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Dad’s Role in Back to School Transition

As the summer swiftly winds down and families transition back into a school schedule, parents often settle into roles depending on their individual strengths and partnership style. Perhaps it is Lead Paperwork Organizer, Transportation Facilitator, Supply Coordinator, Head Chef, Morale Booster, or a combination of all the above!

Thinking about the roles we fulfill as part of family organization prompted me to reach out to Louis Mendoza at the WA State Fathers Network to learn more about a particular perspective: Dads! Louis had so many great things to share, so I wanted to share them with you as well. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

Jen: To start out, can you tell me a little bit about the Washington State Fathers Network?
Louis: Sure, the Father’s Network got started in 1978 and was actually an assignment to a couple of grad students at UW. It kept going as a network and later in 1985 they were looking for a new home and wound up at Kindering. At one point it was the National Fathers Network, and over time it shifted focus to Washington State. Now there are chapters all over the state, including Seattle, Bellevue, Bothell, Chelan, Spokane, and Everett. Basically the network connects fathers of children of any age with special health care needs with each other, and connects them to resources, information and education to assist them as they become more competent and compassionate caregivers for their children. The connection component is done by introducing dads to other dads through meetings, social events like camp-outs, pancake breakfasts, poker games, or a super bowl party. Some events are specifically for men and some for the whole family.If we have a father call for a specific need, we will help him with that need. Other times I send out information to dads that would be beneficial, like workshops or events. Recent examples include a soapbox derby race geared toward children with special health care needs, or local theaters and museums with low sensory events.
J: That sounds great! Why do you think there is a need for Dads groups, and particularly Dads with children who have special health care needs?
L: Each parent–mom or dad–brings their own strengths and perspectives, but some general things bring dads to the network. One of those is the issue of how they get support. Generally, between the mom and the dad, mom has a better social support network, and she more readily taps into it for emotional or logistical support. Dads don’t tend to have as strong of a network, and if they do they don’t tap into it for this purpose. So one issue is, how do we bring dads together so that they can talk to other dads who get what they are going through? Dads can tend to think of themselves as independent, strong, resilient, self-reliant. This can lead them to think that they don’t need support or maybe even to refuse it. Often times it’s the mom who realizes that the dad needs support and she encourages him to seek out help.Dads can also tend to see themselves as problem solvers, but the needs of their child are sometimes not something they can solve. They need to work through that to get to a point of understanding what can be addressed through things like education and therapy, and which things can’t or don’t need to be fixed–it’s just who their child is. Talking with dads who have been through this can help, especially if you are a new parent to a child with a new diagnosis.

J: Yes, that definitely sounds familiar. Are there common issues that come up with dads that you meet?
L: An issue that comes up for a lot of dads is the issue of being included in the life and care of their child. This is mentioned often in regards to education and medical institutions. It not only has to do with being invited to those meetings but also being intentionally included in the conversations and decisions that are being made. For example, in regards to school, dads can feel left out. If they’re not invited they need to insert themselves into the process. As the school year begins they should talk with and work with their partner about getting ready and organized for the school year, reviewing the Individualized Education Plan (IEP), discussing what the teacher needs to know about their child and being part of those conversations when they happen. It’s important, as much as possible, to be part of the whole process. It may not be  immediately evident, but the child really does benefit from dad being involved. In so doing, Dads are setting a nice example for their own and other families and educators. It sets the framework for being involved.

J: You wrote a great article that talks about that very issue. I like how you incorporate the family as a whole while recognizing some the unique needs of Dads. How did you get involved with the Fathers Network and Kindering?
L: I became familiar with Kindering when I was a para-educator in the Northshore school district. Some of my students went there, and I was introduced to the agency by a parent. I eventually served on board subcommittees, and when the former director, Greg Schell, retired I was approached for the position.

J: What is your favorite part of this work?
L: The thing that I really enjoy the most is the unexpected places and unexpected people that the job connects me with. For example, working with organizations that I didn’t know I’d have the opportunity to work with in order to advocate for dads and their children. Another example–one of the exciting things I’m working on right now–is bringing other dad organizations in Washington State together to work cooperatively to serve more dads and serve them better. These organizations include Dads Move, WA Dads, and DADS.

J: Thank you so much, Louis!
L: Thank you for the opportunity!

Visit the website fathersnetwork.org to learn about events, chapters, and other stuff happening in the network. Check out the upcoming WA State Fathers Network Conference: Raising Awareness to Empower Fathers. You can also join the mailing list for a monthly email update, and follow on the Fathers Network on Facebook.

Tags: Back to School   Dad   fathers   Fathers Network   special healthcare needs   Special needs   Washington state   

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