Terry Tredway isn’t able to see his son every day, but he has no intentions of being an absent father.
Tredway joins his 4-year-old son, Vincent, at his preschool in Seymour monthly for a special afterschool program designed to help strengthen relationships between fathers and their kids.
Head Start’s fatherhood initiative also gives men a support group to spend time with and learn from other dads.
If there isn’t a dad around or he’s unable to attend, any male figure who plays a father-like role in a child’s life, such as a grandfather, a great-grandfather, a stepfather, an uncle, a family friend or even a neighbor, can accompany that child.
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“We see a broad range of guys stepping up to do this,” said program facilitator Jeremy Kimball. “These guys go above and beyond.”
The program isn’t new, having been around for several years, but many people aren’t aware that it exists or it’s real purpose.
Tredway said he didn’t find out about the fatherhood program until about halfway through the school year.
“I come to as many as I can because I get to spend more time with my son,” he said.
The fatherhood program runs from October through April. Kimball said Head Start is working to secure funding to have the program year-round.
Attendance varies from 10 to 20 men, most of whom have just one child attending Head Start, but some have two.
Kimball said there is not enough programming available specifically directed toward fathers or male father figures engaging with children, and that’s why the Head Start fatherhood program is so important.
During the sessions, men have the opportunity to share a home-cooked meal with their kids and participate in crafts and activities together to promote bonding.
“They get that one-on-one time that a lot of us dads don’t get anymore because of work and other commitments,” Kimball said. “We’re always doing something, so this is a good way to set aside time for that interaction.”
Michael Junge attends the program with his 4-year-old stepson, Jeremiah Newton.
“It’s a good bonding experience,” Junge said.
For Newton, it’s all about getting to spend time having fun with Junge.
“We get to do different things together and make things, too,” Newton said. “Like tonight, we made a birdhouse, and my mom is going to really like it and be proud of us.”
“We try to come almost every month,” Junge said.
This month, the project was building and painting birdhouses and making and decorating hollowed-out eggs. Afterwards, while the children play, the men go off for a group lesson led by Kimball.
Topics of discussion include mentoring, setting the right example, communicating, how to be a good dad and the proper role of a father.
“We talk about stereotypes, character, anger, relationships, stuff that us dads have to go through and that we never really talk about,” Kimball said. “It’s a good time for the dads to kind of get that brotherhood and support that all of us lack.”
During the first session in the fall, participating men take a fathering survey to determine what kind of dad they are being when it comes to involvement, consistency, awareness and nurturing. Once they complete all of the sessions, they retake the survey to see how they have changed, grown and improved as fathers.
Kimball said having been a teenage dad himself, he didn’t have access to a support system like the fatherhood program. He said he’s glad to have the opportunity to facilitate the program and mentor other men.
Not only does the program help dads, it’s good for the kids, too, because they get to experience the love from having an active father or male father figure around, Kimball said.
Because this month was the final fatherhood meeting of the school year, men received a special certificate and pin for their involvement, and Kimball was able to get a donation of toys for the kids.
Without good male role models, Kimball said boys can grow up to become bad fathers to their own kids because they’ve never seen the right behaviors modeled.
“Fatherhood can become a vicious cycle,” he said. “We talk to the guys about things like that and stopping the cycle along with a very broad range of other things that us guys have to do.”
Tredway said it’s important to him to be a better father than his own father.
“I always said I never wanted to be like my dad, so I broke the cycle on my own,” Tredway said. “I try to get as much time with my son as I can.”
Head Start is funded through federal grants and operated by Human Services Inc., which serves families in Jackson, Bartholomew, Brown, Decatur, Johnson and Shelby counties.