June 16, 2012 4:43:15 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
For every new father who has cradled a newborn in his arms and fervently wished someone out there taught a course on becoming a good dad -- well, someone does.
For each man aspiring to be a better role model for his children, a helping hand is extended. For any father willing to step up to heal fractured family relationships, support is waiting.
Through weekly classes, the Fatherhood Initiative represents a committed network of people in the Golden Triangle who help dads fulfill their precious, irreplaceable roles in the lives of their children.
Sally Kate Winters Family Services in West Point, and its Fatherhood Initiative partner in Columbus, share tools fathers can use to be more effective parents.
"The goal of the Fatherhood Initiative is really for fathers to realize the impact they have on the lives of our children," said Sheila Brand, executive director at Sally Kate Winters. That agency's primary mission is to offer a foster parent program, but it also provides related resources to help build strong families.
"So many homes in our communities do not have dads," said Brand. "In supporting family stability, we have to get fathers involved in the day-to-day activities of our children. That's what we aim toward with the Fatherhood Initiative."
Edward Yeates at The Father's Child Ministry in Columbus is contracted by Sally Kate Winters Family Services to administer Initiative classes in Lowndes County. It was a natural partnership. Yeates is on the front lines every day, working toward ending fatherlessness. The National Fatherhood Initiative contends it's the most consequential social problem of our time.
Yeates knows too well how it feels to grow up without a dad. His left when Yeates was 5, leaving his mother to raise seven children.
"I know a lot of the hurt and pitfalls. I had to really work through all that myself," said Yeates, a man of imposing size and quiet but sure leadership.
He knows he was fortunate to avoid becoming a dire statistic. He wasn't part of the staggering 71 percent of all high school dropouts that come from fatherless homes (National Principals Association Report).
Instead, he earned a scholarship to play football for Jackie Sherrill at Mississippi State. While in college, he felt God's call to reach out, especially to youth. While participating in a prison ministry, "God told me to help this not happen to someone else." It was then he and his wife, Barbara, founded My Father's Child.
"Just to know I'm being obedient to my heavenly father and feeling his affirmation that this is what I was meant to do is my reward -- and having my own children say I'm a good dad. That's where the rubber meets the road."
Everyone involved in the Fatherhood Initiative knows the stakes are high.
According to 2009 U.S. Census Bureau data, more than 24 million children live apart from their biological fathers. That's one out of every three children in America.
Nearly two in three (64 percent) black children live in father-absent homes. One in three (34 percent) Hispanic children, and one in four (25 percent) white children live in fatherless homes.
Kids living without dads are, on average, at least two to three times more likely than peers who live with married, biological or adoptive parents to be poor, use drugs, and experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems. They're more likely to be abused and go to prison, studies cited by the National Fatherhood Initiative reveal.
Studies and statistics, however, fire the passions of people like Yeates and Brand, as well as Eddie Sherrod who conducts Initiative classes in West Point for Sally Kate Winters. Dave Yauk teaches them for the Starkville School District, under the Building Strong Families grant, encompassing Oktibbeha, Choctaw and Winston counties.
"A lot of times we find dads want to be more involved with their children's lives, but they're not really sure how," said Brand. "This program encourages them on the daily things they can do to make a difference."
In a five-week curriculum, the Initiative explores "seven habits of a 24/7 dad": Be Proactive; Begin with the End in Mind; Put First Things First; Think Win-Win; Listen First, Talk Second; Synergize; and Sharpen the Saw.
Participants are coached in life skills like thinking before acting, prioritizing and dealing with conflict. All lead to synergy.
"Synergize. It's that feeling when things are going right, everybody knows each other's roles and we're heading in the same direction," explained Yeates, a father of three himself.
Dads are urged to keep relationships with their kids "sharp" by understanding children spell love "t-i-m-e."
"We always hear you have to spend quality time, but it's quantity, too. Children are learning something from you all the time, whether you're going to the zoo or mowing the lawn."
The fatherhood programs have inspired men like Charles Clemmons and Jimmy Cockrell Sr. of Columbus to volunteer.
"A lot of grandfathers have to step in to be fathers; that's my role with my grandson," remarked Clemmons, accompanied by his grandson, Keylon Stubbs, 7. Keylon is one of many children mentored at The Father's Child Ministry. "I was so impressed with Edward, I wanted to help," said Clemmons, who also started a youth group at his church.
Cockrell likes the hands-on approach -- showing up at the ministry at Brickerton on Military Road, working with kids, attending Manhood Camp, or taking them to the Y to play basketball.
"I've seen a lot of changes in kids' behavior," he shared. "I think this is what kids need, help on their journey to doing greater things in life."
While the Fatherhood Initiative is only one component in the tool box Sally Kate Winters Family Services, My Father's Child Ministry and similar agencies use to empower families, it reminds us on Father's Day that nothing takes the place of a loving, attentive dad.
"I've seen fathers strive to be better dads; that's been very touching and it motivates me to continue," shared Yeates. "I see fathers changing and children changing -- and I even see changes in myself."
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Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.