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Building up fathers, building up better men

Project Joseph, an archdiocesan pro-life ministry, bolsters at-risk dads

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Theron Brown, a father and client of Project Joseph, talks with program staff and volunteers.

Photographer: TOM TRACY | FC

Theron Brown, a father and client of Project Joseph, talks with program staff and volunteers.

HOLLYWOOD | When Brother Jay Rivera started volunteering at archdiocesan-sponsored crisis pregnancy centers, he noticed mothers inside taking classes and consulting staff while dads typically sat outside on the curb or in their cars.

In many cases, an unborn child’s life was hanging in the balance. Brother Jay figured those fathers would have no small role in what happened in the child’s future, if the child was given a chance to be born at all.

Seven years later, after searching nationwide for good fathering curriculums to emulate, his Project Joseph stands out as a unique crisis pregnancy service for South Florida fathers, young and old from any background, who make their way to one of several archdiocesan Respect Life centers.

“I had one mother ask me what the fathering classes were about and I said that we help good men become good dads. We train men to plan for their future and to relate with their children,” Brother Jay recalled. “She said, ‘Yeah, my child’s father needs that.’

“Then one day she pulled up and dropped him off like a mom dropping off a child at school,” Brother Jay said, his characteristic chuckle pointing to a lifetime of family-rearing and real-world experiences of his own.

After the death of his wife, Brother Jay became a single father of two children. When his youngest finished high school, he joined a Franciscan community.

Later, in Miami, after teaching autistic children for a time, he founded a unique community of men dedicated to pro-life work: the Franciscans of Life based in Pembroke Pines.

The brothers serve and provide formation for the Project Joseph program, a joint venture between Franciscans of Life and the Archdiocese of Miami’s Respect Life Ministry. Project Joseph offers weekly classes and male mentoring along with access to a supply store of baby and children’s items that can be purchased with “Daddy Dollars” earned by attending classes.

Joe King, left, and Roldan Pierre Louis are both volunteers with Project Joseph of the Respect Life Ministry of the Archdiocese of Miami.

Photographer: TOM TRACY | FC

Joe King, left, and Roldan Pierre Louis are both volunteers with Project Joseph of the Respect Life Ministry of the Archdiocese of Miami.

Some of the men who attend the classes are young teens while others are more “seasoned” fathers as old as the mid-50s who by their own admission lack a full sense of parental responsibility.

Although not a social services agency, Project Joseph’s staff and volunteers (some are former clients, many are men from nearby parishes) often can refer the fathers to other community resources, including low-cost or free dental and healthcare.

Breaking the ice

Breaking the ice with reluctant or soon-to-be fathers isn’t easy; nor can topics related to abortion be broached in a blunt manner, according to Brother Jay, who directs the program.

“The whole issue of birth is an issue of justice, and I tell people that every human being has a right to be born, and to have his or her needs provided for them. If the parents can’t provide then we help,” he said.

When dads first come they are frightened, angry, or confused. But often, after 18 weeks of meeting with mentors and other men in small-group sessions, they are ready to assume parental responsibility, according to Brother Jay.

“You get these dads with all these mixed emotions, none of them very positive, and you see them evolve and become adult men, and start saying things like, ‘I want to do this for my child,’ or ‘I want to do that for my child.’

“And now they are starting to look ahead instead of fearing the future. Instead of worrying about how am I going to pay the bills or feed another mouth, they are thinking I want to teach my child to play basketball or I want to move to another city where they have a better school system.”

Roldan Pierre Louis already was a father when he found his way to Project Joseph. First as a client and now a volunteer, he wants more dads to take advantage of the program as a way to help their child’s mother bear the responsibility of parenting.

“In society now you don't see enough fathers trying to be fathers. They leave all the weight on women. But we as guys have to set the example,” said Louis, a Haitian-American.

He said he learned a lot about good parenting and child disciplining practices from spending time with more experienced fathers through Project Joseph.

Joe King, a Project Joseph mentor, said he encourages the mothers to see the value of coming back to the center with their baby’s father, whether they are living together or apart.

‘Humbling’

“It has been very humbling to have guys show up,” said King, a member of St. Edward Parish in Pembroke Pines. A lifelong Catholic and Chicago native, he said he himself was something of a “problem pregnancy” medically-speaking, and so felt drawn to the pro-life ministry.

Not all the young mothers are keen to more fully involve the father of their future child, King said.

“I have suggested at some point that I may want to go sit in with the women and give a male point of view so the women understand that we men do think differently and our brains are wired differently,” he said.

Brother Jay likes to tell the couples who most frequently are not married that every child deserves to have a mother and a father. But if they are living together, they should be married; and if they live separately both should remain involved in parenting.

“If they are not married (and living together) what does that say to the child: that either one of them can walk away at any time, and that adds stress and ambiguity to the life of the child,” Brother Jay said.

“Parents can part company friendly but remain joined in the project of parenting, spending time with a child as mom or dad. It’s not the ideal situation, but it beats having someone walk out of the house,” he added.

“Besides, you should not marry someone with whom you are not in love. These are words that they have never heard before.”

Theron Brown, a father and client of Project Joseph, talks with program staff and volunteers. At right, rear, is Brother Jay Rivera, founder of the Franciscans of Life and Project Joseph.

Photographer: TOM TRACY | FC

Theron Brown, a father and client of Project Joseph, talks with program staff and volunteers. At right, rear, is Brother Jay Rivera, founder of the Franciscans of Life and Project Joseph.


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