LANDOVER – On a Monday night in a Landover strip mall, 20 fathers of all ages pull their chairs in a circle to start their weekly support group session at Adam’s House.
The state-supported center encourages men to become emotionally and financially involved in their children’s lives. But this is not Daddy 101 class.
“Why is it that women tell you everything you did wrong in the last two years?” asked one participant. Others were angry that the police do not give them respect and “treat us like women.”
Adam’s House counselors William Hall and Terrence Collins would have none of it.
“There’s something called the life of hard knocks,” Hall said. “Problems are going to keep happening but you have to stop and think before you act.”
Anger management and mending strained relations with the mothers of their children are just some of the topics that come up at Adam’s House, one of five fatherhood programs backed by the state.
The Maryland Department of Human Resources is so satisfied with such fatherhood initiatives that it has regularly increased funding for them, said Keith Snipes deputy director of the department’s Office of Community Initiatives. Fatherhood programs will get $1.3 million this fiscal year and are requesting $1.6 million in fiscal 2005, Snipes said.
That amount could increase if Congress passes a welfare reauthorization bill that includes $100 million for fatherhood initiatives spread over five years, said Norris West, spokesman for the Human Resources Department.
Federal and state governments have reason to like the results. In fiscal 2003, half of the men in Maryland’s fatherhood programs got full-time jobs and the state collected $289,164 in child support payments, Snipes said.
And the results have a greater reach than just fathers: Advocates say it benefits mothers, too.
“Part of the welfare reform initiative was to think of all resources in getting women off welfare,” said Nathaniel Parks, a supervisor for the Young Fathers, Responsible Fathers program in Montgomery County. “We want fathers involved with their children and for them (the fathers) to be an economic benefit to the state.”
The programs target low-income, unemployed men who have been unable or unwilling to pay child support. Some courts offer the program as an alternative to jail time for dads who do not pay their child support.
But the fatherhood initiatives are more than child-support collectors.
Each program offers services to help make men more responsible parents, with some variations. Adam’s House, for instance, helps men find jobs while the Access and the Visitation Fathers program helps men get visitation rights. And Young Fathers, Responsible Fathers in Rockville, helps men determine if they are eligible for such benefits as food stamps or emergency cash assistance.
Men in the programs said they like how the services are specifically geared toward them.
“Society expects me, because I am a man, not to come to them for help,” said Charles Blondeheim, 47, an Adam’s House participant. “Men are a part of society, but 95 percent of services are geared toward women.”
Donald Blackburn agreed.
“I feel as though the system is set up for women,” he said. “Women, at the same time, say they’re equal but the services out there are lopsided.”
Blackburn, 21, did not come to Adam’s House voluntarily. After missing child-support payments for his 2-year-old son, a family court judge gave Blackburn an ultimatum: Go to Adam’s House or go to jail.
But after spending some time at the center, Blackburn has come around.
“I wanted to get myself moving upwards instead of staying on the same plane,” he said.
Blackburn, who lost his job at the beginning of the year, visits Adam’s House to find job leads and learn how to become more involved with his son, even though he has an on-again, off-again relationship with his the boy’s mother.
Some weekends, he picks his son up and they go to Blackburn’s apartment to watch Jimmy Neutron cartoons and Barney videos.
“It feels good to see him,” Blackburn said of his son. “It makes you feel good about yourself, seeing a little you walking around.”
Blackburn continues to stop by Adam’s House to check on job leads, the first step toward his goal of going to school to become an electrician.
“I can’t just live for myself,” he said. “I have to think of somebody else.”