Black History Month Local Heroes Jones & Wooten Strengthen Bonds Between Fathers and Children
Black History Month 2015 Honorees
Andre Jones and Aaron Wooten know first-hand the important role fathers play in the lives of their children. Jones grew up with his father, Wooten did not; and though their lives took different paths because of it, the two have come together to run Father2Child. The program has one goal: to strengthen the bonds between African-American fathers and their children.
Honored this month as 2015 Black History Month Local Heroes, Jones and Wooten share a deep commitment to improving the well-being of children by ensuring their fathers take part in their upbringing.
Jones, who earned a master’s degree in education with a concentration in counseling from San Diego State University, is grateful he grew up with his father in his life. What he learned from his father he is now passing on to his 2-year-old son, Kamari.
“I was fortunate enough to have my mom and my dad, though I would say 75 percent of my friends didn’t have a father around,” says the 31-year-old. "For me, there was love and a stressing of education and staying out of trouble, and because he was able to role model for me what a man should do, it made a difference. In most cases, when kids grow up with both parents, especially for young boys of color, they have a better chance at life.”
Wooten had a different experience.
“I didn't have my father in my life, and the lack of male influence in my life had an impact on me,” he says. “It resulted in many mishaps along the way. When I became a father to Jelani late in life—knowing the effect my father’s absence had on me—I was committed to being a father to him.”
Wooten, 63, raised his 19-year-old son, Jelani, on his own. Wooten explains how his son’s mother was a substance abuser, as he had once been before he cleaned up.
“My son came out toxic in the hospital,” he admits. “His mother cleaned up for about two months and then decided she was going to go back out and use. So my son and I have been together for his entire life. I've been his anchor and one of my things is make sure this boy, who suffers from what is called ‘attachment disorder’(the lack of having a deep connection between a child and a parent or caregiver), is able to compensate for it.”
The reality is that close to 70 percent of African-American children are being raised in a single-parent household, largely with the father being the absentee parent.
“According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, one in three kids across the nation live without their biological father in the home,” notes Wooten. “In the African-American community that figure jumps to two out of three children have not spent time with their biological father. As a result, there’s a void in the child’s life that leads to attachment disorder, which can show up in a wide range of ways—from educational achievement to incarceration and suicide. The question becomes, how will the positive engagement of fathers with their children (through our program) impact those domains? We believe they will in a positive way.”
One of the challenges Jones and Wooten face, however, is changing the mindset among African-American men, and convincing them that learning positive parenting skills is, well, cool.
“My feeling is that as men we don't hold each other accountable enough,” observes Jones. “Me and my friends would make fun of what kind of shoes we'd be wearing, what kind of car we drive, or what kind of girl we have. But I’ve never heard any friends talk about what kind of fathers we are to our children. That is such a huge relevant issue to the problems we face, and we talk a lot about it in our group. Our style is that we are like family. We are mentors for the fathers who come through our program.”
One graduate of the Father2Child program, who once served in the military and retired from the sheriff’s department, puts it this way: “I was telling some men about the program. You can’t say, ‘Hey man, you want to come to a father-child program?’ That don’t work for dudes. Ain’t nothing wrong with my fathering skill. I’ve been a daddy for 24 years, but guess what? I found out I did some messed-up stuff. Y’all can laugh, but anyway (through Father2Child) I found out about me. I thank God for this program….I found out that fathering never stops.”
The Father2Child program, which is a service of Mental Health America of San Diego, offers workshops for fathers, no matter what stage of the parenting experience the men are at.
“Andre and I have developed a program that allows the men to feel valued, and take ownership of the program,” explains Wooten. “To me, Father2Child is the men we serve, not Andre and I. They are vested and willing to make an extraordinary contribution to the program, and they become our best ambassadors.”
Wooten, a former Marine, has served as a counselor for Donovan State Prison’s Amity Therapeutic Community and for the Veterans Village of San Diego. He recognizes that some men in the military need help understanding the concept of disciplining children.
“Going through [military] training, you’re learning discipline—but it’s not what discipline means to a parent,” he explains. “We teach men that disciplining their children means teaching them, not dictating to them. We have them think about what does the discipline feel like to a child and ask them to put themselves in the child's place. They realize then that being dictated to, doesn't feel very good.”
Jones adds, “You can tell someone not to do something but unless you offer another way to approach it, they may wonder, what the hell am I supposed to do now? So we offer other techniques they can use.”
“They're shocked that it works,” observes Wooten. “If we can create a community where we are continuing to pass positive skill sets, care and concern, genuine love for each other, does that make the community healthier and better functioning? That's what Father2Child is about.”
Jones feels that he and Wooten make a good team.
“Aaron reminds me of my dad, who I lost a few years ago,” Jones says. “They’re both big hearts, but stubborn, too. I've got a lot of love for Aaron, a wonderful human being. He cares about the people he serves. We both care about what we're doing. We both want results and the best for the people that come through the program. Ultimately, my wish is that the community sees its value, and that they're willing to support it.”