Fostering fatherhood, one step at a time


Participants, from left, Joey, Joe, Michael, Antonio and Carlos Cortes, the program facilitator. Photo by Mission Local

By Lisette Mejia

Some might say they aren’t fit to be fathers, with histories of substance abuse and broken homes. But still, the men, diverse in their ages and cultural backgrounds, are trying — trying for healthy relationships with their children.

Every Friday afternoon, a group of up to seven such men gather for a class at the nonprofit Homeless Prenatal Program and discuss everything from child custody status to parenting styles and childcare. The fathers are doing all they can to avoid becoming part of a U.S. Census statistic that shows that 1 in 3 children comes from a home where the biological father is absent.

“There’s this idea of machismo, that we’re men, we’re not supposed to cry or do anything therapeutic,” said Carlos Cortes, the facilitator of the group, which is called FREE (Fatherhood Reunification Education Empowerment).
But here, therapy is part of how the fathers become better at their roles. Some have sole custody of their children, and some live with their childrens’ mothers. All come voluntarily.

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This story appeared in the fall print edition.