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Fathers’ influence on development and well-being of children

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Monday, July 11, 2022

Fathers’ influence on the development and well-being of children

June 12, 2019

Mary Beth Nierengarten, MA

Contemporary PEDS Journal, Vol 36 No 6, Volume 36, Issue 6

 

Despite the growing involvement of fathers in their children’s lives, there persists a lack of focus on fathers in pediatric care. Updated guidelines can help pediatricians to better engage fathers in the care of their children.



 

Growing evidence shows the positive influence that fathers have on the development and well-being of their children. Longitudinal data published over the past decade or so support that paternal involvement from the prenatal stage through a child’s lifetime benefits the psychosocial and behavioral development of their children, often in ways different from and complementary to maternal involvement.1,2 Other data exploring the biological and epigenetic influences of fathers on their children are revealing the complexity of this paternal influence on their children.3-7 Among the most studied areas of research is paternal depression and the associated adverse effects on children.8-13

In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its guidance for pediatricians on the role of fathers in the care and development of their children based on the increasing number of “high-quality” studies that now quantify and qualify this role.1 According to the guideline, among the drivers underlying this increased interest in fathers are socioeconomic forces in which the traditional roles of men and women are changing. More mothers are working outside the home and more stay-at-home fathers are taking on caregiving activities. Fathers also are increasingly taking on the primary caregiving role as single parents. Also highlighted are changing social mores encouraging more involvement by fathers beyond their historic protector and provider role. Data show this, with involvement by fathers in childcare nearly doubling between 1965 and 2011.14

Despite this growing involvement of fathers in their children’s lives, pediatric visits largely still focus on the mother-child relationship.15,16 A recent systematic review of father-inclusive perinatal parent education in the United States found only a small number of early parent education programs for fathers.15 In addition, recent survey results of 100 pediatric primary care providers found that less than 50% of the respondents regularly implemented recommendations for engaging fathers as listed in the recent guidelines by the AAP.16 The survey also found that supporting parenting skills and perinatal depression screening for fathers were the least implemented recommended practices.

Craig F. Garfield, MD, professor of Pediatrics and Medical Social Sciences, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois, attending physician at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and one of the authors of the AAP guidelines on fathers, emphasizes the persisting lack of focus on fathers when it comes to pediatric care.

“Pediatrics has been slow in embracing the roles of fathers,” he says, citing, for example, a recently published AAP guideline on postnatal depression that largely focused only on maternal depression.17

This article reviews some of the data on ways fathers contribute positively to the development and wellbeing of their sons and daughters, and suggests opportunities for pediatricians to better engage fathers in the care of their children.

Defining the role of father

When talking about the role of fathers in their children’s development and well-being, it is important to define what is meant by “father” as the term carries several assumptions that may not be completely accurate given the changing family structure. In the AAP guideline on fathers, father is defined broadly as “the male or males identified as most involved in caregiving and committed to the well-being of the child, regardless of living situation, marital status, or biological relation.” Along with the biological father, this definition includes foster fathers, stepfathers, and grandfathers.1

Underlying this discussion of who is a father is the recognition of the evolving and changing nature of family structures, societal norms, and understanding of masculinity and femininity that is creating additional complexity to understanding the multiple influences on childhood development. Research shows that the influence of fathers on the psychosocial and behavioral development of children is distinct from that of mothers.1 However, it is difficult to tease out of this current research how these different influences are related to the biological distinctiveness of masculinity or femininity. Emerging research on the neurobiology of parenting provides some preliminary signs by showing just how complex the interplay between hormonal and neural circuitry is in men and women and how these biological processes manifest differently in parenting behavior.7

Benefits of fathers’ early involvement

Data show that getting fathers involved early in their children’s lives predicts later involvement. Prenatal involvement by fathers, along with living with the mother, is the strongest predictor of their involvement by the time a child is aged 5 years.1,18

Paternal involvement just after a child is born is also critical. “Good research shows that the more men take time to spend at home with a child after birth, 2 weeks or more, they are almost 2 times as likely to be involved in diapering, feeding, cleaning, and caring for their baby at 9 months,” says Garfield.19

Helping fathers to be more confident in taking care of their children helps their children during all stages of their development (Table 1).1 Garfield highlights 3 main areas in which involvement by fathers is distinct from, and often complementary to, involvement by mothers.

One is in the area of language development. Garfield cites evidence showing that the more words and language to which a child is exposed at an early age, the greater benefit for kindergarten readiness. Children exposed to language and vocabulary through both mothers and fathers benefit by the additive effect of both hearing more words and also more variety.1,20,21

Another way in which fathers uniquely contribute to early childhood development is by promoting more risk taking and problem-solving behavior through greater physical engagement with the child than is typically done by mothers.1,21-25 “Really unique to dads is in the general area of play and in particular what is called ‘rough and tumble’ play,” says Garfield, describing this type of play as a very high-energy and physical game wherein fathers may be changing the rules during play forcing the child to adapt quickly to the changes.26 “It is thought that this is helping children learn about how to make decisions and how to stay focused when they are amped up,” he says, “and that can actually be teaching resilience to the child as well.”

Fathers also influence their children during early childhood years and into adolescence by role-modelling behavior.1 Garfield emphasizes the important influence of fathers as a role model for adolescent sons and daughters. “They are role modelling how to be in a relationship, how to make health and well-being behavior decisions, and that can be important for the child as well,” he says. For example, longitudinal data show an association between father involvement and reduced behavioral problems and enhanced cognitive development in adolescent boys as well as reduced psychological problems in adolescent girls.27 Other benefits of father involvement for adolescent girls are decreased early sexual experiences and teenaged pregnancy,21,28 and for boys the potential for improvement in sexual health through better communication about condoms.29

Interplay of biology with caregiving

An emerging area of research on the biologic and epigenetic influences of fathers and mothers on children is offering further insight into the complexity of parental biology on childhood development and caregiving. For example, recent studies explore the interplay of biologic and environmental influences of fathers on childhood atopic dermatitis,3 the efficacy of treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children,4 paternal diet and breast cancer risk in daughters,5 and increased incidence of childhood autism and cancers associated older paternal age.6

Further research is looking closer at how caregiving behavior is linked to neural and hormonal mechanisms of mothers and fathers as recently reported in a study examining the role of hormones (oxytocin, testosterone, prolactin, and arginine vasopressin) and their interplay on parenting behavior, and brain changes and parenting behavior.7

Fathers and postnatal depression

An important area of research is on the influence of fathers’ mental and physical health on their children. Among the most studied areas is that of paternal postnatal depression and the adverse effects on children. An updated meta-analysis found paternal depression in 8% of men during the first trimester and 1-year postpartum period.12 Data also show that by the time their children are aged 12 years, more than 20% of fathers will experience depression.10 In addition, during the first 5 years of fatherhood, those fathers who reside with their children have reported a 68% increase in their symptoms of depression.9

Despite this prevalence, the recently published AAP guidance on postnatal depression focused almost exclusively on mothers, as mentioned previously.17 “With the exception of a short paragraph talking about the problem of paternal postnatal depression, dads were missing from the report,” says Garfield.

