A better person, a better worker ... a better father

According to one dubitable source, January is (among other things) National Careers in Cosmetology Month, National Eye Health Care Month, National Fiber Focus Month, National Hobby Month, National Soup Month, Hot Tea Month, Oatmeal Month and Prune Breakfast Month.

Do with that information what you will. However, let us not let some of these shady official recognitions detract from one very important thing that America celebrates at this time each year: January is also National Mentoring Month and has been since January 2002. In honor of this, The SUN will be featuring local mentoring programs throughout the month.

National Mentoring Month highlights mentoring and the positive impact it can have on lives. It is spearheaded by the Harvard Mentoring Project, MENTOR, and the Corporation for National and Community Service, and supported by such prominent individuals as Maya Angelou, former President Bill Clinton, Clint Eastwood, Sen. John McCain, Quincy Jones, Gen. Colin L. Powell, Cal Ripken, Jr., Bill Russell and R&B singer Usher.

While we’re on the subject of prominent individuals who support mentoring, meet John Vick, Archuleta County fatherhood advocate.

Vick just began his third year directing the Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Fatherhood Initiative program. And for about a year, as part of the Initiative, he has worked to partner struggling fathers in Pagosa with mentors who can offer them some support and advice. The mission of DHS is to provide quality human services that offer independence and safety to families; to treat families with respect and dignity; and to support the personal and professional growth of our employees through continued training and participation in professional activities and involvement. 

The Fatherhood Initiative Program zeros in on fathers in offering this type of support. Because, “fathers are a vital part of the equation of a healthy community,” as Barbara Hendricks, family advocate for DHS, told The SUN.

“With fathers, the outcome is already present,” John Vick explained. “These men already have children who need the best possible role model in their lives, for the sake of everyone’s future. If you have a dad who already feels marginalized, it’s important to address that as soon as possible, for the kids’ sake, for the father’s sake, for the community’s sake.

“We need to work with fathers to help them maintain continuity for their kids. Because the big questions in kids’ lives are: Who am I? Where do I come from? Do I really matter? We need to help fathers be able to answer those questions for their kids. The risk and the reward for fathers is sitting right in the living room.

“Many of the fathers I work with,” Vick said, “never had a father figure in their lives, and there haven’t been stable long-term role models in any domain of their life. So, in a world of parenting and adult expectations, they go into a deficit as far as how to be responsible adults.

Fathers who can benefit from the Fatherhood Initiative program come to Vick in a variety of ways. “I get lots of referrals from my co-workers at the Department of Human Services, as well as from the business community, the faith community, the judicial system. I also get dads who just walk in, after hearing about the program through word-of-mouth,” said Vick.

Similarly, the mentors Vick matches his program participants with come from all sectors of the community. This is especially true, because the fatherhood mentoring program has two distinct facets. Some of the program participants are matched with what Vick calls personal mentors, and others are matched with employment mentors.

Some fathers that Vick works with really benefit from a solid and mutually enjoyable personal relationship with another father in the community, whereas other participants need help building some specific workplace skills. Which is not to say that the members of the personal mentoring program usually sit around in a coffee shop and chat. As Vick put it: “Some of the best personal mentoring I’ve seen looks more like two guys rebuilding a snow blower together or taping some dry wall, than sitting around chatting together,” Vick said.

Vick emphasizes the same kind of specific, problem-solving style when training his employment mentors. Vick and Hendricks recruit successful employers from throughout the community to work with fathers who have struggled with employment and financial stability. “I try to help them understand that our participant dads view the world in different ways than employers do,” said Vick. “Struggling dads see the world as a survival-oriented place, and an employer views the world as goal-oriented place.”

Vick outlined an example of this difference. “Say the employee is supposed to arrive to work at 8 a.m. and three times that week he’s shown up late. Some employers might just yell at the employee. Well, then the employee is going to take that personally because they are survival-oriented, it can be hard for them to separate the unfavorable behavior they are exhibiting from themselves as a person.”

So, when Vick works with the employer mentors, he encourages them to point out the behavior that is a problem, and not to attack the person. It is also important to give reasons why the expected behavior is important. A good employer mentor will explain the stimulus, why the stimulus is important, and then help mitigate the stimulus. In Vick’s scenario, that would mean the employer might say to the late employee: “It’s after eight o’clock. Being on time for this job means we’ll get this next job after this one’s finished. If you think buying an alarm clock might help, I’d be happy to help with that.”

A year or so into the fatherhood mentoring program, Vick says he has seen progress with program participants. “I’m beginning to find that I get fewer crisis calls from the struggling dads I work with. And when I talk with the mentor dads I discover there’s been a need that’s been identified and met that I was never even aware of. For example, a mentor helped a dad with transportation to a job interview. Or a father was having trouble getting presents for his kids for Christmas and the mentor came, grabbed up the dad and said ‘come on, let’s go get some things.’ In the end that struggling dad got to play Santa to his kids thanks to the mentoring relationship,” said Vick. “A mentor can serve as a bridge for someone who once felt very isolated.”

Vick’s ultimate goal for the fatherhood mentoring program is to see some of the dads who once needed mentoring become successful mentors for other struggling fathers. “Mentoring is important because we live in a hyper-individual, ever-more-fragmented society, and mentoring creates continuity and consistency that helps people bring depth to their lives,” Vick posited. From that perspective, it is easy to see why a full-circle of successful mentoring would be so rewarding for Vick, and so important for this community.

SUN photo/ Anna Lauer Roy
Evidence of Fatherhood Advocate John Vick’s own initiative in fatherhood hangs on the wall of Vick’s office at the Department of Human Services. This tiny leather jacket was a favorite of both Vick’s sons (now 16 and 19) when they each were about 3 years old. A former client painted the artwork.