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The Father Factor

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Fathering after Domestic Violence?

Jack Kammer 78x100

This is a guest blog from NFI Program Support Consultant Jack Kammer, MSW. In 2012 Jack was named Outstanding Recent Graduate at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

A powerful idea in domestic violence circles is that a man, but not a woman, who has been abusive is disqualified as a loving parent. The mere allegation, to say nothing of the actual abuse (no matter how minor,) can prevent a father from having a role in his children’s lives. But there is reason to believe that idea may be fading.

On August 22, 2012, National Public Radio carried a report about efforts in New Haven, Connecticut to engage fathers in the lives of Head Start children. Predictably, the specter of male abusiveness came up. But this time NPR quoted Fernando Mederos, Ed.D., Director of Fatherhood Engagement in the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. He said, “What we owe [abused] women is to say to them, ‘What are your concerns about him and is there any way of having him involved with your kids in a safe way, even in a helpful way?’”

NFI understands that domestic violence is an important topic that deserves serious attention. But we sometimes get a bit weary of having domestic violence be the first thing that comes to people’s minds when we mention fathers in families. NFI works to make sure that men have the skills, confidence and support they need to be strong, confident, loving fathers, and we wish to highlight the sexism that paints fathers far too broadly and far too indelibly with the family violence brush.

The scientific evidence about domestic violence makes quite clear that it is a two-way street between women and men. We can argue whether the balance is 50-50, 60-40 or 35-65, but women as well as men can feel the unhealthy impulse toward power and control, the factors that contribute to domestic violence. And the evidence also calls into serious question the ready notion that when women are physically violent towards men it is only in self-defense; in fact, significant science suggests that women initiate more domestic violence than men do. (The annotated bibliography maintained by Martin Fiebert at the University of California, Long Beach, is a good place to start your own investigation of the science around domestic violence.)

Now, having said that, NFI readily acknowledges that when domestic violence involves serious injury, women are somewhere between three and seven times more likely than men to be the victims. And having said that, it is important to point out that most domestic violence – especially under the very broad and vague definitions propounded by some DV activists – does not involve serious injury. Furthermore, most men are not involved in domestic violence at all.

So, back to the initial question: Can a man who has been abusive be a loving parent? NFI is firmly committed to the idea that for most fathers, the answer can be a resounding yes, to the benefit of children, mothers, fathers, your agency and entire communities alike. NFI products such as our 24/7 Dad  and InsideOut Dad curricula and our Understanding Domestic Violence FatherTopics Workshop all help to provide fathers with the skills they need to understand and be understood by their partners through healthy, compassionate, nonviolent communication.

What do you think?

End Father Absence: Give a Second Chance to Dads Like Steven

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NFI’s fiscal year ends on September 30 and we are celebrating the end of an impactful year by sharing stories of real-life dads and their children who have found second chances through our work in their communities. 

Steven Gonzales of Sacramento, California, is one of those dads.  Photographer Lewis Kostiner met him as he traveled around the country at his own expense photographing and interviewing dads who participated in NFI’s fatherhood programs in local communities.  Mr. Kostiner shared his impressions of Steven’s relationship with his son in his book Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance.

describe the imageSteven Gonzales worked fourteen-hour days, seven days a week.  He lived amongst the ghosts of bygone eras of vintage cars.  Steven was the owner of the body shop that consumed him.  He also was a father who taught his children by example.  He told me that he regretted not being home for dinner every night, sometimes having to run out to give an estimate.  He told him his heart hurt when he had to do this.  Steven and his son took me on a tour of the body shop.  We visited the paint shop, rich in the aroma of the freshly sprayed paint.  His son was so proud of his dad.  My presence with the camera made the young boy feel important.  He knew his father to be a very special person and that I was sent there to take this famous person’s picture.  Steven and his son posed so proudly in front of the blue, beat-up Cadillac.  I envied that boy and the life he had with his father.  When I was done, they gave me a red t-shirt with the name “RED STAR California Original” [the name of the body shop] on the front of it.  I felt as special as the son when I left.

