Fathers encouraged to provide, protect
by Emily McLain
TALLADEGA COUNTY – The relationship between a father and his child is invaluable and also has the power to alter both of their lives, for better or for worse.

As many children gather this Father’s Day to celebrate a dad who has demonstrated love and devotion, still others are lacking a healthy connection with their father for endless possible reasons. For those families, there is hope for a happier Father’s Day in the future through the aid of area organizations.

“The father’s role is to provide, protect, to meet his responsibilities toward his children and the mother of his children,” said Ollie Kates, case manager for Talladega County’s Pathways to Responsible Fatherhood program. “That’s the role he should have, and when he doesn’t live up to that role, it affects the children negatively.”

A 2011 U.S. Census reported more than 6,000 single-parent families in Talladega County. According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, one-third of children in America live in father-absent homes, including nearly two in three African American children, one in three Hispanic children, and one in four white children.

Children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to live in poverty and, even after controlling for income level, have the highest odds of incarceration. They also experience more educational, behavioral, emotional, and health problems and are more likely to engage in criminal behavior and drugs, become pregnant or be victims of child abuse, according to NFI. Fathers are important in lessening these statistics because it is their responsibility to discuss values and morals with their children, and most importantly, lead by example, Kates said.

“He should be disciplinarian, a teacher by modeling it,” he said. “Children are looking at the father and saying, ‘That’s the way it’s supposed to be.’ But they are sometimes confused. You say don’t smoke, but you smoke. You say don’t drink, but you drink.”

In the past six months alone, more than 50 men have completed the voluntary Fatherhood program, facilitated by SAFE Family Services Center in Sylacauga. The 10-class program focuses on communication, economic stability and responsible parenting, as it is proven that a father’s involvement in healthy family relationships significantly improves their child’s chances for success. To relay this message of responsibility, Kates and fellow program instructor Fred Pearson often begin their first class by reciting the poem, “Walk A Little Plainer, Daddy”:

Walk a little plainer, Daddy,

Said a little boy so frail.

I'm following in your footsteps,

And I don't want to fail.

Sometimes your steps are very plain,

Sometimes they are hard to see,

So walk a little plainer, Daddy,

For you are leading me.

I know that once you walked this way

Many years ago,

And what you did along the way,

I'd really like to know.

For sometimes when I am tempted,

I don't know what to do.

So walk a little plainer, Daddy,

For I must follow you.

Someday when I'm grown up,

You are like I want to be.

Then I will have a little boy,

Who will want to follow me.

And I would want to lead him right,

And help him to be true.

So walk a little plainer, Daddy.

For we must follow you.

That message tends to resonate with participants and encourage them to be there for their child, no matter their current relationship with the child’s mother, Kates said.

“In the beginning, (participants have) an attitude about the mother,” he said. “They say, ‘If I don’t see my child, why should I pay child support?’ If you never paid a cent, you should still see your children, and we’ll help you accomplish that by showing that you’re doing all you can. By the end, they are sharing about how they talked to their kids and even their child’s mother is opening up to them.”

The program, which is also taught in area prison facilities, helps men set goals, such as finding a job or paying child support. It also teaches more effective forms of communication, which was a big help for program graduate Starlen Jackson, who recently found himself raising young children for a second time when he and his fiancé, Lolita Bull, were granted custody of three of his grandchildren.

“The class gave me a different insight because time changes and people change, so it was different when I raised my kids than it is today raising my grandchildren,” he said. “Sometimes you think you know everything about something when you really don’t.”

Jackson said he learned better forms of discipline and even saw improved relationships with his adult children.

“It helped me learn to let go as a parent,” he said. “I have to understand they have their own houses, children, jobs, and you want to butt in and say, ‘This is how you’re supposed to do it.’ Now, I try to step back and listen to their side, and I wouldn’t have done that before.”

Kates said the program’s goal above all is to encourage fathers to support their children and understand how important they are in their lives.

“We figure if we can get information to these guys and get it into their heart, mind and soul about how important they are, they will want to be a good father,” he said.

That sense of importance and involvement in a life he created changes a man for the better, said Kates, a father himself to 29-year-old daughter Jori.

“It softens them, I think, in the heart when they see, hold and talk to this child,” he said. “Even before that, when he touches the mother’s stomach and feels the baby. He knows life is about to be given, and he, himself had a part in it. It changes him from a stern guy to a softie – it did me.”

For children whose dad is not in the picture, Talladega’s Mirror Image program, a ministry of Christ Deliverance Christian Center, provides male mentors for young men.

“In many cases, these children are not only growing up without their father, but they sometimes have young parents who are overwhelmed,” said CDCC Pastor Barbara Embry. “We try to filter opportunities to show a better way of communicating, to be their helping hand and that strong shoulder for them to seek information from the Bible as it has laid it out.”

Volunteers from the church and community facilitate monthly breakfasts, life skills classes, annual trips, and during the summer months, organize a Mirror Image basketball league, which currently involves more than 100 young men.

“We have young men who are the first to attend college from their homes, and we have seen lifestyles literally change,” Embry said. “I wish I could say we have been 100 percent successful, but it takes a while to change a mindset. Some people are hungry for it, and some people are hard to convince, but we give out before we give up on anybody.”

Mentors meet needs that a child may be lacking, teaching them basic but often forgotten traits like etiquette. The program, which hosted a Father’s Day breakfast in the Westgate community Saturday, has even gotten some fathers reacquainted with their children and urges parents to move past their differences for the good of their child.

“We’ll do whatever needs to be done to facilitate a good, healthy family relationship,” Embry said. “The problem is that people get confused on the types of relationships. If the mother and father are not getting along, that is not a reason to eliminate the relationship between the parent and child. We’ve got to learn how to live with adversities that won’t kill us. When a child is involved, it’s not about you anymore.”

Jackson said fatherhood, whether it’s his children, grandchildren or stepchildren, is gratifying and rewarding, and he wants to see each child succeed.

“As any parent, I always want my children to do better than what I’ve done, try not to make the same mistakes,” he said. “You’ve got to do a lot of forgiving as a parent, and have an open mind and also an open heart.”

For information on SAFE’s Fatherhood program, call 256-245-4343. Contact Mirror Image at Christ Deliverance Christian Center by calling 256-362-1975.

Contact Emily Adams at eadams@dailyhome.com.

© 2013