By combining real-life stories with the privacy of the Internet, two Brigham Young University professors say they have found a way to reach fathers and encourage good fathering.
Without ever having to expose their emotions and problems, men seeking parenting help can turn to the FatherWork home page to read about other fathers' encounters with their children. These personal accounts, say David C. Dollahite and Alan J. Hawkins, can be used to build understanding.The focus of the home page, located at (http://FatherWork.BYU.Edu), is on "good fathering, not good fathers," the professors emphasize.
"What we mean by this is that we aren't stuffing our pages with a lot of statistics about how good men are at fathering," said Dol-la-hite, an assistant professor of family sciences. "We're also not offering therapy that should be done in a counseling session."
Instead, FatherWork is a collection of real-life stories gathered from men during the past three years by Dollahite, Hawkins and BYU students. Some are informative, inspiring, fun and touching; all in some way express new and creative possibilities for fathers to use in caring for their children.
For instance, under the category "Fathering Special Needs Children," one father said, "I felt like a fool. I didn't know what Down Syndrome was, and they came in the room and said, `We think your son has Down Syndrome.' "
The father then goes on to explain his reaction to this news and his realization that his son's disability made absolutely no difference in how he felt or how much he loved this child.
Another father tells how he takes his child with spina bifida fishing from the window of his pickup trick parked in a stream. It was something he learned in caring for his father, who loved to fish but grew too old to be in the fast-moving current.
And some stories are more routine. One father tells of trying to discipline a stubborn daughter. "We have this policy that we try not to hit the kids at all," he said. "But she wouldn't move, and so I reached out and whacked her bottom."
As the story goes on, the father tells of his mounting frustration and how after two spankings his daughter still wouldn't go to her room. "Finally, I realized I was never going to punish her into this. Megan was not going to respond to corporal punishment."
Then the story ends and a new one begins. There is no discussion, no analysis, no "what can we learn from this scenario?" said Dollahite. "We want men to draw their own conclusions. What we hope is that fathers - and mothers and children and grandparents - will see new and creative possibilities to care for children. We want these stories to motivate them to draw on their own capabilities."
Dollahite and Hawkins believe that stories are good teaching tools that invite readers to reflect on their own lives without demanding or telling them how to change.
The professors also want to hear from the home page's users. While FatherWork is not a bulletin board or online chant forum, readers can submit their own stories. On a regular basis, the professors will expand the home page to include new stories.
All stories will also contribute to the ongoing research Dollahite and Hawkins are conducting.
Stephanie Morris, a graduate student whose thesis is on this project, adds that this "home page will be able to reach a large audience and provide valuable information from all over the world."