That old cliche that a baby doesn’t arrive with an instruction manual might not be as true now as before. There's a flourishing industry of parenting books, DVDs and online resources. But how often do new fathers do the reading and research?
In an attempt to engage men, fatherhood training classes are popping up across the Southland.
At one of these “Parent Cafe” trainings in Highland Park, men gather in a small conference room. The class is not so much about basics, like diaper changing or sleep techniques. Ray Estrella Jr., who initiated the 12-week training course at the American Indian Family Partnership where he works, says it’s about active paternal engagement.
“Most of our dads are new dads. They have no idea of what being a father is,” Estrella says. The course emphasizes concepts like “being responsible, being caring, being trusting.”
Estrella points out that the training is a place for men to meet and share their struggles, joys, and fatherhood questions with other dads. It's also the place where experts offer tips and best practices. Francisco Oaxaca, director of public affairs at the child advocacy non-profit First Five LA, is a big supporter of these fatherhood trainings (his organization funds many of them).
“We know that anyone who has children is doing the best job that they can," he says, "and we’re hoping that these programs are making it safe to say, 'you know what, I would like to learn more and do more and be more as a parent.'”
The role a father plays in a child’s early years is crucial, says Oaxaca, who bases his argument on mounting academic research. “Studies have shown how important the role of fathers is in terms of helping male children learn how to control their emotions and act in social situations, and helping female children have better self esteem, and better control of their emotions as well.”
Oaxaca also points out that, given the incredible ethnic and racial variety of Southern California, the trainings have to be culturally sensitive to the fathers' backgrounds. Ray Estrella Sr., a trainer at the American Indian Family Partnership, refers to his own family history to illustrate the point.
As a Pascua Yaqui Indian, Estrella grew up in a large family in Arizona. He lost contact with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins when his parents moved to California for better opportunities. Estrella sees this pattern among many immigrants whose experiences include losing their family network.
“The need," he says, "is to try and hold the familes together, to teach them to become better families based on old traditional values. Values that we learned from our ancestors about the importance of family, the importance of honor, the importance of taking caring of your family.”
Francisco Oaxaca of First Five LA insists that most families could use some support because of what he describes as “today’s reality” of child-rearing - in which fathers are not the sole breadwinners. “Today we see dual-income families, we see even more and more cases where the female parent is the primary breadwinner and the male parent is staying at home taking on that role.”
Arnold Carle, who tells his story in the radio feature, believes the training he received at the American Indian Family Partnership helped him understand how to be a better and more engaged father because it helped him “see things in a different way. I’m more understanding about the way a family should be.” That seemingly small realization has helped Carle become a more active and engaged presence in his 18-month-old son’s life.
Here's a sampling of fatherhood training centers:
Young Dads Program, Friends of the Family, 15350 Sherman Way, Suite 140, Van Nuys. Call Robert Santos at 818-988-4430 or visit www.fofca.org.
Project Fatherhood, Operation Life, 7143 Baird Ave., Reseda. Call 818-705-3140 or visit www.operationlife.org.
Fatherhood Journey (American Indian Partnership), Rudy Ortega Sr. Park, 2025 Fourth St., San Fernando. Call 818-336-6105 or visit www.pukuu.org.
24/7 Dad Youth Speak Collective, 444 S. Brand Blvd., Suite 201, San Fernando. Call Mateo Ozelotzin at 818-890-2928 or visit www.youthspeakcollective.org.
SPIRITT Family Services, 2000 Tyler Ave., South El Monte (Spanish). Call 855-714-8800.
Bienvenidos, English and Spanish, 501 South Atlantic Blvd., East Los Angeles. Call Hugo Garcia at 323-268-5442 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Positive Parenting for Padres (Spanish), The Help Group Child & Family Center, 15339 Saticoy St., Van Nuys. Call Rubi Rodriguez at 818-267-2738 or visit www.thehelpgroup.org.