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Cuyahoga County program helps men develop fatherhood skills
The program helps to show the positive impact fathers can have on a child's life 
Story by MICHELLE KANU


 

Research shows that kids who grow up with fathers involved in their lives tend to have better outcomes in school and life. That’s the impetus behind Cuyahoga County’s Fatherhood Initiative, which holds its 8th annual conference tomorrow (Friday) in downtown Cleveland. The Fatherhood Initiative helps men develop meaningful relationships with their kids through a variety of programs. WCPN's Michelle Kanu introduces us to one, and to a father who came to it reluctantly, only to find that being a good dad was something he could take pride in.

Kanu on Fatherhood Initiative

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The last year has not been an easy one for 39 year old Allen Huff. 

First, he got laid off from a lucrative job as a cable technician.  Then he started drowning in bills and child support payments to the mothers of his four children.  In desperation, Huff contacted the county for help and was referred to Passages, a non-profit that helps men find work, which he wanted.  What he wasn’t particularly looking for was group counseling on family issues – which is part of the Passages program.

Huff remembers - that first day, he was NOT feelin’ it.

“The very first day I walked into Passages, I had mixed feelings, and those mixed feelings were I don’t want to waste my time.  Basically, because I need a job.  I don’t want to sit here and go through my name 30 times, I don’t want to talk about no personal issues.  I just need a job.”

But, Huff says, without any better ideas, he decided to stay. Four months later, he completed the program and eventually found work with a chemical company. The new job was a godsend, Huff says, but the group counseling with other the dads was the real blessing that pushed him to rethink his family life.

“Hearing some of their stories and looking at myself, ‘I’ve never been in that situation and I hope to God I don’t’, but if they can get their life together and take things from this course, then I should be able to too.”

Huff has never had a really close relationship with his children.  After one divorce and two break-ups, Huff says he distanced himself from his two teen daughters and two sons and focused on fulfilling his fatherly duties by paying child support.

“And there was a lot of hurt with the ex-wife and my daughters I can tell, but the choice that I made was to—I’m not going to deal with this.  Time will wash things away.  Which, that was a poor choice.”

But, Huff says hearing the other men in Passages discuss their strained relationships with their families motivated him to want to spend more time with his kids.

“I don’t want to fall in the category as a person that just don’t care.  Because like I said I listen to some of those stories and I’m like well, I’ve always been there. I do care.  Maybe I don’t show it like I should.”

One of the main goals of Passages is to teach fathers HOW to show it - … through interaction with their kids, and getting involved in their lives.  Program Director Brian Moore says most absent fathers just need the right guidance.

“It’s a myth that father absence is intentional. There are so many barriers that in many instances whether it be incarceration, whether it be substance abuse, whether it be the lack of having a dad in their own life so they don’t know what it’s like to be a dad, it’s those types of barriers that really prevent dads from being able to step up to the plate.”

Helping dads get involved with their children pays off for both families and the county, says Al Grimes.  He leads the Cuyahoga County Fatherhood Initiative, the group that sponsors Passages and eleven other programs designed to help fathers meet the financial and emotional needs of their children.

“Research shows that when fathers are involved in their children’s life, they’re less likely to live in poverty; they’re less likely to do poorly in school; they’re less likely to commit crimes; they’re less likely to become premature fathers themselves.”

And better educated, more productive citizens, Grimes says, tend to need less public assistance and stay out of the criminal justice system, which ultimately saves taxpayers money.

Allen Huff says Passages taught him that fatherhood involves more than just sending child support payments and making occasional phone calls.  Now, Huff says he has monthly family nights when his girls come over and play games or they go to the drive in.  And Huff says he feels like more of a dad now.

“For me it’s just—maybe it’s selfish—just to get that feeling that maybe they’re proud of me. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to get that feeling.  It just gives me that drive to want to do better, to stay focused to want to do better, to up the ante.”

Huff admits he can’t make up for the mistakes he made in the past, but he says he now feels better equipped to be a more involved father. This summer, Huff says he’s planning his first overnight trip with his kids to Niagara Falls.

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