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Engaged Daddying

During Men's Health Month and for Father's Day on June 16th, we talk with Allan Shedlin, Founder and President of REEL Father, a community organization that supports fathers in building closer and more engaging relationships with their children. In Part 1 of the Q&A, we discuss the work of REEL Fathers and talk about gender role expectations and how they are changing. Next week, in Part 2, we will hear about the effects of programs like REEL Fathers, what it means to be an active father and how society at large is reshaping its perceptions of fatherhood.

Talk about gender role expectations and what challenges they may pose for fathers.

For several decades, a social movement has been gently and quietly growing. The confluence of factors that has led us to reexamine gender roles and expand the definition of family has also pushed us to the point where we are in a full-blown social revolution that continues to evolve and hold great promise for children and families, while redefining what it means to be masculine in the 21st century. It is evolving without a strategic plan, without an identifiable leader, and without bellicose tactics; in other words, the movement's characteristics challenge some basic male stereotypes. In 2007, in an online interview, I called this inadvertent movement, the daddying movement.

Although we are not yet at the point where we can officially expand the adage to "It's as American as Motherhood, Fatherhood, and Apple Pie," we are getting closer, as dads are dramatically more present than ever before in playgrounds, story hours, pre-natal and parenting classes, and school events; they are more visible carrying their infants in baby carriers as well as pushing strollers, and they are even increasingly present utilizing changing tables in public restrooms, as well as requesting family leave from increasing numbers of corporations that are now supporting paternity leave for fathers.

Discuss the methodology REEL Fathers uses and how it serves the community of men you work with.

REEL FATHERS (www.reelfathers.orgExit Disclaimer) was created in 2007 to engage fathers -- in the context of youth, families and community -- to build stronger, more vital relationships through a dynamic use of film and story. The goal of REEL FATHERS (RF) is to support fathers in building closer, more fulfilling relationships with their children.

REEL FATHERS has developed innovative program partnerships with community-based organizations serving fathers, youth and families. Pioneered and field-tested in Santa Fe, central and northern New Mexico. Our work with fathers and young children in Head Start and elementary schools was recognized in 2012 by the Department of Health & Human Services/ACF (Region 6) as a "best practice." Our programs are adaptable nationwide and we have been invited to explore possibilities in other geographic regions.

For these programs we select father/family-focused films that awaken feeling and bring important issues to the surface. RF staff pose questions and facilitate a reflective dialogue. Men become peer-to-peer mentors for one another. They examine entrenched beliefs and behavior patterns. They share strategies for dealing with difficult situation. They provide each other with inspiring new images of what it means to be an involved father. Guided by the REEL FATHERS facilitator, fathers discover new insights about parenting and learn how to communicate in positive new ways.

How does active fathering and father absence affect children's emotional and psychological health?

Whenever I get a chance I ask: If you knew that there was one thing you could do that would reduce school drop outs, drug use among youth, teen pregnancy, crimes and violent acts, jail or prison time, depression and suicides, wouldn't you do it as quickly and exuberantly as possible?! Research documents that father absence is a factor in many of these negative outcomes. If you knew that when fathers are positively engaged with children, infants experience better attachments, children develop stronger language and social skills, enjoy school more, get higher grades, participate in more extracurricular activities, are less likely to repeat a grade, while experiencing fewer behavioral problems and delaying sexual activity, wouldn't that encourage you further? And if you knew that when fathers are positively engaged with their children, the fathers are also enriched by broadened perspective on issues, situations and possibilities. Wouldn't that be icing on the cake?

Across the nation, one in three children live absent from their biological father. Research abounds that shows a direct correlation between father absence (emotional as well as physical) and a plethora of negative health-, emotional- and behavior-related indices including:

  • Poverty
  • Emotional and behavioral health problems
  • Incarceration
  • Teen pregnancy and risky sexual behavior
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Childhood obesity
  • School problems and diminished academic achievement
  • Smoking

In addition, father absence has led to a negative perception of fathers by the public at large, creating a downward cycle. When men feel marginalized and disrespected, they withdraw from their children and families. It is vitally important to break this downward cycle with compelling new stories of actively involved fathers who know the deep rewards of loving and caring for their children.

Content Last Modified: 6/4/2014 3:17:00 PM
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