The need to better recognize, identify, and address postnatal depression in fathers is highlighted by data showing the associated adverse effects on children-notably, poorer behavioral and emotional outcomes.13

Additional data show that when mothers are depressed, fathers play an indirect but key role in helping their children by supporting mothers, which mitigates the impact of maternal depression.30


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The science of how fatherhood transforms you

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Monday, July 11, 2022

The science of how fatherhood transforms you

Emerging research has proven it: Men’s bodies are built to parent, and involved fathers bring benefits to almost every aspect of their kids’ lives. (And—bonus!—there’s a payoff for dads, too.)

Micah Toub, Photography by Roberto CarusoJune 8, 2021




Couch: Urbanbarn.com, Clothes: gapcanada.ca, Parasol diapers: Well.ca

When it came to being a dad, my father says he was pretty much flying blind. My grandfather didn’t change my dad’s diapers, didn’t put him to bed, didn’t even play with him that much. One of the most prominent father-son memories he has is of when he was five and his mother was letting him stay up late to watch a show on TV; his father vetoed that and sent him to bed crying. He also remembers his dad coming after him with a belt. Then, when my dad was 13, my grandfather remarried and moved away.

“I didn’t have a role model for how to be an involved father, so I had to come up with that myself,” he told me recently. “But I think it was also instinctive—it just came out of my desire to be close. I felt love for you, so I wanted to teach you things and play with you.” He added that, subconsciously, he was probably making up for the shortcomings of his own childhood.

The idea that a man can possess a parenting instinct, and is not just suited to be a provider or a hapless sidekick, is relatively new. For my grandfather’s generation, it was highly controversial. When I was born, in 1976, the expectation that men should do more was picking up steam, but they were still considered a poor substitute for mom. In fact, up to that point, scientists who studied children’s early development looked exclusively at mothers.

 

“[The mid-’70s] was the heyday of attachment theory, which, as it was incarnated then, was very much focused on the critical importance of the attachment between an infant and its mother in the first years of life,” says Michael Lamb, who became a forerunner of fatherhood research in the ’70s and continues to study it at the University of Cambridge in the UK. “That went along with the assumption that it was the only [primary] relationship kids could form.”

At that time, however, Lamb and a small number of other researchers were all coming to the same conclusion: Babies can form as strong an attachment to their dads as to their moms. From that seed has grown an intriguing but limited body of evidence stating that not only are men built to care for children, but that being an involved dad impacts kids’ physiologies, psychologies and outcomes for the rest of their lives.

In short, dads make a difference. So why is it that when we see a man with an infant on a weekday, we still reflexively wonder where that baby’s mother is, even if we think it’s so darn cute that he’s “babysitting”? The truth is, just as women have always had what it takes to be CEOs, men have always had the power to nurture. Now that we’re recognizing this, the day may soon come when the default assumption that mom is the primary parent will seem laughably quaint—and we’ll all be better for it.

The birth of a father

It wasn’t until the turn of this century that researchers discovered a fascinating detail about men: Our bodies transform when we become fathers. (And I’m not talking about the second trimester–size belly bump we fight into old age.) Whether we’re biological dads or adoptive ones, heterosexual or queer, our hormonal systems alter dramatically when we become parents—an amazing revelation basically implying that despite the narrow role we fathers have straitjacketed ourselves into for so long, our internal chemistries may have always been nudging us toward more involvement.

We’ve long known that oxytocin—the “love hormone”—plays a role in a mother’s initial bonding with her child after birth. But more recently, researchers have observed that the same spike in oxytocin occurs when fathers hold and play with their newborns.

My own discovery of this fact began in an initially distressing way. The fairy tale I’d always heard was that parents experience an overwhelming flood of love for their babies on first sight. Almost four years ago, when the surgeon brought my son around the curtain and passed him to me, I was astonished by the fragile, crying creature. But I didn’t experience that surge of love. “I feel like he could be anybody’s baby,” I confessed to my mother in an anxious phone call from the hospital hallway.

The next two days were a blur, as I alternated between taking care of my son and my wife, who was recovering from a C-section. But once we’d settled at home and I made a habit of putting my son on my shirtless chest, I began to feel it: love. It was transcendent, much like the early-days rush I’ve experienced in other landmark relationships, and it came with similar side effects: the feeling of walking on air, an overriding empathy toward all people and a narcissistic inability to talk about anything else. The oxytocin buzz.

While that love drug pumps through a new father, his testosterone level typically drops, making him less prone to risk-taking behaviour and more able to nurture his newborn. And also, oddly, he registers an increase in prolactin—a hormone best known for helping women produce breastmilk. Its purpose, it turns out, is greater than that.

University of Notre Dame anthropologist Lee Gettler explains that the presence of prolactin goes back hundreds of millions of years to our animal ancestors—before mammals existed (even before breastfeeding existed). Over the past decade, Gettler’s research has come to some conclusions about the hormone’s function in modern-day dads. “Fathers with higher prolactin play with their babies in ways that are beneficial for their babies’ learning and exploration, and the fathers also seem to be more responsive and sensitive to infant cries,” he says. In other words, this ancient hormone plays some role in, as my father put it, increasing dads’ desire to be close.

All of the internal changes can depend on how much time dads spend solo with their kids in infancy and toddlerhood, says Hayley Alloway, who studies endocrinology in fathers at Memorial University of Newfoundland. “Having time where the man is responsible for direct physical interaction with an infant—not just being in the room, but actually providing care—has the biggest influence on his hormonal levels changing,” she says. And indeed, studies have shown that the more intimate time a dad has with his baby, the lower his testosterone dips and the more empathetic and soothing he is with his child.

I experienced the change in myself but wondered whether other involved dads did, too. What it means to be “involved” is somewhat subjective—a complex matrix of quantity of time spent with quality of interactions. But I found that several men who define themselves as “involved” parents all spent intensive and regular one-on-one time with their babies during their first year. None of them went into a scientist’s lab to prove it, but we know their hormones were shifting to accommodate their new role. And while they didn’t always find it easy, they spoke of the transformation with the seriousness of someone taking on the great responsibility that it is.

Josh*, who became a stay-at-home dad when his son was eight months old, told me the physical bonding started almost immediately, as he paced the hospital hallways with his newborn to give his wife some rest. “I didn’t want his crying to wake her,” he says. “I was the only dad I saw doing this, and I got a lot of people saying, ‘Aww, that’s adorable,’ but I was surprised it was so unusual.” Later, when his son was a month old and could take a bottle, he and his wife began splitting the nighttime feedings. For months on end, if he wasn’t rocking and soothing his son, the baby was asleep right on top of him—a difficult, sleepless experience that he nonetheless describes as “lovely.”

“It was important to me to step up and say, I’m here now. I’m not going to wait until my kid can participate in my favourite hobbies. I’m putting in the time immediately,” he says. “Being a dad means doing the hard things as well as the fun things.” The reward for Josh’s effort came during the daytime, when he says his son would often crawl over to him and sit in his lap, which never failed to send that “in love” feeling surging through his body.

Brandon Hay, founder of Toronto’s Black Daddies Club, also did much of the nighttime duty 15 years ago when he first became a dad. And the growing bond he had with his baby changed the way he viewed his own life. “After my son was born, I had a new purpose. Life is bigger than just me now.” Brandon’s own father had been mostly absent during his childhood in Jamaica, inspiring Brandon to do an about-face in one generation, taking his parenting role so seriously that to do even better, he formed an organization—a network of black fathers that has engaged 8,000 families since 2007.

