Helping People

Helping men become better dads to their kids

Holly Zwerling, center, executive director of the Fatherhood Task Force of South Florida, leads a discussion.
Holly Zwerling, center, executive director of the Fatherhood Task Force of South Florida, leads a discussion. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

A group of South Florida dads were seated around a conference table when the conversation turned to sports, but player statistics, trades and team standings were not the matter in hand.

Rather, their concerns were about domestic abuse, which has become a prevalent narrative in recent sports coverage. NFL scandals, such as Adrian Peterson’s alleged child abuse and the disturbing video of Ray Rice hitting his fiance, have ignited a national conversation about toxic family relationships.

As members of the Fatherhood Task Force of South Florida, the men saw the opportunity to open the dialogue to address domestic violence in the community. Experts joined the fathers for a roundtable discussion to examine how to promote healthier relationships within teams and families on a recent Friday at the United Way in Miami.

Marilyn Blumberg, a family law attorney, told the fathers that it is critical to educate others about what is considered domestic abuse.

“We need to sensitize everyone to what domestic violence is,” Blumberg said. “The NFL does not know what domestic violence is.”

Since television cameras have a proclivity for more violent behavior during sporting events, perception becomes warped, says Brian Person, a service coordinator for Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Person, a father, says parents need to remind their children that this behavior remains on the sports field.

“With sports, the highlights on TV show the most violent clips,” Person said. “We don’t reward men for being one way, but we celebrate them for being the other way.”

Person and the other fathers agreed that as parents, their part comes back to how they engage with their children, offer guidance and help them develop. When it comes to youth sports teams, they want to emphasize collaboration instead of competition.

“You can’t raise your children only telling them what not to do,” Person said. “You need to tell them what to do.”

This initiative is in line with the organization’s mission to facilitate the involvement of fathers in their children’s lives. Holly Zwerling, president and CEO of the task force, says through workshops such as this one, the group strives to empower men to be responsible fathers.

“Program topics run the gamut from raising teenagers to sharing parenting responsibilities,” Zwerling said.

The workshops offer counseling from experts and support, which is what drew Jose Bolamos, a new father from Miramar, to become involved with the task force.

“I am getting educated and trying to make a difference,” said Bolamos. “I want to get more fathers involved in these meetings.”

Zwerling says father involvement in schools is the focus of the organization’s programming this year.

“We will work to expand fathers’ understanding of their children’s cognitive abilities and strengthen their role in their child’s education,” Zwerling said. “They should understand their children’s potential to learn, love and connect.”

But the challenge is that school systems often neglect to include fathers, especially ones without primary custody.

“We are concerned that fathers have been left our of their children’s education,” Zwerling said.

Through a partnership with Miami-Dade schools, the task force will work to change this and claim a more active role. They have banded together to form a “reading squad,” which sends dads into county schools to read to classes throughout the year.

Florida also has supported initiatives for greater father involvement. The task force partnered with Sen. Dwight Bullard Senate to pass a state Senate resolution which declared Fathers in Education Day on May 14, and Fathers in Action & Advocacy Week May 12-16. Fathers will be invited into schools to read, share their hobbies and talk about their jobs.

To prepare, the task force has nominated father ambassadors to go into schools to establish a relationship with the teachers and principals. They will work together to create “tool kits” to guide fathers for when they visit class.

“We want to have a tremendous presence,” Zwerling said. “We see the schools as an extension of the community.”

To become involved, contact the Fatherhood Task Force of South Florida at 305-812-4000 or visit ftfsf.org.

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