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Hail the REAL fathers

Maryam Abdul-Aleem | 4/12/2011, 4:40 p.m.

President Obama had a national message to fathers on June 19 for Father's Day in the East Room of the White House, where he hosted a "national conversation on responsible father-hood and healthy families."

The president, whose own father was absent from his life, held mentoring sessions with young members in attendance and a barbeque on the South Lawn. But in New York City, the Visiting Nurse Service of New York's fatherhood program (VNSNY Fatherhood Program) was hosting an event to celebrate Father's Day before the president's event.

Davis Jones, the director of the Family Support Services Children and Family Services division at a luncheon on June 17, told the Amsterdam News that fathers are just as important as mothers, yet all too often men are seen as just the breadwinner within the family, which, consequentially, may limit the father's role and participation within his children's lives.

Jones said mothers have services to aid their transition into motherhood, but fathers rarely have the same assistance in their transition into fatherhood. When Jones started the program, he said he "didn't like the way African-American and Hispanic males were being treated in the media."

Oftentimes, there is this negative image of men in the media as "baby daddies," who don't take care of their children, but according to the VNSNY Fatherhood Program, that image is not representative of Black and Hispanic men as a whole.

If we want them to take care of their children, we have to get services for them that will aid and empower these men to be better parents in their children's lives, Jones said. Being a father is one of the "hardest jobs you will ever do." However, there is "no manual that teaches you how to do it."

The VNSNY Fatherhood Program's main mission is to be that manual for fathers by assisting the men with job listings, legal help, healthcare referrals and paternity tests, among other services.

Jones said some of the men are scared to hold their baby because they think they might hurt them, as he cradled an imaginary baby in the air. God put my life on this path so young boys struggling to be what someone was not for them could have a better example and support system in their lives, said Jones, who grew up without his father, like so many other men in urban environments.

"Growing up in my community, all my friends knew who their fathers were...[their fathers, however, were] not involved in their children's lives," he said. But at VNSNY Fatherhood Program, the image of fathers not being around their children is gradually being reduced by one male's story, and example, at a time.

The young men who spoke to the Amsterdam News said they hung out in supportive and nurturing circles, where they were able to share their stories and experiences in a non-judgmental environment.

These men are coming to the program with social, economic and psychological background issues that are being compounded with the news of a new arrival that many may have no idea how to react to.