Fathers are powerful figures in the lives of their children, despite the way they're often portrayed on television (think Homer Simpson). Yes, they are often the breadwinner in the family, and yes, discipline often falls to dads, but their role can be much more positive and meaningful.
That's the message Ruben Melgoza delivers to fathers who struggle to be part of their children's lives, either because they're separated from the birth mother or because they never had a positive male role model in their own lives.
Melgoza works through an "Empowering Dads" grant awarded to the Montrose County Department of Health and Human Services to support fathers in Delta, Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel counties. He recently opened an office in Columbine Mall in Delta to serve as his base in Delta County.
Melgoza has been involved in social work for most of his adult life but draws on his experience as a father of four in his most recent position as fatherhood coach with Empowering Dads.
"It's always been very important to me to see a need in the community and try to fill it," Melgoza said. He was a teen companion coach, working with at-risk youth in Montrose County, when the fatherhood program was implemented seven years ago. He has since been certified to teach Pairs and Nurturing Fathers classes, two elements of the Empowering Dads program.
One in three children lives in a home where the biological father is absent. According to these "father facts" compiled by Doug Gertner, Ph.D., of Emu Consulting, the price paid by society can be staggering:
• 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes.
• 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
• 85% of all children who exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes.
• 85% of all youths sitting in prisons grew up in a fatherless home.
Through Empowering Dads, Melgoza provides resources to stabilize, support and strengthen families. The benefits from having both parents involved in the lives of their children in positive and responsible ways have been well documented.
Melgoza recalls, "My dad never made much money as a grocery clerk but he had five kids and when we sat around the table he was king. He never saw his kids as a burden; he understood they were what made his life worthwhile."
That's the kind of self-confidence he wants to pass on to other fathers. Sometimes his first priority is helping the dads get their feet on the ground, to straighten up their own personal lives. "They're the role model, they're expected to be the leader in the family but if they focus on that without taking care of their own issues, what kind of role model would they be?"
Melgoza continued, "We try to fill the gaps. We want to promote and inspire these guys and hopefully get them to understand the importance of being a father."
Guys don't normally reach out for help, but when they do they're relieved to find someone like Melgoza who will listen to their issues and guide them to a better state.
"I find this job super satisfying," he said. "I just hope I can come up with the words people need to hear . . . the right inspiration for each individual case."
Often, something is lacking in the fathers' lives and often that something is a job. Empowering Dads contracts with Colorado Workforce Center to subsidize approximately three months of employment. Frequently the dads need to improve their skills to land a better job, and Empowering Dads can help with that, too.
Melgoza can arrange for mediation between the father and mother, if the relationship is strained, help guys obtain free legal services or establish paternity, and even conduct supervised visits when county techs aren't available, so dads can see children more often.
There is no charge for any of Melgoza's services or the classes he teaches. "As a matter of fact, we'll help pay for gas," Melgoza said. "If dad needs work attire for his new job, we can pay for that, too."
He meets with guys one-on-one, during classes and at men's support groups. Referrals come through the school district, social services, word of mouth and the courts, although the program is never mandated. Anyone with children under the age of 18 is eligible for the program — even women, although the focus is obviously on fathers.
"Dads don't have to meet any income standards or have child support/custody issues, although many of them do," Melgoza said. "They simply must want to be the best dad they can be."
Step-by-step guidance is offered through an 11-week Nurturing Fathers course. An eight-week Pairs course teaches mothers and fathers how to communicate better, even if they're not living together. Melgoza insists on an attitude of respect. "Don't talk down about Mom when you're around the kids," he tells the dads. "That never helps. If we're serious about spending time with our children, we need to respect their mother."
In addition to structured classes, Empowering Dads offers family activities where fun is the only thing on the agenda. Men in the Mix is a popular summertime event which draws close to 700 people to the Montrose County fairgrounds.
For more information about Empowering Dads, call Melgoza at 252-7078 or visit www.empoweringdads.com.blog comments powered by Disqus