In Newark, a Lesson in Fatherhood
The men in Mayor Cory Booker's Fathers Now program are defying statistics and stereotypes.
That newfound sense of accountability is just as applicable to his relationship with his 6-year-old daughter, Jaelyn. He can easily rattle off the adjustments he's made to his parenting style: He now opts for working with her on reading and rewarding her for staying ahead in school instead of bonding over video games, movies and Chuck E. Cheese's, and he's hyperaware that he's her main male role model. "Now I teach her things like, when we walk on the sidewalk, I walk on the outside to protect her," he says.
But there's also an even more fundamental shift in his understanding of their relationship. "We learned about children's rights," he says. "That you can't put a child in an adult's place. You can't use her to pass messages or use her as a pawn. So even though her mother and I don't have our custody agreement yet, I don't look at Jaelyn as a way to get back anymore. Now I just look at her as my daughter."
Others join the program not to repair parenting mistakes but to start off fatherhood on the right foot. That was the case for 32-year-old Terrance Smith, who lives with his girlfriend, Tiffany Patterson, and their infant daughter, Samaya. He was wrapping up his second week of orientation in the program when she was born on May 16 of this year.
Smith says he floundered personally and professionally after spending eight months behind bars for a violent crime. "My brother told me Fathers Now would be a good program to help me become an all-around better person, not just a better father," he says, adding, "Once Tiffany told me she was pregnant, I wanted to make myself into somebody my child could be proud of."
Smith has already landed a job with Newark's Division of Sanitation, but he says that Fathers Now offers more than just tools for employment. "No one has ever supported me before, and from day 1, I felt these were people that actually believed in me," he says. "I'm not used to hearing 'good luck.' I'm not used to hearing 'good job.' My pops died when I was 11, so to come to the program and get that, it was just the type of motivation I'd never had before."
He sells the benefits of that kind of support to friends and family members when he tells them about the program. "I tell them, If you put in everything, you're gonna get something out," he says.
When it comes to selling the program to others, Murray's strongest pitch involves the job-search and interview advice he received, such as using fewer words on his résumé to make his points clear. He is convinced that those skills helped him land his current job, but the less-is-more technique seems to work just as well to describe his relationship with his daughter.
"We have a great bond now," he says. "She's a daddy's girl."
Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root's staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.