Documentary screening prompts discussion on engaging fathers in parenthood

Cassidy Wang, Reporter

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Evanston community members envisioned spaces to empower fathers at a documentary screening and panel discussion Thursday.

The conversation, which took place at Family Focus, focused on the importance of engaging fathers in early childhood education. The documentary “Fatherhood Initiative,” created by the Infant Welfare Society of Evanston, featured fathers sharing their experiences with parenthood and serving as role models. IWSE, Evanston Cradle to Career, United Way, City of Evanston Parks, Recreation and Community Services, Youth Jobs Center, Family Focus and YWCA sponsored the screening and discussion.

“Part of this documentary is about creating awareness, making people aware that we know there’s a lot of negative stereotypes out there about the ‘deadbeat dad,’” said Stephen Vick, the director of IWSE. “But there are a lot of great dads out there doing a lot of good work, raising their kids and they’re kind of under the radar.”

Through the documentary, Vick strived to dispel the stereotype that fathers do not play an active role in children’s lives. A poster at the event citing data from the American Institutes for Research said children growing up without fathers account for 90 percent of homeless and runaway youth and 71 percent of high school dropouts.

As a father himself, Evanston Police Officer Corey McCray said the documentary “did justice” to the challenges of fatherhood.

“Folks are starting to gain a sense of the questions we have, the burdens we may carry,” McCray said.

Community members addressed how Evanston organizations can restructure systems to better engage fathers. Vick said a lot of fathers don’t receive the support they need, especially when a lot of programs and services are focused toward women.

Vick emphasized this does not mean minimizing the work his center does with mothers, but he wants to collaborate with the whole family.

“How do we change how organizations operate in Evanston to think differently about fatherhood?” Vick said. “Let’s try to work with everyone and engage in the critical early years of life of children to help build all of those pieces of development.”

Community members like Martha Ortiz, a family advocate for IWSE, said there are not enough spaces in Evanston for fathers to talk about parenthood. Ortiz said her family has struggled to find settings for her husband to participate in an activity with their daughter that “does not involve Mom.”

Ortiz emphasized importance of spreading the message of how dads are equally capable of nurturing and developing children as moms are.

“The impact connection has with children zero to three is so important,” Ortiz said. “It’s something that is not often talked about. We need to raise more awareness for how important it is for children to be able to have that role model at an early age.”

Twitter: @cassidyw_

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