By Laquanna Tyler
Most parents have the best intentions to provide for the health and well-being of their children. Some parents aren’t always able to do so, though, or do not understand how to meet their responsibilities.
“Bridging the gap between fathers and their children” is the mission of the Raleigh-based nonprofit organization Fathers Forever. Founder Glen Warren established the program in 2010 as an alternative to incarceration for fathers who have failed to pay child support and cannot effectively fulfill their role as fathers.
Warren says participants experience “barriers” to success, including substance abuse, depression, joblessness and criminal records. “The overall goal is to help reduce fatherlessness and help eliminate those barriers that prevent fathers from being positive and stable figures for their children.”
Fathers Forever provides guidance in job readiness, anger management and substance abuse. The organization also encourages the building and maintaining of a healthy co-parenting relationship between the father and the child’s mother.
According to The Fatherless Generation, 85 percent of all children who exhibit behavioral disorders come from a home where the father is absent – 20 times the average. Children in fatherless homes are also more likely to have low self-esteem and trust issues that often continue into adulthood.
Warren put these statistics to the test as a guest in a college social work class on NC State’s campus. “I asked how many of them had grown up in a household without their father, and out of about 30 students only seven raised their hand. When I asked this same question in a jail, about 80 percent of the men raised their hand.” Warren says this demonstrates a direct correlation between the life outcomes of those who had fathers in their lives and those who did not.
“Let’s not just go after the behavior, but the reasons behind it and fix that,” Warren says. “We want to deal with their hearts and their minds.”
Few of the men enrolled in the Fathers Forever 24-week education program are there voluntarily. Warren estimates that about 95 percent of participants were required by the child support court to enroll in lieu of serving jail time. The program is also offered in jail for fathers who are serving time.
The program is designed to instill in participants “the joys and responsibilities of fatherhood,” Warren says. To date, 296 fathers have successfully completed the program.
Chris Gilmore graduated in September. “It has made me an awesome person,” he says with newfound confidence. “Helping and loving is a beautiful thing, I learned. There was a time when I didn’t want to do either,” he adds. “I really want to thank Glen (Warren) and Fathers Forever for that.”
Through the program, Gilmore was able to get a job and contribute to his children’s well-being. He says he is dedicated to his family and even able to visit his children’s school and meet with their teachers.
Robert Lee graduated in May. He felt encouraged that others also seemed transformed by the experience.
“We saw guys transform from being angry to understanding. The court system doesn’t try to help these men with mediation and maintaining a relationship with their child,” Lee says. Fathers Forever shows them “how to be there not just financially, but also mentally and emotionally.”
Lee says he learned a lot about communication and that it’s proved helpful within his own home for relating with his children.
Lee and Gilmore both had such positive experiences while enrolled in Fathers Forever that they chose to remain involved. Gilmore says that he still attends classes and offers advice to new participants. “I get to listen and share my experience,” he says. “Anything I can do to help, I’m there.”
Lee, who has corporate job experience, helps participants with resumes and conducts mock interviews for fathers seeking employment. “We even had an event where some of the fathers brought their sons,” he says. “We showed them how to tie ties correctly.”
Warren is encouraged by the positive effect his program has had on participants. He is determined to expand Forever Fathers to surrounding counties.
“At graduation, you see some of the guys stand up and cry,” he says. “Then you see the kids get their fathers back in their lives. It’s what keeps me going.”
For additional information about Fathers Forever, visit its website.