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Local Programs That Strengthen Fatherhood

Guidance from these organizations are helping dads reach their parenting goals.

Dads in the Denver area have goals; to have healthy communication, get vulnerable, be interconnected, break stereotypes, and delight in their kids. Guidance from the following organizations will help them get there.

Denver Indian Center’s Honoring Fatherhood Program

Who: Native fathers or father figures preferred, open to all
When: Cohorts are ongoing; see the Indian Center’s website for upcoming dates.

Thomas Allen Jr. feels lucky. Having benefited from his father’s presence and traditional teachings passed down, Allen knew his upbringing was exceptional in his friend group.

“A lot of my friends looked up to my father as a father figure,” he says.

Allen, a member of the Sac and Fox Nation, Northern Arapaho Tribe, and Euchee Tribe, now teams up with another father figure, Kiowa elder and Denver Indian Center (DIC) director Rick Waters. They lead the Honoring Fatherhood Program.

Over the course of several weeks, participants review financial literacy, communication styles, and men’s health. They talk about having compassion for their parenting partners, to “walk a mile in their moccasins,” says Allen. The DIC brings in a credit union representative to discuss building good credit and savings accounts. Metro Volunteer Lawyers are also on hand, offering free legal counsel in cases of child custody and support, or land rights. They also cover the basics of hanging out with kids, reading, and encouraging other healthy activities.

Time is how you spell love. That’s one of the main pieces of advice Andrew Whipple, a member of the Dakota nation and former Honoring Fatherhood participant, took from Waters.

The course’s philosophy incorporates a traditional American Indian point of view, “because it worked,” says Waters, and because it applies to a contemporary environment. The medicine wheel, an honored symbol for many Indigenous nations, represents the four directions with Mother Earth as the encompassing circle. It’s used in class as a reminder of balance. Attending to spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical health will ease one’s troubles and elevate one’s joys, according to Allen.

Most participants come from the Denver Native community: “They value the information given and also have a safe space to explore and build upon their cultural aptitude and knowledge,” says Allen.

The DIC, opened in 1984, provides opportunities for self-determination through education, basic needs assistance, cultural enrichment, and advocacy. Programs like Honoring Fatherhood are important considering historical trauma and its lasting effects. Boarding school operations by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries took kids from their families and attempted to assimilate them into white culture. Denver was a site for the 1950s sudden relocation of Native Americans from reservations to cities; however, integration was poorly organized, according to an NPR report, and left communities struggling to get basic needs met.

Those who sign up not only receive help but also get paid to attend. According to Allen, the real payoff is becoming a community leader and better father or father figure.

“There’s a marked change, I can see it, from people starting to the end,” he says. “It does give people hope and some kind of focus and goal, that toolkit to get to their end result.”

The Arc’s Dads and Disabilities

Who: Fathers of children who have disabilities
When: Bi-monthly, second Tuesdays, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dates in 2021: June 8, August 10, October 12, and December 14.

Socializing at the pub and playing poker with other dads was entertaining, but ultimately not meaningful enough for Mark Davison, Denver father of three. He’s attended groups in Oregon and Colorado that functioned as cliched men’s gatherings: “[They] didn’t offer a way to connect more deeply with other men whose children experience disability,” says Davison.

His daughter, Lydia Davison, age eight, is gentle, loves to eat lollipops, and has a dark sense of humor. All of this shines through her struggle with an undiagnosed condition. She has about 100 seizures per day and is currently both nonverbal and mostly immobile. She is learning to use a computer to communicate and uses a wheelchair to get around.

The Davisons moved to Colorado five years ago and have benefited from local services, including a disability parenting group held by The Arc of Arapahoe & Douglas Counties. When Mark heard about the organization’s new Dads and Disabilities offering, which launched in June 2020, he gladly joined.

Having a child with a disability often requires one parent (in a two parent household) to go full-time in caregiving. Mothers might take on this role while fathers, who typically make more money in a heterosexual marriage, support the family financially, as is the case with Davison. But that doesn’t mean dads aren’t involved in or affected by their child’s lives.

When Luke Wheeland, director of community outreach at The Arc, facilitates Dads with Disabilities meetings, conversation topics come up naturally. They’ve spanned from divorce to facing the fact that kids will not grow out of a diagnosis, plus the physical and mental expenses that add up with care.

For more than six years, Davison has struggled with symptoms of PTSD, including dissociation, due to experiences with his daughter’s disability. He’s only recently been diagnosed.

“Imagine if you have a relative, partner, or kid and they had a seizure; you’d be in emergency mode with the chemicals that are made [in the body],” says Davison. “If you’re having that 100 times a day and you’re constantly in emergency mode, that’s what leads to PTSD. It’s like a slow-burn version.”

Had he been engaged earlier in conversations about the potential side effects of caring for his daughter, he says he would have reached out for examination more quickly.

There’s also much to be gained from the group’s breadth of ages and stages of parenting. “Some people have kids who are 20, or 25, and they’re amazing,” says Davison. “They’ll tell you stuff that, as a new dad with a kid who has a disability, you don’t even know where to begin.”

Davison considers himself an almost experienced dad in that he could help a newcomer with their initial learning curves. He’s partnered with friends from the Anchor Center for the Blind to plan monthly Roll and Stroll gatherings; families enjoy a picnic and a three mile stroll at a wheelchair accessible park.

“It’s a simple way as a group you feel more comfortable outside,” says Davison. “You get stares, but as a group you don’t care.”

Clayton Early Learning’s Fathers Building Futures

Who: Fathers and father figures of students
at Clayton Early Learning
When: Monthly meetings, typically held on first Mondays

George Davis, Denver father of two, was already impressed with Clayton Early Learning’s (CEL) parent education, community engagement, and classroom instruction.

“I’m very active in my [children’s] school and learning,” he says. “I love doing it, and I want to make sure they’re taking advantage and given advantages.”

During a CEL function three years ago, he visited the Fathers Building Futures recruitment table. It was his turn to benefit.

“[The meeting] took me off guard because of how deep the conversations got,” says Davis, now co-chair of the group. “Everyone [was] really sharing their emotions and speaking of fatherhood on a more intimate level than just being a breadwinner and leaving a lot of responsibility on the mom as far as nurturing.”

The program’s meetings offer dads and male guardians space to speak out on their experiences, and to ask for help. “At lot of times men will feel like the only thing they have to offer their children is money, and if they’re not making enough money then they feel less of a father because of that,” he says. “The child isn’t even trippin’ on that.”

Active fatherhood, the program’s aim, is facilitated through family events. Top Hats and Tutus gave young boys and girls the chance to dress up and enjoy a live DJ. A hair tutorial taught dads the fundamentals of washing, conditioning, and simple styles for young girls. The group looks forward to more events this year including movie nights, breakfasts, and dance parties.

“Do not let the thought of what society has or hasn’t placed on you affect how you feel and how you want to interact with your child,” says Davis.

Gianna Irie Davis, age five, reminds her dad he’s on the right track. One day, she told him about a baby bird she found at school, explaining that the daddy bird hadn’t taught the little one to fly yet. It’s not often you hear people talk about a daddy bird, thought Davis, but she said daddy bird. This reinforced for him the major role he plays in her life.

“[Gianna] is my daughter, and I, as her daddy bird, have a role of teaching her—of giving her wings to be independent,” wrote Davis in a Fathers Building Futures newsletter. “She set a benchmark I will always shoot for.”

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