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A Conversation with Brian Anderson, Executive Director of Fathering Together

Brian Anderson, Executive Director of Fathering Together

When we interviewed our June Activism in Adoption speaker, Cordan James, he talked briefly about his work with Fathering Together, and we knew that we wanted to know more about this organization, so we reached out to Brian Anderson, Executive Director and co-founder for information, and he was kind enough to oblige us.

Your organization focuses on Fathers. How do you define the term ‘father’?

We define fatherhood very expansively and inclusively. Anyone who identifies as a father or father figure is welcome to be a part of any of our programs. We've got nonbinary individuals that are reaching out, we've got uncles that are like, Hey, I don't have biological children but I definitely have a mentorship role in my niece or nephew's life, and so we help all people that have a fatherhood influence on a child. Obviously, it’s mostly biological dads or stepdads that are engaged in our groups, but we leave the door open for anyone who is looking for resources.

How did Fathering Together start?

When I had my first child with my wife, she had all this support. It was the middle of a polar vortex here in Chicago, and she had people she could turn to, but I didn’t have any support systems, other than my dad, my father-in-law, and maybe a few relatives. My close friends and co-workers, none of them had kids, and it was really hard. I started reaching out locally and created a monthly Dad Night at Sketchbook, as a way to connect. Our other co-founder, Chris Lewis, created a Facebook group and it just really started to grow. And now we are a community filled with resources and stories.

In the first year of existence as a group we went from zero to 10,000 members, and then Facebook started their whole ‘More Together’ campaign, and we shot from 10,000 to 100,000 members. We got 501(c)(3) status last summer, and now we are figuring out what our funding model is, and how we sustain this. How do we continue to build, and partner with established organizations, but also be an instigator in spaces as well, to get our perspective out there that fathers need to be a part of the equation, if we're going to be solving social ills and helping communities.

That is incredible growth! What kinds of programming does your organization do?

Once or twice a month, we do Dad Chats, which is a Zoom call that anyone is welcome to attend, to talk about life and fatherhood. The first call is kind of an open free-for-all, but we are starting to make the second monthly call more focused: training oriented or themed, to cover topics like emotional health, or equity training. We are also starting to work with companies to establish resource groups, internal to the company, around fatherhood.

We’ve also been doing storytelling nights, in partnerships with other organizations, helping dads build their confidence in telling their fatherhood story, and it really puts themselves and their child at the center of the story rather than, oh, this is just something I do when I get home from work.

Coming up on June 18th, we have Father’s Friday, in partnership with The Black Fathers Foundation and Soy Super Papa. The panels are going to be focused on topics like, how do you cast a vision for yourself as a father, much the same way in which you would your five year work plan? How are you, if you're in a place of power, creating work cultures that are accepting of fathers and mothers and really recognizing the parents’ work? How do you build that culture of support? And how do you translate work skills to life skills?

And of course, our biggest program is running and facilitating the virtual spaces on Facebook.

That Facebook Community is huge! Tell us a little about it.

We started out as “Dads with Daughters” as our first group, and then added “Dads with Sons.” And as our groups grew, we also had dads posting things like, who is into fantasy football, or, is anyone here in recovery? So we created sub-groups that address specific topics like that. Our Sports group covers fantasy sports leagues, but it is also a great place to get advice on things like how to coach kids’ sports.

We have an outdoor group run by someone who does outdoor leadership training. We have a recovery group. We also have a legal issues group. We are not a Father’s Rights Organization, (we do not hate women. We love women!) but there is a need for help – sometimes legal issues are gendered, or dads just need a place to share, and while we do not do formal legal advice, it is a place to get legal resources information.

We all think oh, no we’re tough enough to handle everything, but to have a community where you can be vulnerable, and say, I could really use some support, and then get it, that’s so important.

Something that we have found is that there are very, very few resources that exist for birth fathers. Do you think your programming would be helpful for birth fathers?

I think so. I wouldn’t want to make assumptions about who birth fathers are, in terms of where they are in their lives, but I think the casting piece – casting a vision of yourself as a father – could be helpful.

All of our curriculum falls into our fatherhood Core Five Model, which focuses on cognitive, fiscal, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual health. For first-time dads, the conversation might need to be framed differently than for dads of teenagers. We don’t have the expertise to heal the wound created by that kind of separation, but we definitely have workshops that could help birth fathers, bringing them into the conversation with other dads, maybe with peer-to-peer coaching and support. Dad Chats are also designed for that – we’ve got dads who are potentially grandfathers talking with dads who are first timers with a one-week old baby, and those conversations, that kind of normalizing of the fatherhood experience, has been really helpful for a lot of fathers.

Father’s Day is coming up. What is the perfect Father’s Day gift?

I think it depends on who you talk to but for me, I think it would be to forget about everything but being a dad. I feel like there's just so many pressures on dads, especially through this last year in the pandemic. So to be able to just take the day and play games or do whatever - just do something with the kids, without work hanging over your shoulder. You know, it's just that gift of time. I think for me it's just having a day that I can be like, Nope, nothing else matters. I'm turning off my phone and turning off the world, and we're just going to play catch or kickball, or something.

You can find out more about Fathering Together by visiting their web site, Fathering Together, or by finding them on social media, at Their main Facebook group, by checking out a list of all of their Facebook groups, or on Twitter, Instagram, their podcast, their YouTube channel, or at their June 18th event, Father’s Friday.

 

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