According to Alloway, the hormonal changes in dads during the initial stages of a baby’s life don’t continue once the two have less physical contact—but kids do have a long-term effect on men’s bodies. Although research in this area is scant, one 2004 study that reviewed the literature since 1966 found that men under 40 with children had poorer health than those who had none. (As someone who became a father at 37, my joints and bones can confirm this.) But, in men over 40—who had settled into their parental roles—the opposite was true. And, if a father makes it all the way to 60, a 2017 study conducted in Sweden at Stockholm University and the Karolinska Institutet found having a kid adds about two years onto his life expectancy.

Reaping the benefits

The social movement to create more equity among the sexes, which was in full swing by the mid-’70s, played a role in my father becoming more involved in my care. While feminists battled to create the Equal Rights Amendment in the United States, within my own house in Denver, Colo., my parents were figuring out how my mother—who had stayed home to raise my sister—could go back to school and work. “It wasn’t the old paradigm anymore,” my dad says now. “We decided that we both had to raise our kids and that it was going to be something we did as a team.”

Although I can’t recall the times he changed my diaper or rocked me in the middle of the night, I do have fond memories of him cuddling with me in bed to read books, and I remember that he used to pick me up from kindergarten early at least once a week. In this sense, he was at the forefront of the shift, involving himself in ways that are now the norm.

Although that push 40 years ago may have been for the sake of balancing work and child care between parents, the research Lamb and others began doing at the time attempted to show that fathers were more than just a convenient backup to mothers. After modest initial studies—experiments showing that a temporarily abandoned baby would stop crying when its father returned—researchers eventually came to conclude that active dads can have a net positive impact.

And no, it’s not just that an involved dad makes a kid better at sports—research shows our presence is a boon to pretty much every aspect of a human being’s development. Having an involved dad has been associated with fewer cognitive delays, better school readiness, a decrease in tantrums and aggressive behaviour, and lower rates of depression. In the book Do Fathers Matter?, science journalist Paul Raeburn summarizes findings from a 2007 Swedish study concluding that an involved father may even keep his teenage offspring out of jail: “Children whose fathers played with them, read to them, took them on outings and helped care for them had fewer behavioural problems in the early school years, and less likelihood of delinquency or criminal behaviour as adolescents.”

Of all the studies Raeburn came across, two of the most surprising to him were from the University of North Carolina showing that, no matter how well-spoken a mother was, the father’s use of vocabulary had the greatest impact on a toddler’s language development.

That conclusion reminded me of something my friend Simon* told me about the initial weeks of his four-year-old’s life. “My first impression of being a father was the shift of having another person in between me and my wife,” he says. “It came as a shock, but then I also realized I wanted in. I wanted my son to have a connection with me, too.”

After googling different iterations of “how do dads bond with babies?”, Simon found information that suggested infants can form strong connections with a parent’s voice. “I didn’t have breasts, but I could talk,” he says, and so he did. He talked to his child constantly and, in short order, his son—who is now a skilled and passionate storyteller—responded by gravitating toward Simon whenever he heard his voice.

My friend’s experience may explain one reason for those studies’ conclusions, but Raeburn says his conversations with the researchers suggested something else. “They speculate that because a father traditionally spends less time with the child than the mother, they weren’t as attuned to what words the kids knew,” he explains. “So while mothers might change their language a bit to use words that their kid understands, fathers are more likely to speak using something closer to their normal vocabulary, which stretches kids so they learn more.”

This hypothesis inadvertently raises one of the concerns I have with studies aiming to prove that kids with involved dads do better in life. If the researcher’s rationale is true, wouldn’t a dad who splits care evenly with his partner, or who even does more, stop having that effect? And then this: How do we know what’s due to the gender or sex of the parent and what’s just a benefit of having more than one person investing time in a child’s development?

As it turns out, Lamb—that pioneer of proving fathers make a difference—has come around to the opinion that gender isn’t relevant when it comes to outcomes. While he says he believes all that research has been useful to confirm “the appropriateness of fathers becoming more involved,” he hasn’t seen conclusive evidence that men provide anything women can’t—and he thinks that the less-involved parent just ends up having a different impact, no matter their gender. “Kids benefit from having both parents actively involved because then they have more parent time and more parent stimulation. And because any two people differ in personality and bring different strengths to the table.”

I think Lamb’s insight is something that can apply to having two moms or being raised by a single parent with other family members or caregivers filling in the gaps. But still, for all the families that do have dads in them, it’s worth emphasizing what this research is saying: Yes, we matter. We can be left alone with our kids.

The personal payoff

When you talk to involved dads, you quickly discover that the positive effects of becoming one aren’t just for the children. Fathers’ own ideas of manhood expand during the transition, as do their abilities to form rewarding human connections.

Brandon was 22 when his first son was born, and he didn’t yet have a solid career, a fact he struggled with because, to him, being a father was synonymous with providing. “I knew a lot of friends who were going out west to get jobs in oil rigs, and I thought maybe I should do that,” he recalls. “I thought I would be more impactful if I went away and sent my partner money.” In the end, he stayed—and shared the primary parenting role. Although he remembers feeling judged (and judging himself) for doing drop-offs in his sweats while other dads wore suits, he doesn’t regret that time spent together. “It was important that I was giving my kids what I didn’t have.”

Later, when Brandon worked on a research project with Lance McCready at OISE and Carl James of York University that explored the experiences of and issues facing black fathers, one of the main findings was that they, too, found it difficult to “feel like a father” if they weren’t providing financially. As he told me about this over the phone, he was taking a walk with his third child, now 12—not going anywhere specific, just strolling for the sake of being together. “What I tell new dads is that little things like this, taking a walk, don’t cost money, and they’re the things your kids remember in the longer term.”

But Brandon says the payoff has also been personal. “I grew up in a culture and era when spanking was the go-to. I had to develop the kind of patience you need to not jump to that kind of discipline and instead take the time to talk to them, have conversations with them and really communicate,” he says. “Before I had kids, I never really knew what love was. I’d say, ‘I love my mom,’ or ‘I think I love this girl.’ With my kids, it’s different. I would give them a body part.”

While Josh’s dad lived in the same house, he was largely absent, retreating into his work and sharing little of himself with his son. Although his dad is nearing retirement now, Josh says it may be too late to form a real bond with him. It’s not that they fight, he says, but just that their conversations don’t go beyond the superficial and never dip into their emotional lives. “To this day, I don’t feel as deep of a connection with him as I do with my mother, even though I’d like to,” he says. “We keep reaching out, but neither of us has had practice, so it’s awkward.”

With his own son, Josh is trying to break that cycle. “I’m watching myself pick up some of my dad’s habit of living in his head,” Josh says. “I’ll literally be sitting down looking at my kid but my mind is elsewhere.” Like a kind of mindfulness meditation, every time Josh notices he’s drifting, he reminds himself to come back to the moment. And whereas his father’s emotional vocabulary was limited, Josh is using fatherhood as an opportunity to grow his own. “When my son hurts himself, I honour his feelings instead of dismissing them. It’s affecting my life outside parenting as well—now, instead of just jumping in to fix a problem, I try my best to listen.”

When strangers see Josh with his now 16-month-old in the park, they sometimes tell him he’s an amazing father, simply because he’s out alone with his toddler. “But I’m not going for ‘amazing father,’” he says. “That seems like a very low bar. I’m going for good parent. I want to be a big part of his life and be there for him physically and emotionally. To do that, I need a solid foundation. What better way to form that than to know him well as he grows up.”

