This month we are highlighting Strengthening Men and Fathers and our story comes from Mike Mason, the Education & Outreach Manager at KidsFirst and a Leader with the Regional Alliance. The following story highlights the experience of a local father, John, and how his decision to actively participate in a support group for dads in our area turned everything around for his own family. Due to the nature of this particular story, the image and names in the story have been changed.
“At KidsFirst we started a support group for fathers called “Forever Fathers”, which follows an organic research focused curriculum. This curriculum is considered unique and “organic” because the group has built-in space for the participants to guide the learning process and spend more time on topics they deem most applicable to their own journey. Though we have seen many men succeed in honing their parenting skills, one father (John) stands out from the rest. John was a young father who at the time was working two jobs. Because he was a part of a Child Protective Services case and was struggling relationally with his child’s mother, he thought the support could be of benefit to him and help him gain favor in the eyes of the court. Though it was not mandated for his case, he determined on his own that “Forever Fathers” was worth taking one night off work each week so that he could diligently attend meetings. A polite and modest young man, he was cautious, but also seemed to visibly struggle with resentment towards the situation that led him to group. Despite his quiet demeanor, he still listened actively as he sat through each round table discussion…though he contributed only a minimal amount during the first few weeks.
In his fourth session, we were going through the lesson and discussion on Parenting Balance. This lesson focuses on our emotional responses and how in the middle of anger and meekness lies a path of healthy assertiveness. We had talked about how being balanced can also be a place of strength for us as fathers. When discussing this topic, we like to equate the characteristics of a dolphin with that of a balanced father. A goldfish is then equated to a meek father and a shark is that of an angry father. You see, dolphins are the picture of a balanced father because they are smart, social, playful and strong. The beauty of this analogy, and fathers love this part, is that the Dolphin can EAT the goldfish and can KILL the Shark.
It was in that moment John said it finally clicked for him! The lesson had struck a chord with John which led him to politely ask if he could speak about it…all the while sitting up a little straighter in his chair. His face showed attentiveness and, for the first time, a hint of enthusiasm towards the content being discussed in group. He admitted that, as a parent, he had been believing that in order to be assertive one must be angry and in order to be an active parent one had to be in complete control. He began to share how his own experience as a child was influencing his understanding of his role as a father. Being raised by an authoritarian dad himself, he had believed that he was properly fathering through corporal punishment and a loud voice.
By session four, group members typically show you through their engagement level if they truly believe in the power of what is done in group or if they don’t. Due to the discussion of anger versus control, John was able to have a breakthrough moment that empowered him to engage with his parenting responsibilities on a deeper level! That one small breakthrough became the catalyst for John to open up and allow himself to be encouraged and guided by his fellow dads for the remainder of his time at Forever Fathers. Because John took an active not passive role in his parenting journey, he was then able to go on and fulfill all his legal requirements, become reunited with his young son, diligently continue to work on his anger management and co-parenting skills and looks forward to attending the next Forever Fathers support group.”
What is so powerful about John’s journey is that, despite his initial indifference to the issues he was facing as a dad, he placed himself in a position to learn from others, was willing to recognize his areas of weakness, and ultimately powerful enough to make changes with a support system in place. We are hard-wired in our society to think that we don’t need help from others but being teachable can be the greatest asset of all as we learn and grow.