makes a difference: Working with the Fatherhood Initiative
By Rachel Lapp 95
A Pennsylvania man whose wife filed for divorce and moved away with
their children, due largely to his drinking problem, lives hours
away from his kids. Referred to the Lancaster (Pa.) Family Centers
Fatherhood Initiative program by a parole officer, Phil* decides
he wants to change. To overcome the barriers to his becoming an
engaged parent, he travels half way across the state to pick up
his children for visitations, which have increased in frequency
along with his level of responsibility. While not the primary caregiver,
he adopts a dad attitude and is an emotionally supportive
father even if he cant always be with his children.
Another father serving a county prison sentence took part in Foundations
of Fatherhood program and his eyes are opened to the kind
of father he could be to his children even at a distance.
Daniel* now calls and writes letters to his children, and plans
to be the kind of dad they never had, according to Todd
Christophel 93, coordinator of the Lancaster County Fatherhood
I love seeing these guys succeed, said Christophel,
a case manager who became involved with the program in 1999, the
year after it was established at the Lancaster Family Center.
The National Fatherhood Initiative was founded in 1994 with a mission
to improve the lives of children by increasing the number of involved,
responsible and committed fathers. State and county governments
across the country are establishing chapters to urge community organizations
to be more father-friendly; to provide fathers with education, advocacy
and support; and to give fathers an opportunity to grow by mentoring
less experienced fathers.
The hope is that, as children benefit from increased positive involvement
of their fathers, communities are strengthened.
Christophel, a psychology major at Goshen who spent the year after
graduation working with drug addicts and alcoholics in a rehabilitation
center in Spain through Mennonite Board of Missions, said fathers
have lost their identity in the 20th century.
Before the industrial revolution significantly changed American
culture, fathers were involved very differently with families. They
were expected to be a provider, direct spiritual life, teach their
children a trade but fathers have become less and less involved
as nurturers and more as paycheck providers, said Christophel.
We need to change deep-seated attitudes in order to encourage
fathers to provide not just financial but spiritual, intellectual,
emotional and developmental support. We dont have a mother-absence
problem in this country. There are a lot of services out there for
parents, but research shows that, often, when people see parenting
programs offered, they think it only applies to mothers, so
fathers havent shown up, said Christophel. We
saw that programs needed to be developed for dads, and that there
are also existing services that could be tailored to involve dads.
The Lancaster County Fatherhood Initiative started with one staff
member and a fatherhood class. Now, the full-time staff of three
offers a variety of services.
Foundations of Fatherhood is a support group and 12-week
education program based on the Erie Fathers Workshop
for fathers covering values, spiritual leadership, communication,
building healthy relationships, discipline and being and finding
mentors (167 participants, with 34 graduates and 11 who have gone
on to be facilitators, since 1999). Long Distance Dads
is a program of fathering classes at Lancaster County Prison (450
participants). There is a mentoring program for personal advice
and encouragement, a video series about communicating love more
effectively and a Dads In Training program, reaching
out to young fathers and teens.
In the Foundations class, I am always glad to
see guys opening up and asking questions or discussing things that
they wouldnt otherwise, said Christophel. A father might
need a basic care-taking skill like diapering or counsel about the
complex issue of how to build a better relationship with the childs
mother if there is estrangement (respecting the childs mother
is the first item on the Fatherhood Initiatives 10 Ways
to Be a Better Dad list). We get into the nitty-gritty.
And a lot of informal mentoring goes on, which is exactly what we
want to happen.
Case management involves working with fathers who need one-on-one
help. We might set up a plan toward a goal like getting
employment, paying child support, working at mental health issues
or anger management and help them get the services they need,
While most participants in the Fatherhood Initiative programs are
referred by probation officers, mental health facilities or social
service agencies, Christophel said, We get high-income, low-income,
guys who are married, those who are separated or divorced or havent
been married to the mother of their children. Everyone can do a
better job with their parenting.
The Lancaster County program has good support. When you have
the community behind you and people who want to see it happening,
it keeps going, he said, adding that international groups
promoting responsible fatherhood have gained momentum in recent
years. And more help may be on the way; President Bush is interested
in supporting a $186 million Fathers Count Act to support
and educate American fathers.
I challenge all fathers to take a check of their household
make sure you and your partner are doing everything you can
to create a loving environment for your children, he said.
Look at the fathers around you; in most cases, fathers are
doing a good job, but there are times for getting involved.
There are many ways to be father-friendly from the personal
to the political. Said Christophel, We can do something as
small as smiling at a dad carrying a child or as potentially effective
as lobbying for flex-time or paternity leave for fathers.
Christophel hopes he, too, has learned a lot about being a good
father; he and his wife, Janet, are expecting their first child
Ive asked myself, What do I really know, after
having studied this for three years and having read a million books?
he said. When that baby comes, I think Ill feel like
I dont know anything. But I know already how much I love my
For information about the National Fatherhood Initiative, including
information about state and local chapters, see www.fatherhood.org
online. Other resources for fathers on the Web include the Center
for Fathers, Families and Public Policy at www.cffpp.org,
the Fatherhood Project at www.fatherhoodproject.org
and the National Center on Fathers and Families of the University
of Pennsylvania, at www.ncoff.gse.upenn.edu
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.