While Josh thinks a shift is occurring where dad involvement is more often considered the norm, in his opinion, it’s not happening quickly enough. “When I run into other dads when I’m out, half of them are embarrassed that they’re the at-home parent,” he says. “There’s still a lingering mentality that men should be working, and I talk to a lot of moms who feel guilty about going back to work. I think both of those reactions should be examined—if someone wants to go to work or stay at home, it shouldn’t matter their gender.”

For his part, Brandon believes the many fathers who’ve long been stepping up are under-recognized. “The narrative has been that parenting was only for moms,” he says. “And the narrative for black fathers was that they are non-existent. But when I started Black Daddies Club 10 years ago, I began to meet men who proved that was a myth. I saw fathers showing up and fathers who were engaged, and these were not the dads being depicted in media.”

When I think back to the early ’80s, I rarely saw dads like mine on television. I remember watching Mr. Mom, in which a laid-off Michael Keaton stays home with his baby, behaving as if it were the first time he’d ever spent five minutes with his kid. I didn’t get the joke.

I had a role model for how to be an involved father—one who worked during the day but was there for me in the evenings or the middle of the night. Of course, even if he hadn’t provided that example for me, I believe the fathering instinct—and the internal shifts that have reshaped me into a parent—would have inspired that desire to be close.

 

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FATHER PRESENCE

- Tuesday, March 15, 2022

FATHER PRESENCE


Research shows that a loving and nurturing father improves outcomes for children, families, and communities. Fathers who live with their children are often more likely to have a close, enduring relationship with their children. Even if you do not reside in the same home as your children, you can still play an active role in their lives and form a close bond. Studies suggest that children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior, and avoid high-risk behaviors, including drug use, missing school, and criminal activity.

The following principles guide father involvement:

  • All fathers can be significant contributors to the well-being of their children.
  • Parents are partners in raising their children, even when they do not live in the same household.
  • The roles fathers play in families are diverse and related to cultural and community norms.
  • Men should receive the education and support necessary to prepare them for the responsibility of parenthood.

Here are some tips and promising practices for staying present in your child’s life.

TIPS & BEST PRACTICES

  • Making a Visitation Schedule Work for Your Family.  Are you divorced or separated? Do you only see your kids on weekends? This can be one of the most significant challenges you face as a father. Give your children and make them feel at home. If you have new living arrangements, provide them their own if possible.  
  • Stay involved, even from a distance. For various reasons, many dads do not see their children regularly. As a result, you may have to redefine your role and responsibilities as a father. Staying aware of your children’s needs and interests is an essential step in remaining connected. Dads who are incarcerated may have more incredible difficulty tracking their children’s development and activities but can find ways to stay involved.


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Black Fathers Find Real, Lasting Support on Facebook

- Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Black Fathers Find Real, Lasting Support on Facebook

93,000 dads on a private Facebook group find the
 support they’ve been seeking.

By Christian Dashiell for FATHERLY Jan 17 2022, 8:00 AM




 

In 2008, Matt Prestbury was tired of the uninvolved Black dad narrative. Similar to how the FUBU changed the hip-hop fashion landscape in the mid-90s by designing and selling clothes from within the community, Prestbury created a space for Black dads with content created by Black dads.

“When I got on Facebook, I figured that was the best opportunity for us to present positive images of black dads to the world so everybody can see who we truly are,” says Prestbury. “We would be able to represent ourselves. I felt like we had an opportunity there where we could show out using our own words and our own images, and all of that good stuff. We don’t need people to tell other people who we are.” 

With over 93,000 members, the Black Fathers group has grown into one of the largest groups of dads on Facebook. It’s a place where dads come to find community, brag about their kids, get support from each other, and get parenting advice. We caught up with Prestbury to talk about mental health, how this support group has opened up after going private, and how what’s happening online in the Black Fathers group is having a positive impact offline. 

What prompted you to start the Black Fathers Facebook group?

When I first started the group, I was still a relatively young father, and I had had two children with my first wife. When we separated, the children came with me, and she kind of went out of the picture. So I began to do things with other fathers because I really wanted to create a community. I invited other dads out to different events and started fatherhood groups at the public schools where I work.

More specifically, as far as black fathers are concerned, we had the reputation of being uninvolved in our kids’ lives, and I felt that people looked at those of us who were involved like we were unicorns. But you know that you’re not, you’re not an anomaly, you’re not the exception to the rule. You really are the rule. There were tons of us. We just didn’t have a space where that was being shown. 

Why did you transition from an open Facebook group that showcased Black fathers to a closed group where Black fathers interact exclusively with each other?

It was about five years ago. We had gotten a lot of publicity early, and tons of people wanted to join. And at that point, we would let everyone in to see what was going on because I wanted to showcase what traditional parenting media wasn’t showing. And I wanted to show the world.

But at some juncture, it became problematic because I couldn’t just keep telling people who weren’t Black fathers that they could observe but not say anything, right? And there were many times when that philosophy would be questioned, and we would get stuck in back-and-forth arguments. So, it just became a thing where it was just more problematic than it was worth. So went the route of making it a private group.

How have the discussions happening in Black Fathers changed since then it became a Black dads group exclusively?

Well, since becoming a closed group just for Black fathers, we’ve seen tons and tons more transparency, vulnerability, and discussions about things that people weren’t opening up about before. Guys are way more comfortable because they feel like everybody in there in some sort of way can relate. We might not all go through the exact same thing, but I can still relate man-to-man and have compassion and empathy.

How do you keep the environment of the group positive?

For the most part, there’s an understanding that we’re here to uplift each other. Like, the world beats us up enough. You go outside, and you get it out there. Sometimes you come in, and you get it from your spouse. So, you don’t need to come in here and get beat up. We really pushed that and created a whole culture where people truly buy in. 

Today, we had a situation where some guy was just totally out of hand, and I said something to him. And you know, he just said, “Yeah, that’s my bad. I didn’t mean for it to go like that when I said it.” Even though he was really being a prick, just the fact that he owned his stuff and apologized and worked to make amends was significant. 

What do you think the value of the space has been every time the killing of an unarmed black man breaks into the broader public discussion? 

We aren’t like a complete monolith. But being all black men, we really understand what it is. It’s sad, and it sounds sickening when I say it, but it’s our daily reality. We understand it. So, for the most part, it’s a place for us to come together and confirm or reconfirm what we already know. But it’s also interesting to get different perspectives as well. There are times where some people see the future as hopeless, and other people hold onto hope. People just look at things differently. 

What are some of the other specific challenges the group has been effective at addressing?

The family court system can be a challenge for many guys in the group. Navigating custody, visitation, and child support are struggles a lot of guys have. And mental health is a huge one that I focus on. There are so many stressors. Just navigating this society as a Black man, dealing with unemployment and all the anxiety around COVID. We have our kids who are not in school for these long periods. And then when they go to school, we’re worried they’re going to get COVID. So all those stressors play a huge part in our mental well-being. 

Mental health is especially a challenge for Black men. We don’t talk about our struggles. We don’t do therapy. It’s scary because suicide attempts by black men are on the rise. There are so many people in the group who are dealing with depression, some even to the point of suicidal ideations. Changing that trend is very important to us as black men and our children. 

