November 7, 2008
Program to teach fathers to be better dads
Cortland County Community Action Program will create fatherhood resource center
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Matthew Sartwell, 5, listens as his father, Richard Sartwell, talks about his experiences with the Cortland County Community Action Program fatherhood initiative program on Thursday while at the CAPCO offices on Main Street in Cortland.
A local family-oriented organization is expanding programs for improving parenthood, which have yielded a great deal of enthusiasm from participants.
Parents With Hope, a nine-week family education program run through the Cortland County Community Action Program, is focused on teaching what it means to be a good parent. CAPCO received $3,000 in October from the National Fatherhood Initiative for materials and literature to develop a fatherhood resource center.
Greg Lang, a CAPCO family development advocate, said this is the beginning of an expanded program, dedicated solely to improving fathers’ relations with their families.
Lang applied for the funding in August, and was chosen along with 150 similar organizations across the country.
The new program, called Dads Making A Difference, arose from interested participants in Parents With Hope that began in September 2007, he said.
“It made such an impact, we knew there would be interest,” he said.
Lang said several fathers began asking if there could be a program “just for dads,” where they could put the focus on issues about fatherhood.
More than 200 people have signed up for the new program, which is expected to begin in December.
“What we’re trying to push is for anyone who is planning to have a child, to look at how you grew up affects parenthood,” Lang said. “Kids will do what their parents do, not necessarily what they say.”
This, he added, is often enough to get people reflecting more on how they grew up.
Richard Sartwell used to think he was the only one who experienced the frustration he felt as a parent.
He thought his four children would not mind if their father was away working, as long as he made more money. But when he began participating in the Parents With Hope program, Sartwell said he began to see “the big picture.”
“I would hold the frustration back and wouldn’t talk to my family about anything,” Sartwell, 27, said.
He and his wife separated for two weeks, but enrolled in the program after his wife said it could help.
Sartwell said it helped save his marriage.
Lang said the level of participation and interest in both programs shows there are enough fathers in the county concerned about how they treat their families, but that counseling still cannot solve every problem.
Kyle Loyd, 22, said he has learned more about himself in his first day of Parents With Hope on June 18 than he expected.
“I wanted to learn more about who I am,” he said.
Loyd, who grew up in California, was abused and beaten as a child by his father. Now the father of a 2-year-old girl named Lillian, he said it was his own temper that repeated the cycle.
Loyd said he used to hit his daughter and spank her. One incident sent him to County Jail for four day for endangering the welfare of a child, assault and harassment charges. After charges were reduced to a harassment violation, he said the court made him participate in anger management and family counseling.
“After taking the classes, I’ve noticed now that I won’t use my temper,” Loyd said. “I realized I was really mad at my dad.”
Loyd added he wants to continue to learn more about self-improvement in the fatherhood program.
Lang said participants in the Parents With Hope program have often never realized how much their past can affect them. Often this leads them to overreact when their children misbehave, he said.
Sartwell said he quickly realized how important communication is, especially with disciplining children.
“When I was punished (as a child) my father never told me what I did wrong,” he said.
The program showed Sartwell how to punish his children’s misbehaviors more constructively, and more importantly, how to get them to respond.
“If they mouth back or are naughty, they get a check on their behavior card,” he said. “Three strikes means no allowance for the week.”
Lang said parents need to simply imagine themselves as children to understand how their own children think.
“We ask them how they would have known better at that age,” Lang said. “With more education, it lets you look at the analyzing of where these behaviors come from.”
There are many activities used in the program, which Lang said are focused on simple adult-oriented learning.
Sartwell noted a personal favorite called a house model, which was designed to test the strength of a family. By pretending to build a model house, the participants try to associate parts of the structure with their own families. He added that for his family, the foundation was the weakest point.
Lang said a pancake breakfast would be held Saturday morning at about 8 a.m. for all those who signed up for the fatherhood program.
A schedule for the fatherhood program would be decided based on which times work best for the participants.
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