Organizations that work in the area of responsible fatherhood work very hard to get their message out about the importance of responsible fathers. One problem many of them face as they try to tell this story is that many folks only want to highlight fathers around Father’s Day. How can organizations and programs get the community to understand that the work is not to celebrate dads but to empower and support them? Honoring and celebrating fathers is a great thing, but families and communities need to find new and better ways to support fathers throughout the year.
Telling the Story of Responsible Fathers
You don’t have to watch much television to realize that dads do not get a lot of support. With the exception of a few commercials in the past few years, fathers are usually portrayed as the detached, disconnected, and disengaged parent. Even when they are portrayed as well meaning, media dads rarely have many skills in some areas and are often wrapped up in work and leisure activities.
But these are not the fathers most of us see every day. The dads we meet have great skills to make a living for their families, and given the opportunity, they play important roles in developing very strong parenting activities— even though their skill set and parental activities can be very different than mom’s. Fathers play a huge role in the development of children and in the securing of communities. When fathers are supported and are allowed to develop and grow, kids, families, and communities always have better outcomes. Even communities with serious disparities have better outcomes when fathers are engaged in the lives of children and families.
When you read the research and watch it in action in our neighborhoods and homes, you quickly learn that fathers are indeed very capable, and want to be the best fathers possible. It is imperative that family services, schools, communities, and churches look for ways to support and empower fathers and assist them in gaining or honing parenting skills. While there are many programs that are built to help mothers of young children develop as parents, we seem to expect fathers to come with all the necessary capacities. That would be great, but just like children learn and mothers grow, fathers have to learn the skills they need to be the parents their children need them to be.
That’s where all these other days come in. Aside from Father’s Day, what can you do with the other 364 days? What are some ways you as a community program, a family member, a community member, a spouse or a friend can help someone you know develop into an even stronger father? It’s not as difficult as you may think. While many fathers face serious challenges, most just need an occasional pat on the back and a simple set of new ideas and information on their growing children. They need an opportunity to learn how to make small changes on a day-to-day basis that will accumulate into a whole toolbox they can use to help their children and families develop.
Fatherhood is an everyday job. There are many things organizations can do to help fathers every day of the year.
- Provide good books on fatherhood (search “fatherhood” — you’ll have plenty of choices.)
- Set up a lending library of good fatherhood books from diverse authors
- Host a book club where fathers can explore good information together
- Work with the local public library to have a display or special section of fatherhood books
- Provide fatherhood support classes (some are voluntary groups; some are court-ordered groups. Dads can learn from either or both)
- There are lots of models and guides for support groups
- There are many great fatherhood curricula built for specific ages and stages of fathers
- Organizations can teach a father-only version of a typical parenting curriculum that is already offered
- Provide dad-and-kid activities (museums, zoos, restaurants, schools, and retail stores)
- Host the event and invite local fathers
- Offer to lead the activity if the business or museum will promote it for you
- Keep it simple and make sure fathers and kids will both have fun and benefit from the activity
- Work to get more fathering information into local papers and family magazines (instead of just for moms)
- Offer to write the articles
- Seek out the content for websites and social media and become a curator of such information
- Seek out sponsors for the fatherhood articles to encourage publications to include them
- Support local radio shows focused on fatherhood and manhood
- If one is not available, start one! Many stations are looking to fill air time
- Become your own radio station by starting a podcast, you can do so with little equipment or money
- Become the local fatherhood “expert” and offer to be guest on all types of radio shows
- Take and post more pictures of fathers in community programs, doctor offices, schools, and churches.
- If you have fathers in your program, take their picture and blow up the images
- Ask local organizations with public spaces to display your pictures
- Display your best pictures at festivals, fairs, and other public events where folks gather
- Check out great fatherhood websites for new and interesting content for fathers (like this one!)
Father’s Day is definitely a great time to honor fathers — but these men are working every day to be good fathers. We should also be working every day to support them.
J. Michael Hall, Founder Strong Fathers-Strong Families. A husband and father of two sons, he has worked with more than 130,000 fathers and parents nationwide, including being honored as a 2012 White House Fatherhood Champion of Change.