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June 17, 2015
By Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

In this culture that devalues fathers, it’s no surprise that often fathers devalue themselves. Popular culture routinely tells fathers that they’re anything from useless to dangerous to their kids. The law ups the ante, removing them from their children’s lives at the mere allegation of abuse or just because they weren’t the primary caregiver. Adoption laws all but invite mothers to give up their kids without the father’s consent. In over half the cases in which a child is taken from its mother by child protective agencies due to abuse or neglect, those agencies make no effort to contact the father as a possible custodian for the child.

Fathers have gotten the message. Even when they live with their kids, they usually take a backseat to Mom when it comes to childcare. And all too frequently, they assume they’re not needed, not wanted and not capable of being the kind of parent their children need – good, kind, loving and strong.

The FATHER Project in Minnesota seeks to turn those dads around, and it’s having an impact (Park Rapids Enterprise, 6/13/15). A program begun by Goodwill/Easter Seals of Minnesota, the FATHER Project has been around for four years, helping 225 dads during that time. Many of those, like Project director Joe Johnson, are products of the foster care system.

Many of the dads are referred to the program by people who’ve experienced the benefits, Scott Forsberg among them. When the woman with whom Forsberg had spent the past eight years left him and his daughter, now 8, “I was at one of the lowest points of my life,” he said.  Two weeks after learning of the FATHER program, he showed up at Johnson’s office. “I knew I had to be there for her,” he said of caring for his daughter, for whom he’s now gained sole physical custody. “She’s a big part of what keeps me going.” He reckoned his parenting skills needed some honing. Forsberg admits to being hesitant about meeting the person he believed to be a “suit.” He soon learned Johnson is “not by the book, yet very professional.” The FATHER Project “taught me how important a father is in a child’s life. He’s a son’s first hero and a daughter’s first love.” Forsberg has now gained the title of Citizen Father, and he’s telling his story to others. “Imagine your daughter dating someone like you,” he poses to dads. “Did you smile? If not, it’s time to change. “That’s what I did.”…

“This is not a treatment program,” Johnson explained. “We’re here to inspire hope.” Currently, the program “pulls them out of the river when they’re drowning,” he said of the fathers. “I’d like to get upriver, to stop them from falling.”  “If we die tomorrow, how will we be remembered? Johnson asks fathers to consider. “If we live every moment with purpose, integrity and passion, when our time is done we will have done what we were meant to do on this earth.” Johnson’s experience as a child in a foster home has not left him bitter, but emboldened. “The suffering created me into a soldier,” he said. “It’s given me purpose.” Studies show 90 percent of dads want to be involved with their child at birth. The percentage drops to 50 percent at 18 months and may continue to fall. “Dads just don’t realize how important they are. Don’t settle for being a good dad,” Johnson counsels. Be the world’s greatest dad.”

Kids need both parents. That includes fathers. Our society does a lot to keep fathers out of their kids’ lives. Joe Johnson and the FATHER Project are trying to turn the tide.

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