Last week I was invited to attend a program in the city of Long Beach called Fatherhood in Action: Engaging with your children. The event was a very comprehensive presentation on services that are available to men in Long Beach who want to become better fathers.
Councilmember Rex Richardson kicked off the event with opening remarks on the importance fathers and how his city has created the Father Friendly Initiative to help businesses, and organizations across the city become more supportive of fatherhood in general. The Father Friendly Initiative website lists a three step program:
1. Encourage Fatherhood By Portraying Positive Images of Diverse Fathers
Materials, illustrations, posters, brochures and other collateral include positive, diverse images of fathers. Think of fathers and fatherhood when choosing positive images, photographs or other materials for public display.
2. Train Staff on Fatherhood Issues and Father Friendly Practices
Strive to provide training for all staff on working with men and on fatherhood issues. Provide staff with trainings on father friendly practices and principles.
3. Ensure Men’s Restrooms and Family/Gender-Neutral Restrooms Contain a Changing Station
Strive to ensure all restrooms are equipped with changing stations in order to support fathers as caregivers in public spaces.
I would love to see the City of Santa Monica institute a program similar to this and actually put their support behind it as they do with the Commission on the Status of Women. For example, I would like to see the city, besides just mandating that changing stations be in restrooms, provide them if necessary. Rather than just dictating to businesses one more thing they must do, actually help them with the tools they need to make this a more father friendly environment.
The second part of the program was a set of testimonials from graduates of their Fatherhood Fundamentals program which was a cross disciplinary suite of services to help men who need not only parenting skills, but also life coaching and employment development services. This program is run through their Department of Health and Human Services, in conjunction with Goodwill Industries, Interval House and Families Uniting Families. The parenting program is a 30 hour course to develop healthy relationships. Participants are assigned a Life Coach they meet with twice a month to set and review goals, and the Employment Development program has one on one coaching and a 10 hour workshop series.
All of these are programs that assist men to be better parents, and more importantly give meaning and purpose to their lives which means they will be more engaged and active as fathers. By setting them up for success these programs have long term benefits to society in general because children with active and engaged fathers have lower rates of drug and substance abuse, lower teen pregnancy rates, reduced criminal behavior and higher rates of completion of educational goals. Additionally children who have fathers in their lives are less at risk of suicide and of acting out. By contrast, 26 of the 28 biggest mass shootings since 1948 were boys or men who did not have active and engaged fathers. Remember that those shooters were usually also dead at the end of the shooting, thus they were committing suicide one way or another, and the question for them was how many others to take with them.
While much ink has been used to discuss the #MeToo movement, and the #TimesUP movement and the sexual harassment by men of women and by men of men, little has been said about how to fix the problems beyond “men need to check their privilege” which is code for ‘shut the F up’. In my opinion that is putting a band-aid on a chest wound. We have a real problem in our country with fathers being sidelined in their role as parents and then blamed for the outcome of the children. We cannot continue to cut men out of their children’s lives and then blame them for not being there.
If we truly want to make the world a better place, we need to bring fathers and the many gifts they bring to parenting, such as self-esteem, boundary enforcement and modeling of how to handle conflict, back into children’s lives. Fathers do far more for their children than provide monetary support and we need to step back from the overemphasis on child support and labeling fathers as ‘deadbeat dads’ (the vast majority of which are men making less than $10,000 a year, and in reality are only a tiny percentage of the men who are ordered to pay support). We need to start encouraging men to be more engaged, and more importantly we need to start taking down the obstacles that stand in their way with mom-centric institutionalized systems that demand the father be relegated to nothing more than being an ATM.
I have previously called for the city of Santa Monica to form a commission on the status of men, and I reiterate that call. We have hundreds of men in our community who need our help, from battling their mental health issues to being kept out of their children’s lives, which leads to a depressed man who wants to drink, do drugs, becomes homeless and eventually commits suicide either by drink, drug or gun.
We need a men’s commission in this city to address the myriad issues boys and men are facing and it is high time that our city council do more than just give lip-service to their efforts at ‘equality’ – they need to create a commission that will address these issues, and then back it up with support.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310/664-9969.You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra