By Molly Willms, NPC Guest Blogger
Many of the challenges faced by boys and men of color across Milwaukee can be traced to a single, personal struggle: the absence of a father.
That is why Sharon Robinson, director of the City of Milwaukee Department of Administration, takes personal interest in the Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative and increasing the number of children with involved, committed and responsible fathers.
“We want to really help give them, the children in our community, a chance and tools and resources they need to really make it,” Robinson said.
The Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative is dedicated to helping boys and men of color and their families connect in meaningful ways, and to breaking down barriers that stand in the way of responsible fatherhood.
It benefits fathers by teaching them healthy nurturing behaviors and connecting them to programs and services to improve their life outcomes and those of their children and families.
When a father is present in a child’s life, that child is far less likely to end up incarcerated, and much more likely to meet their academic goals, Robinson said.
Ninety-five percent of the program’s participants are African American men, Robinson said, but just about every participant has one more thing in common.
“Most of them didn’t have a father that was present,” she said.
One participant shared that his several stints with the criminal justice system were the result of self-medicating through illegal drugs, his way of coping with the absence of his own dad.
“It was so painful not to have a father who they felt loved them,” Robinson said. Thus, the initiative’s first task is to cater to the needs of the fathers.
Often from scratch, participants literally learn how to be a dad.
“Most of these men just did not have a role model to model after,” Robinson said. “It’s more than just being a provider and making money.”
The program teaches helpful nurturing behaviors, and encourages expression of emotion – such as allowing little boys to cry – in ways that foster healthy relationships.
On the practical side, the program can help a father regain a suspended drivers’ license so that he can find work, or reduce the interest on child support debt so that a father’s money can go toward spending time with his family and improving his own situation.
Robinson has seen fathers that do not believe they need the program. They may be in it for the practical benefits, she said, when they first arrive.
But by the end, Robinson said, everyone is glad they participated, and grateful for what the initiative has done for their lives and their families.
“They say, ‘The best thing that ever happened to me was going through this program,” she said.