SOURCE: Ginnie Graham/Tulsa World Teaching a boy how to respect a woman takes more than a few motivational speeches in school or church.
It takes seeing men open doors, give hugs, interact and be kind. It’s about seeing men make dinner, change diapers, help with homework, throw a ball around, read books and argue nicely. Kids learn by observation. This is why the fatherhood movements and male mentoring programs are crucial. Strong, single mothers play life-shaping roles for their children and deserve praise for their sacrifices and devotion. But everyone needs help.
Project Hope Worldwide, an Owasso-based nonprofit known for its international mission aiding orphans, has launched “Revision.” It’s a project in Tulsa County to provide mentors for boys who do not have a fatherly influence in their daily lives.
“It shocked me — the statistics for fatherless kids in this country,” said Derk Madden, president of the nonprofit and lead pastor at Discovery Bible Fellowship. “I had no idea it was such a problem and growing issue.”
In need of male influence: Nine-year-old Skyler Parker is one of millions of U.S. children growing up without a consistent father figure in his home. He used to look to his grandfather, Marty, for that until his “papa’s” sudden death in the past year.
His grandparents have been helping his mother, Stephanie, raise him since birth. “He was everything to Skyler,” said his grandmother, Pamela Parker.
Parker was concerned that her grandson would miss out on having a man of integrity and good character in his life. A school counselor suggested the Revision mentoring program. The first time he met his mentor, they hit it off playing basketball.
Skyler asked his grandmother if the mentor was being paid. He isn’t. “He said, ‘Well that’s good because anybody can be nice if they’re getting paid money to do it,’” Parker said. “I was so impressed at how intelligent his mind could be to cue into a person being genuine.”
Kids can sense authenticity. They know when grownups aren’t putting them first. Jarod Richardson, Skyler’s mentor and pastor of worship ministries at Discovery Bible Fellowship, knows this. He grew up in Nebraska as part of a large family and spent time in foster care. The 32-year-old married father understands the need for consistent parenting.
“You cannot approach this program for what you might get out of it,” Richardson said. “I know I will have a process of growth and understanding and how that will relate to my own life and child. “But I came into this to concentrate attention on him and be encouraging, accepting and present in his life. If I can’t do that, I’m not adding value. I want to be someone he can rely on and to be here when he needs me to be.” The two see each other weekly. They may play basketball, kick around a soccer ball or grab some ice cream. “I feel so grateful and thankful,” Parker said. “I can try to instill good character into his life, but I know God uses many people to build and form integrity in the life of a child.”
Consistent father figures: Children with involved fathers do better academically and are less likely to use substances or become delinquent, according to a 2013 National Center of Health Statistics report. The report stated a little more than 7 million U.S. children were not living with their fathers. But groups such as The Mentoring Project and the National Center for Fathering say at least 20 million children have no consistent father figures in their lives. Oklahoma is not immune. The most recent census placed Tulsa County as the sixth-highest percentage of single-parent families with 31 percent of households.
Statewide, about 28 percent of families are led by a single parent, with that ramping up to nearly 40 percent in some rural areas.
Add to that the high rates of poverty, addiction, teen pregnancy and incarceration in Oklahoma. The best intervention to cycles of poverty or broken homes might be a mentor.
Tulsa has strong programs in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma, church programs and the MVP Fatherhood Weekend founded by local attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, who has attracted celebrities including NBA stars and nationally known speakers.
Revision is a Christian-based mentoring program for any boy younger than 18, although the target age is between 5 and 13 years old, Madden said.
“We are not trying to be a parent or replace the father,” Madden said. “We want to be a presence for boys to have a male role model consistent to just them.” For Richardson and his wife, a teacher at Cecilia Clinton Elementary School in Tulsa, they knew working with youths and families in need was their calling.
“Our hearts are drawn to tough family situations,” he said. “You have to take a look at your life — the overall purpose and who you are meant to be — and make your priorities. We let faith govern our lives, and this is one of those ways.”
Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376