Day of the Dad

Page 6 of 7

Parenthood is definitely an adjustment, but Martín shrugs off any questions about the pressures of being a young dad. All fathers face challenges. He and his girlfriend are doing fine. He's graduated from high school and has enrolled at the Community College of Denver. He's even thinking about starting his own landscaping business. "When I turn 25," he says, "who knows where I might be?"

He's here for one reason: He doesn't want his daughter to grow up "with issues." He wants her to have the financial stability, emotional support and guidance often missing from his own childhood. The fatherhood program keeps him focused, helps him weigh decisions. "It's getting better every day," he says.

Sanchez, wearing a black beret and suspenders, paces the room. While the young men work, he offers encouragement, personal anecdotes and nuggets of wisdom: "Love is more than passion, more than sex..." He reads from a list of characteristics they've used to describe a man, including "strong," "takes care of business" and "does what he has to do." Then he contrasts that with the list they've used to define fathers: "responsible," "available," "be a role model." He asks them to examine where the words came from, and why.

"Sometimes we become fathers before we become men," Sanchez says. "When we do this, we learn about each other and ourselves."

One young man stares out the window. Another scans the posters hanging in the room: "Six ways to soothe a crying baby," "Recognize red flag warnings," "Pride makes us do things well. Love makes us do things to perfection."

"How do you spell sober?" someone asks.

"Can we grab some pizza?"

Seventeen-year-old Charles Little John composes his rhyme out loud: "Love is a gamble, love is a game. Three hours of pleasure, nine months of pain. When you came to me and said, 'Why have I been born?' I said, 'You wouldn't have been, if the rubber had not torn....'"

Everyone laughs except Martín. He furiously erases a phrase, then continues writing.

Sanchez asks if anyone would like to share his work. After more groans, Little John volunteers to read his completed "Love Is a Gamble." It ends with this: "You think it's fun, like that's what it's all about, but if you don't be there, your kids will hate you without a doubt."

Finally, Martín speaks up. "My poem is called 'Drunk Dad,'" he says. "That's what my dad is, an alcoholic. I never want to be like that." Then he reads:

Inside what I feel is foul.

Feelings I have for you are down.

Determined to be better for my girls and myself.

How I wish you could have been a better man of the house.

Drinkin' your life away, slowly killin' yourself.

Seeing us with pain

Takin' it day by day.

Pray that today is not the day. That god takes you away

In my heart, there are silent cries

That want to be loved and tended to instead of a brew and bitches

Con mucho cariño

My dad knows I love him

He needs to stop and think

He can be a better dad

And he has it in him.

These days, diPaulo considers himself "happily divorced." Although he says he's still adjusting to single fatherhood, he's more patient, more open and more than happy to hug his boys each night. Meanwhile, his sons often do chores without being asked, occasionally volunteer to read to younger classmates, and more or less stay out of trouble.

Every Father's Day, they rise early, rattle the pots and pans, and cook him breakfast.

At work, diPaulo can also see a difference. The fatherhood movement has helped get the word out on both a national and local level: Dads are crucial, and dads need help. Old gender stereotypes must change. And gradually, they will.

"I hear all the time that dads are taking better care of their kids," diPaulo says. "I see it. Dads at school. Dads at grocery stores with their kids. And I always try to acknowledge it. I say, 'Hey, dad. Good work.'"

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Harrison Fletcher