Article 25

Lessons in Fatherhood

In Uncategorized on 08/10/2012 at 9:01 am

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(L-R) Harold Howard, manager of the Fatherhood Project, with graduate Antoin Martin and Howard’s daughter, Monet. Photo by Teri Nau.

 

Classes, legal advice and healing

By Corey Gibson

 

Being a single parent might be one of the toughest jobs in America. The hours are never ending, the pay is non-existent and appreciation of the hard work can be overshadowed by any number of factors. Things might be a bit tougher for fathers, who are responsible for about 85 percent of child-support payments made each year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Cincinnati fathers have found a place to turn when they need guidance: the Fatherhood Project.

Started in 2000, the Fatherhood Project was a spin-off from a program called Services United for Mothers and Adolescents, or SUMA. As SUMA grew, it began to take notice of teen fathers who were asking for the same kind of help teen mothers were getting. With a donation from the O’Neal Foundation in Cleveland, SUMA started providing services to teen fathers in Cincinnati.

“The blessing of having the private donation allowed us to make adaptations to the program and allowed us to open and expand our population to not only include teen fathers, but any and all fathers who felt the need to become a better father,” says Harold Howard, manager of the Fatherhood Project.

Operated by Talbert House, the program assists men in their efforts to become responsible, committed and nurturing fathers, helping with legal affairs, employment, housing and other issues.

“Typically, the fathers that come to the program have issues surrounding custody, visitation rights and child support issues,” Howard says. “We try to educate them on their rights about public policy and things of that nature.”

As participants advance in the program, the Fatherhood Project tries to tackle everyday problems such as housing for the children, transportation to and from school and other problems that arise.

“We try to eliminate as many of those barriers as we can to help them to become nurturing fathers,” Howard says.

‘Celebrate fatherhood’

Beyond helping men build a stable environment for their children, the program also offers classes on the roots of fatherhood and how to become a better father. The 10-week parenting classes, which usually include 30 to 35 fathers, cover some tough issues: getting past their own childhood problems, learning how to express feelings in appropriate ways and fathering without violence.

“I believe it speaks to a larger issue in the fact that these fathers are here voluntarily for a parenting class,” Howard says. “It shows that fathers do want to be involved in their children’s lives.”

Sometimes the classes bring up very emotional memories from the past, ranging from alcohol abuse in their homes to abandonment issues, according to Howard.

Lawyers and other experts help the fathers learn their rights and explain child-care and child support laws in Ohio.

At the end of the classes, between 20 and 25 fathers usually graduate.

“Typically the fathers not graduating are not falling off because they aren’t interested in the class, but because other factors such as employment may interfere with the afternoon classes,” Howard says. “Many stay connected and return to the finish the classes after they have crossed other barriers in becoming a good father.”

After graduation, the fathers can participate in an alumni organization at the Fatherhood Project, which continues to help with legal papers, court proceedings and food and household supplies when needed.

For men who are unable to attend the classes, the project offers events for fathers to spend time with their children, for example, a Fathers Day program at Sawyer Point.

“It is really just a way to celebrate fatherhood and just have fun without having to worry about cost or parking or anything,” Howard says. “It was just a way for everyone to have fun and enjoy each other.”

Almost buried alive

After all the classes and meetings with case workers, the struggles and barriers involved with fatherhood, just having a chance to be with your child is the greatest gift the Fatherhood Project could give to any man and his child, according to Antoin Martin.

He is sitting at a long table with his daughter Monet, who is drawing a picture. He constantly looks toward his daughter throughout a conversation with a reporter, complimenting her on her drawings. He is a father. But it might have been hard to tell a decade ago.

Martin, 40, was adopted when he was 4-years old and separated from his brothers and sister. He says he knows one of his brothers but he also knows another brother and another sister are out there somewhere – two people he might never meet.

As he grew older, Martin struggled to find a sense of family. He first met his biological mother when he was 7 years old.

“It was really hard at that time. But at least I finally got to meet her. It was a lot of emotional feelings,” Martin says. “Once I started to get to know my real mother and found out why she had to let us go, because of alcoholic problems, it put a real impact on me. My whole family was spread out, and I finally found out why.”

Martin says he began drinking alcohol at age 14 and began “doing street activities,” robbing a beer truck at age 15. Things got worse from there.

His drug use continued as Martin trudged through life with no real direction and no desire to make steps toward bettering his life, he says. Along with alcohol and marijuana, he began using crack cocaine.

“I remember one incident from when I was younger,” he says. “I had my own apartment downtown when I was 18, and after that I was introduced to crack. I thought to myself, ‘I can use this, I can control this.’ But you can’t control that. Once I started to try and get off the drug, it was too late. I had lost my apartment I had lived in for the past 11 years.”

After addiction took hold, Martin began living on the street, couch-surfing from one drug house to the next until he finally found himself living in an abandoned warehouse with no windows. That warehouse almost became his rubble grave.

“I remember getting up by the grace of God just saying, ‘Get up,’ and people were about to tear down the building,” Martin says. “I went downstairs and saw the machines and the people yelling at me.”

