James* was one of the many dads referred to the Fatherhood Support program (FSP) of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Hartford. He did not want to go, and he made certain that everyone knew it. Starting with the first meeting he would just show up and sit, being sure to maintain an “I don’t want to be here” face. James was referred to FSP by the Connecticut Department of Children & Families to help him understand that having an unhealthy relationship with his partner made it nearly impossible to have a healthy relationship with his child.
His attitude changed, however, when a group activity called “Voting Values” was introduced at the meeting. The activity begins with the dads discussing and identifying characteristics that they valued and that they wanted instilled in their children. Then an auction-style voting exercise followed, with the dads competing to place the highest bid on the values that they felt were most important. The highest bidder on a particular value would gain that value. During this session James learned that he was not the only father who resented being sent to FSP. Other men expressed that they felt punished by a system that had shown repeatedly its disregard for fathers. The activity helped many of the men open up and talk about their situations.
Gradually, a new James began to emerge. He became far more active in FSP and started to believe in the benefits of the program. James also became one of the most vocal dads in the group, often bringing the perspective of the child into the conversation and helping other dads to see how some of the misbehavior practiced by their young children could be changed with careful planning and a daily routine. He even shared about being unemployed and how he wanted to leave behind SNAP benefits and become self-sufficient.
Day after day James would surf the internet for jobs. Then he got a hit on one of his applications. FSP got James a gently-used suit through its partnership with Men’s Warehouse. Dressed for success and confident in himself, he interviewed and got a job at a local warehouse on the same day. When he finally completed FSP, James exchanged letters with FSP’s director. James received a certificate of completion, and the director got a letter stating that James was no longer receiving SNAP benefits. The way James was smiling, you might think he had just won a gold medal at the Olympics.
*Name changed to protect privacy.