As many celebrated Father’s Day this month, I found that my mind kept drifting to the families unable to celebrate, especially those currently separated in detention centers. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Family separation is childhood trauma.
I take some comfort in knowing that in our community, CALM is working every day to keep families together, including supporting dads to be the best dads they can be. I sat down with Jose Montezuma, a home visitor and parenting facilitator at CALM. For nearly 20 years, Jose supported countless fathers in our community by helping them build healthy relationships with their children.
Jose leads CALM’s Supporting Father Involvement classes. During these 12- and 26-week evidence-based courses, fathers cover topics such as child development and healthy relationships, effects of domestic violence, positive parenting practices, and safety. Many of the fathers are referred by Child Welfare Services, though some reach out for support on their own. Class times are based on the fathers’ schedules to meet them whenever works best.
In his own words, Jose expands on his role as a therapist and the importance of supporting fathers in their journey to be the best they can be for their children:
I am a father of four, my oldest is 26 and my youngest is 10. I have three boys and one girl, all of whom I love unconditionally. When I was a young father, my son was born with Down syndrome and I learned that my family would need support from others. I was and am very involved in my son’s care and treatment. It has been an incredibly rewarding journey every step of the way.
Since the beginning, an important part of my job has been to support fathers. When I was a young dad, I did not see many Latino fathers pushing their children in strollers. When I pushed my daughter in her stroller, I was asked if I was a single father. I wanted to change that mentality, and that is what sparked my early passion for the work I do now.
When I teach a class and see the difference that it makes firsthand, I feel the most joy. Little things add up and can make huge differences in a child’s life. I love offering dads the skills and tools to make those differences for their kids.
I remember one time when I was working with a dad who had three girls and one boy, the boy was the youngest. The dad never took part in anything his girls were interested in, not with their school or soccer teams. Once his son was born, he didn’t have any tools to connect with him. He joined my class and we played a simple game of tossing the balloon back and forth with his child. After class, he asked for a handful of balloons to take home. I later saw him and his son still playing the game in the parking lot.
He began to connect with his son more by working together in the garden. The dad used to tell his son to go away while he was working in the yard, but now he teaches and educates him. And, he now also has the tools to engage with his daughters, engaging with their soccer teams and attending field trips. I have remained connected to this family and the father has told me repeatedly how much this program changed his life.
Dads are usually seen as providers, but that is not our only role. Just the other night, I shared a story with my class. I explained that I used to be the “tough disciplinary dad.” When my daughter was young, she wanted a pink Barbie bike with fringe on the handlebars more than anything. We didn’t have a lot, but we were able to get her the bike she wanted.
When I taught her how to ride it, we took the training wheels off and she fell a few times. I continued to encourage her, telling her to dust herself off and keep trying. When she was 25, I found a picture of that moment, when she learned to ride a bike for the first time.
Without showing her the picture, I asked her if she remembered her first bike and she said no. She said that what she did remember was me helping her. She remembered that I was there, that I encouraged her, and that I taught her to pick herself back up and try again.
My advice for dads is simple. Be there for your kids, be present and cheer them on. Those are the memories that they remember.
CALM is here to support fathers in all stages of their parenting journey. I am proud of the work that Jose — and all of the dads in our community — do each and every day. Together, we are protecting the most important relationship in the world.
— Alana Walczak is CEO of the nonprofit CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), a leader in developing programs and services that effectively treat child abuse and promote healing, as well as programs that help prevent abuse through family strengthening and support. Click here for more information, or call 805.965.2376. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.