Have you seen more acceptance therapy and other mental health interventions because of the conversations in the group?

Oh, absolutely. You can see things are changing in terms of what we promote to one another. So when you see someone share their struggles, you have people in their group who put their phone numbers up so they can talk. And guys are always encouraging therapy. So it’s been a change. We’re getting to the point where people can be fully open. So if anybody asks if someone is struggling with a specific issue, people will willingly open up and say, “Yeah, I deal with that, too. And this is what helps me.” 

So it’s been extremely helpful. I deal with depression and anxiety, and I have absolutely no problem saying that to anybody in the group and letting them know because I know that I can feel comfortable doing it. I’m not going to get backlash or negative judgment or anything like that when I open up.

Now that you’ve developed a healthy culture in the group, do you have plans to leverage that energy?

We have the Black Fathers & Co. group, which I started after I made Black Fathers private. I still wanted that opportunity for women to be connected to what we were doing and I still wanted to show the world examples of involved Black dads. So that’s a public group that anybody can join, with the idea that it’s still a celebration of the Black fathers. 

We also started the Black Fathers Foundation to help resource dads. We’re going to be starting a scholarship in Baltimore City for a young man who’s already a father but still in high school, with the aim of supporting someone who is going to attend an HBCU.

What inspired you to structure the scholarship that way?

I wanted to have a keen focus on younger fathers. We want to take a holistic approach and not just drop money into somebody’s student account or whatever. I’ve seen a lot of very young and first-time fathers joining the group because they know that this is a place where they can come to get advice.


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The Daddy Brain

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Wednesday, January 05, 2022

The Daddy Brain

Moms aren't the only ones whose bodies change after having a baby. Jeremy Adam Smith reveals the new science of fatherhood.

BY JEREMY ADAM SMITH for Greater Good Magazine | JUNE 1, 2009 

Gopal Dayaneni is a stay-at-home father in Oakland, California. He still recalls the first time he gave a bottle to his six-week-old daughter, Ila. “I sat down with her in a rocking chair,” he says. “She totally took the bottle, right up against my body, comfortable and warm. She looked up at me and I was so taken with her.”

This story has a punch line: “After that, she never took a bottle again,” says Gopal. “She screamed her head off every time I tried.”

As infants and toddlers, both of Gopal’s children cried when their mom, Martha, left for work as a teacher, cried when she came back, and talked about her all day in between. This made for some very difficult days.

The author and his son, Liko© Jackie Adams

“They just love their mother more,” says Gopal ruefully.

Famed anthropologist Margaret Mead would not have been surprised by Gopal’s situation. “Fathers are biological necessities, but social accidents,” she once said. Far from an eccentric view, Mead distilled a scientific consensus that prevailed for centuries and persists (as a matter of opinion) to this day: Men are natural conquerors—Lotharios and breadwinners—while women are natural nurturers. As a result, men want sex, women want babies, and babies want their mothers. According to this view, involved fathers are, at best, a happy accident.

For this reason, to many people Gopal’s reverse-traditional family might appear “unnatural,” a word that my desk dictionary defines as “contrary to the physical laws of nature” and my thesaurus says is synonymous with “abnormal,” “aberrant,” and “perverted.” When the children of a caregiving dad like Gopal cry out for their mother, many people would hold this up as evidence on behalf of what some call “the traditional family”—meaning, a breadwinning father and caregiving mother.

But the new science of fatherhood has started to cast Gopal’s dilemma in a new light. In researching my new book, The Daddy Shift, I read every word I could find in peer-reviewed scholarly journals about caregiving fathers, breadwinning moms, and the science of sexual difference. I also interviewed dozens of parents like Gopal and Martha.

Here’s what I discovered: Where once it was thought that the minds and bodies of men were hardly affected by fatherhood, today scientists are finding that fatherhood changes men down to the cellular level. For more than a century, it was assumed that mothers, not fathers, were solely responsible for the care, life chances, and happiness of children. In recent years, however, research has revealed that father involvement is essential to a child’s well being, and that dads provide unique kinds of care and play that mothers often do not.

As a result, scientists and parents alike are developing a radical new conception of fatherhood, one whose role is not limited to contributing sperm and making money. This should be a comfort to us all during a time of economic catastrophe, when 80 percent of people being laid off are men and tens of thousands of fathers are being thrown into new roles at home. Women have been supporting families for decades, taking on breadwinning roles that were once considered impossible. And after 30 years of research and growing male participation at home, we are now also beginning to understand that fathers can also take on roles as caregivers.

Brains of our fathers

In the past, says University of Oregon sociologist Scott Coltrane, researchers looked only at whether the father was present and married to the mother. They did not study how fathers interacted with their children or what impact fathers had on children’s development; no one studied how fatherhood might change a man’s brain and body.

But, says Coltrane, “in the late seventies researchers started saying, ‘Wait a minute, why don’t we measure what the fathers are actually doing? How do they parent?’”

In the decades since then, researchers have made a staggering number of discoveries about how critical father involvement is to child development, and how it can be cultivated. University of California, Riverside, psychologist Ross Parke is one of the pioneers of fatherhood studies. He and his colleagues developed a “systems view” that attempts to describe all the factors that influence a father’s involvement with his children:

  • His relationships with his own parents (did he have an involved father?) and in-laws (are they supportive of him?);
  • The mother’s attitude (does she welcome his participation?);
  • Timing of entry into the parental role (what pressures is he facing, especially at work?); and
  • Informal support systems such as playgroups and friendships (do other parents put social pressure on him to be involved, through example or comments?).

But biological and psychological research reveals another critical factor: getting involved early in the child’s life. Studies by biologist Katherine Wynne-Edwards and others show that pregnancy, childbirth, and fatherhood trigger a range of little hormonal shifts in the male body—but only if the father is in contact with the baby and the baby’s mother. When a child is born, Wynne-Edwards found, testosterone levels drop dramatically in men. Men also gain prolactin and oxytocin, hormones associated with lactation, as well as cortisol, the stress hormone that spikes in mothers after childbirth and helps them pay attention to the baby’s needs.

It’s not just hormones that change, but the very structure of the male brain. To understand the impact of fatherhood on the primate brain, a team of Princeton University researchers compared the brains of daddy marmoset monkeys to their child-free peers. Why marmosets? Because their males are the stay-at-home dads of the animal kingdom. It’s the male marmosets who carry babies 70 percent of the time, giving them to mothers only for nursing.

The researchers discovered that the marmoset fathers developed stronger neural connections in the prefrontal cortex, which is generally thicker in females’ brains. In 2008, the same group of researchers found that, among male mice, fatherhood generates new cells and connections in the hippocampus, the emotion-processing center of the brain that is also somewhat bigger in the average human female.

You can’t apply this directly to humans, of course: Marmosets are a different kind of primate, and mice have tails and whiskers. But the available evidence, plus common sense, suggests that early paternal involvement will lead to involvement throughout the child’s life. It seems that babies and fathers imprint on each other, biologically and emotionally, just as babies do with moms.

Why dads matter

But does father involvement matter to children? Once, researchers (and most people) would have said no. In the 1970s and ‘80s, however, psychologists discovered that fathers universally provide forms of play and stimulation that mothers do not do as much of, such as unpredictable, emotionally arousing, non-toy-mediated physical play, which is essential to a child’s development.

