Mark remembers how he felt the moment he walked into his first Dad Matters class at The Parenting Network. “I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be involved. I didn’t want to interact with anyone,” said Mark. 

Stubbornly, he sat down in the room full of dads and observed his surroundings. The small classroom filled with posters of fathers embracing their children felt unfamiliar to Mark. As an only child of divorced parents Mark spent most of his early childhood between two households. At age 10 Mark moved in with his father. “My dad was a business man like myself, but very strict,” said Mark. The 35-year old father of two says when he got into trouble, his dad would spank him.

Fast forward 30 years, and it’s that same discipline that is now the reason Mark is enrolled in the United Way-funded Dad Matters class. After the mother of Mark’s son filed a legal dispute, Mark was required to attend 10 classes by the Department of Corrections. 

“The Dad Matters class teaches fathers how to gain skills around healthy masculinity, communication, and patience,” said Earnest Goggins, program coordinator of the Fatherhood program at The Parenting Network.

Goggins says Dad Matters is not the stereotypical “parenting class.” Rather, it’s meant to make dads like Mark feel comfortable and supported. “Our goal is to meet the needs of fathers in this community, to teach them the skills they need to become better parents,” said Goggins.

By the second class, Mark started to open up and become more engaged in class. He also started to notice the positive impact the class was having in his life.

“I deal with people every day, but when it came to the relationship with my son’s mom, it wasn’t there. The Dad Matters class really taught me how to open up the lines of communication with my son’s mom,” said Mark.

The class also helped improve Mark’s relationship with his 12-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son. “My whole mind-frame around parenting has changed. I don’t get as frustrated with my kids like I did before. Instead, I’ve become more nurturing,” said Mark.

“When a father is absent, the likelihood of his daughter becoming a teenage mom increases, and his son is more likely to express his emotions through violence,” said Bailey Murph, Health Portfolio Manager at United Way. “Important classes like Dad Matters exist to empower and show fathers in our community the value of being present in their child’s life.”

In 2016, 97% of participants in United Way-funded Support for Children and Families programs felt their emotional and bonding relationships with their children improved.

Today, Mark is thankful to The Parenting Network and United Way for providing him with resources and the opportunity to become a better father to his two children.

“Before I had children I never would have even thought about taking a class like this. Now I think everybody should, even before their child is born. The things you learn really open your mind and help you grow as a parent.”

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