With Father’s Day having come and gone, one group of men will continue to show up in a classroom at the West Philadelphia YMCA to learn, laugh and bond over one prevailing topic: fatherhood.
The Fathers’ Club, a free support group, meets every Tuesday night at the YMCA to discuss and advise dads in all aspects of raising children, leading a family and communicating with a spouse or significant other. Taught by Philadelphia residents Joel Austin and Sabir Alim, The Fathers’ Club is comprised of men of different walks of life.
“The stereotype for this class is that there are a lot of new dads, young dads, a lot of people who’ve been court-appointed,” said Austin, 43, the group’s founder. “That’s not true. These guys come in here on their own … looking for solutions and answers.”
Alim, 51, expanded by saying they have a diverse clientele “from the guy who works the counter at McDonald’s to college professors.”
Austin brings a background of parenting education and child development to the course, while Alim is an experienced clinician, working with behavior modification. This provides a synergistic, “two-pronged” attack to the class.
“We have a 12-week curriculum that we turn into a 10- or 11-month curriculum,” Austin said. “Our hope is that we hit them so much in redundancy that it turns into habit.”
The two instructors agreed that the prolonged, focused attention to the curriculum is unique in the field and the bonding and dialogue in each class are crucial to driving each point home.
“What you’ll really pick up is the unity and intimacy amongst the guys,” Alim said. “They do most of the dialogue. The intent for us is to create a supportive environment … Our job is to keep them focused. We listen and then we bounce some (ideas) back to them.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one-third of children in America live separately from their biological fathers. This situation is endemic in the African-American community, in which nearly two-thirds, or 64 percent, black children live apart from their fathers. The National Fatherhood initiative reports that these children are at least twice as likely to live in poverty, use drugs and engage in criminal behavior as their peers who live in households with both parents.
While it’s hard to deny the numbers, Austin challenged that some of the data regarding absentee fathers, both in general and within the black community, may be skewed or at least up for debate. “I’m not saying it doesn’t exist,” Austin said. “The census can only claim one head of household. If the mother has primary custody (of the child), then she claims head of household.”
Austin explained that there are no statistics for how many males are fighting the courts for more custody and there are hardly any numbers for single-father households. “We tend to stop asking ‘why,’” said Austin.
The Fathers’ Club continues to spread through word of mouth, and the instructors continue to take on more dads looking for answers. Austin and Alim look forward to the challenge of expansion, both of awareness and of the group itself.
“This is really what we want to do,” said Alim. “That’s what Joel and my agenda is: to spread all over, wherever we can get The Fathers’ Club. We’re planting seeds in every possible community we can get into.”