BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) — When Richard found out his girlfriend, Jasmine, was pregnant, he was nervous — he’d been a husband and a dad before, and he didn’t feel like he’d done very well.
Then one day Jasmine asked him to come with her to parenting classes at Sav-A-Life in Vestavia. He said yes and found quickly that he loved the fellowship with other men who came there for the fatherhood program. He realized the group was a safe place — there was no judgment, and the other men were very similar to him. After a while, he and Jasmine decided to marry.
“As a guy, it’s hard to find a place where you can be yourself and talk with other guys,” Richard said. “Coming to classes taught me what a man, what a father, should be. … The greatest gift I received from coming to class is my knowledge of being more of a father for my kids and more of a husband for my wife.”
God at work
In north Alabama, Chad Cronin said he sees God at work in similar ways through the fatherhood program at Huntsville Pregnancy Resource Center.
“We’re able to meet with men in a one-on-one setting, share Christ, advocate for life and encourage them in the adventure and privilege of fatherhood,” he said.
Cronin said one couple who came to HPRC last year had faith in Christ as part of their story in the past but had drifted away. As the mother began attending classes, the father also joined fatherhood classes with Cronin, learning practical tips but also how to be a man who leads his family well.
“They came to go through our classes, reconnected with the Lord and ended up coming to my church, and we baptized them last summer,” said Cronin, who in addition to his role at HPRC serves as pastor of Providence Fellowship in Madison. “It was cool to see them come to the classes and get the material blessings but really be challenged on family discipleship.”
Stefanie Miles, HPRC executive director, said she believes that investing time, money and effort into building relationships with fathers “is going to change the future.”
“The cycle of fatherlessness is devastating. Statistically, it is so much better for a child to have a male presence in their life,” she said, noting that a father’s influence can help a child make better choices.
“If we can keep guys in the lives of their children, maybe we keep those children from growing up and not graduating from high school or ending up in prison.”
Lisa Hogan, who serves as executive director of Sav-A-Life Vestavia and two other Sav-A-Life centers in the Birmingham metro area, said a dad’s involvement is important at the pregnancy stage too.
She cited a Lifeway study in which mothers reported that the most influential person on their pregnancy decision was the father.
“We’ve learned over the years how important it is to engage dads,” Hogan said.
Getting a good start
She said Sav-A-Life was an early adopter of the Care Net ministry’s fatherhood program in 2010 when they received a grant from National Fatherhood Initiative and Care Net to help them get started.
“We went from serving 20 dads to 182 dads that first year, then it more than doubled, and from that it’s continued to grow,” Hogan said. “We now serve about 1,000 dads a year through education, medical services and encouraging them to come for pregnancy test appointments.”
Programs like it are growing in other parts of the state too, like the one at HPRC. Their program started in 2019 but found its footing in 2021 after COVID-19. By 2022, it had doubled, reaching hundreds of men.
Raequane Jones, Sav-A-Life’s fatherhood ministry coordinator, said the vision has been to create an environment where there is love, education and a chance to see what it looks like to be a family that’s whole.
His wife and children have been involved in the ministry too, building relationships and modeling what a healthy family looks like.
“When I think about a father in a family, it’s not just dad, mom and baby, it’s this father who is a cousin and a brother, who eventually will be a grandfather or great uncle,” Jones said. “When he’s the man he needs to be for his family, it impacts way more than his partner and his child. When he gets exposed to the right things, he can be a model. You really can’t even see how far it reaches.”
In Huntsville, Cronin is working to build a similar environment. He’s hoping to enlist men from area churches to be a part of a mentorship program that can help impact these fathers for the long run.
HPRC is also finishing up renovations on the building next door with plans for it to be a place where men can feel comfortable playing basketball or pool and spending time with each other.
Miles said ultimately they “want it to be a place where mentors come in and walk side by side with these guys and be a bridge to local churches.”
Fathers everywhere need to be supported, she said, and though HPRC “can’t do something everywhere, we can try to do something here.”