The Common Bond of Fatherhood
839 Sibley St. NW
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49504
Grand Rapids’ dads, both new and seasoned, come together for learning and encouragement with the Proud Fathers Program.
Fathers have much to share about parenthood if given the chance. They can impart personal wisdom and share individual perspectives. They can pose challenging questions or put their heads together in problem-solving sessions on discipline or family rules. They can forge bonds with other dads, pondering the best ways to make changes that strengthen their parental and community ties.
Kent County fathers, both young and old, do just that with Karl Williams, who facilitates the Proud Fathers Program for two hours a week in two 12-week sessions a year.
Proud Fathers, a program of The Other Way Ministries, is a cost-free initiative drawing Grand Rapids area men together for a relaxing weekly meal followed by a frank, round-table talk about the many facets of their common bond – fatherhood.
Childcare is available for youth up to eight years old. And mother others are welcomed to join the dads and their kids for
"Older men come to listen and to help," Williams says. "They share their past triumphs and failures to help guide the others."
dinner in The Other Way Ministries’ Cafe, so that family mealtime remains intact. But following dinner, just dads stay on for the Proud Fathers’ sessions.
This is no exclusive club. Any dad with an interest can join. The Other Way Ministries encourages all; the mix of around 20 fathers is composed of brand new fathers and dads with grown children. The youngest is 24 years old, and the oldest is 70.
“Older men come to listen and to help,” Williams says. “They share their past triumphs and failures to help guide the others.”
Youthful fathers frequently bring struggles with child support to the table, along with other issues they wrestle with, like relationships with their children’s mothers. They soak in the wisdom of elders, many of whom have bravely walked a similar path to become -- and remain -- strong, loving, involved parents.
Some group members face legal hurdles and employment barriers, including finding work after serving time for felony convictions. The Other Way Ministries team has connections with local employers and can sometimes be a conduit to possible jobs.
Modeled after The Nurturing Fathers Program
from Sarasota, Florida’s Center for Growth & Development, Proud Fathers weekly sessions include topics like The Roots of Fathering; The World of Feelings and Male Nurturance; and A Time and Place for Fathering.
Occasional guest hosts – including nursing students from local colleges – also present on subjects like men’s health. One discussion spurred a weight-loss competition, with the winner dropping 26 pounds by the end of the session.
Just two years ago, the weekly gatherings were comprised exclusively of African American men. After concerted outreach, the program has drawn men of many ethnicities. The staff knocked on doors and handed out flyers in targeted neighborhoods in an effort boost participant diversity.
The diversity is evident in many areas, especially through meals. “Eating together in a community setting is bonding,”
After concerted outreach, the program has drawn men of many ethnicities. The staff knocked on doors and handed out flyers in targeted neighborhoods in an effort boost participant diversity.
Williams says. “Families sample foods from different cultures that they haven’t tried before, and it creates an open forum for community discussion. It’s fun.”
Local chefs are paid a small fee to whip up soul food, Cajun cuisine, and dishes from Hispanic, German, and Russian cultures. They also prepare food inspired by the deep-rooted Polish population living near the west end of the city. Polish sausage night is a favorite. Taco night, too. Sweet potato pies, barbecued spare ribs, collard greens, and empanadas are big hits with participants and their families. Culinary diversity is just one of a myriad of components that draws the group together.
Men helping men. Dads helping dads. Karl Williams wants to be a vessel that guides good men to be good fathers.
He appears to be on the right track.