‘Take her’

Martin admits this should have been a sign to stop using crack, but it hardly fazed him. It was just another part of his “adventure,” as he put it.

Through all this Martin still had part time custody of his son, Antoin, whom he saw on weekends. Yet having a child never stopped Martin from drinking or using drugs. He tried to curb his drug use when his son was around only after the child’s mother asked him to.

“I told him, ‘Next time I get with you, I will make sure I am not drinking,’ ” Martin says. “And I kept my word. I might have been hung over, but I kept my word.”

But his cocaine addiction got the better of him. He recalls picking up his son and going to a crack house with his son and a friend. When the three arrived, Martin told his son he would be right back, leaving the child in the crack house as he went out to score drugs on the street.

“We walked about six or seven blocks before we got the drugs,” Martin says. “We stayed there getting high, and before I knew what was happening, I asked myself, ‘Where is my son?’ I have never sobered up so quickly.”

Luckily, a few of Martin’s friends of took his son out of the house and kept him safe until Martin returned. He admits that incident should have been enough to make him stop doing drugs, but he kept on using.

Sometime afterward, Martin says, he had a strange experience. He was living on the streets, a self-proclaimed “crack head” and alcoholic, when he went to use the bathroom at a friend’s house. He says he looked into the mirror and saw himself – dirty, homeless, ragged. His reflection began talking to him, telling him it was time to quit this lifestyle, he says.

“I went over to the Gospel Mission, the Exodus Program,” Martin says. “I went with a broken heart. I was wounded and I was crying. I needed help. But the program had already started and I would have to wait four or five months. But I told them I didn’t have that amount of time. I told them I would stay there for however long it took, until the next program started – and they let me stay. And I began starting to get spiritually fed.

“Sometimes the Lord makes you go through obstacles until you learn the lesson you need to learn.”

He graduated the program in 2004 sober, with a new outlook on life. It was also around this time he met the woman he calls “the love of my life.” He explained his story to her –his hardships, his childhood and the struggles he had experienced over the previous decade. Although Martin says he tried to make the relationship work, it was difficult. After the birth of his daughter, Monet, the relationship became even rockier than before. Martin was arrested for violating a restraining order obtained by his girlfriend.

“Once my daughter was born and after we had been to court, the love of my life was crying, and I asked her what was wrong and she said she had something to tell me that was good for her but bad for me,” Martin says. “She told me she was going to take our daughter and go back to Michigan. I told her I didn’t want to put my daughter in the middle of this, so I told her, ‘OK, take her.’ ”

‘Just moments’

Martin knew he had to do something. He turned to the Fatherhood Project for help, but not before encountering more obstacles. When he went to pick up his daughter on Father’s Day, he says, he learned that his ex-girlfriend had obtained another restraining order against him. He was arrested for violating it.

Jailed for 30 days, Martin knew his record of jail time would not help in his effort to get long-distance custody of his daughter, who recently moved to Michigan with her mother.

When he was released from jail, the judge ordered him to start taking parenting classes. Martin met with Harold Stevens, who helped run the parenting classes at the Fatherhood Project. Because Martin was unable to attend many of the classes, Stevens went to where Martin was staying and reviewed everything covered in the class those days.

“When he started to talk to me about how we take on ours parents’ genes and how you get the good, the bad and the ugly, and he had these boxes that separated the good stuff from the bad stuff, and it gave me insight into how my relationship with my daughter and her mother could have been different, how I was using the bad genes my parents gave me to be manipulative, I learned to communicate.”

Through the Fatherhood Project, Martin learned the deep connection between a daughter and a father. He began looking at the people around him and the environment he had created for himself. He looked at the prostitutes, drugs and destruction that seemed to follow him and realize they were things he didn’t need in his family’s life.

“I met a prostitute on the street and she told me she never had a father, and it put an impact on me,” he says. “We have to be patient with our children. We have to be understanding and humble and obedient in so many ways because you have to listen to your children.”

Martin says that, without the Fatherhood Project, he never would have been able to move past the basics of being a father, past providing the basic necessities such as food and clothing, and into the depths of the emotional connections, the lessons passed down from father to child.

And he has learned some tough lessons about mentoring a child to do the right thing, to know the difference between right and wrong.

He tells a story of his daughter being bullied at school. As he prodded her to tell him the details, she continued to say nothing was the matter. But Martin says that, simply by watching her body language, he knew something was bothering her.

He analyzed over and over again the many different ways he could go about dealing with the bully. He could go to the school and talk to the principal. He could chide the bully’s parents. But Martin opted for the library. He checked out The Bully Book and read it to his daughter.

“I read that to her, and we sat down and talked about it, and she realized the bully at her school was doing the same thing,” Martin says. “And we went over how the person in the book stood up for himself, and she realized she needed to do the same thing.”

Martin is still close to the Fatherhood Project. Without it, he says, he never would have believed in himself or come so far. He says he is learning new things everyday, teaching his children new ideas and looking forward to being the best father he can be.

“I am just in motion,” Martin says. “I can’t explain how powerful and how loving this is. It is like a new moment happens everyday, like when you take a picture and you cherish those moments. This is like that. But instead of looking back, these moments are happening everyday. Just moments.”

 

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