Only in Lawrence 2013The Journal-World asked Lawrenceians to tell us about the unsung heroes in the community, resulting in the annual Only in Lawrence feature.
Dads can at times feel like the forgotten parent, with many of the child-rearing resources in America geared toward moms. A few years ago, a local organization set out to change that.
For the past four years, Dads of Douglas County has been hosting activities aimed specifically at fathers: Conscious Fathering classes, father-child play groups, the annual Dad Days events. In that time, the nonprofit has helped numerous fathers in the area take a more active role in the parenting of their children.
Fatherhood is now recognized as more crucial as ever, parenting experts say. Where dads generally used to be the primary breadwinner while mothers were expected to raise the children, those roles have changed or even been reversed in many families. Dads of Douglas County provides resources such as mentoring and professional development for fathers who increasingly want or need to be more involved in their children's lives.
"When my kids were born, it seemed there was a lot of support for moms ... and dads were kind of on their own," said Dan Coleman of Lawrence, who now volunteers for Dads of Douglas County. "When I heard about this group, I thought it was time to put my money where my mouth was and get involved."
Recently, the organization's future was put in jeopardy when it lost its sole revenue source, from the Kansas Children's Service League, of roughly $6,800 per year. Dads of Douglas County is now figuring out how it will raise money in the future, what programming it will offer and whether it will have to start charging for its activities.
The organization started through a partnership with KCSL, after that agency's local home-visitation program for at-risk families, Healthy Families Douglas County, received federal funding to help promote responsible fatherhood. Healthy Families partnered with another local home-visitation program, Parents as Teachers, and United Way of Douglas County's Success by 6 to provide programming aimed at new and expectant fathers. Out of that, Dads of Douglas County was born.
Research has shown that the absence of a father figure puts kids at an increased risk for poverty, incarceration, crime, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse and childhood obesity.
"When we think of the past generation where the dad was like, 'I went to work. I'm going to go home and read the newspaper,' they really missed out in a lot of ways on a part of life that is wonderful," said Ryan Sparke of Lawrence, who attended Dads of Douglas County events before volunteering to serve on its board.
Gayle Anderson, the coordinator for Parents as Teachers who, like fellow Dads of Douglas County co-founders Rich Minder and Dan Partridge, has been involved in the organization from the beginning, also has noticed the changes in parenting. "Over 20 years, I've watched it go from both parents being at the home visit for Parents as Teachers and the mom going, 'You should see how he wraps the baby!' to 'I don't know, what do you think, dear?'" she said.
Charlie Bryan attended a Conscious Fathering course a few years back to learn more about how to raise his newborn. The class teaches new and expectant dads how to care for infants, including burping, cleaning and resting them (the Kansas Children's Service League actually provided the equipment for the course, which Dads of Douglas County will now need to purchase on its own to continue offering it).
"I think the real lesson out of that class was to really step into that role of a father and define what that means as an equal parent in a parenting partnership," said Bryan, who now serves as the chairperson of Dads of Douglas County. "I think a lot of men don't feel it's their place to be such a strong parent figure, especially in the first few months of the child's life."
Bryan says his experience with the courses also made his wife more confident in him as a parent, so that she's now comfortable leaving him with the kids while she goes on sabbatical in another part of the state.
Often, moms want their husbands to be more involved in child-rearing but don't know how to tell them.
"One of our best partners are women," said Jery Marquez, of Dads of Douglas County. "Wives push their husbands outside and say, 'You need to go to this activity!' And every time I talk to a couple about Conscious Fathering classes, the wives are the ones who are most excited about it."
Jason Greever was living in Emporia two years ago when, in a situation that is on the rise, he became a full-time single dad to his then-4-month-old son.
"I was really overwhelmed by the lack of resources for any kind of support and education," said Greever, who would later move to Lawrence and become involved in the local fathering organization. "To come here and discover Dads of Douglas County and find out those services were better here was huge. My son is now 2, but knowing that kind of resource is available is very exciting."
Bryan, however, acknowledges that the rules of child-rearing are changing everywhere, not just locally. "We're not doing this in isolation. There is certainly a lot of press about the changing nature of families," he said. "I think men are just expecting that they should be more active as parents. There is sort of a modern-dads movement going on, and I guess we're it for Douglas County."