By Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Fathers have been given secondary status for a long time in their contributions in making and keeping families stable.
Although some of the wounds are self-inflicted, caricatures as deadbeat dads, TV-series doofuses, violent bullies, and emotionally distant breadwinners have grown into stereotypes and taken root as the norm.
But there are dads who know their deficiencies and want to correct them. To that end, some Catholic Charities affiliates have taken steps to bring new and expectant fathers together with the mothers — and sometimes just by themselves.
Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, which takes in the Diocese of Colorado Springs, started Circle of Fathers at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Kathy Dobyns, early childhood-parent education manager.
“The fathers started meeting on Zoom. There was such a significant need across the state and around the nation for this kind of program, they expanded it across the state of Colorado,” Dobyns said.
Adam Combs is one of the leaders of Circle of Fathers. “We meet in person. The Catholic Charities, they help us with meals and child care,” he told Catholic News Service. The primary topic? “Just talkin’ about being dads,” he replied, but he understates it.
Dads and their children can sit down and enjoy a meal prepared by Catholic Charities volunteers. And whatever it is the fathers are talking about, their children can talk about a kid-friendly version of the topic.
Those topics include “anger management, how to restructure our parenting,. The tools we had in our pocket that we thought were good, they don’t work anymore. What do we do with our kid now that they’re getting older. Spousal issues. Issues with exes, ex-spouses,” Combs said.
“We talk about criminal activity — some of the guys have domestic violence arrests — custody battles, job resources, or parenting classes that are taking place. Hell, we really even talked about addictions, even like with masturbation. It’s very open conversation Whatever’s going on in that person’s life, and we all give our experiences,” Combs said.
“Sometimes we have three-hour meetings. We gotta cut if off: ‘Hey, I gotta get my kid in bed!'”
Catholic Charities East Tennessee, based in the Diocese of Knoxville, also has parenting classes and about 25% of the participants are new or will-be fathers.
“For the most part, dads follow through at least until the baby’s about 3 months old, but often work gets in the way, and they want to go back to work and raising money to support them,” said Ernestine Meiners, Catholic Charities East Tennessee’s program coordinator for Knoxville Pregnancy Health Center. When that happens, the agency sets up after-hours fatherhood support groups, so staff can chat with them virtually.
Catholic Charities also established a one-on-one mentoring program for new dads.
Brandon Graham, 33, first heard of the program from a friend and recent mother. “She mentioned this place that offered education plus the incentives of diapers and any necessities that we might need that would be helpful,” he said.
At first, “we used to sit there and watch our videos and do our lessons,” Graham noted, but “it was a lot more interactive than it has been the past year with COVID and everything. But I really enjoyed how much we were gaining from it. That first experience, I thought it went smoothly and thought it was a really good program.”
But things got dicey later on. “We almost got a divorce” over issues that can trip up any couple, Graham said. “A very challenging year there.” But Graham was assigned a trained volunteer mentor, and “I kind of stuck with having the male mentor for now and, yeah, I’m focusing on these set of lessons,” he added.
Enter Justin Dutcher, a young dad himself with two children ages 3 and 2. He had been looking to do something fulfilling, and, inside the adoration chapel at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Knoxville, he found a brochure about the Catholic Charities program. He inquired, and became of its first mentors for men. Catholic Charities has women who mentor mothers, and he said more women and men are coming aboard as mentors once they complete their training.
What he does, Dutcher said, is “just kind of talking them through the hormonal progress and how their (partner’s) body is changing, making another body — why they may be acting completely different.” He suggest that dads “give them some act of mercy to do” like the dishes or laundry. “Just take that over without asking. Just ease her a little bit.”
So far, Dutcher said he’s found mentoring to be “extremely rewarding and it’s made me a better dad.” As for accountability, he said, “If I’m going to be mentoring men of all ages”– he’s already mentored one first-time father who was 56 — “I’ve got to take care of my family at home.”
The Knights of Columbus are preparing to unveil a new fatherhood initiative of their own, tailored to “young fathers,” ages 40-45 and younger, according to Frank Mantero, vice president of marketing for the Knights’ Supreme Council.
The Knights had an initiative called “Fathers for Good,” loaded with plenty of content. But the staffer responsible for the site was pulled from it to work on the canonization cause of the organization’s founder, Father Michael McGivney. Some pages haven’t been updated or added to since the coronavirus pandemic began more than two years ago. Some of that content will migrated to the new campaign, Mantero told CNS.
Some dads without a lot of free time may be hesitant about joining the Knights due to their reputation for charitable volunteer acts and their insurance products. But Mantero sees the initiative as “why we’re still relevant 140 years after Father McGivney founded the Knights. And our mission is as relevant today as it was 140 years ago. We’re not rebranding. We’re reinforcing it in our marketing.”
Ninety days after the campaign begins, “we’ll take a breath,” he added, and “make a decision on whether to continue to extend it or redirect it.”