Ask 25-year-old Sergio Hernandez how it feels to be a new dad and he is quick to respond “overall pretty amazing.”
His comments were made 16 days into the arrival of son Riley Hernandez and shortly after his own graduation from the Center for Human Development’s 16-week program, “Nurturing Fathers.”
“I knew what I wanted to work on and I found a group of guys who wanted to work on it with me,” said Hernandez of the program that was recommended to him by a friend.
“We were all going through different things around what kind of dad and man we wanted to be for our families.”
Hernandez lives in Chicopee with his son and Riley’s mom, Lauren Learned.
He credits the program’s participants with helping him eliminate the “take off and run away” mindset as a response to uncertainty and past relationship failures and finding in himself a way to “get to be the dad I want to be.”
“It was a diverse group and a place to dive right in. The guys shared all kinds of perspectives and we all talked about things equally that were heavy to all of us,” Hernandez said.
“It was really amazing from where I started in my understanding of me and my girlfriend having a child together and getting to change some things in me to be a nurturing father and boyfriend.”
Hernandez said he welcomed the fact that today such a group can exist for men.
“It makes it both easy and hard in terms of saying, ‘Let’s talk about it,'” Hernandez said.
“Men used to grunt if there was a problem and stomach it. Now men can vocalize about themselves and talk about feelings and what is bothering them. In my dad’s day this was a sign of weakness. Now men can sit down and talk about things.”
He added he liked the sense of hospitality and openness the sessions inspired.
“It was normal guys walking through the world together with no one there to be higher or put you down,” Hernandez said.
“I thought I was looking for something because I failed and I was looking for something to fix, but it was more about being someone who wants to consciously be a better person and being able to verbalize this and benefit from a little open conversation.”
He added, “We shared some deep-down experiences and hardships and tears.”
Program facilitator Steven Acevedo said being open to sharing and being positive are at the heart of the sessions.
Participants are often recruited through other programs operated by the CHD, whose services include sheltering families and helping the homeless find temporary and permanent homes.
“Change is the hardest thing to do in life as many people are set in their ways. I never approach someone with, ‘We are going to change you,’ because the response is, ‘I am a good father. I don’t need that,” Acevedo said.
“I like to approach with, ‘Don’t you want to be a better father? Come check out our program – and see how it fits for you. There are a lot of good people with a lot of good ideas. We need more positive men out there.'”
Acevedo added, “A lot of guys in the program are already fathers.”
“We tend to parent the way we were parented and rather than saying something is wrong I will say there are different ways of doing things and some outcomes are more positive than others.”
Acevedo, 40, will share some of his own parenting approaches – often narrated with humor – as a way to relate.
“I am 6-foot, 3-inches and 300 pounds with a six-year-old. How intimidating is that,” Acevedo said.
“So, when we talk, I told the guys, I get down on my knees to talk and it works. My son has a smile. The little things add up to the big things and make a bond.”
He added, “We all strive for love and connection with our children.”
“We all want to open lines of communication with them,” Acevedo said.
His words about the interaction of the participants and their goals were echoed by co-facilitator Josean Roldan, 34, and stepfather to three girls, 18, 17 and 16.
“I enjoy helping the men and learning from them. We grow a lot too as facilitators,” Roldan said.
“We meet all types of men with each group and hear about all types of experiences and perspectives on their lives.”
He said the process “has changed me as a man and a father and made be a better person.”
“It has made me more understanding, easier going. My father was as tough as nails. It was, ‘Do as I say, not as I do,’ and that is definitely not the right way. I took it to heart,” Roldan said.
“You can get caught up in the moment with kids and not think about what you say or do. I have learned to hold on and listen to my stepdaughters and not to react a certain way to their daily struggles. I have said to them you can tell me whatever you want and I will help you through it.”
Roldan sees a lot of positives in being “slow to react” and more oriented to “hearing what someone has to say.”
“My family was very strict and religious. I was never able to express myself as their reaction was, ‘We don’t want to hear what you have to say as you are a child and we are the parents,” Roldan said.
“I want my stepdaughters to feel they can come to me instead of someone else. I want the chance to guide them.”
Pedro Rodriguez, field operations manager for CHD, is proud of the men who graduate the program and would like it to become more known as a resource.
“It helps the men become better boyfriends and dads,” Rodriguez said.
“It is a wonderful program.”
Hernandez has changed his work schedule as a welder to second shift since the arrival of Riley to help at home and said the profession allowed him time to think about thinks discussed during the “Nurturing Father” sessions.
“I left each class with new ideas tumbling around in my mind,” Hernandez said.
“What guy couldn’t benefit from talking about what it means to be a man. It is an interesting topic to delve into for a few hours. We all walk around with negative and positive thoughts but it is really what you put out in the world – whether you act negatively or are more conscious about what you end up doing.”
The “Nurturing Fathers” program, which is presented in collaboration with the state’s housing and community development department, is tentatively expected to begin again mid-October. One group will meet Tuesdays from 11:30 to 2 p.m. and the second group Thursdays from 5 to 7:30 p.m.
Both groups meet at 368 Maple St in Holyoke.
The center is also open Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. year-round for men to drop in and talk one-on-one with the program facilitators, play pool and sometimes hear a motivational speaker.
Article By Anne-Gerard Flynn, firstname.lastname@example.org, Special to The Republican. Article appeared on MassLive on 9/19/2018 at https://www.masslive.com/living/index.ssf/2018/09/program_helps_nurture_dads_as_fathers_who_talk_about_feelings.html.