Strengthening Family Ties
Man 2 Man Fatherhood Initiative helps fathers build life skills — and reconnect with their kids in Marlboro and Dillon Counties
“It is our distinct pleasure and privilege to aid in the cause of strengthening fragile families by addressing father absences as a root cause of poverty. We believe that by helping to build families, we strengthen the community; the community strengthens the city; the city affects the state; and the state affects the nations. The result is that we help change the world,” says Derrick Dease, Executive Director of the Man 2 Man Fatherhood initiative.
One out of every four children in the U.S. has an absent father. It’s a situation so prevalent that if fatherlessness were a disease, it would be an epidemic. As resilient as kids can be, new research shows that not having a dad in their lives is disastrous.
Teens with absent fathers have significantly higher odds of doing jail time. Half of the women who are incarcerated grew up without a father. Children with absent fathers are more likely to smoke, drink, use drugs, have affective disorders, require emergency room visits, be obese, drop out of school, have poor grades, and get pregnant as teens.
As of the last census, about 8% of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to more than 38% of children in female householder families. And here’s the worst: Children who grow up with an absent father suffer psychological damage that can affect their entire lives.
As a culture, we’re set up to blame the father for his absence. However, not all absentee dads are absent by choice. Once a man is divorced or separated from his children’s mother, he is usually relegated to the sidelines by law and by society. His sole responsibility is to be a financial provider with little or no thought given to the importance of his role as a caregiver to his children.
This creates a no-win situation for low-income fathers who struggle to make even a basic living wage. For most, failure to keep up with child support payments means jail time. Jail time means unemployment – and a criminal record – compounding the stigma and making the man even less employable.
While this is a story about hard truths, it isn’t a story about despair. It is a story of hope. But we have to go through the valley to get there. I want to introduce you to some people:
Please meet Jerry:
A few years ago Jerry had no relationship with his children or their mothers. He also had no job, no diploma, no car, no support system, and no path to being the father he wanted to be.
Henry was unemployed, separated from his five children, and unable to pay child support. He was especially discouraged because his daughter is severely disabled and wasn’t getting the emotional or physical care she needs.
Jerry and Henry were brave enough to share their stories as representatives of the thousands of fathers out there who are entangled in the same cycles of poverty, isolation, and despair.
Like Henry and Jerry, many fathers who don’t see their kids or can’t keep up with child support aren’t “deadbeats.” They want to be providers and good dads. Through the messiness of breakups, separation or divorce, they can get disconnected from their kids, and there are plenty of legal barriers that keep them from getting reconnected.
Regardless of circumstances, when a father loses contact with his children, they are instantly derailed. The damage fatherless children suffer, and the resulting social ills affect all of us.
This was the issue on the table in 1999 when a group of concerned citizens in Marlboro County got together to address the growing numbers of absent fathers. They began by assessing the complex challenges low-income dads face, including unemployment, poor communication with the mothers, lack of consistent access to their children, inability to pay basic living expenses and child support, inability to navigate the legal system, lack of education, obstacles caused by prior convictions, temptations of earning a living in an underground economy, and more.
To help fathers reconnect with their children, Man 2 Man Fatherhood Initiative was born under the umbrella of the Pee Dee Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. They set a mission of engaging fathers in the positive support of their children and enhancing community support for fatherhood throughout the Pee Dee region.
“When a father is involved and present in a child’s life there is a greater chance of stability, and the child is better equipped to deal with life’s challenges,” says Gailon Wisdom, Outreach Coordinator for Man 2 Man.
“Statistics show that father-absent homes produce 71% of all high school dropouts, 90% of all homeless or runaway children, and 63% of all youth suicides. We also know that 71% of teens with absent fathers experience early parenthood or teen pregnancy,” Wisdom says. “When the father is present, the child is 60% less likely to be expelled from school, two times more likely to go to college, 75% less likely to experience teen pregnancy, and 80% less likely to spend time in jail.”
In other words, the stakes are incredibly high.
Today Man 2 Man is a stand-alone nonprofit and part of a network of fatherhood programs in South Carolina. The organization serves fathers from Marlboro and surrounding counties including Chesterfield, Darlington, Florence, Dillon and Marion counties.
Most fathers in the Man 2 Man program are in their late 20s to early 30s, and one third don’t have a GED or diploma. In fact, 93% of fathers are unemployed when they enter the Man 2 Man program. For these men, education can be the key to unlocking an entirely different future for themselves and their children.
