11/30/04 — Support group for single fathers forms

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Support group for single fathers forms

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 30, 2004 2:03 PM

Carlos Stanley considers himself an advocate for the little man.

Out of work since February 2003, he became a single parent to 3-year-old daughter JaCoria Cox when she came to live with him in March.

He learned about a support group for fathers through a social worker at WAGES and has been attending ever since.

"I have got a situation that I figured people here could help me out with," he said. He is especially interested in learning to deal with such issues as child support, difficult without a job.

"It ain't like I ain't been looking," he said. "But something in my situation is keeping me from getting a job. I need all the help I can get."

Stanley says that attending the twice-a-month support group has been helpful, if for no other reason than to realize he is not alone.

Daniel Hooper, "male involvement coordinator" for WAGES, said this story is not unique. It is in fact what prompted the formation of the group.

"Someone did a case study several years ago and we learned that many of the children that were born in 2001 were born to a single parent family," he said. "Most of those were born to single parent mothers.

"Somebody's missing in the family."

The need for men in a child's life is important and should not be overlooked, he said.

"If there's a father in the child's life, children do better," he said.

But not just biological fathers. Grandfathers, stepfathers, even a church pastor can be instrumental in guiding a child.

Hooper said a $50,000 grant acquired in 2001 made it possible to establish the fatherhood support group. Membership was open primarily to parents of Head Start and Early Head Start children.

It began meeting once a month, but expanded this year to twice monthly. An average of two dozen men currently attend.

Topics of discussion range from family issues and literacy to job skills and the law. If someone comes in with a particular concern, Hooper says, "I let them go. We decided to address their needs."

The main objective of the program, called "Males Exclusively," is providing fathers with peers to support them.

"The program is designed so they coordinate their own program," said Donald Collins, a family social worker with WAGES.

Some of the issues the men face are very sensitive, with many feeling "economically disadvantaged," Hooper said.

Robert Baker of Goldsboro is 42 years old. He has raised two grown children and has two others, 10 and 4. The former truck driver was forced to quit his job two years ago because of complications from diabetes.

While his wife still works, he says, "We've been struggling. We have lost everything we have."

He said he has been in the hospital four times in the last year. But because his 10-year-old daughter doesn't live with him, he must find a job to pay child support.

"A lot of men get a bad rap," he said. "All the courts realize is you're not with your child. They don't take into consideration what you do for them when you're not around them."

Monday night was Donnell Hinton's first time attending. He said he came to "learn something and share something."

It was Desmond Thomas Sr.'s second meeting.

"When you come for the first time, you don't really know what to expect," he said. "But you have a bunch of males and you're not talking about beer and Spike TV."

He said the group builds on a lot of topics, from God to war, which serve to "strengthen the foundation of yourself."

The married father of three, ages, 10, 3, and six months, says the things he has learned from the group have been applicable at home.

"Not only to my child in the WAGES program, but to my older child," he said. "And it rolls over to my wife, doing something to punctuate my involvement."

Willie Parks Jr. of Dudley is a group veteran, having attended since the beginning.

"A lot of these kids don't have the male support," he said of his reason for joining.

The grandfather of six, from six months old to 23, has tried to be supportive of his children and a role model for theirs.

"I try to come in and give them that support and be a male figure for their children," he said. "I think it has helped them, has helped me."

Hooper said the hope is that what the men take away from the meetings will spill over into their being more involved in the community. The group recently took a field trip with the men and children to a museum in Raleigh, after which they all went out to eat.

"People really noticed us in that restaurant," Collins said. "When other men see groups like this out in public, we're hoping that kind of inspires them."

"A lot of times, we meet as fathers," Hooper said, "but our insight also strengthens the family and supports the mother."

For more information about the men's group, call WAGES at 734-1178.