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Program offers mentors for new fathers

Cliff Kelsey is seen with his newborn daughter, Merceydes Marie.
Cliff Kelsey is seen with his newborn daughter, Merceydes Marie.

Cliff Kelsey is 23. His dad lives in southern Oregon and he was 16 the first time they met. When he was 21, his mom died. And now he has a new daughter of his own, Merceydes Marie Kelsey.

He’s a proud and happy dad; anyone can see that as he starts talking about Merceydes.

“She smiled right at me already at the hospital,” said Kelsey, who’s engaged to the mother of his daughter, Melissa Sanchez. “I tell her I am trying to be strong for her. I want to be a good father but I grew up without a dad – and I’m sometimes afraid I’m going to turn into my own dad.”

Traditionally, new baby and family programs have been geared toward mothers, but now Catholic Charities is launching a program directed at dads: The Fatherhood Project, which is part of the Childbirth and Parenting Assistance program, is aimed at first-time fathers with a newborn to 1-year-old child. And the program is looking for mentors.

“It’s a yearlong commitment of about two hours a week,” said Libby Hein, director of the Childbirth and Parenting Assistance Program. She said 86 percent of the dads that are already in CAPA or Catholic Charities programs grew up without a dad or another solid male role model.

“We are hoping to get six to eight dads and maybe 10 mentors,” said Brandon Rector, CAPA Fatherhood Project coordinator. “We have three mentors already.”

Men interested in becoming mentors must be 26 or older, have parenting experience and pass a background check.

“There are a lot of pressures put on dads to provide for the family,” Rector said. “There are some very different expectations of the dads, as compared to the moms.”

Not all dads in the Fatherhood Project are married or engaged.

“We are looking for mentors who are not judgmental,” Hein said. “These dads don’t need to be told what to do. Mentoring is a much more gentle process.”

Ian Gomes is 26, and he just became a dad for the third time.

“My wife suggested I go here,” said Gomes, about how he got in contact with CAPA. “I was leery. I am not a big fan of asking for help. But it’s become a place where I can go and talk about my kids and the problems I may have.”

Gomes lost his dad when he was 5 and his mom when he was 19.

And just like Kelsey he sometimes fears he will not be able to handle the expectations.

“The dads, we have to be the leaders of the family, we have to pick up the mom when she feels down,” Gomes said, “we have to be her knight in shining armor.”

Hein said one reason why some young dads don’t stay involved in their children’s lives is that it’s easier to run away.

“They just don’t know how to do it,” said Hein, adding that sometimes support programs for young moms contribute to the dads leaving. “It used to be that dad wouldn’t grow with mom, because the dads didn’t get the help they needed, and then the family would break up,”

The program is new in Spokane, and Rector hopes it will be up and running within the next few months.

Kelsey said if he can do it then other young dads can do it, too.

“Don’t be afraid to let your guard down,” Kelsey said. “Especially single dads; if you need help, come here. You can be a good father, too.”