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.
Some of the men come on court mandates and referrals from hospitals.
David McNeil, 45, told the Amsterdam News the pleasure he got from seeing new dad Max Daguizan, 29, interact with his 5-month-old son Lomax on one occasion.
McNeil said Daguizan was rocking his son how a mother would rock her child, close to his chest, while talking to the other guys. McNeil said Daguizan then gave the baby a bottle, but the baby didn’t want that so he gave him a pacifier. Then he patted the baby while continuing to participate in the conversation.
“[It’s] unusual to see that,” he said, “and he’s not even a great dad,” McNeil said over a table of young African-American and Latino men laughing. He’s not a great dad because there really isn’t a blueprint for the “perfect dad anyway,” McNeil said.
The men, said Jones, the director of the Bronx program, who they counted as a mentor and a friend, discussed different issues with them, like “the meaning of being a man,” of which Garlin Deas, 25, who has a 2-year-old child, said the answer, they discovered, was that “a man defines himself.”
Women have maternal instincts, but as boys, they didn’t have a father to teach us how to be a dad, the men said while speaking at the same time, yet echoing the same sentiments. “That’s why we’re here,” one father said.
Daguizan said Obama’s image as a Black father was “spectacular” because “fathers are the first males in a girl’s life who teaches them about men and the type of man they should have.” But Garlin saw President Obama’s image on African-American and Hispanic fathers differently.
“It’s normal to see him love his daughters,” he said. “It’s something he is supposed to do. Obama would tell you he is just being a dad,” he said.
McNeil, who had tattoos on his arms hidden under his suit jacket, said mothers have to be with the child, but the father should feel that he needs to be there, too.
Jomael Young, 28, who is the outreach director coordinator of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York for the Far Rockaway program, said that the need for a program like this was realized when a supervisor started to notice that there was an imbalance in women and men getting themselves together after the birth of a child.
Fathers would be envious and jealous of the women, and in some instances would “sabotage her successes.” But now, here, “both have room for growth.” The program helps with “self-assessment and self-reflection,” which the men can use and then put in this society, Young said.
“[This program] helped me and my father build a stronger relationship,” said Thomas Daley Jr., whose 51-year-old father was also at the table.
“If it wasn’t for this program, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.