Today, evidence is mounting that father involvement makes a big difference for kids: A 2007 study tracking 19,000 children born in 2000 and 2001 in the United Kingdom, found emotional and behavioral problems were “more common by the time youngsters reached the age of three if their fathers had not taken time off work when they were born, or had not used flexible work schedules to have a more positive role in their upbringing.” In a recent series of studies of Latino families, Ross Parke and his colleagues found that father involvement leads to lifelong educational attainment and better social adjustment for adolescents.

Full-time, caregiving dads like Gopal are still too new a social phenomenon for social scientists to have studied their long-term impact on children, but some preliminary research exists. Numerous studies have found no significant developmental difference between children raised by single moms and those raised by single dads. This doesn’t mean that moms and dads are interchangeable; behavioral differences emerge as the domestic division of labor changes. For example, when child psychologist Robert Frank and colleagues directly compared traditional to reverse-traditional households in order to understand parent-child bonds, they found that domestic tasks and child care were more fairly distributed when the at-home parent was a male.

“The child of an at-home-dad family has both a strong father influence and a strong mother influence,” said Frank in a 2005 presentation to a meeting of the American Psychological Association. “Both parents play an important role in the child’s development. This is in contrast to the at-home-mother family, in which a child has a strong mother influence but little influence from the father.”

Closing the gap

Many of the parents I interviewed for The Daddy Shift, which is about the changing roles of mothers and fathers, would not be surprised by that conclusion.

“Family is more important to a woman than to a man,” says Gina Heise, a breadwinning mom in Kansas City, Missouri. “There’s more of a connection. Maybe it’s because of the fact that women carry a baby for nine months, and so they’re already into the deal as soon as the baby appears.”

Her husband Gus, a stay-at-home dad, agrees: “I think a guy wouldn’t necessarily feel the pull to have to get home from the office. Whereas she’s like, ‘It’s five o’clock. I gotta get home to my kids.’ “

This might sound like stereotypical thinking, but consider: Differences in the brains and minds of men and women might be small (an authoritative 2008 study found that sex accounts for no more than 1 to 5 percent of the variation between the brains of men and women), but as groups, we still play very different roles in reproduction, separate and unequal. Men don’t bear children and they don’t breastfeed. As Gopal Dayaneni discovered, we can’t argue with these facts. Those experiences are unique to females who become biological mothers. Men and women’s respective roles in reproduction can create an enormous gap between fathers and mothers, not to mention fathers and children—but, research suggests, only if the gap is permitted to grow.

To Gina, who embraces her breadwinning role, the persistence of the gap is an argument in favor of stay-at-home fatherhood. “The world would be a better place if more fathers stayed home and took care of their children,” she says. “I think they would have better relationships with their children. I think they would be more respectful toward mothers. There’s just more partnership when a man stays home.”

For the foreseeable future, most men will not become stay-at-home dads—stay-at-home moms outnumber the dads, 30 to one—but the experiences of Gina, Gus, and Gopal have implications that apply to all parents. So does the research. A father’s body changes (diminishing testosterone plus rising prolactin, oxytocin, and cortisol) only if he maintains a connection to the mother and newborn child. Feelings of attachment grow in environments that can either squash the attachment or allow it to flourish.

Aside from a strong argument in favor of paternity leave, findings like these suggest that Gina might have a point. The deep bond between mothers and children has been used to justify traditional gender roles, but that can be turned around: If biology does indeed create stronger attachment for biological mothers, it might make more sense for males to serve as caregivers (at least for a time) so that connections with their children can be reinforced. In this way, we are managing the environment to provide a counter-weight to the reproductive division of labor, and to maximize the entire family’s investment in a child’s welfare. Male caregiving is a solution embraced by cultures around the globe, from contemporary Sweden (where men take care of kids more than anywhere else in the developed world) to the Na people of southwestern China and the Aka pygmies of Central Africa.

Anthropologists argue about why cultures develop the way they do, even as we argue about the direction our culture should take. One thing is for certain: Biology might, in a sense, mark the frontiers of the country in which we must live, but we are not its prisoners. Within the ambit our bodies provide, we are confronted by a mazelike world of choices. “What magnifies small differences into major divisions of labor?” asks anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. “The simplest answer is that people do, by following the path of least resistance.”

As Hrdy describes, it is all too easy for the new father to tell himself that he does not want to intrude upon the special mother-child bond. And, truth be told, it is always easier for the exhausted mother to simply give a crying infant her breast instead of the father’s arms. Likewise, it’s easier for the father to bow to the power of the breast.


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Why Fatherhood Is Important to a Child’s Education

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Why Fatherhood Is
Important to a Child’s Education

by Letise Dennis from Family Living, Parenting


Fatherhood may not be a rare gift, but it is certainly one to be highly valued and carefully guarded. When a new life is created, the child brings to the mother and father not only exponential joy but also a lifelong commitment and interdependent relationship.

Fathers play many important roles in a child’s life, varying in each individual family based on the provisions of the father and needs of the child. An area in which our society is significantly suffering, though, is the involvement of fathers in the education of our children.

Many fathers are doing an excellent job of participating daily in the education of our nation’s children, but there is still a large percentage not engaging with teachers, homework, schools, and academic development.

Before going any deeper into why and how fathers should get involved in education, a definition of fatherhood should first be explained. Sticking with a formal definition, fatherhood can be simply stated as a state-of-being in relation to being a father. For the context of this article, though, let’s take it one step farther.

Children do not stop needing their fathers because life circumstances or relationships change, because they get older, or because lives get busy. Once a man enters into fatherhood, he is a member for life, and whether he is man enough to take on that challenge or not is up to him. The impact a father has on a child is irreplaceable, as numerous studies have shown, the absence of a father can result in negative consequences that can affect all areas of a child’s life.



One of those significant areas is education. Children with involved fathers tend toward achieving academic success across the board, higher IQs, improved test results, and better attitudes toward school. They are less likely to drop out, fail classes, or develop behavioral concerns.

Knowing children with involved fathers have such a clear academic advantage, here are some ways in which fathers can become actively involved with their child’s learning.


Watch D.O.G.S.

The National Center for Fathering has created a program called Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) to help connect fathers with their children’s schools. They volunteer a day of their time doing varying activities around the school such as assisting teachers, helping to monitor the car line, patrolling the school, and other various tasks as assigned. This is not only a huge assistance to teachers and school staff, but it also helps the children know that their fathers care enough to take a day off from work and invest in the betterment of the school. If Watch D.O.G.S. is not available as an option, ask the school administration or teachers about other volunteer opportunities to get involved.


Bedtime Stories

Find out from the child’s teacher what topics they are covering right now at school. Check out a book from the library or download one online that relates in some way to what is being taught at school. As a part of the bedtime routine, read together this book and discuss anything newly discovered or learned. This will develop a healthy habit of reading every night, will open up communication regarding school and learning, and will create very special memories shared between father and child.


Weekend Exploration

If weekdays prove impossible for a father to engage in many school-related activities, plan to take full advantage of the weekends. For every weekend, base at least one outing or adventure on something connected to either a lesson learned at school that week or something new the child has always wanted to try. This will reinforce learning at school, enable a more hands-on educational experience, and facilitate bonding time.


