This past week I finished workshops with another class of Fulton’s Teen Dads program, a question I left asking myself after Thursday’s final class, was what’s next? To be frank, it’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately about a many areas of my life. But today, during church the speaker presented this question not as a threatening, menacing one, but in a way that made both my wife and I simply pause and appreciate the openness of it. It’s ok not to have an answer yet. That’s the point of the question.
Back to Teen Dads, so each year, twice a year, for a precious 2-4 sessions I get to engage with this group of young men now firmly thrust into the role of a lifetime. Some are as young as 9th graders (several in this past rotation were 10th graders), all teenagers. Most are currently still in school, and a few are pursuing GEDs, attending alternative schools, or looking to get back on track educationally. A few aren’t even yet fathers, but they will soon be in a matter of months. Most have babies a few weeks old up to 2 years old. Each time what impresses and inspires me is their present commitment for future impact.
For each of my workshops, I bring my family (my wife and daughters) and I encourage the young men to bring their child and partner. What inevitably unfolds are moments where my wife and I get to simultaneously engage with these young parents, as they share questions and concerns. This past week for example, in the midst of discussing the need to talk to your child, I modeled having a pretty sophisticated conversation with my own two year old. At the time, she was crawling under the table to chase another child and I wanted her help modeling a reading strategy. So, I paused to have this conversation about why it was important to help daddy, I asked her if she understood, and when she politely told me that she’d rather play with her new friend the room erupted in laughter. Classic Olivia, never put her on the spot because she has no filter!
But it presented a pretty cool teachable moment because just earlier, one of the young ladies (a pregnant partner of one of the teen dads) had shared her grandmother’s concern that if you talk to children at a young age, they might get “too grown” and start talking back. Putting aside the confusion between disrespectful communication (which we certainly don’t tolerate or model in our home) versus constructive communication, I connected this back to our topic for the evening. The fact that I could even have a sophisticated conversation with my two year old was evidence of the power of early access to language and literacy. She was given the necessary tools to develop and exercise her voice, and that was a part of the lesson I was teaching our dads that evening. Now Samantha and I had a real time example to talk through with the group and it led to some fascinating “aha” moments for our group about what it means to equip our kids with a voice. Afterwards, I noticed one of the moms (as usually happens), asking my wife (who happens to be a family nurse practitioner) some labor and delivery related questions. And, (as usual), I wished I had more time with these young men and their beginning families.
I just finished reading the founder of Toms-Blake Mycoskie’s Start Something that Matters, and I was re-inspired to revisit some old plans of mine today. For years I’ve been wanting to expand the work I do with families. Every time I engage with the young teen dads, I leave wanting to do more. I feel like I need more time with them. I certainly feel like simply talking about education is only scratching the surface of what I can provide. I look at them and I see leaders in the making, with sometimes the weight of the world on their shoulders, but somehow unaware of the power and potential they possess. Literally, when we talk about education or their hopes and dreams, it seems as if they’re grasping for the words, even while they are trying to articulate their visions.
I always leave them thinking, I wish I could help them fully tap into their leadership potential. Like my two year old daughter, if I could give them the tools necessary to find and exercise their own voice, they’ll be one step closer to their vision for their lives. So what’s next for me? I’m dusting off some old plans, and recommitting to taking the next step on the journey towards fulfilling this goal of mine to help strengthen more young families. They say public accountability helps, so here it is in writing for all the world to see!