By Dr. Hyacynthia M. Leonce
“Your son’s survival depends on [the father’s] involvement in [his child’s] life.” This statement was spoken by Gus Barreiro of The Children’s Trust. He went on to emphasize that “85% of young men in juvie are fatherless. They are 5% more likely to commit suicide and ten times more likely to abuse substances”.
The Paternal Health Conference set out to inform current and expectant fathers about the importance of a father’s overall health, paternal health, and mental health as well as the importance of fatherhood and what it takes to become a great dad.
As a mother of a 14-year-old son, there were many points made during the conference I had never considered before. In the African American community, most fathers are comfortable allowing the mother to take the lead in child rearing. It did not even occur to me how important the involvement of fathers is to the initial stages of a child’s life.
After the birth of a child, mothers are counseled and observed for signs of postpartum depression. Did you know fathers could also experience postpartum depression? Ron Mercer, Ph.D., LMHC, NCC, BCFE stated that male postpartum depression is real. Amazing! Regarding teaching boys how to be nurturers, he asked us to think about what toys are offered to children early on. When you walk down the toy aisle, you see toys for girls that are nurturing like baby dolls, etc. However, when you compare that to the toys for boys, you see toy trucks, guns, games, and nothing that is conducive to parenting.
Dr. Juan Carlos Millon, Pediatrician, relayed that it’s important to remember that parenting “is a partnership, set ground rules as you are going through the process.” He said this is important so that one person does not feel overwhelmed. He also stated that it is important to “be present.” In this age of technology, if you are not physically in the home or available for doctor’s visits, you can Skype, Facetime etc.
Minister Harrell Henton, of Brownsville Church of Christ, conveyed, “If you want to be a good father, expose your child to different things.” Exposure is important.
The Honorable Judge Angelica D. Zayas of the 11th Judicial Circuit Court informed us that “juvenile delinquency rates are down”, but we still have a long way to go. She stated that she is working on a program to help young delinquent fathers. She said we tend to focus on the adult fathers and forget that some juveniles are fathers and they also need help with parenting.
Brother Lyle Grandison referred to a song by Funkadelic called America eats its young. Making the point that we don’t do enough to take care of our young children. He relayed “teach our children to be masters and help them to be what they were created to be…this work is not just necessary; it’s mandatory.”
Holly Zwerling, LMFT, LCSW, CEO and President of the Fatherhood Task Force of South Florida, her family, and the presenters put on a wonderful, informative conference. I believe the subject matter should be placed in some type of curriculum and given to junior high and high school students. The information is a must have for all maturing individuals.
Overall, it’s important to note that the father’s mental health, physical health, and emotional health, in addition to his involvement in his child’s life, are crucial to a child’s overall wellbeing.