Ride to School

Mornings are often the most hectic time of the day, but if at all possible, arranging schedules to allow for driving children to school in the morning will open the door for some great conversations along the way. What do you have going on today? What are you most looking forward to? Are you nervous about anything? If it is possible to take the few extra minutes to walk the child to class, too, this makes it easy to speak with the teacher and other school staff. If this time in the morning is impossible to do, a quick appearance at lunch will make a world of difference in a student’s day and allow for the same communication with teachers and staff.


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Know! Six R’s for Less Stress Homeschooling

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Know! Six R’s for Less Stress Homeschooling



The pandemic wreaked havoc on many families’ summer plans, and now as school starts back in session, it appears the turbulence will continue. Some schools plan to take place in-person, some plan to go virtual, some are planning for a blended version. Regardless of how it starts off, most schools have been clear that all plans are subject to change depending on COVID-19 numbers—which gives way to more uncertainty.

Uncertainty means different things for different people, as we are each faced with unique family dynamics and circumstances. However, we are all in the same boat when it comes to the concern for how these changes will impact our children’s academic success, mental health, physical well-being, and futures.

Whether your children are at home from the start or may be learning from home at some point, here are some tips to keep in mind to help them achieve success academically, stay physically and mentally healthy, and forge ahead with resiliency.


Six R’s for less stress homeschooling:

Realistic Expectations: This is a key starting point. Set your standards high but be sure to give yourself and your children grace along the way. Don’t strive for perfection, be too intense, or overschedule. Simply do your best as you step into this type of teaching role while encouraging your child to do the same.


Requirements: Be clear on what is required of your child weekly and daily. Monitor their ability to comprehend the task at hand and complete the assignment. Depending on your individual child, your necessary level of involvement will vary—which means potentially more work and more stress for some families than others.


Rules and Routine: Create rules surrounding time for work and play. Many families find that it works best to get the schoolwork completed first, then have the rest of the day for play. If your child’s school requires them to be on live sessions, that will determine their schedule to some degree. However, it is up to you and your child to come up with a routine that fits best—then stick to it.


Relief: This comes in the form of self-care for you and for your child so that you can be in the best frame of mind to be helpful, and your child can be in the best frame of mind to continue learning. It’s essential that all parties involved are getting enough sleep, eating well-balanced diets, getting exercise, and making time to relax.


Resources: Check first with your child’s school to see what they have to offer, then go online as there are endless free resources to help with homeschooling.

Many of us got our first taste of homeschooling back in the spring when schools were shutting down across the nation. Depending on how that went for you and your child(ren), you may be feeling more or less stressed about beginning the new school year at home. You are encouraged to take it one day, one subject, one lesson at a time, and remember that we are all in this together and that this too shall pass.


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HOW THIS BLACK MAN IS CHANGING THE NARRATIVE OF FATHERHOOD ONE POSITIVE IMAGE AT A TIME

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Friday, June 26, 2020

How This Black Man Is Changing The Narrative Of Fatherhood One Positive Image At A Time

SEAN WILLIAMS AND HIS DAD GANG ARE SHINING A LIGHT ON LOVING BLACK FATHERS.

You’ve heard them all before, endless jokes and memes about absentee fathers, women with daddy issues, and men whose involvement with their kids don’t go past that one night of passion that created them. But for this Black man, these jokes are far from funny, especially not when it comes to his definition of fatherhood.

For Brooklynite Sean Williams, fatherhood is a job that he takes very seriously. With three beautiful children of his own, Williams finds pride in being hands-on and heavily involved in his children’s lives. Yet, he once struggled to escape the overwhelming narrative that Black fathers are non-existent dudes who breed and dash aka impregnate and vanish. After weeks of strolling his daughter around his predominantly white Long Island neighborhood, William noticed that he was constantly being congratulated by random people who was glad he “stuck around” and didn’t “split” on his children. After one too many unsolicited comments, Williams decided enough was enough and The Dad Gang was born.

The Dad Gang is a movement with a mission to change the narrative of Black fatherhood one positive image at a time. With over 36,000 followers on Instagram alone, Williams and his ‘gang’ have encouraged and supported men across the country to be “better” fathers and redefine their individual definitions of fatherhood. ESSENCE recently caught up with the Head-Dad-In-Charge to talk about changing the game, being #dadgoals, and learn why for The Dad Gang and their children, the sky’s the limit.

What is The Dad Gang and what led you to start it?

Sean Williams: The Dad Gang started as an Instagram page focused exclusively on reflecting positive images of active Black dads, in an effort to shatter the negative stereotypes that have shadowed Black fathers for years and still affects us today. When my youngest daughter was about 15 months old, I worked from home five days a week, so I spent a lot of time with her running my daily errands and living my best dad life. I also live in a predominately white suburban neighborhood, so while on our daddy-daughter errand runs, I was met with two reactions from strangers: either complete shock and awe at the ease and attentiveness I had while handling my baby or a barrage of “wow, good job dad” compliments.

PHOTO CREDIT: KEVIN JEAN-JACQUES

It was cool at first until I realized this happened everywhere we went without fail. I felt like these people had seen a unicorn. You could almost hear necks breaking as we practiced naming all of the fruits in the produce aisle. But the compliment that broke the daddy camel’s back came from an elderly white woman who stopped us and began by saying she was so disgusted with the way that cops treated “my people” (I wish she would’ve stopped right there), then she went on to say that she was also “glad to see that I stuck around for my baby because most Black men would’ve split. *insert jaw drop here.*

PHOTO CREDIT: KEVIN JEAN-JACQUES

“Excuse me, ma’am?” I’m pretty sure my daughter felt the heat rising off my body. The woman looked confused, not realizing that what she said was the furthest from a compliment. At that moment I realized that a lot of people still bought into the whole Black dads are deadbeats nonsense. A lot of these people that hurled compliments at me left and right had still never seen a young Black dad like myself loving and living my best dad life. So instead of getting upset, I created The Dad Gang page that night. It has since evolved into a conscious social community of dads on a mission to change the way the world views Black fatherhood by getting together, capturing real dad moments, sharing useful parenting tips and hosting fun, socially impactful events centered around celebrating active dads and their children.

What’s the biggest misconception about Black fathers

The biggest misconception about Black fathers is that most of us are inactive and uninterested in raising our children, or just straight up deadbeat dads. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. In 2013 the CDC did a study that revealed Black fathers were actually the most active fathers of all ethnic groups.

PHOTO CREDIT: KEVIN JEAN-JACQUES

What are some standout memories from your childhood with your father?

Definitely giving my father a back massage, as a kid, by walking all over his back, which is something that I do with my kids now. I also remember my sister and I hanging from his arms as he spun us like a helicopter.

What are some differences you’ve noticed between the older and younger generations when it comes to fatherhood?

Since becoming a dad and observing the way my friends and I are raising our children, I’ve noticed that our generation does not hesitate to educate ourselves and break away from our family’s traditional way of doing something if the new information obtained, whether via social media or by asking google (we’ve all done it), proves to be more effective or beneficial for the child and parent.

PHOTO CREDIT: KEVIN JEAN-JACQUES

Gone are the days when the reason for doing something when it pertains to raising our kids can be justified by saying “Well that’s the way my dad did it and his dad did it, so that’s how I’m going to do it.” Sure, they may say that we’re “letting the internet raise our children,” but it definitely beats some of their pre-historic ways of doing simple things.

PHOTO CREDIT: KEVIN JEAN-JACQUES

What does being a Black father mean to you?

