"Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad"; this Wade Boggs quote embodies what we at PA Parent and Family Alliance mean when we say "be a dad" for your child. We sat down with Pastor George Fleming of Allegheny Family Network (AFN) to get some advice on how dads can get involved in their child's life and diagnosis, how to ease those dad's anxiety, and how much a child benefits from having their dad in their life. While we understand the benefits and importance of a mother-child relationship; we know it is vital for dads to be involved in the conversation, know how to help and then stay involved so not everything is so "mother-focused".
We asked Fleming why he thinks it's critical for a father to be involved, "Every modern set of data suggests that when fathers are connected to their children their child has a much better chance at succeeding at nearly every facet of life". Some examples of the data that Fleming was referencing range from stats about youth suicide, to incarnation, to education levels. Every single one of these shows that children are much more likely to be positive and productive members of society if they were raised with their fathers in their life.
While Fleming marks the importance of a father being involved he did mention that they are sometimes a lot harder to get into the conversation. He has had years upon years of experience trying to get dads involved and he explained to us that when it comes to parenting men can be more defensive. "Men can be both defensive and naive when it comes to the mental health needs of their children," said Fleming. His biggest piece of advice for getting a dad involved is to have another dad speak to them. We understand the importance of sharing your story with a parent who is going through similar things that you have overcome. Hearing from another father about how their child has a social, emotional, behavioral, or mental health challenge, how the father got involved, and how it turned out to all be okay can disarm a dad and allow him to put aside his preconceived notions and start to help out.
When asked about a father's anxiety Fleming wanted to reinforce one thing; "it's normal". He explained that when he is talking to a father about getting involved the most important thing he can do is have open and honest communication. "I try to normalize their fears and let them know they are natural. I gauge where they are at vs. where I want them to be. I think it is essential to not turn your advice and guidance into threats, if somebody is about to lose custody of their child they already know it, they don't need to hear it again, what they want to hear are solutions and game plans." Fleming shared the importance of making sure the father has worked out his own traumas and personal or family issues with undiagnosed mental health challenges or addictions and stabilized their feelings before moving on to possible solutions.
When asked about how a father can balance society's idea of masculinity and being the kind of parent he should be he sat back and took in a sharp breath. "What I have learned is that we need to redefine masculinity and talk about it more responsibility. My view of masculinity has changed so much as I have matured. I think the media does a disservice to the idea of masculinity by showing things like stereotypical African American sitcoms and football. To me being masculine is recognizing your responsibility of taking care of your children and then doing it."
Fleming himself has the lived experience of raising children who have had mental health challenges. We asked him how he stays connected with his children and he shared that understanding that they live in a completely different world than he did is his key to success. He texts and calls all of them as much as he can and offers a guiding hand and loving advice, rather than telling them what to do. He has learned a lot from his time as a young dad and now is using his wisdom to advocate for, educate, and get dads into the conversation.
"There is no such thing as a perfect father, and there is a huge difference between a father and a dad". This is what Fleming considers to be the biggest lesson he has learned since becoming a dad. Along with the idea that while the job might change as your child/children grow up, it never ends. "My son is 50 and when he gets in a tight place he calls me."
The word "Family" in our name shows that we support not only the mother and the child but also the father, siblings, and anybody that the child considers family. We also recognize that some children are raised in households by two mothers, two fathers, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, etc. This article simply offers the idea that if the father is physically and emotionally able to be in their child's life they should make every effort to make that happen. A father figure like a grandfather, uncle, brother, or family friend can also make an impact on the child's life. It is in the best interest of the child, the mother, and the father for the dad to be a stable and steady force for his children. If you are a father who is nervous about getting involved after a recent diagnosis for your child because you don't know how or you don't want to mess up; just take a breath. Your child wants and needs you to get past these anxieties and be there for them. If you are a dad who wants to take on a leadership roll in your community or someone that is trying to get dads involved reach out to us at PA Parent and Family Alliance we can help.