Program Seeks To Help Men Be Good Fathers

Jun 13, 2014
Originally published on June 13, 2014 11:56 am

Sunday is Father’s Day, and there are many men who are now fathers who did not have a dad when they were growing up — someone who might be a role model, and teach them right from wrong.

In Milwaukee, one organization is working to help dads strengthen their relationships with their kids, even after the family has broken apart.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Erin Toner of WUWM reports.

Reporter

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Transcript

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW. Well, Sunday is Father's Day and our hats off to all the great dads out there, especially the many men who are now fathers who didn't have a dad when they were growing up - someone who might've been a role model. In Milwaukee, one organization is working to help fathers strengthen their relationships with their kids, even after a family has broken apart. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, WUWM's Erin Toner attended one of their meetings and send us - sent us this report.

ALPHONSO PETTIS: First, what we're going to do is a quick ice breaker exercise, OK? Everybody stand up, OK? What we're going to do - this is agree, that's disagree and that's - that's unsure over there.

ERIN TONER, BYLINE: Alphonso Pettis is a fatherhood specialist at Next Door, a community service center in Milwaukee. Tonight, he's leading a class with eight men, mostly young black fathers. Pettis starts off asking the participants whether they agree or disagree with a particular value statement by standing in a corner of the room.

PETTIS: Men and women are equally capable of caring for children - are equally capable of caring for children. Wow, I want to hear from the disagree. Why do you guys disagree?

TONER: Some of the men say women are more capable simply because they're with the kids more. One father says he's less able right now because he can't provide for his children. Pettis moves on to another topic designed to get the guys thinking about their roles as men and fathers.

PETTIS: It's a woman's responsibility - more than a man - to take care of birth control.

TONER: One of the fathers wondered if it was a trick question.

PETTIS: OK, so you - you agree?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I agree...

PETTIS: Talk to me.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: ...That it's their responsibility...

TONER: Nicholas Flinn is 34 and has three children with two different women. He thinks women bear more responsibility for birth control because they know their bodies.

NICHOLAS FLINN: She knows what to do. That man doesn't know what to do. You know, that's like her sending him to the store, saying, go get me some tampons. You don't know what grade to get. You don't know what brand she likes. Nothing like that. So at the end of the day, it's her responsibility to make sure she keeps taking her birth control.

TONER: Flinn says, he's come here to learn ways to be a better dad and to improve an often toxic relationship with his kids' mothers.

FLINN: I'm here to actually figure out a way to break that barrier of the negative communication instead of arguing all the time and trying to use the kids as weapons to hurt the father, you know. I'm believing, like, the kids haven't done anything. They're innocent. You know, regardless of how you feel about that person, still let that kid be the one to grow up and actually see it for themselves.

TONER: Flinn says, as a kid, he fell in with the wrong crowd and got into plenty of trouble, even served time in jail. The best he can say about his father, who was in and out of his life, was that he taught him how to survive.

FLINN: Instead of, you know, looking at my father like I want to be like him, I always told myself, I want to be better than that.

TONER: Flinn says, one of his priorities as a parent is shielding his children from drugs, profanity and violence. When it comes to his daughters, he says, he's trying to counteract what they see on television and hear in music - women - mainly black women - who seem to only care about finding guys who have lots of money. Darnell Reid is also raising a daughter - a four-year-old named Kanyisah. She was born when Reid was just 15.

DARNELL REID: I love taking her out to eat 'cause she loves to eat. So we love going out to eat and to the park and to the movies. You know, stuff that daddies do with their daughters, you know?

TONER: Reid has already graduated from a fatherhood course at Next Door, but still comes to meetings.

REID: Since I've coming here, I haven't got in trouble. I've been getting jobs left and right. I've been doing what I was supposed to do. I feel like before I came here, it was so hard to do right, but it is so easy to do wrong.

TONER: Reid says, for a time, he sold drugs while his mom and grandmother mainly took care of his daughter because the girl's mother had another baby with another man.

REID: I really want to take being a parent seriously because I always had my mom, you know, help. And then one day, she was just like, we're not going to help you no more. We're going to let you do it. You're the daddy. You know what I'm saying? You do what you got to do to take care of your baby.

TONER: Reid says, he has a job now and hopes to get into a training program to become a welder. When we head back into the classroom, instructor Alphonso Pettis is leading a discussion about how dads can bond with their kid.

PETTIS: You really encourage your son to show his emotions.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Right. OK.

PETTIS: You know, and I tell my son to this day, you know, whatever you go through, share it with me. I don't care what it is. You know, don't keep no secrets from me. Tell me what's up.

TONER: Next, Pettis asks how the fathers interact with their girls.

PETTIS: Who's played make up with their daughter. I mean, I have nails painted, lipstick on, everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I went through all of it. I did it, too. (Laughing).

PETTIS: Yeah. But did you enjoy it?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Yeah, I play that routine. I play tea parties and all that.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: You've got to show them - show them that, like, person that really loves them is going to enjoy what they do. So you got to spend that time with them.

PETTIS: So you're right. You know, it's like, basically, you want to set that example. You want to set that standard. You know...

TONER: The men go on to share frustrations, including worries that their child support money is going to the moms or the moms' boyfriends. And they bemoan a court system they feel favors mothers no matter what. But most talk focuses on how the men are working to make life better for themselves and their kids. Darnell Reid, the father of four-year-old Kanyisah, says, one of his biggest accomplishments is not being mad all the time.

REID: I get mad real quick, and I just give up. But now since I've been coming here, like, I feel like I don't have to give up. I can just go hard and do it I've got to for my daughter.

TONER: And on Sunday - Father's Day - Reid will gather with his family for a big meal together. It's been a long-standing tradition that now involves his little girl. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Erin Toner in Milwaukee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.