Gary Jenkins smiles broadly as he holds up his graduation certificate. It’s the first one he’s ever received, and now he’s keen to get many more. What’s truly unique is his choice of course to achieve it: the Nurturing Father’s Program (NFP) created by Mark Perlman, a Florida Supreme Court certified family mediator. The county’s first 13-week NFP was run by the Highlands Community Pregnancy Care Centre (HCPCC) this spring. Single father Jenkins and four other dads graduated in June. Jenkins, 26, is by turns quiet and exuberant. He has two sons and would like a bigger role in their lives. “I’m beyond patient now,” says Jenkins. “I do everything different now. My whole life’s kind of changed in a way.”
HCPCC provides pre and postdelivery support to women faced with an unplanned pregnancy and support or post-abortion trauma. President Julie Goodwin says clients often wish similar versions of some support programs were available for fathers. Goodwin recently took a webinar featuring the NFP and found it was designed for a wide audience – not only single dads, but also perhaps a teacher who recognizes he’s a role model, or a grandfather raising his grandchild. NFP topics include discipline withoutviolence, managing anger and resolving conflict, communication and problemsolving, teamwork with spouse/partner, and the joys of fathering. Goodwin proposed the program to the HCPCC board. Director Ron Mahler watched the webinar and recommended purchasing the curriculum. The board approved. The course and materials were free to participants thanks to several community partners. When the nonprofit HCPCC sent out letters requesting support, “I was blown away by the response,” says Goodwin. “It was a tremendous encouragement.” Mahler and Goodwin’s husband, Terry, who has 25 years of social services experience, served as trained facilitators“For me it was a no-brainer,” says Terry. “The program uses a lot of the same premises that different cognitive behavioural approaches use – anger management, partner assault.” The group found space at Haliburton’s Full Gospel Lighthouse. Pastor Doug Ross dropped in halfway through the program and stayed on. “I saw the reaction of the young men as they were just readily receiving all this information, that they could change their lives, they could become better dads, and they were so willing to accept the responsibility,” says Ross. Jenkins was seven when his father died. Essentially he was raised by his grandfather. “He taught me to be responsible,” says Jenkins. “I guess I was just too young and arrogant… I wasn’t listening, but I never forgot.” Jenkins was recently released from jail after 11 months. He moved away from his old friends and accompanying temptations, settled in the county took the NFP program and joined a 12-step program. Ross and the Goodwins talk about the connections that developed among the program facilitators and participants despite age differences. “Men being men, they don’t talk about this stuff,” says Terry. “This was sort of a safe place, and it took a while to getthere where they would talk, but then they would see the other two facilitators [Doug and Ron]… had some of the same struggles as they had, so they would relate and they would open upand they would talk about it.” “Take the program,” Jenkins recommends. “It’s very, very worth it and you’re going to see some changes, very good, big changes in your life and your family’s life.” “It’s definitely going to make a difference for the kids, and guaranteed that the mothers are going to be 10 times better,” he continues. “We do the program, we understand the program she just sees the change that you are doing [for] you and your children.” “You’re wise beyond your years young man,” says Ross. “It took me 40 years to realize that.” Jenkins says he plans to take the course again. Terry and Ross also plan to take it. They are also planning a monthly gettogether to provide continued support and fellowship for the grads. While the NFP is not faith-based, they’re calling the graduate group “A Wing and a Prayer.”
HCPCC is planning another NFP for the fall, perhaps in Minden, and Julie is looking ahead to what a follow-up program might look like. Unable to attend their graduation ceremony, Mahler wrote an address to the fathers, saying it was “neat to be able to just be ourselves as men and dads, no judgment – only support and understanding.” “May we apply the grace we gave to each other, to our children and their mothers. May the past few months be a launching pad for better things ahead.”
To register for the fall NFP, contact
HCPCC at 705-457-4673.
By Lisa Harrison
Contributing writer, The Highlander
July 11, 2013