The future of fatherhood is changing. Peter Jenkins, fatherhood specialist at Providence Connections Family Support Center in Marshall-Shadeland, is helping people adapt.

Story and photos by Ashlee Green

It was late December of 2018, and the last day that staff at Providence Connections Family Support Center, located on Brighton Road in Marshall-Shadeland, was around before the holiday break began. Peter Jenkins recalls that the Christmas party was wrapping up, and he was helping the rest of the staff clean up, when a father showed up at the door and said “I need help.”

Jenkins welcomed the father inside, sat him down, and they started to talk about which gaps—in wealth, health and time management, for example—his family was experiencing.

“Anywhere a father comes from, he’s welcome,” says Jenkins, fatherhood engagement specialist at Providence. He explains that though family units may look much different than they did in the 1950s, there’s still a group of people that count on each other to do what needs to be done for the upkeep of the household and the health and wellness of the family members. What was once known as the nuclear family—two parents and their children—has often been replaced with single parents, parents with adopted children, grandparents who are taking care of their children’s children, and a slew of other combinations.

“We’re not focused on what your family necessarily looks like, we’re focused on the well-being and the success of whoever’s under that roof,” Jenkins says.

Peter Jenkins is the fatherhood support specialist at Providence Connections Family Support Center in Marshall-Shadeland, where he leads support groups for men who are struggling with life changes. “Being a man doesn’t have to be an isolated, solitary experience,” he says. Photo by Ashlee Green

Under the umbrella of Providence’s many community offerings is the Fatherhood Program, started in 2016. Its main goal: to foster a sense of fraternity and fellowship between fathers. Ian Quarles found out about the program not long after it began, at a time when he was going through a family crisis of his own. His wife had just died, and he had to leave his job to care for six children, from a three-month-old to a 16-year-old. Three of the kids he was caring for had already lost both of their biological parents.

“It seemed like a ton of bricks out of the sky at one time,” Quarles says. Fathers, he says, can be stigmatized as both a source of comfort and the solution to problems, but his situation didn’t allow him to be influenced by “false pride.”

“I was being a father,” Quarles says. “I knew I needed to get some real help and some support and I had to put my pride aside and reach out.”

According to Jenkins, men often feel like they must find the answers to life’s problems on their own. He’s found that often, they like to have a positive effect on the world around them and to make choices for themselves. The problem is that situations in life are often uncontrollable, and fathers can get caught up in a myth that self-sufficiency is the best or most acceptable way to deal with change and trauma.

Monique McCain, family development specialist, works closely with Fatherhood Specialist Peter Jenkins at Providence. She says Jenkins always has a way of reaching the dads, “even the stubborn ones.” Photo by Ashlee Green

Moreover, our society is growing more and more insular. Families are living farther apart from one another, Jenkins mentions, and times when multiple family members lived in clusters of houses on the same street are few and far between. More people, too, are living alone. Data from the Census Bureau shows that in 1970, 17 percent of households were one-person households. By 2013, that number rose to 27 percent. That’s why Jenkins works with fathers one-on-one to determine their individual needs and how they can each positively engage with the life changes they are presented. He compares the Fatherhood Program at Providence to studying at a college or university—an experience that will help guide and enhance your life.

“To us, we don’t see a stigma attached to this,” says Jenkins. “This is all positive. This is us getting together and showing each other love, showing each other what it means to be a great dad and a great support for other men and other fathers. Belonging to a fatherhood program means that you’re taking an extra step to surround yourself with people that are going to help you be the best father you can be,” he says. Jenkins explains that being a father is not about being controlling, but rather, it’s about being “a consistent, healthy and responsible partner in the rearing of your child,” and that’s what he tries to get across with the fathers he works with.

Quarles credits the Fatherhood Program support groups for getting him “back into the flow of things,” and helping to change his mindset from making decisions centered around himself to making decisions based on what’s best for his children. The program, he says, has helped him feel more attached to his inner feelings as well as his children’s, and has helped him become more patient, considerate and nurturing. He can see the behavior changes in his kids too. Before participating in programs at Providence, Quarles says they were an “uproar” at school and social functions, and were out of control when he ran errands with them at Walmart. “When we get together now, they’re in single-file lines,” he says with a laugh. “It’s like night and day.”

Dads meet regularly at Providence to build a sense of fraternity and to learn how to advocate for their own rights as fathers. Jenkins explains that while people don’t often talk about men and depression, it exists, and it’s easier to keep your head up when there are positive people around you. Photo courtesy of Providence Connections

Quarles, now a mentor for other fathers, or a father support partner, for Allegheny Family Network, recalls attending Providence’s regular support groups to touch base with other dads on topics like character development, employment and interview preparation and community resources. There’s a community room on the first floor of Providence where the support group often meets, but sometimes fathers bring their children and meet in the gymnasium, or the kitchen, which is next to the gym, to share a meal together and talk while their kids can run and play. People don’t tend to talk about men and depression, Jenkins says, but it exists, and keeping a positive outlook is easier when you have positive people around you. “Sometimes dads need time to talk alone and be able to figure things out, and sometimes we need to be able to be with our kids,” Jenkins says. Jenkins, who has three children himself, says he was lucky to have great men in his own life who showed him what good fathers looked like.

“Fatherhood affects the world,” he says. “For me, it’s a matter of legacy.” It’s his own legacy, the legacy of the fathers he helps at Providence and the legacy of his and their children.

“Being a man doesn’t have to be an isolated, solitary experience,” Jenkins says. “We do our best to try and provide that fraternity, that framework, that group experience that allows fathers and males to be able to understand that we can learn from each other, that we can learn from women. It’s not just dads over here and moms over there. What we want you to be able to do is find what a healthy family looks like. Dads can learn a lot from mothers.”

412 Food Rescue delivers fresh produce to Providence every Thursday for families in need. “It helps the paycheck stretch a little farther,” says Jenkins. Photo courtesy of Providence Connections

The future of fatherhood is changing, Jenkins says, and people, he believes, must be able to adapt. He’s pushing for more “father friendly” spaces in schools and the workplace, and he has a growing contingent behind him.

“Not so long ago, a dad would say, ‘Listen, I have to be off of work today to take care of my children’ and people would go, ‘What do you mean? Don’t you have somebody else to take care of that?’ No, it’s us. It’s 2019. We’ve got to make this happen.”

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