Fatherhood Program has been working to increase ‘Father Engagement‘ in our community for nearly 15 years. While most will agree about the need for more engaged fathers, often times we are asked, ‘exactly how do we engage fathers?’ We recently developed the Father Engagement Training to answer this question.
The first place we start is the core belief that all children deserve to have a healthily engaged father and mother in their lives. In cases of divorce, separation, alcohol, substance and even physical abuse, it is imperative that we take measures to ensure the children are safe and then work to engage with both parents to bring them to a place of healthy participation in the lives of their children. The alternative is what we’ve seen over the past 30 to 40 years where the father (in most cases) is removed from the family, or blocked from participation other than through provision of child support or alimony. This has been disastrous for our communities; fully 33% of Hawaii’s children are growing up without their biological father present. We can witness the effects of these fatherless children through violent crime statistics, depression, suicide, teen pregnancies and sexual assaults; virtually every indicator of a healthy society has a direct correlation to father absenteeism.
Specific things that we can all do to support and encourage fathers especially in light of divorce and separation are:
Acknowledge their importance; we all know how important mothers are to a child’s development but fathers are often times diminished or dismissed altogether. Recent research is showing without a doubt that fathers are just as important to a child’s emotional, psychological and physical development as mothers.
Become an ally; it is not a misconception that men are less likely to reach out for help than their female counterparts. While this offers a great opportunity to talk about the culture of toxic masculinity that pushes men into isolation, it also tells us that sometimes a little nudge can go a long way in getting dads and men in general to open up. If you are in a position to support a dad through separation from his family, being his ally could be the difference between whether or not his children will get to keep him in their lives.
Provide tools; acknowledge the justified fear, isolation and systemic challenges that fathers face in the courts and family support agencies. Teach cool-down techniques or offer suggestions for better management of stress. Prepare fathers in advance to deal with stressful or potentially volatile situations such as court hearings so that fathers can manage these challenges successfully.
Focus on the Children; fathers respond best when they have a mission in life. There is no greater mission for a man then to be a caring, loving father. Fathers need to hear how important they are to their children and they need to hear that their very presence is the best gift that a child can have.
The above points are a good start for encouraging and engaging fathers in our community. If you know of a father or any man for that matter in need of help, send him to the FSH Fatherhood Initiative to get the support he needs to be the best dad he can be. We meet every Wednesday evening from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Call (808)747-0267 to get an invite.