I’ve always thought that the phrase having a chip on your shoulder was a bad thing until I looked at it thru the lens of Black fatherhood. Due to this negative stereotype that has haunted Black dads for generations, the Black fathers of today have something to prove. Many of us are parenting with a huge chip on our shoulder, whether it be from a negative relationship with our own dad or from mainstream media constantly depicting Black men as unfit fathers. So that chip on my shoulder that only a Black father can have, actually makes me a better dad. That’s what being a Black father means to me.

PHOTO CREDIT: KEVIN JEAN-JACQUES

What legacy/memories do you want to leave for your children?

Aside from being financially sound, I want my children to understand the value of building strong relationships. I want them to remember the effort I put into cultivating an individual bond with each of them like my mother did for my sisters and me.

PHOTO CREDIT: KEVIN JEAN-JACQUES

How does The Dad Gang go about inspiring absentee fathers to get more involved with their children?

I truly believe that a major part of an absentee father’s problem is that he hasn’t bonded with his child. It’s easy to be selfish or absent when there isn’t a strong bond to hold on to, and for some, these bonds are difficult to create. They don’t just happen out of thin air or share obligation.

PHOTO CREDIT: KEVIN JEAN-JACQUES

To try and get absentee dads to be more involved, we try to share a lot of content that specifically highlights the relationships that other dads were able to create with their kids and show how over time they’ve grown into the best friends you’ll ever have when these relationships are properly cultivated. We also repost captions where dads describe how their kids make them feel. Words are powerful. Last but not least, most of our events are heavily focused on father and child participation, like our “Dope Dads Karaoke Brunch” where we urged dads to do duets with their kids for prizes, which is one of the most incredible things you’ll ever see, and by far the most fun you’ll ever have with your kids at the brunch table.

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Black Dads Need Therapy. They’re Not Getting It.

Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition - Monday, June 15, 2020

Black Dads Need Therapy.
They’re Not Getting It.

We need to have difficult conversations.
Doing so without mental health support is nearly impossible.

By Damon Brown Jun 11 2020, 10:21 AM



Most cognitive behavioral therapists start by asking a simple question: “Where do we begin?” When you’re a black man in America, the answer is never as simple as “childhood” or “adolescence.” There is present trauma — a video of someone who looks like your cousin being asphyxiated slowly under a blue polyester blend-covered knee —  but also historical trauma. There’s what your parents told you and what their parents told them and, back further, what your emancipated great-great-grandfather imparted to his children. 

And then there’s what you tell your kids. That leaves a mark as well. The conversation,, the one about the looming threat of police violence, takes place in the painful present. It requires a level of honesty that takes time to muster. I had the conversation with my six-year-old just a few days ago, but I’d been preparing for years.

How had I prepared? I did something too few black men and far too few black fathers do. I put myself in therapy. And I’m not talking about “the gym is my therapy” or “I have therapeutic chats with my bro.”; I’m talking sit-your-ass-down, $100-an-hour therapy.  I’ve been going as needed for decades. 

While all dads probably should have an emotional sounding board, black dads need more significant support. We must work through our fears of state-sponsored violence, our experiences with institutional bias, and our own internalized attitudes about our worth in order to exist in the world with the same reassuring confidence so many of our white friends inherited from their fathers. We must learn to handle backhanded compliments about “sticking around” to raise our children and our neighbors’ fetishization of our difference (particularly in the suburbs). 

Unfortunately, only half as many black people receive mental health counseling or treatment as white people. And the number may be even lower among black men. Why? Distrust. Lack of Access. Cultural misunderstanding.

“In my family, there’s no such thing as therapy,” says Mitchell S. Jackson, author of the autobiography Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family. “I know my mom needs it. Everyone in my family has trauma. My mom’s mom died at five. I have relatives in prison. And no one I know of went to therapy.”

“There was a tacit understanding that you have to figure it out on your own to survive,” he adds.

My grandparents were born a year before the United States Health Service promised rural African-Americans free health checkups and secretly gave 600 men syphilis just to see what would happen. Four decades later, when I was born, the American Psychiatric Association was still linking schizophrenia to “aggression”, specifically African-American male rage. Known as drapetomania, it was much easier to call black men crazy than to acknowledge protests, violence and frustration being a natural reaction to systematic oppression – and to own one’s part in it.

This is our history with therapy and care, when black males can even get access.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than one out of ten African-Americans under retirement age are uninsured compared to about half that number for whites. For many black families, which boast one tenth the wealth of white families, the expenditure is simply not feasible. And even getting to the office is impractical. Looking up therapists on ZocDoc, I generate a map of blackness. Want to see where the therapists are? Look where the black people aren’t.

I started my first therapist relationship when I was 19. My parents were getting a divorce. Both grew up in the hood, but split years later as college educated, middle class yuppies. Neither had been in therapy. I don’t think anyone in my entire family tree had been in therapy. It was, like their divorce itself, a grand experiment. And I was lucky enough to see someone across from me who looked like my dad. He was my father’s age. And he was black. 

I didn’t know how lucky I was. According to the American Psychological Association, only four percent of U.S. psychologists are black. You’d have to reach out to 100 therapists and hope one of those four black psychologists was someone you actually liked.

“Do you know how hard it is to find a black therapist? I’m already skeptical, and it’s hard to find a black person, or even a person of color,” says Jackson. “As much as they are trained, if they are moving to the world as a white person, that’s a different experience.”

It is deeper when people of color get guidance from another trusted POC. My first therapist helped me on two levels: Providing guidance within the context of my culture and giving permission to be in the therapist office simply by his existence. My therapists after were not black, but my experience with him allowed me to access a level of vulnerability that allowed the later ones to truly help.

“There is the question, ‘Can I trust this person?’,” says psychotherapist Karen Carnabucci. She does her best to support black clients, she says, but understands there are limitations to understanding our culture. “Although there are many African-American therapists, more are needed.”

My wife and I didn’t have the talk with our eldest son in a therapist office. It was in our living room, strewn with LEGO blocks. Our son stared intently.  His younger brother listened in-between doing couch jumps and giving random hugs. I used all the tools from being an entrepreneurial coach: Validating his feelings, making analogies relatable to his life, and keeping my voice as level as possible. Remember your friend who isn’t your friend anymore? Because you saw him bully someone else? Same with officers, teachers, and others. Use your instinct. If you observe something funny, then it’s okay to get away or to get another adult you trust.

He nodded, and we started talking about what we were going to eat for dinner. Perhaps the biggest lesson from therapy is learning what is in my control. As blacks, we’ve been told to not make eye contact with white women, not walk in our neighborhood in a hoodie, not to gather in a group. Not to breathe. It has systematically always been on us.

Guiding my children, coaching the next generation of diverse entrepreneurs,  supporting organizations making a difference and using my power to vote are in my providence. 

But stopping black people from being murdered? It is not something I can fix alone. It is not something I can upwardly mobile away. 

It is a collective responsibility.

Perhaps the biggest lesson from therapy is learning what is in my control. As blacks, we’ve been told to not make eye contact with white women, not walk in our neighborhood in a hoodie, not to gather in a group. Not to breathe. It has systematically always been on us.

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About DFFC

The Delaware Fatherhood & Family Coalition is an extension of the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program and the Responsible Fatherhood Initiative created specifically to give a voice to fathers and the importance of their involvement for the well-being of their children.


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