It certainly was for Jerry who could see no path to being an involved father when he entered the program. He had long wanted to earn his GED, and with help from Man 2 Man, he did it and is now taking college courses. Man 2 Man also helped him find a job. With a job, he was able to buy a car. Now he picks up his children on weekends and can buy them what they need. He has a good relationship with both his kids’ mothers and has become a mentor for other fathers in his situation.
Jerry is one success story among many who enter the Man 2 Man program. In 2018 Man 2 Man served 424 fathers who had 921 children between them. Two hundred of the participants found employment, 41% were able to pay their child support, and 23% said they had an improved relationship with their children. Since 2002, Man 2 Man has helped 2,322 fathers improve life for themselves and their families.
One of the keys to the program’s success is a holistic approach that includes peer support meetings. In these meetings, fathers find a community that understands their situations. There is respect without judgment; just knowing someone understands what they’re going through is a massive relief. For many, it’s the first time they’ve ever had a support network in their lives.
“What I enjoy about Man 2 Man is the friendship and nonjudgmental support and assistance reaching goals,” says Roderick Ridges. “They also help me to stay focused on the important things in life – and to always believe in myself.” Today Roderick works for the City of Bennettsville and is better able to take care of his family.
When Henry came to Man 2 Man, he was ready to give up. Through peer support sessions he learned how to get a job and keep it, how to be a better parent, how to deal with anger, and how to be financially responsible. He learned how to navigate the legal system and eventually gained joint custody of his children. When the mother of his disabled daughter was found neglectful, Henry was granted full custody and is now her devoted caretaker.
These aren’t overnight transformations, however. The Fatherhood Curriculum is comprehensive, and it’s hard work. The program focuses on 4 main components for fathers. They are Parenting, Healthy Relationship, Economic Stability and men’s Health.The program also facilitates an Employability Job Boot Camp is an intensive 5 days of on the job training, preparing fathers for the working world to be better employers.
Fathers also get help navigating the child support system, mediation with the child’s mother, gaining access to healthcare, getting criminal records expunged, transportation, employment, and housing. Man 2 Man plans regular parent/child activities so dads and their kids can spend time together having fun and making positive memories. Thanks to support from the local community, the program is free. Most learn about Man 2 Man by word of mouth , referrals from community partners or from their interactive Facebook page (Man 2 Man Fatherhood Initiative SC) which gives viewers a firsthand experience of what the program is like.
“Attending the group sessions has helped me learn to have patience with the situation I’m in. I’m learning it’s not about me or my child’s mother – it’s about our child,” says George Johnson, a program attendee who was recently sworn in as Deputy Sheriff with the Chesterfield County Sheriff Department.
Some fathers court-ordered to participate as an alternative to jail time for non-payment of child support. The Jobs Not Jail Alternative to Incarceration gives Family Court judges the option of sending a father through the six-month program instead of sending him to jail or some fathers are required to participate through the parenting treatment plan arranged by the Department f Social Services.
“When I got locked up I realized I needed the support from Man 2 Man to help me become a better man, son, father, and brother, and friend,” Tyreek Blair says. “Today I’m proud of the changes I’ve made in my life to become a better father. I stopped getting angry and learned how to just walk away. I’ve learned the most important thing to do is spend quality time with family.” Tyreek earned his CDL and is in a better position to take care of his family.
Johnathan Gooding was referred through the parenting treatment plan program to give him the opportunity to regain custody of his young daughter. Losing custody of his daughter negatively affected the relationship with is family and marriage, experiencing several depression attacks and weight loss throughout the ordeal of not seeing his daughter when he gets home after a hard day’s work.
Johnathan’s commitment to the program helped him receive emotional support and several new ideas of improving his parental skills and relationship with his wife and family. Johnathan was successful in regaining custody of his daughter and spends more time bonding with his family.
It costs about $2,000 to support a father through the six-month program, and the organization depends on financial and in-kind donations to operate. Besides financial support, their wish list includes supplies, clothing, cars in working condition, computers and cell phones, educational toys, children’s books, and furniture.
Those wishing to help can also provide a job for a father in their program, sponsor a father through the program, or donate gift cards that can be used as incentives for accomplishments. Financial contributions can be made on their website (www.scfathersandfamilies.com) or by mailing a check to:
Man 2 Man
110 South Parsonage Street
Bennettsville, SC 29512
Man 2 Man
1321 West Evans Street
Florence, SC 29501
Most fathers want to be involved in their children’s’ lives. If they’re not, it’s usually because something has gone wrong that they don’t know how to fix. By giving them a respectful place to work out challenges and build life skills, Man 2 Man is helping men be the fathers they want to be, and the fathers their children so desperately need.