New Imani House program, Father Focus, Guides Men to Becoming Better Fathers
Father Focus is a new six-week peer counseling program at Imani House, designed to help men build better relationships with their children. The current program has about 20 participants and celebrated its first graduation on June 1.
The Father Focus program combines an evidence-based curriculum with group discussion and counseling, said Frederick Wilson, Peer Specialist for Substance Use Disorders. Wilson, who launched the empowerment program, is also a pastor, a Child Protective Services worker, Certified Associate Alcohol & Drug Counselor II, and a Medication-Assisted Recovery Specialist.
Wilson uses his many professional certifications and training in the Father Focus program, but he also draws upon his life experiences, including 23 years in prison for 53 felonies to address a need: men fulfilling their roles as fathers. “The greatest epidemic is not AIDs, racism or opioids,” he said, “but absentee fathers. What are we doing to address this?”
One of the core goals of the program is teaching men new skills.
“I want these men to pay attention to what’s inside,” he said. “You’ve got to learn to love yourself, see yourself as valuable.” Wilson notes that the men in the program, all from Imani House, face daily challenges of addictive behavior and varying experiences of trauma.
Wilson is a role model for the men, speaking openly about his personal experiences – the stubbornness, tough-guy bluster and violence that led him to jail. “I wouldn’t quit,” he said. He points to a mug shot on his office door – a smiling closeup, full of bravado, with the caption “Eastern Reception – Bonne Terre, Missouri #535364” and the date 04/26/13. Just above the mug shot, however, is a more recent photo of Wilson – again smiling, but this with kindness and sparking eyes, and wearing a tuxedo.
He uses the photos in talking with the Father Focus participants. The photos show the juxtaposition of the times of Wilson’s life, and his evolution to man of faith, integrity, and wisdom. He explains how an FHA home loan application rejection gave him cause to celebrate, for it told him why the application was rejected and he clearly saw what he needed to do to get an approval.
He looks for life lessons in every encounter, and he shares his personal story to illustrate the power of believing in yourself. It resonates with the men in the program, who know they can share anything with him, know they can trust him as he helps them identify destructive patterns in their lives.
Ron Carr is a Kansas City native with more than 20 years’ experience in a high-stress corporate role, which produced cycles of addiction and depression.
“Throughout my addiction, I was not a communicative father,” said Carr, a member of the Father Focus inaugural graduating class. “I did child support, but I got away from communicating with my two daughters.”
He credits Wilson with helping him change his mindset, with deep engagement and trust. “Frederick was the first person here I met. He saw something in me.”
Wilson uses his stories and guides the men in the Father Focus program. “We talk and give therapy to each other,” Carr said. “He taught us to be open.”
Taking the program to heart, Carr decided to lead by example. He asked to spend Thanksgiving with his family, two daughters, age 34 and 33, and their children. He asked them to talk, to really unload how they felt about him, and he promised to listen.
“It took a man to sit there,” he said. “It was hard, and we all shed tears.”
Carr said he wanted to show that he is willing to change to be a part of their lives. And his life has changed since then, he said.
The bonds of trust are building, he said, noting with some surprise that now his daughters call him and he receives texts and photos from the grandkids. “These are grown women who will call me to talk about issues and problems, and I’m there to receive. I’m totally involved.”
He continued: “This program taught me to be the person I wanted to be with my children.”
Joe Vesper Owen III is another member of the inaugural Father Focus graduating class who’s building a new chapter with his family.
“It completely changed the way I talk to them, the way I treat them, the way I react to them,” he said about his grandchildren. Owen said he never had much presence in the lives of his children and saw that his three grandchildren now faced the same situation without fathers being present.
Father Focus taught Owen how to play with and talk with his three grandsons, ages 7, 4 and 3. “I never knew how negative swear words can be on growing minds,” he said, noting that he is breaking habits of cursing, like threatening a “whupping.” He slipped once, with the youngest and apologized, asking the little one to help him change. The child responded with love.
“I am so very grateful for what this program has taught me. I’m able to break the cycle,” he said. “My grandchildren — they are my purpose.”
Owen, who lives in Oak Grove, credits Imani House with helping him gain his self-respect and a new attitude. “I am a different person, inside and out. I am learning who I am, and my gratitude is immeasurable.”
Swope Health Imani House, 3950 E. 51st St., Kansas City, offers adult substance abuse treatment programs for Missouri residents 18 and older. The Imani House provides pre-admission assessments for substance abuse, behavioral risks for HIV, TB, mental health issues, and non-emergency medical conditions.
Imani House clients receive services including counseling and case management, medication-assisted treatment, and a wide range of social service programs and referrals to help break the cycle of addiction. These additional programs include continuing recovery support services to assist with child-support payment issues, job placement, transportation, housing, and individual needs.
For more information about Imani House or the Father Focus program, call (816) 599-5960.