into victims, but when I get angry, I turn to action. I let all my anger and all my emotions, happiness, passion, everything spur me on, and that's the way my mother raised me and that's part of my DNA and my makeup, so I've been aggressive. I mean, I used to work with this organization that I don't think is around anymore, but you should check them out, they're called the ACES, the Association for Children for Entitlement and Secure. Basically, they were an organization that legally went after deadbeat dads and they started that legislation in 2000, and I think there are other groups that need to start coming up and I think doing what you're doing, too, is going to help bring awareness to the issue. All you can do is keep trying, one step at a time.
Veronica: What do you think is the best way to increase awareness?
Art: Talking about it. Using social media, being a role model, showing examples. I even think that there should be a national website where if you have a judgment against you, your face is up there. Every day, you can go and look a millions of deadbeat dads and moms who are not owning up to their responsibility. I think that's one of the things that social media has given us. I think there needs to be a lot more transparency, where you can't hide and a lot of guys do that. Or they will lie. They will put money into their girlfriend's name so that they don't have to pay child support.Men and women are doing this. It's just... at the end of the day, be a grown up. Pay your bills, take care of your responsibilities.
Veronica: Yes, I have heard of men hiding money in their girlfriend's names. I know children are expensive, but both parties must be accountable. The cost of childcare alone is through the roof.
Art: Right, and then people wonder why there is this cycle of welfare abuse. It's because it's almost impossible to get out of it, especially in a single parent household. Minimum wage is not living wage. When you add in the all the other things... diapers, clothes, and then child care. And trust me, no one wants to be someone on welfare. Very few people want to be on welfare. I grew up in the housing projects and I can attest to that. But things can get to this place where there's no hope. Sometimes single moms don't have hope. They don't have the ability to see beyond their next meal, feeding their children, making sure their children have clothes. It's a vicious cycle.
Veronica: If you had to advise women like your mother now, what would you say to single moms who are acting as both mother and father?
Art: Hang in there. Hang in there. Make yourself the best you can make you. You will meet somebody. You will make choices. Make the right choices. Don't make the wrong choice, you've already made, we all make questionable choices in our jobs as parents. Don't stop fighting, don't stop doing the right thing. Don't stop bettering yourself. Do what my mom did. Go back to school, find a program. There are programs everywhere. There are programs where you can find a situation, don't be afraid to bring people in it to compensate. Family, if you don't have family, it's really hard, but we don't choose the direction our lives go in. I didn't think I would have a kid at 45, but I did, and I love her. I wouldn't trade her for the world, but that wasn't part of the plan. I didn't think I was going to be married four times. When I was a kid, that sounded like something Liz Taylor would do. I was going to get married, have a family, one wife, and I sure as hell wasn't going to live in the projects. Whenever I have a show, single moms come all the time. I give them a big hug, and I tell them, you know what? You really don't need your ex-husband or your ex-boyfriend or your deadbeat dad. You don't need that. You're going to get out of the hurt. Getting out of the hurt is hard. It's hard for everyone. Heartbreak is just the worst thing. If I could cure one disease, it would be heartbreak. It's the worst. But then again, that's what makes us human, so to get rid of that wouldn't be who we are. It's part of what defines us.
Veronica: Keeping Father's Day in mind, what is your message to all the fathers out there, and what is your message to the kids?
Art: My message to fathers has always been "Be a man. Act like a man." I'm not talking about in the old school caveman way, I'm talking about in the way of being a grown up and being responsible for the consequences of your actions. If you have children, pay for them. Work with them. Learn how to handle relationships for your children's sake. Be there, even if you don't have a lot of money. Pay what you can and work hard. Pay more money if you make more money. But more importantly, BE THERE. If you don't have a job, keep your kid during the day and save on child care. I'm finding more and more men who are adopting that and who are living up to expectations. Not all of them, but I'm seeing more and more, which makes me feel better. I think we're moving in the right direction.
Veronica: And to the children?
Art: I was very fortunate to have my mother. For the kids that don't have a father, all I can say is there are people out there that would love you if given the chance, and you need to not give up hope to find family. Family is more than blood. How you define family is not what you see on TV. All that matters is that people are taken care of and people are loved. If your mother's there for you, you've got more than most people. If your father's there and not a mother, there's reason to be grateful. If you've got both, be grateful for all you have.
Do something about the issue of fatherless homes by joining me and Art Alexakis of Everclear as we push for Responsible Fatherhood. Sign the Stand Up, Man Up petition today http://www.change.org/petitions/stand-up-man-up-join-everclear-s-art-alexakis-to-stop-the-spread-of-fatherless-homes. For more information and help for single moms, log on to And Then There Were Two: www.AndThenThereWereTwo.com
Veronica De La Cruz is a television news journalist and family and health care advocate. She founded the Eric De La Cruz Hope for Hearts Foundation in memory of her sibling, who passed away in 2009 while awaiting a heart transplant delayed by insurance denials. www.HopeforHeartsFoundation.org