Allan Houston doing good work with dads

David Carter doesn't have any big Father's Day plans.

He may go to a neighborhood barbecue with his two young sons. Or he may hang out at home with his boys.

Where he spends the day is of little consequence, though. That he's spending time with his sons is what matters most.

"They're my heart," he said. "It's going to be a great day."

By his count, Carter has spent too many days in the past three years separated from his boys. Due in part to a domestic violence incident, he and his longtime girlfriend, Desire Purdy, lost custody of their sons, Desmond and Demitrie, in 2009.

Carter has spent the majority of his time since trying to regain full custody by showing the court system and the New York City Administration for Child Services that he has learned how to be a better father.

"I never said, 'They took my children and they're just lost in the system,'" Carter said. "I always said, 'They took my children and I'm going to do whatever it takes to get them back.'"

Carter has attended court-ordered courses for domestic violence, anger management and parenting skills since he lost custody. He said each course has taught him different ways to improve as a father.

But the entity that may have benefited him the most is a fatherhood program founded by former Knicks star Allan Houston.

Houston, who serves as an assistant GM for the Knicks, heads a foundation in his own name that sponsors a "Father Knows Best" program. Carter and his sons participated in Houston's weekend programs during a seven-week period in the spring.

The program, centered around basketball, stresses integrity, sacrifice and leadership to its fathers and sons; it was a message that sunk in quickly for Carter.

"During the sessions, I learned how to talk to my sons without aggression, but with meaning -- and it works," Carter said. "I used to talk out of anger to my sons; now I do it out of unity."

That's the kind of impact Houston hoped to have when he started the foundation more than 10 years ago. His first goal was to help children who lost a parent in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He later focused on fatherhood, motivated in part by the strong relationship he had with his dad, Wade, who coached him at the University of Tennessee.

"Our goal is to help fathers realize the impact they have not only on their children but on other children and families in the community," Houston said.

For Carter, the weekends spent playing basketball and working with foundation members did more than just strengthen his relationship with his sons. It may also eventually help him regain full custody.

Carter's lawyer, Lisa Licata, believes his participation in Houston's program may have made an impact in terms of the legal system.

"It appeared to me that it was looked upon positively," Licata said, while making it clear that she was not speaking on behalf of the court. "I think it's shown initiative to go beyond what's just required and to go the extra mile. To me, it shows that his ultimate concern is with the children."

Carter wasn't able to see his sons for a year after the state took custody of them. He has since regained weekend visitation rights. So every day with his sons feels like Father's Day to Carter.

"It was hard for us, but now it's better," Desmond, 10, says. "We get to be around him more."

Some day soon, Carter and his girlfriend hope to have full custody of their children again. There's no way to tell if or when that night happen, but according to Carter's lawyer and social workers familiar with the case, they have made great strides to regain full custody of Desmond and nine-year-old Demitrie.

"It was really hard being away from them, I was emotionally hurt," Carter said. "But I started thinking about it while doing these programs and maybe it was the best thing for me. It changed our house and it changed our relationship -- the kids love it and so do I."