NFI is active in communities like Steven’s, helping dads in all walks of life build their fathering skills and connect with their children.  In some cases, the support and inspiration these dads find through our presence in their communities is the second chance they and their families need.

Your financial support is crucial to reach more families like Steven’s.  As we end the fiscal year on September 30, will you make a donation to help us finish this year and start next year strong?  We have almost reached our fundraising goal for the year, and your contribution will get us across the finish line and help even more dads and families next year.

describe the imageAs a special “thank you,” we will send a FREE copy of Choosing Fatherhood: America’s Second Chance to anyone who donates $100 or more.  Of course your gift of any amount helps us reach our goal for the fiscal year and start our next year of work strong.

Thanks for your help!

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NFI Honors Mayor Bloomberg With Fatherhood Award™

National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) recently recognized New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg with a Fatherhood Award™ in a ceremony at LaGuardia Community College.

Mayor Bloomberg Fatherhood Award
Mayor Bloomberg was honored for his leadership in launching two initiatives to strengthen fatherhood and families in the city: the Young Men’s Initiative and NYC Dads, New York’s first city-wide effort to engage fathers and help them to connect with their children.

Mayor Bloomberg, a father of two daughters, has consistently demonstrated, through his administration’s policies and practices, a deep understanding of how father involvement not only helps children, but strengthens the entire city.

Upon launching the city-wide fatherhood initiative in 2010, Bloomberg said:

Strong families make a strong New York. But too many children in this city are growing up without their fathers. We want more children in our City to experience the encouragement, support and love of their fathers.

Mayor Bloomberg also understands the link between the challenges facing the black and Latino youth of the city and the problem of father absence. One of the key changes in practice that was identified upon the launch of the Young Men’s Initiative was to encourage family-serving agencies in the city to “identify where obstacles to father involvement can be reduced.” This approach coincides with research showing that young men without involved fathers face significantly greater risks of failing in school, using drugs, becoming involved in the criminal justice system, and facing a host of other challenges.

NFI President Roland C. Warren said:

Mayor Bloomberg’s innovative thinking and powerful leadership are making it possible for New York City to be an example for cities across the country on how to effectively serve whole families. Too often, dads have been left out of the equation, but Mayor Bloomberg is ensuring that the city’s agencies will serve them, which will lead to stronger families and a stronger New York. 

At a time when 32 percent of all New York City children under the age of 17 live in households without a father, and 54 percent of black and 43 percent of Latino children grow up in fatherless households, Mayor Bloomberg’s pioneering leadership on this issue is critical.

Warren presented the Fatherhood Award™ to Mayor Bloomberg at the first graduation for the CUNY Fatherhood Academy. As part of the Young Men’s Initiative’s effort to strengthen fathers and their families, the Mayor launched the CUNY Fatherhood Academy in collaboration with the Open Society Foundation’s Campaign for Black Male Achievement. The CUNY Fatherhood Academy is a free comprehensive program intended to promote responsible parenting and foster economic stability for unemployed and underemployed young fathers by preparing fathers to apply to earn a GED and enroll in, and graduate from college.

As part of the city’s important work to become more father-friendly, NFI was recently contracted by the Department of Youth and Community Development to train and provide technical assistance on NFI's 24/7 Dad™ fatherhood curriculum, which equipped the department’s fatherhood grantees to address the most critical needs of the city’s low-income, non-custodial fathers.

Inaugurated in 1997, NFI’s Fatherhood Award™ is presented each year to individuals, corporations, and organizations that make a substantial contribution to strengthening involved, responsible, and committed fatherhood. Among the recipients of the Fatherhood Award™ are: country music superstar Tim McGraw; former-NFL coach Tony Dungy; NBA superstar Dwyane Wade; newsman and author Tim Russert; and corporations such as Johnson & Johnson, Google, and Chevrolet. 

National Fatherhood Initiative works in every sector and at every level of society to engage fathers in the lives of their children. Connect with The Father Factor by RSSFacebook and on Twitter @TheFatherFactor.

Image: NYC Mayor's Office 

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